When the century began, the country was locked in the Napoleonic wars with France. Soon after the end of the century, Britain controlled the biggest empire the world had ever seen.
1805 - the Battle of Trafalgar. Horatio Nelson
1815-the Battle of Waterloo. Duke of Wellington
One section of this empire was Ireland.During this century the British culture and way of life came to predominate in Ireland. In the 1840s, the potato crop failed two years in a row and there was a terrible famine. Millions of peasants, those with Irish Gaelic language and customs, either died or emigrated. By the end of the century almost the whole of the remaining population were using English as their first language.
Another part of the empire was made up of Canada, Australia and New Zealand,where settlers from the British Isles formed the majority of the population. These countries had complete internal self-government but recognized the overall authority of the British government. Another was India,an enormous country with a culture more ancient than Britain's. Tens of thousands of British civil servants and troops were used to govern it. At the head of this administration was a viceroy (governor) whose position within the country was similar to the monarch's in Britain itself. Because India was so far away, and the journey from Britain took so long, these British officials spent most of their working lives there and so developed a distinctly Anglo-Indian way of life. They imposed British institutions and methods of government on the country. Large parts of Africaalso belonged to the empire. Most of Britain's African colonies started as trading bases on the coast. As well as these areas (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and Africa), the empire included numerous smaller areas and islands. Most of them were acquired because of their strategic position along trading routes.
A change in attitude in Britain towards colonization during the XIX century gave new encouragement to the empire builders. Previously, the aim was simply to possess territory, but not necessarily to govern it. By the end of the century, colonization was seen as a matter of destiny. There was an enormous increase in wealth during the century, so that Britain became the world's foremost economic power. This, together with long years of political stability unequalled anywhere else in Europe, gave the British a sense of supreme confidence,even arrogance, about their culture and civilization. The British came to see themselves as having a duty to spread this culture and civilization around the world. Being the rulers ofan empire was therefore a matter of moral obligation. It was, in fact, known as 'the "white man's burden".
There were great changes in social structure. Most people now lived in towns and cities. They no longer depended on country landowners for their living but rather on the owners of industries. These factory owners held the real power in the country, along with the new and growing middle class of trade people. As they established their power, so they established a set of values which emphasized hard work, thrift, religious observance, family life, an awareness of one's duty, absolute honesty in public life and extreme respectability in sexual matters. This is the set of values which we now call "Victorian".
Middle-class religious conviction, together with a conscious belief that reform was better than revolution, allowed reforms in political and public life to take place. Britain was gradually turning into something resembling a modern state. There were not only political reforms, but also reforms which recognized some human rights (as we now call them). The laws against people on the basis of religion were abolished, and laws were made to protect workers from some of the worst forms of exploitation resulting from the industriai mode of production. Public services such as the police force were set up.
1833 - The first law regulating factory working conditions is passed. (It set a limit on the number of hours that children could work.)
1870 - Free primary education (up to the age of eleven) is established.
1893 - The first socialist, Keir Hardie, is elected to Parliament. The Labour Party established.
Despite reform, the nature of the new industrial society forced many people to live and work in very unpleasant conditions. Writers and intellectuals of this period either protested against the horrors of this new style of life (as Dickens did) or simply ignored it. Many, especially the Romantic poets, praised the beauties of the countryside and the simplicity of country life. This was a new development. In previous centuries the countryside had just existed, and it wasn't something to be discussed or admired. But from this time on, most British people developed a sentimental attachment to the idea of the countryside.