England’s Victorian era takes its name from Queen Victoria, British monarch between 1837 and 1901. From 1801 onward, the Parliament in London represented and governed England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland as the United Kingdom. At the same time, Britain’s expanding empire placed London at the center of a vast territory, which, by Victoria’s death in 1901, covered one-fifth of the surface of the Earth.
The dominant political parties changed over Victoria’s reign. When she took the throne in 1837, her first prime minister was the Whig politician Viscount Melbourne, and although the Whigs continued to influence British politics up to the 1860s, they were increasingly sidelined by the Liberal Party. The last Whig prime minister was Edward Smith Stanley, who resigned in 1868, and after that the politics of Victorian England were dominated by the Liberals and the Conservative Party.
The Victorian era witnessed significant reform of the political system. The Second Reform Act, passed in 1867, widened the electorate to include any man who either owned a house or paid rent of more than £10 a year, and also gave the vote to rural men owning very small parcels of land. Women remained unable to vote. Beginning in 1872, secret ballots removed much of the intimidation that had previously surrounded the electoral process, while the Third Reform Act of 1884 made the terms of voting identical across the country and changed electoral boundaries so that most constituencies elected only one member of Parliament to represent them at Westminster.
British politics faced some very serious issues during the Victorian era. The British Empire expanded during Victoria’s reign, posing big questions for London’s politicians. Following the Indian Mutiny of 1857, the government brought the administration of India under state control via the India Office in London, while at the very end of Victoria’s reign Britain was at war with Boer troops in South Africa.
Following the Act of Union in 1801, Ireland was an integral part of the United Kingdom throughout the Victorian era and periodically dominated political headlines. Issues of land ownership rose to prominence in the 1850s and 1860s, while in 1871 the London Parliament voted to break the Anglican Church’s traditional link with the state in Ireland. The Irish Home Rule movement grew stronger toward the end of the Victorian era, but Parliamentary bills to grant Ireland a measure of self-government were defeated in both 1886 and 1893.
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- Parliament.uk: Living Heritage, Parliament and Ireland, Repeal
- BBC History: Overview Victorian Britain 1837-1901
- Gov.uk: Past Prime Ministers, William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne
- “Victorian Britain, An Encyclopedia”; Sally Mitchell (Ed.)
- Gov.uk: Past Prime Ministers
- Gov.uk: Past Prime Ministers, Edward Smith Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby
- Parliament.uk: Living Heritage, Second Reform Act 1867
- Parliament.uk: Living Heritage, Third Reform Act 1884
- British Library: India Office Records
- Institute for Historical Review: The Boer War Remembered
- Parliament.uk: Living Heritage, Parliament and Ireland, Two Home Rule Bills
- Parliament.uk: Living Heritage, Parliament and Ireland, Parliamentary Union
- Parliament.uk: Living Heritage, Parliament and Ireland, Land and Politics
- Parliament.uk: Living Heritage, Parliament and Ireland, Disestablishment
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images