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Great Britain
Historical Summary
17th-19th Centuries

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Mid 1600's,
Late 1600's,
Early 1700's,
Mid 1700's,
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These summaries are a supplement to the family histories and place the ancestor's stories in their historical context. They tell of only the major events that could have affected the ancestors living in these places and times, and are collected from several sources 1.

Historical Summary
England and Scotland - Middle 1600's
For the last thirty years, since the death of Elizabeth I, England and Scotland have been ruled by Scottish Kings. First James I, and now his son Charles I battle their Parliaments for control. The middle-class is making itself heard for the first time. As Parliament makes further demands, and rebellion erupts in Ireland, King Charles attacks Parliamentary leaders in a civil war. Royalist forces are eventually defeated by Parliamentarian Oliver Cromwell in 1645. Charles I is executed in 1649, and by 1653 Cromwell conquers Ireland and fends off royalists lead by Charles II, becoming Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland. This is a time of puritan austerity. When Cromwell dies, England rejects his son and heir Richard, and restores Charles II as King.

Colonization of North America continues. Many escape religious prejudices at home and form such colonies as Virginia and Maryland in the south, and Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut in the north. The older southern colonies supported the King during the civil war. The northern ones were on the Parliament's side. Between are the other European colonies of the New Netherlands and New Sweden. Further north and west are the colonies of New France. In the far southern Caribbean Islands, trade in sugar and rum necessitated a work force. The practice of black slavery soon spread into all parts of the colonies.

Costumes of the Mid 1600's

Historical Summary
England and Scotland - Late 1600's
During this Restoration Period, arts and culture shift. Comedies are prolific, political philosophers challenge old ways, as do scientists like Isaac Newton. Religious freedoms and alignment with France against the Dutch make Protestants uneasy. When Charles II dies and the crown passes to the Catholic James II in 1685, religious battles begin in earnest. James continues extending religious liberties to Catholics, but this is seen to be not an equalization, but a reversal of previous Protestant domination. In a bid to depose James II, his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange (Dutch) are asked to assume the regency. They succeed in 1688, and "The Glorious Revolution" is not only a Protestant victory, but is also the beginning of England's limited monarchy. Parliamentary rights are established, and strict limits applied to royal powers. During the reign of William and Mary, James II's army in Catholic Ireland is defeated and William's Protestant supporters call themselves "Orangemen". The Bank of England is set up in 1694 to finance the government -- especially in foreign wars, adding a definitive advantage to England over her European adversaries, especially France. England continually battles France over her support of James II's Catholic descendants, known as Jacobites.

In the New World, the wars with the Dutch result in the annexation of both New Netherlands and Swedish colonies, forming the English colonies of New York and New Jersey. Colonists spread inland to form Pennsylvania, and also south into Carolina (named for Charles II). James II combines the northern colonies into the Dominion of New England to prevent rebellions, though, of course, there is terrible bloodshed among the Native Americans there. When war with France begins, and Massachusetts takes French Acadia, England returns the acquisition, further angering their New England colonists.

Costumes of the Late 1600's

Historical Summary
Great Britain - Early 1700's
Queen Anne succeeds William upon his death in 1702. She combines England and Scotland into The United Kingdom of Great Britain. The first peaceful transfer of power in the Parliament takes place in its 1710 election. Conservative, Anglican, royalist, isolationist Tories defeat the liberal, tolerant, parliamentary Whigs. This action sets an example of free peaceful elections many nations would later follow. At the time being, though, Europe is engaged in the War of the Spanish Succession where the French absolute monarch Louis XIV's spreading power in Spain was being curtailed by a Grand Alliance of England, Austria, and the Dutch. The war in Europe ends with Britain's Duke of Marlborough defeating the French, ending their support of the Jacobites, and redistributing the powers in Europe.

The German, Protestant great-grandson of James I, George of Hanover succeeds Anne in 1714, becoming King George I. He is uninterested in rule, and thus furthers Parliamentary control during the Georgian Period. The true leader of Great Britain is now the Prime Minister of the party with the most parliamentary seats -- currently the Whig's Robert Walpole.

In the colonies, English forces capture French Acadia again, creating the colony of Nova Scotia in 1710. The French have expanded west of New England by colonizing from New France straight down the Mississippi into Louisiana by the 1720's.

Costumes of the Early 1700's

Historical Summary
Great Britain - Middle 1700's
While the Whigs continue their control of Parliament, and new King George II remains as uninterested in ruling as his father had been, a Jacobite revolt occurs in Scotland. The "Young Pretender", Catholic grandson of James II, Bonnie Prince Charlie leads the Scots into England, but is tragically defeated at Culloden Moor in 1746. This is the last great dynastic battle over British rule, and the last land battle in England or Scotland.

Britain suffered great poverty during this time. The colony of Georgia is founded by Colonel James Oglethorpe and peopled by ex-inmates of London's Debtor's prison. A foundling hospital is opened in London for the unwanted children of the poor -- many beg and are dying in the streets, as for others -- a study shows of the 2339 children admitted into London work houses, only 168 remain alive after five years. To combat the rampant alcoholism, a gin tax is also levied. Medicine is improved and viewed more scientifically and hospitals appear in many cities. In 1752, Great Britain adopts the Gregorian Calendar. The date is progressed 11 days to match European date, where this calendar has been used since 1582.

