The Georgian era is a period of British history which takes its name from, and is normally defined as spanning the reigns of, the first four Hanoverian kings of Great Britain (later the United Kingdom): George I, George II, George III and George IV. The era covers the period from 1714 to 1837, with the sub-period of the Regency defined by the Regency of George IV as Prince of Wales during the illness of his father George III. Often the short reign of the fifth and final Hanoverian king King William IV (1830 to 1837) is also included. The last Hanoverian monarch of the UK was William's niece Queen Victoria who is the namesake of the following historical era, the Victorian, which is usually defined as occurring from the start of her reign, when William died, and continuing until her death.
The term "Georgian" is typically used in the contexts of social history and architecture.
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, characterized 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.
Religious and social change
It was a time of immense social change in Britain, with the beginning and other parts of the British Empire.
Social reform under politicians such as Robert Peel and campaigners like William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson and members of the Clapham Sect began to bring about radical change in areas such as the abolition of slavery, prison reform and social justice. An Evangelical revival was seen in the Church of England with men such as George Whitefield, John Wesley (later to found the Methodists), Charles Wesley, Griffith Jones, Howell Harris, Daniel Rowland, William Cowper, John Newton, Thomas Scott, and Charles Simeon. It also saw the rise of Non-conformists and various Dissenting groups such as the Reformed Baptists with John Gill, Augustus Toplady, John Fawcett, and William Carey.
Philanthropists and writers such as Hannah More, Thomas Coram, Robert Raikes and Beilby Porteus, Bishop of London, began to address the social ills of the day, and saw the founding of hospitals, Sunday schools and orphanages.
Fine examples of distinctive Georgian architecture are Edinburgh's New Town, Bath, Georgian Dublin, Grainger Town in Newcastle Upon Tyne as well as Bristol.
The Georgian era was moreover a time of British expansion throughout the world. There was continual warfare, including the Seven Years War, known in America as the French and Indian War (1756-1763), American Revolution (1775-1783), the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815). The British won all 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.
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 maximize exports from and minimize imports to the realm. The government had to fight smuggling--which became a favorite 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 superb Royal Navy, which not only protected the British colonies but threatened the colonies of the other empires, and sometimes seized them. Thus the British Navy captured New Amsterdam (New York) in 1664. The colonies were captive markets for British industry, and the goal was to enrich the mother country.
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.
Politics and social revolt
With the ending of the War with France, the United Kingdom 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.
- Upon the death of his second cousin Queen Anne, George Louis, Elector of Hannover 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 was the party that was in general opposition of the policies of the King.
George I dies and his son George, Prince of Wales ascends to the throne as George II
- The final Jacobite rising is crushed at the Battle of Culloden.
George II dies, and his grandson George, Prince of Wales ascends to the throne as George III, since his father, Frederick, Prince of Wales, had died in 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.
- The War of Independence begins in the Thirteen Colonies, specifically in Massachusetts.
- 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.
British formally recognizes 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.
- 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
George, Prince of Wales begins his nine-year period as the regent (he became known as George, Prince Regent) for George III, who has become delusional. This sub-period of the Georgian Era is defined as the regency period.
- Napoleon I of France is defeated by the Seventh Coalition under The Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo, in what is now Flanders, Belgium.
- The Peterloo Massacre occurs.
George III dies, 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. According to some authorities, this is the end of the Georgian era of the House of Hannover. However, many other authorities continue this Era during the relatively-short reign of his brother, The Prince William, Duke of Clarence, who became William IV.
- Slavery Abolition Act is passed by Parliament through the influence of William Wilberforce and the Evangelical movement, thus criminalizing the African Slave trade and all its cruelties and abominations within the British Empire.
William IV dies, ending the Georgian Era, and is 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.
- Holmes, Richard. The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science (2009)
- 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
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- Mokyr, Joel. The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain 1700-1850 (2010)
- Phillips, Charles. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Kings and Queens of Britain. London: Hermes House (Arness Publishing), 2006 ISBN 0-681-45961-1
- 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)
- Williams, Basil. The Whig Supremacy 1714-1760 (1939) online edition
- Woodward; E. L. The Age of Reform, 1815-1870, (1938) online edition
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.
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