Hashtag History: The Dickens! …and the Bronte(s), and Cricket. Popular Culture in the Early Victorian Era (1836-1849)

Some time ago, in a class about the history of Popular Music and Culture, I came across an essay that made the claim ‘Popular Culture was born of the Napoleonic War’. I suppose a case could be made, in the age preceding the Napoleonic War the Bourgeois emerged as a powerful force and consumer base in the west, and to this day, the main consumer of popular media is the very bourgeois class which also tends to produce it. While I doubt the Napoleonic War itself actually caused the birth of Popular Culture, I’m sure the time frame (1803-1815) was likely it began to shift into a mode more recognisable in the current era.

I'm fairly certain that if he lived today, Poe would've written an HBO series.

I’m fairly certain that had he lived today, Poe would’ve written an HBO series.

Of course, all this assumes that it wasn’t a thing before, which is potentially problematic, don’t forget, once upon a time, Shakespeare was considered a playwright for the lower classes, as well as the aristocracy. Weird considering the fact that in the present day, we hold Shakespeare in much higher acclaim then we will ever likely hold the ‘writers’ of Keeping up with the Kardashians.
What would be unique about early Victorian Popular Culture then? Hard to say. Perhaps the widely available nature of it is a good starting place. Certainly, this would be an era in which most ‘popular media’ was still in the form of the printed word. The trouble with the printed word, historically, has been that it was difficult to both replicate and consume. Someone needed to know how to write, then it needed to be copied, and finally, it needed to have people read it.
The writing bit wasn’t necessarily hard. Since before the days of Rome, the west has had written languages and scribes. By the 19th century, the printing bit wasn’t hard, as Johannes Gutenberg had invented the printing press some four centuries prior. (Printing presses had existed in China and Korea prior, but it is unlikely that Europeans had knowledge of such things, indeed, to his knowledge, Gutenberg did invent the printing press). Thanks to scribes and Gutenberg’s press, there was no shortage of literature in the west.
What there was a shortage of, however, were the people who could read (i.e. consume) the books being printed. As the Bourgeois class grew, and as schooling became more and more affordable, and as various religious orders began to similarly teach literacy, there was an explosion of literacy in the west. This explosion of literacy was almost immediately followed by the explosion of cheap, gritty, dirty, mindless, melodramatic romance novels.

Well, thank God we've advanced past that stage of literature.

Well, thank God we’ve advanced past that stage of literature.

What it is about the human race that draws us to soap operas, I will likely never know. I mean look at the pop culture of most places, France, Latin America, India, the US, Britain, melodramatic love stories and soap operas seem to dominate all of it.
It’s into this arena of popular romance literature that our dear friend Charlotte Bronte enters, notably, with Jane Eyre, published 1847. Some thirty-four years prior, in 1813, Jane Austen had published the classic source of chick-flick material, Pride and Prejudice. (It was like recent best seller, Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies, only sans the undead). Of course, as you’ve likely noticed by now, Pride and Prejudice was something of a hit. And due to its status of being something of a hit, there were many imitations in the following years. When it came out, Pride and Prejudice likely didn’t contain any clichés. However, as it became thoroughly imitated, it became full of them. People couldn’t get enough of the ‘women need to become married in order to gain value, also, men need to be social climbers’ genre. Perhaps for members of the newish Middle Class, it allowed them to fantasise having the life of an aristocrat, or even became a how-to guide, on how to emulate the upper classes and fit into their new found wealth.
Whatever the reason, it was a genre that had been putting women into their place very readily since 1813. The well-educated Charlotte Bronte wasn’t keen on having her place be defined on her marriage. In this light, she penned Jane Eyre. A work that many have argued is a proto-feminist piece. The men, not Jane Eyre, in this piece are flawed, and in need of her justification. What is more, she actively avoids being married for most of the novel. When she does get married, it’s defeat. ‘Reader-I married him’, she says in exasperation when she finally weds Mr Rochester, but after travelling platonically, or at least, unwed, with St John across India. And even after Jane is wed to Rochester, she has a £20,000 inheritance (worth approximately £1,757,000 today) from her uncle. Rochester’s fortunes lay in ruin (quite literally) after his previous wife, driven mad, burns down his mansion, and he is blind and lame as a result. When he does marry Eyre, he is reliant on her, instead of vice versa. In short, throughout the novel, Jane Eyre acts with her own agency, independent, and ends with a man dependent on her instead of the other way around.
It was a major milestone in literature. In its time it was condemned by more conservative members of the media. It was subversive, it challenged social norms, it made women question their role as the put upon. Jane Eyre was explosive.
Similarly subversive in this era, came Charles Dickens.

Seen here, moments after a rag-tag gang of orphans pick-pocketed him.

Seen here, moments after a rag-tag gang of orphans pick-pocketed him.

I largely gave this much space to Jane Eyre in this entry in order to limit my ‘geek-out’ about Charles Dickens. For his, or any other time period, he is extraordinary. This isn’t, of course, to deny the extraordinary ability of the Brontes, Charlotte, et al. My bias likely comes from my early introduction to the near instant hit, A Christmas Carol. Indeed, one wouldn’t necessarily expect a man paid-by-the-word, like Dickens, to use excessive wordiness to his advantage. But he does, or did, rather.
Unlike the Brontes, whose most famous work comes purely in the forms of novels, Dickens tended to write his popular stories in episodic format, for periodical fiction magazines. For a young Charles Dickens, he wasn’t necessarily out to write great literary pieces to stand the ages, or to help women liberate themselves, no, Dickens, like many arts school students, was obsessed with Popular Culture, and only wanted to be a part of it. As time went on, he found his working class background was holding him back, especially as member of his family ended up in Debtor’s Prison. He became increasingly angry with the treatment of the poor in Britain.
1836 saw him finish the Pickwick Papers and begin Oliver Twist. By 1842, he found himself inspired during a visit to Manchester, and he began to pen A Christmas Carol, a periodical piece, eventually turned novel, in which he managed to both criticise the wealthy, describe the plight of the poor, and make Christmas a popular holiday, as well as a religious one, in Britain, the Empire, and the United States.
(Think about other religious holidays, such as St Francis Day, or Pentecost, not nearly as big of a production as Christmas. These are religious holidays, not necessarily popular ones. Christmas, alternatively, has gained additional meaning over its original Christian feast form. A lot of the secularisation and popularisation of Christmas as a ‘big deal’ begins here, with Dickens. Gift giving, tree decorating, crackers, cards, all things that became the norm in the Victorian Era, aren’t mentioned in the Bible, and have no religious significance, these are all popular culture elements of Christmas, not religious ones).
Yes, Dickens is a part of the cultural force that invented modern Christmas. If you’re one to believe this ‘war on Christmas’ nonsense, you could argue he fired the first shots. A Christmas Carol contains no references to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, no reference to the Magi, Mary, or Joseph. It merely contains humans helping other humans in the ‘spirit of Christmas’. And, some have argued, the Ghost of Christmas Present could have served as another step in the evolution of St Nicholas/Father Christmas/Santa Claus. While similarly, the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come began the popularisation of the hooded version of the ghost of death. (Previously the Grim Reaper rarely wore a hood, look at a medieval sketching of him, he tended to simply be a nude skeleton with a scythe). The ghost of Christmas past simply became the creepiest of the Muppets in A Muppet Christmas Carol.

As a child, I was more terrified of this 'innocent' child ghost than of the Grim Reaper Muppet at the end of the film.

As a child, I was more terrified of this ‘innocent’ child ghost than of the Grim Reaper Muppet at the end of the film.

This entry, I’m going to close with Cricket. I love cricket. I haven’t always. But I’ve grown to love it. Yes, I saw much of the 2013 Ashes, and yes, I most certainly saw the results. Australia was lucky this year, as apparently England forgot to send a team. Nonetheless, for most of the modern Commonwealth, cricket is a major sport. This is why it’s entirely ironic that the first international match of cricket to occur, in September of 1844, occurred between Canada and the United States. While Canada is a Commonwealth realm, it’s a realm that hasn’t fielded a good cricket team in… well, ages. The United States, of course, sets outside the Commonwealth, and is a land in the modern day that either doesn’t know what cricket is, or detests it terribly. Perhaps the reason the Americans hate cricket so much is because Canada won this match, played in New York City, by 23 runs. At which point I’m guessing the Americans swore off cricket forever, and adapted baseball as their national pastime.
Either way Australia, I’m looking forward to England winning the 2014 Ashes.

Hashtag History: The King Is Dead! Long Live the Queen! Queen Victoria, and the Dawn of the Victorian Era

Okay, the Victorian Era, where do I begin? I know historians say this phrase a lot, you know, the phrase I try to avoid repeating, the whole, ‘this [event/period/invention] totally changes the course of human history, and is extraordinarily important, please pay attention to the essay I’m writing’! bit or tangent that historians go off on. So, now I get the immense joy and pleasure of trying to convince you that this period that I’m writing about, the Victorian Era (1837-1901) is indeed one of these human race altering periods that is worth studying at length. (Having studied it at length myself).