European nations begin allying against expansionist Prussia, who attacks and begins a Seven Years War in 1756. Britain joins Prussia and attacks France, finally defeating her in Europe in 1759. A more important gain for Britain is won in her battles with the French North American Colonies. The British under Wolfe defeat the French under Montcalm near Quebec City's Plains of Abraham. Britain takes possession of New France and now controls about half of North America.

During the battles with the Native Americans and the French, Benjamin Franklin proposes that greater solidarity would come to the original 13 Colonies from rule by a single British Governor General accompanied by a grand elected council. Currently each colony has its own governor. This was eventually rejected by each side, as both desire greater control.

Liberal ideals grow in the 13 Colonies, where the right to free speech is won during the libel case of a New York publisher. On the other hand, slavery is still practiced in the British Empire, and especially in the colonies: of their 1.5 million people, one fifth are black slaves from Africa.

Continue into the Late 1700's with the Historical Summary for British North America, and The Canadas, or the new United Sates of America.

Costumes of the Mid 1700's

Historical Summary
Great Britain 1760's
The colonies in British North America continue to agitate, as taxes have been raised to pay for the recent war effort. The colonies now feel that British rule is irrelevant with New France conquered. The conflicts center around principle, not action, and do not appear to be resolvable.

At home, George III has assumed the throne, and unlike his father and grandfather, George desires a more powerful monarchy. He stacks the Parliament in his favour, but meets with public disapproval.

Economically, canals begin to improve transportation. Factories spring up as improved iron smelting allows factories nearer coal fields, especially in the Midlands area to the north. Coal use promotes steam-powered inventions appearing recently. By 1765, James Watt improves the original Newcomen steam engine, and its efficiency in manufacturing begins mechanization of production.

In 1770 Captain Cook claims Australia for Britain, landing in Botany Bay.

Costumes of the 1760's

Historical Summary
Great Britain 1770's
Political struggles continue over freedom of election, the press and freedom of speech, exacerbated by King George III's undemocratic dealings in the parliament. Slavery is ended in Britain, but continues in her colonies. Britain relieves some colonial taxes, but resentment across the Atlantic grows. As colonial resentments peak, the War of American Independence is begun. The steam powered engine has been improved and the first sale to industry (a pump for mining) is made in 1775, thus beginning the Industrial Revolution. Before this time, most machines that existed were powered by water, wind and people in small factories or at home "cottage industries".

Costumes of the 1770's

Historical Summary
Great Britain 1780's
By 1783, Great Britain admits the loss of its 13 Colonies and recognizes the new United States of America. This speeds the trend towards stronger parliaments, less effective monarchs, and eventually improved representation. The slave trade is delivering 100,000 slaves to North America each year, with slaver ships following a triangular trade path from Europe (especially Britain and France) to Africa, to America and back to Europe. Anti-slavery attitudes grow. Penal colonies are established in Australia. Breech-loading guns replace barrel-loaded muskets. The spinning-mule revolutionizes thread spinning and textile industries, and is just as quickly overcome by the steam-driven loom. High quality cast iron can now be made through a continuous process and becomes prolific. Steam improves production in mines, blast furnaces, spinning and weaving factories, paper mills, flour mills and breweries where coal and iron have taken over from wood and water. Education of youth begins in "Sunday Schools", as most youths work in factories during the week. The London Times newspaper begins publication.

Costumes of the 1780's

Historical Summary
Great Britain 1790's
The revolution in France sparks fierce debate over the freedoms and inherent rights of humanity, leading to thoughts of manhood suffrage, more effective governance, lower taxes and aid for aged and poor. France declares war on Britain, whose challenges are increased by a revolt in Ireland eventually put down through brutal violence, and a rebellion with in the British navy which resulted in better conditions and continued sea defence plus a blockade of French ports. Economic depression caused by war leads to rioting at home among the disenfranchised workers. Smuggling is rampant. Government responses to internal upheavals include banning trade unions, censoring the press, and rounding up subversives. An attempt to abolish slavery across the empire fails. Canada is divided into an upper English half, and lower French half to maintain loyalty in this age of revolution.

Costumes of the 1790's

Historical Summary
Great Britain 1800's
The Industrial Revolution is in full swing, and since mechanization became reality over the last 25 years, labour practises make life hellish for common people. This is especially true for women and children, who are the cheapest workers. There are few labour laws affecting wages, working hours or conditions in ways which would benefit the workers, and labour unions are still not allowed by law. The best that pauper children can expect is a 12-hour work day in a northern mill or factory, leaving behind the protection of their impoverished parents. Trade with Europe is prohibited by the wars with France's self-proclaimed Emperor Napoleon and his "Continental System", leaving a large market unreachable -- except through the growth of smuggling. Technically, the nation becomes the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland as greater government control was desired there. A rise in birthrate increases population faster than European countries. Common lands are fenced off and more are living on smaller plots. Emigration begins a steady climb as people seek escape from the changing industrial landscape. Some high points for the decade -- slave trade is ended, and a steam locomotive appears at a London "steam circus" for the first time.

