Marsh's estimate is more favourable than Blake's, he says Salisbury was a leader who "held back the popular tide for twenty years. Matthew points to "the narrow cynicism of Salisbury". The Liberal Party was in power from to , when it formed a wartime coalition. It passed the welfare reforms that created a basic British welfare state.
It weakened the veto power of Lords, blocked woman suffrage. In it apparently "solved" the problem of Irish Home Rule but when the war broke out the solution was shelved. Asquith was overwhelmed by the wartime role of coalition prime minister, and Lloyd George replaced him as the coalition prime minister in late but Asquith remained Liberal party leader. The two fought for years over control of the party, badly weakening it in the process. Queen Victoria died in and her son Edward VII became king, inaugurating the Edwardian Era, which was characterised by great and ostentatious displays of wealth in contrast to the sombre Victorian Era.
With the advent of the 20th century, things such as motion pictures, automobiles, and aeroplanes were coming into use. The new century was characterised by a feeling of great optimism. The social reforms of the last century continued into the 20th with the Labour Party being formed in Edward died in , to be succeeded by George V , who reigned — Scandal-free, hard working and popular, George V was the British monarch who, with Queen Mary, established the modern pattern of exemplary conduct for British royalty, based on middle-class values and virtues.
He understood the overseas Empire better than any of his prime ministers and used his exceptional memory for figures and details, whether of uniforms, politics, or relations, to good effect in reaching out in conversation with his subjects. The era was prosperous but political crises were escalating out of control. Dangerfield identified the "strange death of liberal England" as the multiple crisis that hit simultaneously in — with serious social and political instability arising from the Irish crisis, labour unrest , the women's suffrage movements, and partisan and constitutional struggles in Parliament.
At one point it even seemed the Army might refuse orders dealing with Northern Ireland. Ross McKibbin argues that the political party system of the Edwardian era was in delicate balance on the eve of the war in The Liberals were in power with a progressive alliance of Labour and, off and on, Irish Nationalists.
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The coalition was committed to free trade as opposed to the high tariffs the Conservatives sought , free collective bargaining for trades unions which Conservatives opposed , an active social policy that was forging the welfare state, and constitutional reform to reduce the power of the House of Lords. The coalition lacked a long-term plan, because it was cobbled together from leftovers from the s. The sociological basis was non-Anglican religion and non-English ethnicity rather than the emerging class conflict emphasized by Labour.
Asquith of the Liberal Party. The rest of the Empire automatically followed. The cabinet's basic reasons for declaring war focused on a deep commitment to France and avoidance of splitting the Liberal Party. That would deeply split the party and mean loss of control of the government to a coalition or to the Unionist i.
Conservative opposition. However, the large antiwar element among Liberals, with David Lloyd George as spokesperson, would support the war to honour the treaty that guaranteed Belgian neutrality.
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So Belgium rather than France was the public reason given. Posters took the line that Britain was required to go to war to safeguard Belgium's neutrality under the Treaty of London.
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Britain actually entered the war to support France, which had entered to support Russia, which in turn had entered to support Serbia. After a few weeks the Western Front turned into a killing ground in which millions of men died but no army made a large advance. The main British contribution was financial—loans and grants helped Russia, Italy and smaller allies afford the war.
The stalemate required an endless supply of men and munitions. By , volunteering fell off, the government imposed conscription in Britain but not in Ireland to keep up the strength of the Army. With his slow start and mobilization of national resources, Prime Minister H.
Asquith had proven inadequate: he was more of a committee chairman, and he started so drink so heavily after midday that only his morning hours were effective. He had strong support from Unionists and considerable backing of Labour, as well as a majority of his own Liberal Party, although Asquith turned hostile. Lloyd George answered the loud demands for a much more decisive government by setting up a new small war cabinet, a cabinet secretariat under Hankey, and a secretariat of private advisors in the 'Garden Suburb'; he moved towards prime ministerial control.
Britain eagerly supported the war, but Irish Nationalist opinion was divided: some served in the British Army, but the Irish Republican Brotherhood plotted an Easter Rebellion in It quickly failed but the brutal repression that followed turned that element against Britain, as did failed British plans to introduce conscription in Ireland in The nation now successfully mobilised its manpower, womanpower, industry, finances, Empire and diplomacy, in league with France and the U. The War saw a decline of civilian consumption, with a major reallocation to munitions.