Although, to be fair, not everything I've obsessed over/studied extensively has been that important...

Although, to be fair, not everything I’ve obsessed over/studied extensively has been that important…

That said, when talking about the importance of the Victorian Era it’s critical to approach it with a certain amount of… care. Some of the darkest parts of human history expose themselves here. The period of time that spans from the 1860’s to the 1960’s is quite arguably the most racist in the course of human history, and is the period of time from whence ‘white entitlement’ comes from. There isn’t a single nation on this planet that can walk away from the period of 1860’s to 1960’s free and clear from being accused of pursuing some form or another of racially based policy. Some nations were more racist then others, but really, it’s a very harsh decade to study several aspects of sociology. And there are some days when even the most objective, stoic, and logical of historians (like me, I do try my best to keep emotion out of history) walk away from the history books in disgust at the atrocities committed during this time period. In truth, when people talk about the wonders of the Victorian Era and the goodness of it, they neglect to mention that it would be best enjoyed as a white person, an Indian, or a Japanese person, or a Hispanic person. If you came from Africa, South East Asia, or East Asia, this is not a good time period for you. And in India, if you came from the wealthy families, or the North of India, you did alright. If you came from South India (where the skin tones turn darker) things don’t look good for you. Latin American? Well, you’ll do all right within Latin America itself. This is when you’re independent. Travel north though, to the United States, and that’s where things turn sour. Are you Irish? Well, you’ll do all right (not great, admittedly, but alright) in the UK, surprisingly, go to America, however, especially during the potato famine, and things become rougher. You won’t even be perceived as white.

All that said, this is an era filled, for the first time, with upward mobility.

Okay, you’re probably a bit shocked at that sentence. The paragraph proceeding it really didn’t lead up to it. And you’re right. That’s hardly an ideal paragraph to lead up to that sentence. When researching the Victorian Era for History, not that scourge nostalgia, but for proper history, it’s easy to get down on humanity. It’s easy to become a pessimist and hate the white race, or any race that indulged itself in Social Darwinism. (Whites, while they may have been the loudest about it, weren’t the only ones to exploit that false science). It’s easy to come across the photographs of mass graves, gruesome wars, or London (or any large city) slums before deciding you’ve had enough of the human race, and then spend the rest of your days with dogs/cats/ferrets. (Remember how in the 1990’s ferrets were the ‘in’ animal? This is just another reason why the 90’s sucked).

I grew up in a house with four cats and one (German Shepherd) dog. One ferret on a good day smells worse than all five of those creatures on their worst day combined.

I grew up in a house with four cats and one (German Shepherd) dog. One ferret on a good day smells worse than all five of those creatures on their worst day combined.

Now, I will admit, that the 1900’s was the era when the Middle Class absolutely exploded into prominence. But it grew a lot during the 1800’s. Think about it, when you picture the 19th century, what do you picture? I’m sure top-hats come to mind, walking sticks, dark clothing, maybe steam-powered everything, lots of fancy metal work, some bricks, lots of fancy brickwork. (I suppose masonry would work there too). What else comes to your mind as you picture the 19th century? Let me narrow this down, picture a 19th century street in any major city of the 19th century. I don’t care if you’re thinking of London, Calcutta, New York, Liverpool, or Paris. You should think of the advertising. Why? Because there was a lot of it. A lot. Indeed, the 19th century was probably the first century to see this large amount of mass-advertising. Why?

Because for the first time, people had money to spend.

'Rolling in the light blue with Britannia on the obverse side banknotes, I say'.

‘Rolling in the light blue with Britannia on the obverse side banknotes, I say’.

Again, we shall move quickly towards Capitalism 101 for a couple seconds, and lately this is the part of Capitalism that the world’s largest Capitalisms (Britain and America among the club here) seem to have forgotten. One of the most critical parts of a healthy economy is not an abundance of mineral resources, nor is it ‘cheap labour’. No. It’s a middle class. Why? Well, if we’re going to do this off of pure common sense, then I implore you to think about it. In the ‘upper class’, the aristocracy, the CEOs, the Kardashians, the Trust-Fund children, the Beckhams, what you have are consumers. That’s it, that’s all they do. They consume. They don’t produce anything. I everyone in the UK lived like the Beckhams, or the Ramseys, or the Bransons, the British economy would literally collapse on itself. Same to for the Americans if everyone lived like the Kennedys, the Kardashians, or the Bushes. It’d be non-existent. Britain would have nothing to offer the rest of the world. At the other extreme, you have the ‘lower class’, the ‘proletariat’, the ‘working class’. The class I’m from originally. While I have plenty of working class pride, the problem with the working class is that they produce. Think of that classic folk song ‘Sixteen Tonnes’ with the chorus, ‘You load sixteen tonnes, and what do you get, you get another day older and deeper in debt, Saint Peter don’t you call me, ‘cause I can’t go! I owe my soul to the company store’!

Unfortunately, the working class doesn’t get paid enough. Really, honestly, I can’t stress this enough. For the work they do, they don’t get paid enough. If my Father was fairly compensated for the work he did in the 80’s and 90’s before he (and by proxy my family) escaped into the ‘white collar’ middle class, my family would be millionaires in any currency on this planet, and not just the Zimbabwean Dollar.

To the dictator Robert Mugabe: When your rate of inflation has gotten so bad that you have to start printing banknotes like this with regularity, you've done something wrong.

To the dictator Robert Mugabe: When your rate of inflation has gotten so bad that you have to start printing banknotes like this with regularity, you’ve done something wrong.

The result then of the working class is a class that produces. It doesn’t consume a substantial amount in the least. It simply can’t afford to. It doesn’t matter what products Apple/Nintendo/Microsoft/Mini/Vauxhall or any company produces or releases. The working class won’t buy them, simply because it can’t afford them. Again, if the working class makes up the majority of your economy, it will collapse on itself because no one is spending any money. There’s simply not enough consumption.

Keeping in mind that I’m keeping this a highly simplified explanation, I will introduce the middle class. The ‘bourgeois’. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re a member of the bourgeois. This is probably the most hated and self-hating class in the history of man. The aristocrats loathe the bourgeois, seeing them as ‘posers’ and ‘uppity’. The proletariat loathe the bourgeois because they view them as ‘pretentious’ and ‘full of themselves’. The bourgeois loathes the bourgeois because everyone in the bourgeois pretends and/or longs to be a member of one of the other two classes.

But the brutal irony is that the bourgeois is the best thing to happen to the human race. Why? Well, the aristocrats are, always have been, and always will be, few in number. The proletariat spent the 18th, 19th, and most of the 20th century shrinking in size, but used to be the majority of the human race. Where did all these proletariat go? They became bourgeois. You see, an economist, a proper one, anyway, is obsessed with one thing, that thing is the distribution of wealth and resources, and the bigger the bourgeois class is, the better that distribution is going.

Earth has a finite amount of resources. That’s why economics is a thing to begin with. If we all had infinite rock/steel/wood/food/coal/etc then there’d be no need for economies at all. We wouldn’t have to worry about the distribution. Think about it, here on earth we have a near infinite amount of air, and so no one is worried about the cost/availability of air. We simply breathe it. The instant we leave this near infinite amount of air, however, by venturing under water or by going out into space, suddenly air becomes that much more valuable. We worry about the consumption of it, and we even buy air inside specialised air tanks to ensure that we will have enough supply.

In the days before the western United States was well populated, your average home owner didn’t pay for wood. He simply went outside and chopped down a tree, and at the time, it seemed like there was a near infinite amount of wood available. It wasn’t until those forests were gone, and there were quite a few more homeowners out there that lumber became a pricey commodity.

That’s where money comes into play at all. We don’t have infinite food, we don’t have infinite tea/ale/liquor/wine, we don’t even have infinite electricity. So we pay for all those things, and the price fluctuates based on, among other things, supply and demand. The bourgeois class can both supply and demand things. Buying power therefore increases, and resources get distributed to far more people than the aristocracy.

If you think the '1%' of today is bad, the 'less than 1%' of pre-revolutionary France was worse, often disallowing the peasants to eat meat...

