|1714 – 1830 (1837)|
|Followed by||Victorian era|
|Periods in English history|
The Georgian era is a period in British history from 1714 to c. 1830–37, named eponymously after the Hanoverian kings George I, George II, George III and George IV. The sub-period that is the Regency era is defined by the regency of George IV as Prince of Wales during the illness of his father George III. The definition of the Georgian era is often extended to include the relatively short reign of William IV, which ended with his death in 1837.
The term "Georgian" is typically used in the contexts of social and political history and architecture. The term "Augustan literature" is often used for Augustan drama, Augustan poetry and Augustan prose in the period 1700–1740s. The term "Augustan" refers to the acknowledgement of the influence of Latin literature from the ancient Roman Republic.
Georgian society and its preoccupations were well portrayed in the novels of writers such as Henry Fielding, Mary Shelley and Jane Austen, characterised by the architecture of Robert Adam, John Nash and James Wyatt and the emergence of the Gothic Revival style, which hearkened back to a supposed golden age of building design.
The flowering of the arts was most vividly shown in the emergence of the Romantic poets, principally through Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Blake, John Keats, Lord Byron and Robert Burns. Their work ushered in a new era of poetry, characterised by vivid and colourful language, evocative of elevating ideas and themes.
The paintings of Thomas Gainsborough, Sir Joshua Reynolds and the young J. M. W. Turner and John Constable illustrated the changing world of the Georgian period – as did the work of designers like Capability Brown, the landscape designer.
It was a time of immense social change in Britain, with the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution which began the process of intensifying class divisions, and the emergence of rival political parties like the Whigs and Tories.
In rural areas the Agricultural Revolution saw huge changes to the movement of people and the decline of small communities, the growth of the cities and the beginnings of an integrated transportation system but, nevertheless, as rural towns and villages declined and work became scarce there was a huge increase in emigration to Canada, the North American colonies (which became the United States during the period) and other parts of the British Empire.
Evangelical religion and social reform
The evangelical movement inside and outside the Church of England gained strength in the late 18th and early 19th century. The movement challenged the traditional religious sensibility that emphasized a code of honor for the upper-class, and suitable behaviour for everyone else, together with faithful observances of rituals. John Wesley (1703–1791) and his followers preached revivalist religion, trying to convert individuals to a personal relationship with Christ through Bible reading, regular prayer, and especially the revival experience. Wesley himself preached 52,000 times, calling on men and women to "redeem the time" and save their souls. Wesley always operated inside the Church of England, but at his death, it set up outside institutions that became the Methodist Church. It stood alongside the traditional nonconformist churches, Presbyterians, Congregationalist, Baptists, Unitarians, and Quakers. The nonconformist churches, however, were less influenced by revivalism.
The Church of England remained dominant, but it had a growing evangelical, revivalist faction the "Low Church". Its leaders included William Wilberforce and Hannah More. It reached the upper class through the Clapham Sect. It did not seek political reform, but rather the opportunity to save souls through political action by freeing slaves, abolishing the duel, prohibiting cruelty to children and animals, stopping gambling, avoiding frivolity on the Sabbath; they read the Bible every day. All souls were equal in God's view, but not all bodies, so evangelicals did not challenge the hierarchical structure of English society. As R.J. Morris noted in his 1983 article "Voluntary Societies and British Urban Elites, 1780-1850," "[m]id-eighteenth-century Britain was a stable society in the sense that those with material and ideological power were able to defend this power in an effective and dynamic manner," but "in the twenty years after 1780, this consensus structure was broken." Anglican Evangelicalism thus, as historian Lisa Wood has argued in her book Modes of Discipline: Women, Conservatism, and the Novel After the French Revolution, functioned as a tool of ruling-class social control, buffering the discontent that in France had inaugurated a revolution; yet it contained within itself the seeds for challenge to gender and class hierarchies.
The Georgian period saw continual warfare, including the Seven Years' War, known in America as the French and Indian War (1756–63), the American Revolutionary War (1775–83), the French Revolutionary Wars (1792–1802), the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and the Napoleonic Wars (1803–15). The British won most of the wars except for the American Revolution, where the combined weight of the United States, France, Spain and the Netherlands overwhelmed Britain, which stood alone without allies.
