Just Finished Reading: A Brief History of Britain (1660 – 1851) The Making of the Nation by William Gibson (FP: 2010)
This is the third in the series of the History of Britain and covers the period I probably know least about – basically from the Civil War(s) to the height of the Victorian Age. But it’s not nothing much happened in this period. Quite the opposite in fact! We start with the Restoration of the Monarchy (after the death of Cromwell), recovery from the Civil War(s), the Glorious Revolution, The Regency Period and finally the crowning of Victoria. Whilst all that was happening we had the world’s first Industrial Revolution, successfully fought wars with the Dutch (gaining New York previously New Amsterdam), the French and the Spanish and acquiring a global Empire almost by accident. We also trembled in our boots during the French Revolution in case it happened here to and, of course, lost our American Colonies. We also hosted our very own version of the European Enlightenment and made great strides towards becoming a Democracy. During this period Britain became much more recognisable as a truly modern nation with all of the attributes and institutions you would expect. The final bracketing date – 1851 – signified Britain’s growing confidence on the world stage with the Great Exhibition of that year held at the newly built Crystal Palace.
Oddly, not being a royalist in any way, I found the royal succession to be one of the most interesting aspects of this era especially when Parliament got rather anxious over the idea of a potential Catholic monarch and decided to choose a King more to their liking by basically inviting in the Dutch William of Orange and his wife to please rule over us! As it was a pretty peaceful affair as these things go it earned its name of the Glorious Revolution – it was in fact pretty much a coup. Of course later on we decided to bring in The Elector of Hanover to be our King who was crowned as George I ushering in the German line of the present monarchy which was strengthened by Victoria marrying Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (whose ancestors later changed their name to Windsor because it sounded more patriotic and rather less, you know, German).
As you might imagine it’s difficult to condense 190 years of history into a few paragraphs. Luckily the author (who, as far as I know, has no relation to the SF author of the same name) had 345 pages to do the period more justice. But as always with such things much of the detail is missing and only the highlights get any kind of wordage. Despite this he did get me interested in an age I am now somewhat more familiar with and I’ll be following up some of the topics covered by him. You’ll probably already be aware that I have a long time interest in the Industrial Revolution but I’ll see if I can dig a bit more up about some of the political aspects of the age as working people, and women, began finding their own voices and their political ‘feet’. Much more British History to come.