If you think the ‘1%’ of today is bad, the ‘less than 1%’ of pre-revolutionary France was worse, often disallowing the peasants to eat meat…

If I had to wager a guess, I’d say that this is why the Victorian era sees the birth of wide-spread popular sport. While it is true that football has existed since the 1100’s, it wasn’t until the late Victorian era, early Edwardian era that the behemoth of modern British athletics, the Football Association, would come into existence. (Of course, the best development here was the establishment of Chelsea FC in 1905). Rugby, Cricket, Football, all become national pass times during the Victorian Era, and it’s probably because more Britons could afford both the time and the money to indulge themselves in sport. Popular literature? Also widely from the Victorian era. Bronte(s), Dickens, Doyle, Twain, Kipling, Austen, they all found mass audiences for their pieces at this time. A big bourgeois class meant that more Britons were literate, and more Britons had time to read. (Sherlock Holmes was so popular that when Sir Doyle killed Holmes off in The Final Problem there was actually widespread protest throughout Britain, eventually forcing Doyle to bring back Holmes in The Adventure of the Empty House in a way that said, ‘Holmes was pretending to be dead the WHOLE time’).

With the emergence, power, and intelligence of the bourgeois class, there was, of course, tension. Tension from the aristocrats, from whom the bourgeois class was taking power, and tension from the proletariat, who watched as some proceeded upwards, but not all. There was also tension within the bourgeois class, as it was a highly competitive class.

This tension led to a growth in, um, social difficulties, shall we say. A lot of these tensions would play out to cause some of the more dramatic episodes of the 19th century.

The Victorian Era was one of rapid change. One has to wonder if the young Victoria, a mere 18 years of age when she ascended to the throne of the most powerful nation on earth could fathom the change that would envelop the earth during her reign. When she took the throne, ships were made of wood and powered by sail. By the end of her reign, it would be steel ships powered by steam. Horse and buggy would be challenged by the first motor cars, and electricity would become an international obsession. All during her reign.

The most exciting part of the 19th century is about to begin. Here we go with the Victorian Era…

'Hullo it's me. Queen Victoria'.

‘Hullo it’s me. Queen Victoria’.

Hashtag History: The Beginning of the Wars of Pax Britannia: The British Armed Forces of the 1820’s

Okay, so for a quick refresher for those who haven’t recently read my posts on the Napoleonic War, the time period of 1803-1815 very much so changed the entire world, and not always for the better. The abridged version of the change? Well, two/two-and-a-half, maybe three super powers entered the conflict, and only one emerged with its ascendency intact. These powers are Britain, France, and the Ottoman Empire. (I appreciate the Ottoman Empire’s power/influence is debatable, thusly my marking them at ‘half superpower status’). France is basically the aggressor in the conflict, after over a century of Anglo-French competition for global supremacy, and the Ottomans backed the wrong horse when it came to choosing which side of the conflict to join.

France is a notorious ball hog...

France is a notorious ball hog…

Spain, another empire who could’ve also made a claim for being ‘half a superpower’ at the time, was on the fence about their historical ally France, and then, promptly invaded by France. An event that would lead to Spain losing most of her overseas Empire, as most to all of Central and South America declared independence during or after the Napoleonic War, taking advantage of Spain’s very weakened position.

'Ouch! France does an illegal tackle'!

‘Ouch! France does an illegal tackle’!

And another French ‘ally’, really, puppet state, the Batavian Republic/the Netherlands, lost many of their overseas territories to Britain, chief among those positions being Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and a chunk of South Africa. (At this same time, two parts of Dutch South Africa, Transvaal and the Orange State declare their independence from the Netherlands, and set up the first precursor to Apartheid. Remember this, it will come back later as big trouble for the British, and South Africa in general).

Anglo-American relations improve slightly after the American entry and then exit from the Napoleonic War, as the US/Canada border is further debated by British and American officials. (Washington state almost becomes a part of modern day British Columbia, we’ll come back to that). A chunk of Maine is contested between Britain and America, but Anglo-American trade has returned, American English and British English officially divorce each other due to the efforts of Oxford University in Britain and Noah Webster in the States, so a new source of ‘Those Americans talk funny’, ‘Those Brits talk funny’ could begin. (American author Mark Twain actually wrote a very good essay about it).

Suffice to say though, by the end of 1815, the only superpower left standing was Britain, and for the first time in, well, probably the conscious memory of everyone alive at the time, Anglo-Prussian, Anglo-Austrian, Anglo-Spanish, and Anglo-Russian relations were actually on good terms. (Obviously, this won’t last, this is just post-war, ‘Wow, our side won’ euphoria, think Anglo-Russian or US-Russia relations after the Second World War, good at first, until it tanks under international competition). With the economies and nations of Europe, America, and the Near East recovering from the lengthy Napoleonic War, Britain managed to walk away with more trade lanes, more land, and little damage. After all, of all the nations involved, Britain was the only one that hadn’t been invaded. British industry and agriculture was intact and operating at full capacity. British banking was intact, and operating at an even larger rate than it had in 1803, and for the first time since the 1780’s, everything was looking up for the British Empire. (It’s a shame that our friend William Pitt the Younger wasn’t around to see this, he could’ve done loads of good in this era. Some of history’s best and brightest are wasted on warfare).

To be fair, the British did repay William Pitt the Younger by having the great Benedict Cumberbatch play him.

To be fair, the British people did repay William Pitt the Younger in full by having the great Benedict Cumberbatch play him.

Now, I’m going to teach you a history word here that we use. That word is hegemony. Hegemony is basically the idea that the one, two, or three most powerful nations in the world are working to create an international scene wherein the scales are tipped in their favour. The desire to create a global hegemony, and the ability to do it, is a trait of superpowers, and yes, you can have multiple hegemonies at once. However, occasionally there are times where one superpower has an unquestioned global hegemony. Pax Romana (27 BCE to 180 CE) is the time that Rome had a nearly unquestioned global hegemony. Once we clear of 1815, we enter Pax Britannia, that is, the time of nearly unquestioned British global hegemony. (Many historians assert that Pax Britannia lasts until 1914, and the dawn of the First World War. I would actually make the claim that since the Treaty of Versailles at the end of the First World War in 1918 was still very much so in the favour of the British, I would say Pax Britannia probably lasted until 1939, and the dawn of the Second World War, since the Second World War is often viewed as win America begins to build its own hegemony. I would also make the case that there hasn’t been a Pax Americana yet, since Britain, the US, and, initially, the USSR have shared global hegemony since the Second World War, and now China is here too. If we’re lucky, the idea of a sole global hegemony is at its end anyway).

Back to the 19th century, we enter Pax Britannia. Now, while Pax Britannia is the time of unquestioned British global hegemony, there is an irony to observe here. Namely, for those of you who speak Latin out there. Pax Romana translates to ‘the Roman Peace’. Pax Britannia translates to ‘the British peace’. Now, Pax Romana followed the ‘Final War of the Roman Republic’ between Octavia’s faction and the Egyptian/Greek parts of the Republic that wanted democracy. This Final War of the Roman Republic was a huge and bloody conflict, and so all the wars of Pax Romana seemed like little ‘tickle fights’ for the Romans, not big, violent all consuming conflicts. This is the distinction. It doesn’t matter whether or not the Romans went to war during Pax Romana. So long as the civilians could live a comfortable civilian life without fear of the war harming them, it was peacetime in their eyes.

As I’ve said before, a war the size of the Napoleonic War wouldn’t be seen again until 1914. Compared to the Napoleonic War, all the wars Britain fought in the 19th century were ‘minor conflicts’. And indeed, with no conscription, no rations, no military action in Britain herself, for your average British civilian, in most parts of the Empire, Pax Britannia was a time of peace. But that doesn’t mean Britain didn’t fight wars during that time. No, no, no. In fact, Britain’s been involved consistently in at least one conflict or another since 1701. Simply though, most of them have been ‘minor conflicts’. Especially when compared to larger British wars, the Napoleonic War, the First World War, and the Second World War.

I go to parties, people say, 'What do you do'? I say, 'I'm a historian'. They say, 'OMG I LOVE WORLD WAR II'. Then I purse my lips. There is a lot more to history than those seven years.

I go to parties, people say, ‘What do you do’? I say, ‘I’m a historian’. They say, ‘OMG I LOVE WORLD WAR II’. Then I purse my lips. There is a lot more to history than those seven years.

Still with me? I said a lot of controversial/debatable things up there. And I know it, and you may disagree with some things I said up there. And that’s a part of the beauty of history. That’s why the Doctorate in history is PhD, which is to say, it’s a Doctorate of Philosophy. History is a philosophy, that means we (historians) talk about it, debate about it, argue about it, all the damn time. There are no hard and fast rules in history. And while some arguments have more merit to them than others, it should be a discussion, not commandments. Got that? Good. Let’s move on.

So, back to the dawn of Pax Britannia. Hegemony is a part of Imperialism. And like it or not, some form of imperialism will always exist. Like imperialism, there are several facets to hegemony, three main ones are military, economic, and culture. Now, as I’ve touched on briefly in the past, since the mid-16th century, the British Royal Navy has been the master of the seas. Between the mid-16th century, and the mid-20th century, she was the largest navy in the world. Even today, she is still one of the larger ones, one of the best equipped ones, and one of the few ocean-going ones. (Currently, we’re in a place of Naval flux as the UK, China, and the US are all scrambling to update their navies, we haven’t seen this much naval building since the 1980’s, meaning the aged fleets of the UK and the US are in desperate need of a major overhaul).