The loss of some of the American Colonies in the American War of Independence was regarded as a national disaster and was seen by some foreign observers as heralding the end of Britain as a great power. In Europe, the wars with France dragged on for nearly a quarter of a century, 1793–1815. Victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) and the Battle of Waterloo (1815) under Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington brought a sense of triumphalism and political reaction.
The expansion of empire brought fame to statesmen and explorers such as Clive of India and Captain Cook, and sowed the seeds of the worldwide British Empire of the Victorian and Edwardian eras which were to follow.
The trading nation
The era was prosperous as entrepreneurs extended the range of their business around the globe. By the 1720s Britain was one of the most prosperous countries in the world, and Daniel Defoe boasted:
- we are the most "diligent nation in the world. Vast trade, rich manufactures, mighty wealth, universal correspondence, and happy success have been constant companions of England, and given us the title of an industrious people."
While the other major powers were primarily motivated toward territorial gains, and protection of their dynasties (such as the Habsburg and Bourbon dynasties, and the House of Hohenzollern), Britain had a different set of primary interests. Its main diplomatic goal (besides protecting the homeland from invasion) was building a worldwide trading network for its merchants, manufacturers, shippers and financiers. This required a hegemonic Royal Navy so powerful that no rival could sweep its ships from the world's trading routes, or invade the British Isles. The London government enhanced the private sector by incorporating numerous privately financed London-based companies for establishing trading posts and opening import-export businesses across the world. Each was given a monopoly of trade to the specified geographical region. The first enterprise was the Muscovy Company set up in 1555 to trade with Russia. Other prominent enterprises included the East India Company, and the Hudson's Bay Company in Canada. The Company of Royal Adventurers Trading to Africa had been set up in 1662 to trade in gold, ivory and slaves in Africa; it was reestablished as the Royal African Company in 1672 and focused on the slave trade. British involvement in the each of the four major wars, 1740 to 1783, paid off handsomely in terms of trade. Even the loss of the 13 colonies was made up by a very favorable trading relationship with the new United States of America. British gained dominance in the trade with India, and largely dominated the highly lucrative slave, sugar, and commercial trades originating in West Africa and the West Indies. China would be next on the agenda. Other powers set up similar monopolies on a much smaller scale; only the Netherlands emphasized trade as much as England.
Mercantilism was the basic policy imposed by Britain on its colonies. Mercantilism meant that the government and the merchants became partners with the goal of increasing political power and private wealth, to the exclusion of other empires. The government protected its merchants—and kept others out—by trade barriers, regulations, and subsidies to domestic industries in order to maximise exports from and minimise imports to the realm. The government had to fight smuggling, which became a favourite American technique in the 18th century to circumvent the restrictions on trading with the French, Spanish or Dutch. The goal of mercantilism was to run trade surpluses, so that gold and silver would pour into London. The government took its share through duties and taxes, with the remainder going to merchants in Britain. The government spent much of its revenue on a large and powerful Royal Navy, which not only protected the British colonies but threatened the colonies of the other empires, and sometimes seized them. The colonies were captive markets for British industry, and the goal was to enrich the mother country.
Most of the companies earned good profits, and enormous personal fortunes were created in India, but there was one major fiasco that caused heavy losses. The South Sea Bubble was a business enterprise that exploded in scandal. The South Sea Company was a private business corporation supposedly set up much like the other trading companies, with a focus on South America. Its actual purpose was to renegotiate previous high-interest government loans amounting to ₤31 million through market manipulation and speculation. It issued stock four times in 1720 that reached about 8,000 investors. Prices kept soaring every day, from ₤130 a share to ₤1,000, with insiders making huge paper profits. The Bubble collapsed overnight, ruining many speculators. Investigations showed bribes had reached into high places—even to the king. The prime minister Robert Walpole managed to wind it down with minimal political and economic damage, although some losers fled to exile or committed suicide.
Politics and social revolt
With the ending of the War with France, Great Britain entered a period of greater economic depression and political uncertainty, characterised by social discontent and unrest. The Radical political party published a leaflet called The Political Register, also known as "The Two Penny Trash" to its rivals. The so-called March of the Blanketeers saw 400 spinners and weavers march from Manchester to London in March 1817 to hand the Government a petition. The Luddites destroyed and damaged machinery in the industrial north-west of England. The Peterloo Massacre in 1819 began as a protest rally which saw 60,000 people gathering to protest about their living standards, but was quelled by military action and saw eleven people killed and 400 wounded. The Cato Street Conspiracy of 1820 sought to blow up the Cabinet and then move on to storm the Tower of London and overthrow the government. This too was thwarted, with the conspirators executed or transported to Australia.
