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17 February 2013

Mark Black: Edwardian Britain: A Very Brief History

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This very brief history helped to fill in the background to the Edwardian era in the UK better than popular TV series like Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs.

The Edwardian era marked the end of the stuffy Victorian era and became an era of economic and some social change. For example a start was made in 1911 on national insurance for the unemployed, the elderly and the unemployed. During his short reign Edward VII still lived his life as a regal playboy but he did help the pace of progress, especially in international affairs through his vast network of relatives in the royal families of Europe and Russia.

While some things were changing, as we see in the Edwardian soap operas, English high society continued to live a life of privilege and the working class, especially the servant class lived a poor and downtrodden existence. High society lived by a rigid set of rules and regulations aimed to divide the haves from the have nots and membership could be likened to an elite club with entry by invitation only. The rich held onto their wealth while the poor had to fend for themselves.

Some examples of high society morals are worth quoting. Divorce was rare and irrespective of the cause the husband always got custody of the children. Affairs within high society were common, but not if you were a single female whose duty was to remain pure until marriage and then single and married men were allowed to eye them. At some country house parties a special bell was rung at 6 am for men to return to their own rooms before the servants arrived to light the fires.

Altogether this short history is a fascinating insight to a world that is only just over a century ago. While Edward was fondly known as the Peacemaker it was just 4 years after he died that WWI started (editors please note there are a couple of places where this is shown as WWII).


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