Until the arrival of the Royal Air Force, which usurped the Royal Navy for prestige in Britain in during the Battle of Britain in the 1940’s, the Royal Navy was the pride of the British Isles. Makes sense, since Britain is an island, and therefore the Royal Navy would be the first line of defence for any and all things British. When France was Britain’s main threat, the Royal Navy made sure the English Channel remained under British control. When Germany became a threat, the North Sea and the Adriatic became major ports of the Royal Navy. In this era of instability in the Middle East, Cyprus and the Indian Ocean have become the point of focus for the British Royal Navy. You can always tell who the British feel the most threatened by in that era by where the Royal Navy is spending the bulk of its time and resources.

That said, the British have conquered and fought on more of the Earth’s surface area than any other empire in history. A recent study pointed out that 9 out of 10 nations have been invaded by the British at least once in their history. Indeed, large parts of the British Empire and modern day British Commonwealth like India, Canada, or Australia have large chunks of land entirely inaccessible by sea. After a while, every naval power needs a good army.

The British army of the 17th century was something of a joke. It paled in comparison to its European and Asian counterparts. Part of this, of course, was because during the mid-17th century Britain fought its last series of Civil Wars, and that takes a lot out of a country. Part of it too was Ottoman/Spanish/Portuguese control of trade. By the 1660’s, when Britain’s time finally came, the British Army began a long series of reforms, by 1707, the British Army as we know it today was finally born, and it quickly gained a reputation for well disciplined, well trained soldiers who were pulling off manoeuvres that no one else could. You see, one advantage to Britain’s Civil Wars in the 1640’s and the 1650’s was that the British could practice and try a great many different tactics and methods in fighting. By 1707 many of those tactics and practices borne of the Civil Wars had become the core of the British Army.

Pictured: Another core of the British Army.

Pictured: Another core of the British Army.

The Napoleonic War had been a unique test of rapid and far spread deployment for the British Army. Europe, India, Africa, North America, and even parts of South America all saw the British Army deployed to their shores very quickly during the Napoleonic War. This saw the Army develop logistical systems to cover the entire Empire and more to make sure the Army was ready for far-off deployment.

Those of you who know the after-math of the First World War and the Second World War, no doubt could imagine that with all the rapid change brought on by the Napoleonic War, new conflicts were brewing globally. To maintain her hegemony, the British Army would spend much of the 19th century being dispatched to various places to either defend or grow the Empire. The 1820’s saw an initial batch of these conflicts:

  • Greek War of Independence (1820-1830, minimal British involvement)
  • First Ashanti War (1823-1831)
  • First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-1826)
  • Portuguese Civil War (1828-1834, minimal British involvement)

The Greek War of Independence as I mentioned in a previous post, was more of a British international effort, as was the Portuguese Civil War (also known as the Portuguese Liberal War). In summary of these two (honestly, just go read the post I did about these) Greece wants independence from the Ottoman Empire, and Britain, seeing a chance to further weaken both a recent foe at that point, as well as a former superpower, backs the Greek horse. The Portuguese Civil War is a war between two heirs to the Portuguese throne, one who wants to return Portugal to the ‘good old days’ before the Napoleonic War of Absolute Monarchy and colonial imperialism in South America (namely, Brazil, which had gained independence by this point) and the other side wants Portugal to adapt a British-style Constitutional Monarchy and grow its empire elsewhere. (Although the ‘grow the empire elsewhere’ bit might not have actually been a part of the plan, but Portugal would go on to grab two African colonies later). In this case, Britain backs the Constitutional Monarchy side, who do go on to win the whole conflict. It didn’t exactly stop Portuguese decline, but it was better than watching Portugal try to reclaim Brazil, which likely would’ve been rather bloody.

'Since we could barely keep Napoleon at bay, maybe now isn't the time to start launching unnecessary wars'.

‘Since we could barely keep Napoleon at bay, maybe now isn’t the time to start launching unnecessary wars’. -Portugal

The First Anglo-Ashanti War began after negotiations between the British and the Ashanti Empire (near modern day Ghana) about a variety of things from trade, to Cape Colony, to some Ashanti rebels the British were protecting, to a dispute over the Fanti regions broke down. In 1823 Sir Charles MacCarthy led a British Army from Cape Colony in present day South Africa to the Ashanti Lands. They promptly over ran him and killed him and his men. When news of this loss reached the War Office in London, Britain sent in the Royal Marines and a couple regiments. By 1831 the British had pushed the Ashanti back, and the Ashanti Empire and the British Empire agreed on the Pra River as the border between British claims and Ashanti claims. This was before the ‘Scramble for Africa’ that took place in the second half of the 19th century, so it is hard to gauge to what extent Britain actually had interest in the continent at the time. After all, this is after the end of slavery inside the British Empire, but before technology had advanced enough for Africa’s mineral resources to be of any use to the British, or any other European powers. Colonialisation will return to Africa, but it will be later, after Social Darwinism changes Britain’s, and other European nations’ foreign and imperial policies.

The First Anglo-Burmese War in 1822 the British had named Calcutta the capital of India. By this time, the Burmese Empire was also trying to grow in the region. Calcutta laid claim to Cachar and Jaintia, and actively supported rebellions against the Burmese in Manipur, Assam, and Arakan. After Cachar and Jaintia were added to Calcutta’s territory of the British Indian Empire, they became a way for British products and goods to enter this part of the Indian subcontinent, and became a very important marketplace for the British economy. In 1824, Burmese Top Lieutenant Thado Thiri Maha Uzana invaded Cachar and Jaintia to try and stop some of the rebels. Calcutta and London dispatched troops to counter the Burmese forces. The resulting conflict lasted from 5 March 1824 to 24 February 1826, and resulted in a British victory. In the treaty of Yandabo, Burma cedes Assam, Manipur, Arakan, and Tenasserim to British India, as well as recognises Calcutta’s sovereignty in Cachar and Jaintia. A decisive battle to research here is the Battle of Prome, which had acted as the final turning point in the war.

No funny caption here, just two soldiers.

No funny caption here, just two soldiers from the First Anglo-Burmese War.

Next On Hashtag History For the British Empire:

  • The King is Dead! Long Live the Queen! Queen Victoria and the Dawn of the Victorian Era
  • 1832: Britain’s Great Reformation

Next On Hashtag History for the Ottoman Empire:

  • de Tott be Proud! The Ottoman Navy during the Napoleonic War
  • Starting ‘The Great Game’: Central Asia, and the dawn of Ottoman Decline

Hashtag History: 6 Things Only a British 1820’s kid will remember…

Every decade has a culture specific to it. As a kid who grew up in the 1990’s, I endured that special kind of agony known as the ‘Spice Girls’ and was forbidden by my parents to watch the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher Batman films. (I went back and watched them later, I hadn’t really missed anything. My parents weren’t opposed to them because of the violence, they were opposed because they were bad films, and they hate wasting money). I wasn’t allowed to waste money on Pokémon cards, and my Nintendo Entertainment System, my Legos, and my Super Nintendo (and eventually, the N64) were all prized possessions. (The NES and the SNES were both hand-me-downs).

I say all these things and 90’s kids go, ‘oh yeah, I remember that’. And we get nostalgic about an otherwise not-so-great decade.

'I think I'm superior to other people because of the time period I just happened to be raised in'.

‘I think I’m superior to other people because of the time period I just happened to be raised in’.

‘Every generation fancies itself smarter than the generation before it and wiser than the one after it’ wrote the great British author George Orwell (1903-1950). Indeed, every generation has a decade they look upon with a certain nostalgia for being the decade what made them.

So if you were a kid who had grown up in the third decade of the nineteenth century, what would you wax nostalgic for?

6. The First Cowes Regatta, with the blessings of avid sailor, King George IV…

Had you grown up in the 1820’s, you would’ve recalled the first of the presently longest running sailing race in history. The Cowes Regatta was run from Southern England to the Isle of Wight, across a body of water known as the Solent. In 1826, the race was advertised for two groups. One race for the Royal Yacht Club, with the winner receiving a ‘Gold Trophy worth £100’. (Worth £8,400 in today’s money). A second race, for ‘gentlemen amateurs’ offered only cash prizes, £30 for the man in first place, and £20 for the man in second. (£2,520 and £1,680 respectively, in today’s money). Don’t have a Yacht, and/or don’t want to sail? Don’t worry, parades, fireworks, and the like for the people staying on either shore.

A weeklong festival, with several races, you could imagine the draw for the bourgeois and the aristocracy of the early 19th century.