The war forced Britain to use up its financial reserves and borrow large sums from New York banks. After the U. The Royal Navy dominated the seas, defeating the smaller German fleet in the only major naval battle of the war, the Battle of Jutland in Germany was blockaded, leading to an increasing shortage short of food. Germany's naval strategy increasingly turned towards use of U-Boats to strike back against the British, despite the risk of triggering war with the powerful neutral power, the United States.
Berlin declared the water routes to Britain were war zones where any ship, neutral or otherwise, was a target. Vigorous,protests by American President Woodrow Wilson forced Berlin to abandon unrestricted submarine warfare. With victory over Russia in , the German high command now calculated it could finally have numerical superiority on the Western Front. Planning for a massive spring offensive in , it resumed the sinking of all merchant ships without warning, even if they were flying the American flag.
The US entered the war alongside the Allies without officially joining them , and provided the needed money and supplies to sustain the Allies' war efforts. The U-boat threat was ultimately defeated by a convoy system across the Atlantic. Britain fought the Ottoman Empire, suffering defeats in the Gallipoli Campaign and in Mesopotamia Iraq , while arousing the Arabs who helped expel the Turks from their lands.
Exhaustion and war-weariness were growing worse in , as the fighting in France continued with no end in sight.
After defeating Russia, the Germans tried to win in the spring of before the millions of American soldiers arrived. They failed, and they were overwhelmed by August and finally accepted an Armistice on 11 November , that amounted to a surrender. British society and government were radically transformed by the repeated calls for manpower, the employment of women, the dramatic increase in industrial production and munitions, price controls and rationing, and the wide and deep emotional patriotism dedicated to winning the war.
Parliament took a backseat, as new departments bureaus committees and operations were created every week, experts were consulted, and the prime minister's Orders in Council replaced the slow legislative process. Even after peace arrived, the new size and dynamism had permanently transformed the effectiveness of British government. He gave energy and dynamism to the war effort with his remarkable ability to convince people to do what he wanted and thus get ideas put into actual useful high-speed motion. His top aide Winston Churchill said of Lloyd George: "He was the greatest master of the art of getting things done and of putting things through that I ever knew; in fact no British politician my day has possessed half his competence as a mover of men and affairs.
Victorian attitudes and ideals that had continued into the first years of the 20th century changed during the First World War. The almost three million casualties were known as the " Lost Generation ", and such numbers inevitably left society scarred. The lost generation felt its sacrifice was little regarded in Britain, with poems like Siegfried Sassoon 's Blighters criticising the ill-informed jingoism of the home front.
The lost generation was politically inert, and never had its chance to make a generational change in political power. The young men who governed Britain in were the same old men who governed Britain in The war had been won by Britain and its allies, but at a terrible human and financial cost, creating a sentiment that wars should never be fought again.
The League of Nations was founded with the idea that nations could resolve their differences peacefully, but these hopes were unfulfilled. The harsh peace settlement imposed on Germany would leave it embittered and seeking revenge. They formed the League of Nations as a mechanism to prevent future wars. They sliced up the losers to form new nations in Europe, and divided up the German colonies and Ottoman holdings outside Turkey.
They imposed what appeared to be heavy financial reparations but in the event were of modest size. They humiliated Germany by forcing it to declare its guilt for starting the war, a policy that caused deep resentment in Germany and helped fuel reactions such as Nazism. Britain gained the German colony of Tanganyika and part of Togoland in Africa, while its dominions added other colonies. Britain gained League of Nations mandates over Palestine, which had been partly promised as a homeland for Jewish settlers, and Iraq.
Iraq became fully independent in Egypt, which had been a British protectorate since , became independent in , although the British remained there until In the House of Commons passed a new Home Rule bill. Under the Parliament Act the House of Lords retained the power to delay legislation by up to two years, so it was eventually enacted as the Government of Ireland Act , but suspended for the duration of the war. Civil war threatened when the Protestant-Unionists of Northern Ireland refused to be placed under Catholic-Nationalist control.
Semi-military units were formed ready to fight—the Unionist Ulster Volunteers opposed to the Act and their Nationalist counterparts, the Irish Volunteers supporting the Act.
A Companion to Nineteenth-Century Britain
The outbreak of the World War in put the crisis on political hold. A disorganized Easter Rising in was brutally suppressed by the British, which had the effect of galvanizing Nationalist demands for independence. Historian Arthur Marwick sees a radical transformation of British society resulting from the Great War, a deluge that swept away many old attitudes and brought in a more equalitarian society.
He sees the famous literary pessimism of the s as misplaced, arguing there were major positive long-term consequences of the war to British society.