English historian Peter Gay argues that the Scottish Enlightenment "was a small and cohesive group of friends – David Hume, Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, and others – who knew one another intimately and talked to one another incessantly. Education was a priority in Scotland, both at the local level and especially in four universities that had stronger reputations than any in England. The Enlightenment culture was based on close readings of new books, and intense discussions that took place daily at such intellectual gathering places in Edinburgh as The Select Society and, later, The Poker Club as well as within Scotland's ancient universities (St Andrews, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen). Sharing the humanist and rationalist outlook of the European Enlightenment of the same time period, the thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment asserted the importance of human reason combined with a rejection of any authority that could not be justified by reason. In Scotland, the Enlightenment was characterised by a thoroughgoing empiricism and practicality where the chief values were improvement, virtue, and practical benefit for the individual and society as a whole. Among the fields that rapidly advanced were philosophy, economics, history architecture, and medicine. Leaders included Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, Adam Smith, Dugald Stewart, Thomas Reid, William Robertson, Henry Home, Lord Kames, Adam Ferguson, John Playfair, Joseph Black and James Hutton. The Scottish Enlightenment influenced England and the American colonies, and to a lesser extent continental Europe.
The very existence of an English Enlightenment has been hotly debated by scholars. The majority of textbooks and standard surveys make no room for an English Enlightenment. Some European surveys include England, others ignore it but do include as enlightenment intellectuals such representative Englishmen as Newton, Locke, Jonathan Swift, although they do include coverage of such major intellectuals as Joseph Addison, Edward Gibbon, John Locke, Isaac Newton, Alexander Pope, Joshua Reynolds, and Jonathan Swift. Roy Porter argues that the reason for the neglect was the assumption that the movement was primarily French-inspired, that it was largely a-religious or anti-clerical, and it stood in outspoken defiance to the established order. Porter admits that after the 1720s, England could claim few thinkers to equal Diderot, Voltaire or Rousseau. Indeed, its leading intellectuals, such as Edward Gibbon, Edmund Burke, and Samuel Johnson were all quite conservative and supported the standing order. Porter says the reason was that Enlightenment had come early to England, and had succeeded so that the culture had accepted political liberalism, philosophical empiricism, and religious toleration of the sort that intellectuals on the continent had to fight for against powerful odds. The coffee-house culture provided an ideal venue for enlightened conversation. Furthermore, England rejected the collectivism of the continent, and emphasized the improvement of individuals as the main goal of enlightenment
- Upon the death of his second cousin Queen Anne, George Louis, Elector of Hanover succeeds as the new King, George I, of Great Britain and Ireland, the former of which had itself been established in 1706. This is the beginning of the House of Hanover's reign over the British Crown.
- The Whig Party wins the British Parliamentary Election for the House of Commons. This party is dominant until 1760.
- George I dies on 11 June. His son George, Prince of Wales ascends to the throne as George II
- George II dies on 25 October, and his grandson George, Prince of Wales ascends to the throne as George III, since his father, Frederick, Prince of Wales, had died on 31 March 1751.
- Britain is victorious in the Seven Years' War. The Treaty of Paris of 1763 grants Britain domain over vast new territories around the world.
- The Stamp Act is passed by the Parliament of Great Britain, causing much unrest in the Thirteen Colonies in North America.
- Australia and New Zealand are claimed as British colonies.
- The Inclosure Act 1773 is put into place by the British Parliament. This act brought about the enclosure of land and removing the right of common land access. This began an internal mass movement of rural poor from the countryside into the cities.
- The Thirteen Colonies in North America declare their independence from the British Crown and British Parliament.
- The British Army in America under Lord Cornwallis surrenders to George Washington after its defeat in Yorktown, Virginia in October 1781.
- Great Britain formally recognises the independence of the original 13 American States when the Treaty of Paris of 1783 is signed by David Hartley, representing George III, and by the American treaty delegation.