5. Corsets Make a Comeback

Remember how in the Enlightenment Era (1650-1789, depending on whom you ask) and in the French Revolutionary Era (1789-1799) the Romans and the Greeks were heavily idealised in Philosophy and the Arts? Well, some of this made its way over to the world of fashion, and as such, corsets began to loosen considerably through the late Enlightenment and through the end of the Napoleonic War (1815).

Some people refer to the era of the Roman Empire and the old Hellenic city-states of Greece as the ‘Classical Era’, and so this late 18th and early 19th century interest in the Romans and the Greeks is sometimes referred to as the ‘Neoclassical Movement’. (Like I said, usually when you get movements like this, you’re not dealing with proper history, but rather that burden to history known as ‘nostalgia’, if anyone reading this is interested in studying history my main advice to you is always, always avoid nostalgia).

The neoclassical movement made the corset much less important to the woman’s daily wear. But with the close of the violent Napoleonic War saw the collapse of the neoclassical movement, and a push to return to ‘simpler times’.

To be fair, life probably was simpler when you didn't have to plan past the ripe old age of 40.

To be fair, life probably was simpler when you didn’t have to plan past the ripe old age of 40.

Part of this general sentiment would lead to another nostalgia-not-history movement known as ‘Romanticism’, which was born in present-day Germany, and took upon itself the task of making Germany’s history less bleak and more… romantic, I suppose. German Romanticism fed into the rise of German pan-nationalism and later German nationalism. And just like Neoclassicalism was reliant on creating a historic version of Rome that never was, German Romanticism was reliant on creating a historic version of Germany that never really was. For the modern historian, we have to dig through the piles of misinformation that both these movements piled on top of the proper history in order to get the truth. Lots of fun.

The rejection of neoclassical fashion that occurred in the 1820’s also meant that one of the most famous/infamous (depending on which era you’re in) pieces of the woman’s wardrobe made a very tight re-entry. Corsets became a big part of the woman’s daily wear once again. This, ironically, as one of the more restrictive pieces of male fashion, breeches, continued on their way out in favour of the looser-fitting trousers. (They had begun to fall out of fashion back in the 1790’s. By the 1820’s, as a fashion, they were on their last legs. Quite literally, actually).

4. The Birth of ‘Rugby Rules Football’

Teach football (or soccer, for you Americans reading this) to a child. What’s the number one rule given them, that they will repeat consistently every time that you ask about it? ‘No hands. You can use any part of your body except your hands’.

So for those who love football dearly, who obsess over the clubs, and all the rules that were born of the Football Association in Britain, you can imagine the outrage that must’ve occurred in 1823 when during a football match, a footballer by the name of William Webb Ellis picked up a football with his hands, and ran with it. Only stoppable now by being tackled.

Mr Ellis’ bold move against the rules and fashion in football at his time, this bold action taken at a match held by the public boarding school in Rugby, Warwickshire, gave birth to a variant of football that would grow in popularity across the Empire through the rest of the 19th century. Questions like, ‘If the player can pick up the ball with his hands, how do we stop him’ were answered by ‘Well, tackle the bugger’. And ‘If I’m running with the ball in my hands, having a goal seems stupid’, was answered by, ‘Then we’ll create an scoring zone you have to reach at the end of the pitch’. ‘I still want to kick it for points, can I still kick it for points’? Was answered by putting goal posts nice and high up. (Since a drop kick, or punt, was now possible, thanks to the use of hands). Scrums were added, lateral passes were added, box kicks were added, out-of-bounds manoeuvres were added, and soon, in 1845, with its own published rulebook, and its own established leagues, Rugby, Warwickshire’s brand of Football, known simply as ‘Rugby rules Football’, had become its own sport, distinct from Association Football.

Very, very distinct...

Very, very distinct…

Of course, American football fans should also take note of this 1823 occurrence, as it led to the birth of ‘American rules Football’ or ‘American Football’ in 1869, after Rutgers and Princeton universities in the US began to further modify the rules of football, as they were written in Rugby, Warwickshire. And that, kids, is why the Americans call their peculiar sport ‘football’ despite rarely using their feet. It’s merely an evolution of Association Football, that began in the early 19th century Britain.

(At this point, I don’t have the heart to inform the Americans that the first game of Baseball, an evolution of the British sport of Cricket, was actually first played in Britain as early as 1744, and brought to the then ’13 Colonies’ of North America, it simply never caught on in Britain the way it had in America).

3. Oxford University’s (Row) Boat Club Wins the First ‘The Boat Race’ in London

When I think of this particular historical milestone, which occurred on the 10th of June, 1829, I always think of the really posh scenes of the Winklevoss twins participating in Harvard’s rowing team from the recent film The Social Network.

Yes, this is about rowing, a sport almost as posh as polo, that your average member of the middle (bourgeois) class, you and I, usually don’t participate in or appreciate. (I myself stick mostly to my personal trinity of sports, Football, Rugby, and Cricket, those are the sports we enjoy, my slightly humbler friends).

Because nothing says humble or modest like football fans.

Because nothing says humble or modest like football fans.

None the less, rowing is still technically a sport. And, I will admit, it does take a great deal of cardiovascular and upper-body strength to win, or even compete, in the sport of rowing. But, as you can see, the 1820’s was a good decade for aquatic sports, since the famous ‘The Boat Race’, the annual rowing race between Cambridge and Oxford (oh, the posh-ness of it all) that takes place in the Thames, was first rowed in 1829. And indeed, Francis and Crick, et al, would be saddened by the results, for it was Oxford that took the prize away from Cambridge But don’t worry, the rivalry continues to this day. (No Winklevi included in these races, as its exclusively for Oxford and Cambridge).

To be fair, while it give this a lot of guff, since the 1930’s, this has been annually broadcast on the television, and it is something of an annual British institution.

2. The ‘Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ is founded.

Are you interested in getting into blogging or other published, publically available media? Well, then you should know, there are some topics worth not touching unless you want a lot of angry emails. Such topics include: politics, religion, gaming consoles, mobile OSes, football/rugby/cricket/American Football/universities/sports teams you support, economics, and animal cruelty.

For example, if I post I’m a Chelsea FC supporter, I’ll likely get an email or two making sure I appreciate that Manchester United won the Premiere League recently, or more often than Chelsea has and that Chelsea is full of a bunch of arrogant prigs. (To be fair, they’re all full of arrogant prigs. These men are called ‘footballers’, and they get paid far too much, and thusly are arrogant prigs). If I post that I’m a fan of English Rugby, the Welsh will complain, and if I post that I’m a fan of English Cricket, the Indians will write me freely and indiscriminately telling me India has a better team. I write that I use and enjoy the Xbox 360, the Windows Phone OS, and the Microsoft Surface with Windows RT, and I’ll get angry emails condemning me as a Microsoft fan boy.

One thing I never joke about on the website it violence against dogs, cats, chickens, or other animals. Part of this is because I love dogs and cats. They are among man’s best friends.

Pictured (l to r): The friend who's always happy to see you and wants to do things together, and the other friend, who is very sarcastic, and is only around when it's convenient for them.

Pictured (l to r): The friend who’s always happy to see you and wants to do things together, and the other friend, who is very sarcastic, and is only around when it’s convenient for them.

Another reason to avoid talking about animals period is the over vigilant organisations like RSPCA, ALF and PETA coming along almost constantly and reminding us with great fervour that they exist.

To be fair to the RSPCA, (the ‘R’ stands for ‘Royal’ as it received charter in 1840) compared to its American counterparts, ALF and PETA, the SPCA is very moderate, sane, and responsible in its actions. None the less, the Animal Rights movement in the west begins on 16 June 1824 with the official establishment of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals by several reformers in Parliament. Ah, the 1820’s and the 1830’s, such an era of parliamentary reform, which brings us to the next point…

1. The 19th Century Version of The New Left Review or The Nation was started…

‘News’ journals with political biases aren’t new or unique to our decade. Indeed, they’ve been around since the printing press began churning out newspapers. Indeed, perhaps the only thing unique to our era is that the ‘news’ journals with pronounced biases like to pretend that they lack a bias.

That said, one particular liberal-leaning political news journal, The Westminster Review began publication in 1823. It was founded by the (by the standards of the era) far left leaning British Political Philosopher Jeremy Bentham. He began The Westminster Review in response to the other liberal leaning paper of the era, The Edinburgh Review which apparently wasn’t a satisfactory brand of liberal for Mr Bentham, who with his friend James Mill, and Mr Mill’s son, John Stuart Mill, wrote the majority of the journal.

'It's a complete, well-written, and well-balance journal of all my personal writings'.

‘It’s a complete, well-written, and well-balanced journal of all MY personal writings and opinions’.

The Mills were both well-known members of the British left, and well known within the fields of economic, political, and philosophical study. That said, The Westminster Review didn’t last too long under the original management. By the 1850’s it had been purchased by John Chapman, a member of the medical field, who oversaw the expansion of the Science section with the help of Thomas Huxley. John Tyndall would eventually join The Westminster Review’s science section, and would help Charles Darwin publish several articles in the Review. Eventually, with this help and support, Darwin would publish On the Origin of the Species.

