England’s Victorian and Edwardian eras did much to establish the country’s modern identity, and served to shape history through the dispersion of English culture. These two eras mark the zenith of England’s international power, defined by its imperial sphere of influence before the crushing demands of the World Wars. Despite their proximity in time, the two eras, named respectively for the mother and son who ruled England, differed sharply in key areas.
Signs of the Times
Though King Edward VII succeeded his mother, Queen Victoria, the Edwardian era, which lasted from 1901 to 1910, and the Victorian, which covered 1837 to 1901, occurred in different centuries starkly separated in terms of technological development. The distinctly 19th century Victorian era was a time of locomotives and steam travel, gas lighting, horse-drawn carriages and the telegraph. The Edwardian era witnessed the development of the automobile industry, the introduction of electric lighting and, thanks to the 1899 Telegraph Act, the first local telephone systems. Advancements in communication and transportation influenced a reevaluation of British foreign relations. King Edward VII distinguished himself with his active foreign policy. Queen Victoria, largely withdrawn from public life, had ruled as a remote figure.
Corseted Victoria and Dapper Edward
Even with the introduction of the sewing machine, Victorian-era clothing remained expensive, so only the wealthy had multiple outfits. Fashionable women wore elaborate dresses with many components, such as the petticoat, chemise and corset. Men wore long frock coats with vests or waistcoats, and evening wear consisted of a coat with tails. King Edward VII had a personal interest in fashion and initiated a vogue in French clothing. Clothing started to become machine-made in the Edwardian era. Women’s clothing became less restrictive, with skirts and blouses achieving popularity. Men began to wear blazers and, in the evening, the tuxedo replaced the tailcoat.
The Arts and Architecture
Gothic Revival architecture was a hallmark of the Victorian era. A classic example of this is England's Houses of Parliament, with the decorative battlements, scalloping and lancet windows. Victorian novels, such as those of Charles Dickens, featured large casts of idealized characters. The Edwardian era corresponded to France's Belle Epoque, and shared that era’s predilection for artistic experimentation. Literary examples include the psychological narratives of Joseph Conrad and the imaginative fiction of H.G. Wells. Architectural taste reflected a preference for Edwardian Baroque, with its domes and arches. The Edwardian era also saw the emergence of mass-produced recorded music, available as wax cylinders.
Changing Political Landscape
The Edwardian era saw an increase in social agitation. Groups marginalized in the Victorian era, such as women and laborers, became politicized. The Edwardian era marked the beginning of the women’s suffrage movement, and the rise of the labor movement culminated in the Great Unrest of 1911. The Victorian era witnessed Britain’s emergence as a global power, one that controlled almost a quarter of the planet. This was accomplished mainly to expand trade and capture resources to fuel industry. In the Edwardian era, the labor movement helped the first British anti-war movement reach the height of its pre-World War I influence.
- The Telephone File: UK Telephone History
- BBC Homes: Design -- Edwardian
- The Telegraph: UK Car Industry -- A History in Pictures
- BBC History: British History In Depth -- Victorian Technology
- BBC History: Edward VII
- Victoria and Albert Museum: Victorian Fashion
- The Daily Mail: Edwardian Street Style
- Encyclopedia Brittanica: Gothic Revival
- The Victorian Web: Pre-Raphaelites -- An Introduction
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Art Nouveau
- The Guardian: Edwardian Neo-Baroque
- Library of Congress: The History of the Edison Cylinder Phonograph
- The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Victorian Age -- Topic 4 -- Overview
- The Independent: General History of Women's Suffrage in Britain
- Socialist Party: Britain 1911-1914 -- The Great Unrest
- The British Peace Movement 1870 - 1914; Paul Laity
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images