- Australia is settled through penal transportation to the colony of New South Wales from 26 January.
- Thomas Robert Malthus, an Anglican cleric authors An Essay on the Principle of Population. This work, the origin of Malthusianism, posited a need for population control to avoid poverty and famine or conflict over scare resources.
- The Act of Union 1800 comes into effect on 1 January, uniting the Kingdoms of Great Britain and of Ireland into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
- The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act became law, making it illegal to engage in the slave trade throughout the British Empire, partly as a result of a twenty-year parliamentary campaign by William Wilberforce.
- George, Prince of Wales begins his nine-year period as the regent (he became known as George, Prince Regent) for George III, who had become delusional. This sub-period of the Georgian Era is known as the Regency era.
- Napoleon I of France is defeated by the Seventh Coalition under The Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo, in what is now Wallonia, Belgium.
- The Peterloo Massacre occurs.
- George III dies on 29 January, and his son George, Prince Regent ascends to the throne of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland as George IV.
- George IV dies on 26 June. According to some authorities, this is the end of the Georgian era of the House of Hanover. However, many other authorities continue this era during the relatively short reign of his younger brother, The Prince William, Duke of Clarence, who became William IV.
- Slavery Abolition Act passed by Parliament through the influence of William Wilberforce and the Evangelical movement, thus criminalising slavery within the British Empire.
- William IV dies on 20 June, ending the Georgian Era. In the United Kingdom, he was succeeded by his niece, Queen Victoria, the last member of the House of Hanover. She married Prince Albert, who was of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and so, when their son Albert Edward, Prince of Wales succeeded as Edward VII, that House gained the British throne. In the Kingdom of Hanover, William IV is succeeded by his younger brother, Ernest Augustus.
- E. B. Pryde (23 February 1996). Handbook of British Chronology. Cambridge University Press. pp. 46–47. ISBN 978-0-521-56350-5.
- Roger D. Lund, Ridicule, Religion and the Politics of Wit in Augustan England (Ashgate, 2013) ch 1.
- Anthony Armstrong, The Church of England: the Methodists and society, 1700–1850 (1973).
- Asa Briggs, The age of improvement, 1783–1867 (1959), pp 66–73.
- John Rule, Albion's People: English Society 1714–1815 (1992) ch 2–6
- Morris, R.J. (March 1983). "Voluntary Societies and British Urban Elites, 1780-1850: An Analysis". The Historical Journal. 26 (1): 99.
- Wood, Lisa (2003). Modes of Discipline: Women, Conservatism, and the Novel after the French Revolution. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press. pp. 42–44.
- Jeremy Black, Crisis of Empire: Britain and America in the Eighteenth Century (2010)
- Eliga H. Gould, "American independence and Britain's counter-revolution", Past & Present (1997) #154 pp 107–41
- Julian Hoppit, A Land of Liberty?: England 1689–1727 (2000) p 344
- Eric J. Evans, The forging of the modern state: early industrial Britain, 1783–1872 (1996) p 31.
- Ann M. Carlos and Stephen Nicholas. "'Giants of an Earlier Capitalism': The Chartered Trading Companies as Modern Multinationals." Business history review 62#3 (1988): 398-419. in JSTOR
- Max Savelle, Seeds of Liberty: The Genesis of the American Mind (2005) pp. 204–211
- William R. Nester, The Great Frontier War: Britain, France, and the Imperial Struggle for North America, 1607–1755 (Praeger, 2000) p, 54.
- Hoppit, A Land of Liberty?: England 1689–1727 (2000) pp 334–38
- Julian Hoppit, "The Myths of the South Sea Bubble", Transactions of the Royal Historical Society (1962), 12#1 pp 141–165
- Adrienne Koch, ed., The American enlightenment: The shaping of the American experiment and a free society (1965).
- Peter Gay, ed. The Enlightenment: A comprehensive anthology (1973) p 15.
- Matthew Daniel Eddy, "Natural History, Natural Philosophy and Readership", in Stephen Brown and Warren McDougall, eds., The Edinburgh History of the Book in Scotland, Vol. II: Enlightenment and Expansion, 1707–1800 (2012), pp 297-309 online
- David Daiches, Peter Jones, Jean Jones, eds., A Hotbed of Genius: The Scottish Enlightenment 1731–1790 (Edinburgh UP, 1986).
