11 June 2020
The Dating Game
Victoria and after.
By Chin Chin
So far so good. You are able to wax knowledgeable about events up to 1837 and are now probably regarded as a great “history buff” by your friends. In fact, however, history did not stop then and next on the scene is Victoria, a granddaughter of George III. Technically she was a member of the House of Hanover so ought to have appeared last week. Since, however, the succession to the Kingdom of Hanover was governed by Salic law which forbade women sovereigns, her cousin the Duke of Cumberland bagged it and the Crown lost its only German possession. In the circumstances it seems a bit odd to describe her as a Hanoverian Queen and her descendants are technically of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the family of her husband Prince Albert. For obvious reasons they changed their surname to Windsor in 1917.
Now remember that the rules of the game are that you must memorise the name of each monarch and the date of one event (to be chosen by you and not necessarily one suggested by me). So, for the last time, in the words of Sir Henry Newbolt “Play Up! Play Up! and Play the Game!”
Now the foundations laid by Chatham, Wolfe, Clive, Wellington, Nelson and many others are crowned with massive imperial expansion. Britain is supreme at sea, allowing it to move troops to wherever they are needed. It is a leader in civil and military technology which makes it hard for non-European troops to stand against it. To borrow the words of Belloc
“Whatever happens, we have got.
The Gatling gun, and they have not”.
That doesn’t mean that Britain was not worsted on occasion and one only has to remember Zulus at Isandhlwana, Gordon’s death at Khartoum and the disasters of the Afghan wars to realise that from time to time it could go very wrong. But for wars against serious opposition one has to look to the Crimea and South Africa. Still, it wasn’t all about war. What about:
The repeal of the corn laws in 1846? The abolition of tariffs on imported wheat cut into the monopolies of Robert Peel’s Tory landowners and brought down his government. On the other hand it meant cheap food for the workers in the towns and accelerated the move to industrialisation.
The Great Exhibition 1851? An enormous trade fair focusing on British goods at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, 6 million people pass through the doors. Thomas Cook built his business around arranging tours for visitors. The great chef Alexis Soyer opened his restaurant opposite the gates. In his memorial in Hyde Park, Albert is portrayed reading the catalogue. If you see a fireplace of 1850s design installed in an older house, it’s a good bet that the owner at the time bought it at the Great Exhibition.
The charge of the Light Brigade 1854, a disastrous attack by British cavalry on emplaced Russian guns as a result of muddled military commands at the Battle of Balaclava? In the end, though, the British and their French allies won the Crimean War, capturing Sebastopol, and preventing Russia from retaining a naval base on the Black Sea. The defeat marked a decline in Russian imperial power and the threat that it represented to the Turkish empire.
The Indian Mutiny in 1857? As the officers of the East India Company which ruled India began to take English wives out with them, they gradually became more cut off from the native population and less sensitive to their grievances. It was a powder keg and the match was a rumour that cartridges used by Indian troops were greased with cow and pig fat. The war which followed was particularly vicious with atrocities on both sides and the Company, aided by loyal Indian rulers and Gurkha mercenaries from Nepal, ultimately restored order. The main result was that the rule of India was transferred from the East India Company to the British Crown, Victoria being declared Empress of India in 1877 at the suggestion of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.
The Boer War, begun in 1899? It was one of the less creditable episodes of British history, with Great Britain fighting to crush the republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, The British nearly lost it too, with Ladysmith and Mafeking coming under siege. Still, in the end, Imperial might told, albeit at considerable cost to Imperial reputation. Still, it produced innovations: the commando, a rapid movement force used by the Boers; the concentration camp, intended not as a form of genocide but rather as a way of concentrating the population in one place to deny the enemy cover; and finally the Boy Scouts movement founded by Baden Powell who had survived the siege of Mafeking.
Edward VII, 1901-1910
Cigar smoking and genial, Edward was progressive in his views, disliking the term “nigger” and taking the Kaiser to task for using the racist term “yellow peril”. Generally, however, there are few memorable dates so let’s go for something frivolous.
In 1909 his horse won the Derby, but when he returned to the track he was very amused to hear somebody shouting “Now, King. You’ve won the Derby. Go back home and dissolve this bloody Parliament!”
George V, 1910-1936
The early years of the reign were dominated by the First World War 1912-1918. Yet other things happened too. What about:
The Parliament Act 1911? Following the rejection of Lloyd George’s budget by the conservative dominated House of Lords and threats to flood the Lords with Liberal peers, the House of Lords’ power to veto bills was severely restricted.
Irish Independence 1922? Following the Irish rising, the Anglo-Irish treaty (signed in 1921, passed by the Dáil in January 1922) made southern Ireland independent.
The first Labour government, 1924? It was formed by Ramsay MacDonald but lasted less than a year
The general strike, 1926, which was called in respect of reductions of wages but in the end was unsuccessful? When the King heard the strikers described as “revolutionaries” he replied “try living on their wages before you condemn them”.
Edward VIII 1936
Edward ruled for 10 months but his decision to marry Wallis Simpson, who was about to be divorced, was unacceptable to the Church of England, the Dominions, and the government. A plan from morganatic marriage being rejected, perhaps because the suspicion that he had Nazi sympathies made his love affair a good excuse to get rid of him, he had a choice between the Lady and the Throne. He chose the Lady and abdication followed. Our date of note is:
Abdication, 1936 in favour of his brother who became George VI.
George VI, 1936-1952
His reign dominated by the Second World War which lasted from 1939 to 1945, George ruled on for another seven years. What about:
Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister, 1940?
Independence for India and Pakistan, 1947?
The foundation of the NHS by the post-war Labour Government, 1948? Revolutionary in concept, it set a new standard for state healthcare.
Elizabeth II, 1952 onward
Just the date of accession. It is too early to identify the top events and hopefully will remain too early for many years to come.