With a slightly better understanding of the culture as we enter the post-Napoleonic War portion of the 19th century, we should move forward, I believe. We see here the movement of philosophy, fashion, art, and thinking away from the Enlightenment Era. Pay close attention to the publication of On the Origin of the Species. Whether or not you believe in Evolution (Which, I am a Christian, but I do ‘believe’ in evolution. I don’t think they really honestly conflict, nor do I think evolution is something to ‘believe’ in, for much the same reason gravity isn’t something to ‘believe’ in). The effects of On the Origin of the Species on the discussions of politics and philosophies of the 19th century would be profound. The loss of much of the Enlightenment Era would mean that a few things of the Enlightenment era would continue (The Scientific Method, Empiricism, etc) but some things would not (honour and morality took a breather). The result was the expansion of science rapidly, but not morality which, like I said, paused for a bit. Both sides are to blame for this, the radicals and the reactionaries. But the 19th century would see the rapid rise of science, and many of the negative side effects of science without morality. The 1820’s was the last decade in Britain prior to the Victorian Era. And here we see the shaping of the Victorian Era, an era unique in history for many, many reasons.

Up Next For Britain

  • The beginning of the wars of Pax Britannia: The British Armed Forces in the 1820’s
  • The King is Dead! Long Live the Queen! Queen Victoria, and the dawn of the Victorian Era

Up Next For the Ottoman Empire

  • The French Connexion: Otto-French relations during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic War
  • Nizam-i Cedit Infantry, Janisarries, Sipahi. What are they? And what’d they do? The Ottoman Army during the Napoleonic War

Hashtag History: 1820’s: Shockingly Bad Hats.

British politics and Empire in the 1820’s.

‘I have never seen so many shocking bad hats in my life’. – Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington and British Prime Minister on Parliament of the 1820’s.

Alright, inventions we got down. We’ve already seen that the 19th century will be a century of rapid scientific progress. We enter the 19th century with the last great battle of the ‘age of sail’. (Trafalgar. Pay attention), and we’ll leave it with steel and iron clad, steam (both coal and oil) powered battleships. We enter the century with letters being delivered by horse, and leave it with electronic telegraphs, telephones, post deliverable by rail, phonographs, radio, etc, etc, you get the picture. A lot of fancy inventions come out the century, and most of them led to the very communicative and fast era in which we presently live.

Thank God we can share such vital, and thought provoking information as this, with little to no effort.

Thank God we can share such vital, and thought provoking information as this, with little to no effort.

But a lot of other things come up in British life too. Namely, we see a lot of reformation within the government. I know a lot of people like to paint the Victorian Era (and most of the past, for that matter) as a backwards, out of sync, barbaric time. The reality is that this is an oversimplification of a complex era with both good and bad things to it. You see, no matter what century you’re dealing with, if you’re studying human history, you’re going to have to contend with that strange, difficult, neither good nor bad creature that is humanity.

Now me, personally, I have my cynical moments and I have my optimistic moments. (Again, being a complex human being, singular adjectives rarely fit us as a whole). But for the most part, I do believe that humans are inherently good creatures. All of us are simply running on incomplete data while we all try to do our best to better the lives of those around us. Some of us try to care for entire countries/regions/worlds, others are more focused on caring simply for their family and those whom they love intimately. And quite a few are concerned with both. Being a fan of the British philosopher and Anglican apologist C.S. Lewis, I am also aware of his observation in Mere Christianity, ‘Goodness is only itself, badness is spoiled goodness’. For most of the great atrocities of the human race, you find a good intent towards the origin, but it’s either a misinformed goodness, or the goodness is carried out in such a careless, or otherwise muddled way that it becomes a difficult to handle evil.

That was too much philosophy. Here's a picture of a cat vaguely emulating human behaviour, in order to win the internet back.

That was too much philosophy. Here’s a picture of a cat vaguely emulating human behaviour, in order to win the internet back.

That said, as we approach the 19th century, approach it with an open mind. As you hopefully would for a foreign culture. I don’t always like the whole, ‘The past is a foreign land’ bit, but if it makes you slightly more objective and open minded about the past, then I’m all for it.

So what were the political actions that gained momentum in the 1820’s? Well, a lot of William Pitt the Younger’s work began to take full effect. The Catholic Relief Act, the reorganisation of Parliament, the use of the Royal Navy to blockade Africa and raid trade routes in order to effectively end the slave trade. All things Pitt wanted, but took place after he died because of that pesky bugger Napoleon and that war he waged.

'I tire of zis. Give me a break, for I am ded'.

‘I tire of zis. Give me a break, for I am ded’.

The unfortunate thing about Pitt though, despite how awesome and forward thinking he was for his time, he didn’t have nearly the effect on the 19th century that Churchill had on the 20th. (Churchill damn near shaped the second half of the 20th with his catchy quotes like, ‘Iron Curtain’ and, ‘Special Relationship’, he was kind of the prototype of ‘sound-bite’ politicians). But that doesn’t stop the 19th century from being full of awesome reformation movements, and other… less than savoury political events, and the 1820’s definitely held its fair share of political events, like…

The Portuguese Liberal War (1828-1834)

Say what you will about the divisive nature of modern politics (and it is pretty damn divisive, if I do say so myself, as neither side gives the other time of day anymore) at least our politics tend not to erupt into ‘Liberal Wars’ or ‘Conservative Wars’ quite like this. (Despite what the melodramatic coverage of elections may have you believe).

The Portuguese Liberal War is essentially what it sounds like. A civil war in Portugal between two different factions with claim to the Portuguese throne, those supporting Queen Maria II of Portugal, and those supporting King Miguel of Brazil. (Brazil was by this point, independent of Portugal). Maria’s side is the ‘liberal’ side of the conflict. Mainly because while Miguel wanted to unify Brazil and Portugal again and create something of a ‘absolutist monarchy’ (think the French monarch prior to the French Revolution), Maria II wanted to maintain Portugal and Brazil as two different countries, (her claim was that Miguel’s branch of the family tree had proclaimed Brazil independent, and that’s how it should stay), and Maria II also wanted to maintain and expand Portugal’s Constitutional Monarchy, which resembled Britain’s.

Every classroom has that one kid that waits until someone else gets the right answer on the test, and then copies the answer down. Portugal is that kid.

Every classroom has that one kid that waits until someone else gets the right answer on the test, and then copies the answer down. Portugal is that kid.

Imitation is the highest form of flattery, and Britain backed the side that was imitating it. They backed the liberal faction. By backing I mean mostly fiscal backing, except for that time that the HMS Orestes and her squadron came under attack by the absolutists as she delivered supplies to the Liberals and maintained Britain’s trade routes through the region. Other than that Britain’s support for the Liberals was mostly rhetoric and money. A good preview of the way 20th century geopolitics would go.

Siamese Treaty of Amity and Commerce

Who here has seen The King and I?

Well, ignoring the racial overtones of this particular Rogers and Hammerstein piece, (which, really considering when it was written, is very progressive in its view of South East Asians, even if the original film had white actors playing Asian roles) one fact should definitely be made clear by the film King and I, and that point is that the Kingdom of Siam (known in the modern day as Thailand) is the only Southeast Asian country to not have been colonised by a European power during the 18th and 19th centuries. This is kind of a big deal, since Britain and France were both aggressively grabbing up property on either side of them.

How did the Thai avoid (direct) colonialisation?

They won all the dance offs.

They won all the ‘dance offs’.

Well, there are many parts, and many theories, behind how Siam/Thailand remained independent. Most people agree that this particular treaty with Britain was a large part of it.

Now, most Western power-Eastern power treaties of this era were written in a way to benefit the western power far more than the Eastern power. The Siamese were lucky that their negotiator with the British was particularly shrewd. At the end of the day, this treaty which created a very open trade zone between the British Empire and the Kingdom of Siam would dramatically expand the Siamese economy, help fund the creation of a large army (which also kept the potential for foreign invasion down to nil) and basically kept the British happy enough that an invasion was never deemed necessary by the British Army. Good work, Thailand.

Death Penalty Begins Fall out of Fashion

In the 18th century there were quite few crimes that could bring the death penalty with them. Counterfeiting currency for example, was a death by hanging. Pickpocket too many times? To the gallows. Piracy? Gallows. Burglary? Gallows. General theft? Gallows. More crimes killed you in 17th and 18th century Britain than let you live.

The Judgement of Death Act 1823 effectively removed the death penalty from anywhere from 100 to 200 minor crimes, leaving most notably treason and murder as two crimes left that still carried the death penalty. But it began a trend towards fewer and fewer executions until the Criminal Damage Act 1971 basically brought the death penalty to an end in the UK. None the less, the idea of pickpocketing and theft carrying the death sentence makes the plot of Les Miserables that much more understandable.