Costumes of the 1800's

Historical Summary
Great Britain 1810's
Economic depression comes on the heels of two foreign wars. The Napoleonic wars end with final British victory over France, and the War of 1812 with the United States is basically a draw. Soldiers return to find Luddites vandalizing factories, protests rising over working conditions, low wages, and the high price of food, thousands of pauper children run the streets of London with 15% of people considered indigent, and they realize a new description for the obvious disparities -- class struggle. The climax came at the "Peterloo Massacre" in Manchester when a peaceful demonstration was put down by military force. This period is sometimes called the Regency, as ailing King George III was too ill to govern, and George IV became regent. Even George IV as prince regent is stoned by an angry mob demanding improved parliamentary representation and a greater right to vote -- one not tied to wealth or land. Two more victories for steam are had -- an "iron horse" shows the success of rail-locomotives and leads to the growth of rail-ways, and the first steam ship crosses the Atlantic in 26 days. Conventional sailing ships took at least 60 days.

Costumes of the 1810's

Historical Summary
Great Britain 1820's
Food prices remain high due to "corn laws" designed to benefit landlord growers. The right to strike is granted and worker's unions are allowed. Other legal reforms include the reduction in crimes assigned the penalty of death, and the creation of police forces. Outstanding issues remain, including a solution for Irish unrest -- Catholic emancipation? What about election and parliamentary reforms?

Costumes of the 1820's

Historical Summary
Great Britain 1830's
As reformers come to government, but find little success in bringing change, the people break out into rioting. The new king, William IV is convinced to aid in driving the Reform Bill through the old-guard House of Lords (conservative appointees). The reforms expand the franchise (right to vote), increasing democracy, abolish the act of slavery in all British possessions, and improve child labour laws -- work limited to children aged nine and up, 9-12 hours a day, and some schooling for children under 13. The reforms are seen to be not enough. A People's Charter sets out further demands and its proponents become Charterists -- considered to be revolutionaries. Corn Laws also remain, and for the poor, Britain sees the dawn of the workhouse -- "uninviting places of wholesome restraint". Even in Canada, the desire for representative government spawns two revolts. A modern postage system is developed this decade. Dickens writes his novels -- Oliver Twist especially brings to light the plight of child workers. Daguerre invents rudimentary photography. The reign of Queen Victoria begins in 1837, ushering in the Victorian Era. Hans Christian Andersen's Tales Told for Children is published, among others. Steamship service begins on the Atlantic with an average crossing time of 15 days.

Costumes of the 1830's

Historical Summary
Great Britain 1840's
Charterists are still agitating for further reform, and are often imprisoned or transported to Australia. Further scandals concerning forced labour of women and children, especially in mines, are discovered. Cooperatives are created in response to continued poverty and unemployment. Eventually, rich manufacturers see the Corn Laws as damaging to trade, imposing such high tariffs. The multiple failure of the potato crop in Ireland led to tragedy that was, in large part, increased by the inability of the Irish to purchase grain at these artificially high prices. The Corn Laws are repealed, but not in time to save the starving Irish. The year 1848 was a particularly violent one in all of Europe with rebellions in Italy, Germany and Austria, France removes its monarch and becomes a republic, hopes for Irish revolt are quashed, and in Britain the Charterists are defeated in their mass march to parliament. Canada is awarded independence from Britain non-violently. Cholera is linked to water supplies like common hand pumps.

Costumes of the 1840's

Historical Summary
Great Britain 1850's
The decade opens with the Great Exhibition of Works of Industry of all Nations showcasing Jacquard looms (patterns recorded on punch cards), American reaping machines, and an electric telegraph. Britain battles Russia in the Crimea, an Indian uprising, and the Opium War in China. Limited (Ltd.) liability companies begin operation. Reuter's Telegraph Company provides commercial news services. The Origin of Species by Darwin is published and met with harsh criticism.

Costumes of the 1850's

Historical Summary
Great Britain 1860's
The American Civil War made evident the split between the popular anti-slavery view with public support of the Union, and the government's desire for southern cotton and the arms market gained through support of the Confederacy. War with Britain was averted when arms and naval sales ceased -- Britain eventually paid reparations for damages caused by sold war machines, especially the Alabama. A Second Reform Bill doubled the electorate, and the Disestablishment Act removed Anglican's official-church status in Ireland. Bessemer improves steel production, first subways are built under London, and clipper ships further improve sea travel. Undersea transatlantic telegraph joins US and Britain. Canada's four provinces become a dominion.

Costumes of the 1860's

Historical Summary
Great Britain 1870's
Further reforms include the Irish Land Act, an attempt to solve foreign land ownership problems gives compensation to evictees, and the creation of state-run, secular schools which provide education for children aged five to 13. Army and judicial reform followed. Trade unions become legal. Work week limited to 56.5 hours. Inventions made overseas point toward future proliferation of technology including the telephone, phonograph, and incandescent light bulb.

Costumes of the 1870's

None of my ancestors remained in Great Britain past this time. Continue with Ontario in the 1880's