- Peter Gay, ed. The Enlightenment: A comprehensive anthology (1973) p 14
- Roy Porter, "England" in Alan Charles Kors, ed., Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment (2003) 1:409–15.
- Karen O'Brien, "English Enlightenment Histories, 1750–c.1815" in José Rabasa et al. eds. (2012). The Oxford History of Historical Writing. 3: 1400-1800. OUP Oxford. pp. 518–35.
- Roy Porter, The creation of the modern world: the untold story of the British Enlightenment (2000), pp 1–12, 36-37, 482–84.
- Andress, David. The savage storm: Britain on the brink in the age of Napoleon (2012).
- Armstrong, Anthony. The Church of England: the Methodists and society, 1700–1850 (1973).
- Bates, Stephen. Year of Waterloo: Britain in 1815 (2015).
- Black, Jeremy. "Georges I & II: Limited monarchs." History Today 53.2 (2003): 11+
- Black, Jeremy. The Hanoverians: The History of a Dynasty (2004), 288 pp.
- Boyd, Hilton. A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People?: England 1783–1846 (2008) 783pp
- Briggs, Asa. The making of modern England, 1783–1867: The age of the improvement (1959)
- Evans, E.J. Britain before the Reform Act: politics and society 1815–1832 (1989)
- Gould, Eliga H. "American independence and Britain's counter-revolution", Past & Present (1997) #154 pp 107–41
- Hochschild, Adam. Bury the Chains, The British Struggle to Abolish Slavery (Basingstoke: Pan Macmillan, 2005)
- Holmes, Richard. The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science (2009)
- Hunt, William. The History of England from the Accession of George III to the close of Pitt's first Administration (1905), highly detailed on politics and diplomacy, 1760–1801. online
- Leadam, I. S. The History of England From The Accession of Anne To The Death of George II (1912) online, highly detailed on politics and diplomacy 1702–1760.
- Mokyr, Joel. The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain 1700–1850 (2010).
- Mori, Jennifer. Britain in the Age of the French Revolution: 1785–1820 (Routledge, 2014).
- Newman, Gerald, ed. (1997). Britain in the Hanoverian Age, 1714-1837: An Encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. online review; 904pp; short articles by experts
- Plumb, J. H. England in the Eighteenth Century (1950), short older survey by a leading expert. online
- Plumb, J. H. The First Four Georges. Revised ed. Hamlyn, 1974.
- Redman, Alvin. The House of Hanover. Coward-McCann, 1960.
- Robertson, Charles. England under the Hanoverians (1911) online
- Rule. John. Albion's People: English Society 1714–1815 (1992)
- Schweizer, Karl W., and Jeremy Black, eds. Politics and the Press in Hanoverian Britain (E. Mellon Press, 1989).
- Turner, M.J. The Age of Unease: government and reform in Britain, 1782–1832 (2000)
- Watson J. Steven. The Reign of George III: 1760–1815 (1960), scholarly survey
- Webb, R.K. Modern England: from the 18th century to the present (1968) online university textbook
- Williams, Basil. The Whig Supremacy 1714–1760 (1939) online edition
- Wilson, Charles. England's apprenticeship, 1603–1763 (1967), comprehensive economic and business history.
- Woodward; E. L. The Age of Reform, 1815–1870, (1938) online edition
- Bultmann, William A. "Early Hanoverian England (1714–1760): Some Recent Writings", in Elizabeth Chapin Furber, ed. Changing views on British history: essays on historical writing since 1939 (Harvard University Press, 1966), pp 181–205
- O’Gorman, Frank. "The Recent Historiography of the Hanoverian Regime." Historical Journal 29#4 (1986): 1005–1020.
- Simms, Brendan and Torsten Riotte, eds. The Hanoverian Dimension in British History, 1714–1837 (2009) online, focus on Hanover
- Snyder, Henry L. "Early Georgian England", in Richard Schlatter, ed., Recent Views on British History: Essays on Historical Writing since 1966 (Rutgers UP, 1984), pp. 167–196, historiography
Note: In the twentieth century, the period 1910–1936 was informally called the Georgian Era during the reign of George V (following the Edwardian Era), and is sometimes still referred to as such; see Georgian Poetry.