Though still not tolerable.

Though still not tolerable.

The Judgement of Death Act 1823 also ended the (already unpopular) execution method known as ‘Drawing and Quartering’, effectively relegating it to gore films.

The First Modern Stock Market Collapse

I’m assuming you lived through 2007. If not, I am impressed that you read and understand this blog. I hope someday, my child will be as bright as you. But, for those of you who did live through 2007 you likely remember the dawn of the ‘Great Recession’ as a result of the mortgage bubble burst.

I’d like to remind you that the Napoleonic War came to its final close in 1815. The decade between 1815 and 1825 had been a great decade for British investors. Namely, since Britain was one of the only countries not completely ravished by the Napoleonic War, British investors had money to spare, as they weren’t rebuilding their own nation. The countries of Latin America required a lot of investors, since they had all gained their independence from Spain during that embarrassing time for Spain that they had been occupied by France, or during that time when Spain had to rebuild from the very destructive Peninsular Campaign.

The British banks went hog-wild with loans and investments in both British and Latin American interests, all up until none of the loans or investments were paying back.

Then Gregor MacGregor, an employee of a bank known as Thomas Jenkins & Co. is reported to have issued a loan of the then hefty amount of £300,000 with an interest rate of 2.5 per cent. (£23,742,148.76 in modern GBP). Mr MacGregor had done this, as banks gave little oversight to what their overeager employees were doing at the era, but the London Stock Exchange caught wind of it.

'I told you Charles, when you hired me. I'm a blithering idiot, and you should keep constant watch of me. This is all your fault, really'.

‘I told you Charles, when you hired me. I’m a blithering idiot, and you should keep constant watch of me. This is all your fault, really’.

The result? The Panic of 1825. The first modern Stock Market collapse. What made this one different from previous market collapses? Well, for one, it was based on credit failure, and other internal (meaning financial sector) causes, not by an external cause. (Like war, or crop extinction, etc, etc). It was essentially the first time in economic history that a stock ‘bubble’ existed. And the first time it burst. As many as seventy British banks folded. (It’s hard to say with any certainty what precisely happened, as one of the reasons for the failure was a lack of organised banking records). Granted, the Panic of 1825 looks like nothing compared to the Great Slump of 1929 or the Great Recession of 2007. But hey, it’s a start.

Trade Unionism Becomes Legal

Have you ever been walking down a sunny, urban walk, having a good day, thinking of buying ice cream for yourself to celebrate how happy you and your whole existence is, when suddenly you see a massive inflated rat in front of the ice cream store?

The rat was put up by the Ice-cream Servers Local 289, who are protesting the lack of free product given them by their oppressive employer, Mrs McKenzie’s Corner Icecreamery. (She’s 90 years old, and extraordinarily hard of hearing, and slightly racist, but in that humorous and innocent old people way).

'Those damn Belgians! Always ruining everything for everyone. Especially those poor people from the Congo'.

‘Those damn Belgians! Always ruining everything for everyone. Especially those poor people from the Congo’.

Without going into whether or not trade unions are good or not, they became legal in the British Empire in the 1820’s. As the 19th century went on, they would win more and more rights for the average British worker. By the late 20th century, they’d gain a certain amount of infamy for being responsible for Tony Blair’s government.

That’s right, the trade unions eventually led to the creation of the famous/infamous British (and other Commonwealth realm) Labour Party(ies), which began its life as a socially progressive party, and then regressed into being a regular political party.

The British Help Create an Independent Greece

In the modern day, when we think of Greece we think of reckless spending, uncontrollable debt, and the beginning of the collapse of the controversial Eurozone. In the 19th century, Britain saw it was a way to strike a blow against another superpower, even if it was a fading superpower.

This fading superpower I’m talking about is the oft-forgotten by the masses Ottoman Empire. Which, despite being oft-forgotten by the masses is actually one of history’s superpowers, and its collapse is one of the root-causes for most of the trouble in the modern Middle East.

Seriously. How do you forget/overlook all this?

Seriously. How do you forget/overlook all this?

Namely, the largely Coptic Greek Orthodox Christians of Greece wanted independence from the largely Muslim Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire wasn’t particularly oppressive when it came to things like religion, academia, language, etc. In fact, the Ottomans had actually nourished a large infrastructure of enlightenment, education, and religious tolerance through the 15th, 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. And in the late Middle Ages, when there wasn’t a European Superpower or Academic Centre, the Ottomans were the global superpower, and academic centre.

But the 18th century had witnessed a stagnation and decline of Ottoman influence and power. Especially when the Europeans figured out how to circumvent Ottoman trade lanes and get to India all by themselves. The Ottoman economy began to weaken, and the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire weren’t doing so well at the whole ‘economic recovery’ bit. (The Ottoman Empire ran on a very mercantile based system, the most evolved version of it in many ways, but when it came to innovation, British, Dutch, and eventually French capitalism simply promoted more, and therefore saw more innovation in all fields than the Ottomans, whose economy was something of a one-trick-pony revolving around the spice and cotton trades).

The Ottomans had no civilian police force, instead relying on a complex system of soldiers, knights, and uhm, well, the honour system itself to prevent crime in the less central parts of the empire, like Egypt or the Balkans. (Greece is a part of the Balkans, for those of you less than good at geography). Somehow this system didn’t quite work as well as initially intended, and the merchants of Greece weren’t satisfied with being raided by highwaymen on a regular basis. This in the midst of a general empire-wide economic downturn.

When the money disappears, people search for scapegoats and solutions. As I said in a previous post, the French Revolution made ethnic nationalism look like a solution, and the Greeks thought they could become wealthy and stable, if only they got rid of the Ottoman Empire.



The Ottoman Empire had shaky relations with Europe. In the 18th century it had been on good terms with Britain, and they used each other as critical trading allies to get access to more goods. But then during the Napoleonic War, the Ottomans had allied with France, also known as the losing horse. This left something of a poor taste in the mouths of the victors, including Britain. What is more, many Europeans, when they thought of the Ottomans, they thought of the many invasions of Austria that the Ottomans had attempted throughout the 15th and early 16th centuries.

What is more, the Christian Greece was rising up against the largely Muslim Ottoman Empire, which allowed for easy propaganda in Europe for supporting Greek independence. How did the British help the Greeks? Well, the Royal Navy was very present for the duration of the war, cutting the Ottomans off from many of their supplies in the Mediterranean Sea. The British had also grabbed quite a few small islands around Greece during the Napoleonic War. It handed all these islands off to Greece during the war.

In the end, the Ottomans folded, and Greece became an independent nation. As for whether or not Greece was better off without the Ottomans? Well, economically at least, let’s be honest. The idea of Greece being bankrupt isn’t new, nor is it contained to our present era.

'These things... they keep happening to us'.

‘These things… they keep happening to us’.

What is more, the Greek revolutionaries themselves had a lot of infighting as to whether Greece should be a republic or a kingdom, with the monarchy winning out, for a while. We’ll get back to that later, as that does become an issue later on in the 19th century….

Civilian Police Force and Fire Brigades Established

In Pirates of the Caribbean when Captain Jack Sparrow is on the run from the law, it’s not ‘bobbies’ he’s running from. No, it’s the British Army. And in most of the world to this point, when law enforcement was needed, it was done by justices or soldiers. There was no such thing as a civilian police force.

With all the revolutions going on, the rather stable populace of the UK didn’t like having rifle-toting soldiers patrolling the streets to keep them safe. Why do unarmed civilians need to be ‘law-enforced’ by heavily armed soldiers?

That was the question that Robert Peel, a Conservative ‘Tory’ member of the House of Commons created an answer for, when he wrote the Metropolitan Police Act, which went into effect in 1829, creating the Metropolitan Police Service of London. (The Met). It was better than having no police presence (as London grew, so too did her criminal problems), but it was a softer presence than having fully armed British soldiers (already overburdened, the British Army of this era, as you can probably guess) patrol the slums of London.

Because everyone in London knew that Robert Peel was the politician behind the new police force, they commonly referred to the new policemen as ‘Peelers’, or as is more known, ‘Bobbies’ (Bob being short for Robert). In case you were curious where precisely the term Bobby came from (in relation to policemen, that is).

'You're welcome for that term. You're welcome'.

‘You’re welcome for that term. You’re welcome’.

Want another municipal protection that most of us want to have in every city we live in? Imagine life with no fire brigades to put out our house fires, or lecture us on why having a 5 mile long chain of extension cords is unsafe. Well, the first ever Fire Brigade was founded in October of 1824 in Edinburgh.

The idea of the usefulness of fire brigades quickly spread across the Empire, and then the world as one of those, ‘I can’t believe no one thought of this before, this is so much better than having the local church women’s club do this same damn thing’ ideas.

'Oh, but we was doing such a good job with dem fires, and all, no one appreciates us'.

‘Oh, but we was doing such a good job with dem fires, and all, no one appreciates us’.

Have a question on any historical thing you’d like to see Hashtag History Answer? Look at our shiny new ‘Ask Hashtag History’ form!

Coming Up

  • The (Minor) Wars and Culture of 1820’s Britain
  • History Tourism: London Science Museum
  • History Tourism: Computer History Museum

Hashtag History: The 1820’s: The Beginning of a Century of Invention

I’m going to start this post with a confession or two. First of all, when I was a child, and going forth from my childhood into the very first parts of my university level education, the only history that interested me was military history. To be even more precise, only British military history. I used to think, incorrectly, that military history was the only thing that shaped so much of the modern world. It would take Niall Ferguson’s book, Civilisation: The West and the Rest to spark an interest in the vital roles that economy and culture have played in history as well.

That said, my goal for Hashtag History is to try figure out a better way to teach, approach, and discuss history. How to make history more approachable and understandable, while removing most of the various jingoisms and centricities (like Euro-centricities, American-centricities, Afro-centricities, Sino-centricities, or Indo-centricities  from history) to create a more human and less divisive version of history that is more of  a discussion and less of a scientific lecture than history has been.

So here on the blog, we’ve had it easy so far, because when it comes to history that large audiences are comfortable with and excited for, warfare is usually the easiest. It’s all our favourite romance, action, and intrigue films mixed into one massive historic event with loads of easily tracked, studied, analysed and recorded movement. But honestly, so much more history happens in peace time, and for seemingly boring reasons like stock markets, and political momentum, and the like. No fancy uniforms, no charges, no bombardments, no bombings nor battles (in the literal sense, in the metaphoric sense all these things are still there). Nothing to appease our baser animal instinct, nothing to trigger a fight-or-flight reflex.

Surprisingly, very few tea parties trigger the fight-or-flight reflex.

Surprisingly, very few tea parties trigger the fight-or-flight reflex.

So it’s daunting then, to consider a way to bring you the decade following the Napoleonic War in an interesting, relatable, discussable way. But, well, here I go.

Do you ever feel nostalgic for the 1920’s? Many people I talk to wax nostalgic for the 1920’s. It’s a time when jazz is becoming the new in music, dance halls have crazy new dances in them, and in Europe and Britain, we see an explosion of youth culture, drinking, writing, and questioning while in America we see Prohibition happen, which essentially creates room for all those same things to happen, only in a slightly more explosive, and gang-sponsored way.

The 1820’s, suffice it to say, was different. There was a lot of scientific thought, of course, but political thought, having been thoroughly blood-soaked and exhausted by the events of 1790-1815 retreated for a tiny bit into a slightly more traditional place. It wouldn’t stay there, but for now, the people of Europe and Britain were tired of the bloodbath that Enlightenment thought had unleashed through the French revolution and the Napoleonic War. After all, nearly 8 million recorded deaths (both civilian and military, both Europe and the other theatres) are the result of the Napoleonic War, an unprecedented number up to that point.

'8 Million? Hah! You've got nothing on me, Napoleonic War'! - Second World War.

‘8 Million? Hah! You’ve got nothing on me, Napoleonic War’! – Second World War.

So while political thought stagnated, scientific thought didn’t even consider taking a holiday. When we think of the Victorian Era, which is coming up in the next decade (officially, the Victorian Era is 1836-1901 or 1902) we often talk about the first era in which the ‘world was made small’ by the ever lumbering advance of technology, like the steam train, and the electric telegraph (which replaced the far too public semaphore towers).

'Damn! There he goes again, I hate it when our MP has semaphore sex, its so degrading'.

‘Damn! There he goes again, I hate it when our MP has semaphore sex, its so degrading’.

But what we tend to forget in our excitement for the 19th century’s most famous era, is that in the awkward time period between the close of the Napoleonic War (1815) and the dawn of Victoria’s reign (1836) there’s a good twenty year period. And in that twenty year period is the often overlooked 1820’s, particularly the fact that so many of the advances of Victoria’s reign, actually comes from this decade before her reign. Inventions such as:

The Difference EngineCharles Babbage

Quick! Who invented the computer? Yeah, you’re not sure, are you? That’s because the computer wasn’t exactly invented overnight, rather it evolved from a series of inventions all morphing over the course of, well, quite a few years. This, this thing you’re about to look at, it’s the first direct ancestor of the device you’re likely reading this on.

'Brilliant invention, Chuck old boy! How many years before I can use it to share every obscure thought I have and pictures of my food with everyone'?

‘Brilliant invention, Chuck old boy! How many years before I can use it to share every obscure thought I have and pictures of my food with everyone’?

Charles Babbage called it his ‘Difference Engine’, and it was the first ‘computer’ that could do complex mathematical calculations on its own without very much aide from a human. The British Government commissioned Babbage to make it, paying him the then lofty sum of £1,700, to build this machine. What did they want for? Mostly economic analysis.

Babbage pictured a machine that could move mathematics forward, and was inventing many of the parts the machine needed, literally parts and gears whose exact versions had never existed before Babbage dreamt them up. And though Babbage got the patent, the design, and the commission all down in 1822, it wouldn’t be until the 1840’s that a feasible working machine was produced. By that point the British government had sank £17,000 into the machine. (That’d be £1,829,123.59 in today’s market, for those wondering). A lot of money to sink into a computer with the processing power of your average pocket calculator in the modern day. (Even our smartphones could out compute this thing in every way). So why didn’t Babbage’s computer kick off any great digital revolution? By the mid1840’s the British government pulled the plug on it, after Babbage made sure that everyone from economists to scientists would find it useful. The British Government, being only interested in the economists bit, didn’t want to fund a machine that would have other uses. Later, Babbage’s difference engine would dramatically inform the OTHER computers that came in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Don’t worry about Babbage though. The Difference Engine wasn’t his only invention.

The Friction Match ‘Lucifer’John Walker

A lot of people in my life smoke. A lot of them wouldn’t be caught dead without a pocket lighter on them. Both my grandfathers smoked. And all four of their grandfathers smoked. While my grandfathers carried around pocket lighters, my great-grandfathers would’ve been carrying around matchboxes. My Grandmother Rockhill obsessively collected matchbooks from damn near every place she’d ever walked past that offered them. (When she passed on in 2004, we were left with enough matches to light every candle in our house almost 1,000 times over I’m sure) her argument for collecting matches, this brave woman who lived through the Great Slump and the Second World War, well, for her it was an issue of practicality and expense. Most importantly for her, this working class woman who pulled herself up, the matches were free.

My Grandmother Rockhill was also the rare British Catholic. Fiercely loyal to her religion, I could only imagine what her reaction would be to discovering that the matches she had hoarded away obsessively starting in the 1930’s were called by a different name in the decade they were invented. That’s right, in the year 1827, when they were invented, they were called ‘Lucifers’.

While I would hardly compare the little tiny flame you get from a match to hellfire, I still give the 19th century credit for giving things more heavy metal names than we do today.

While I would hardly compare the little tiny flame you get from a match to hellfire, I still give the 19th century credit for giving things more heavy metal names than we do today.

Self-lighting matches were a big deal. Now you could start a fire with just one of these matches and any rough surface. The walk, the rock, the brick, your shoe, any rough surface with friction could be used to light these buggers, which in turn could be used to light furnaces, cigars, pipes, hookahs, paper. Starting a fire went from a time consuming chore to, well, a slightly less time consuming chore. (Why don’t those damned candle wicks always catch the first time, am I right?)

In an era lit by candle, kerosene lamp, and gas lamp, in an era heated by fireplaces and wood stoves, in an era dominated by steam power, the match made things much, much easier. Kind of a ridiculous hubbub for a small phosphorous tipped stick we all take for granted in the modern day, isn’t it?

The Bus John Greenwood

In the 1820’s London became the world’s most populated city. Other British cities were also growing rapidly, Manchester among them. Traffic congestion was terrible, carriages were expensive, and walking was tiresome. Capitalism was very good. And so where there’s a market, there’s going to be an entrepreneur. For the sake of providing transport to the Manchester masses, Greenwood was that entrepreneur when he introduced the ‘horse drawn omnibus’ to Manchester in the year 1824.

It was also the invention of strange encounters with the insane on public transit.

It was also the invention of strange encounters with the insane on public transit.

Greenwood’s Omnibus idea would take off, and George Shillibeer would bring it to London in 1829. The Omnibus was different from the chartered horse carriages of the era (which were like Taxis) in that you didn’t have to reserve a coach for yourself, ahead of time, you just simply flagged down these cheap bus rides, shared the coach with strangers, and had to wait through several stops. For the working and middle classes of 19th century Britain, it made travel a lot easier within city limits.

Eventually Shillibeer’s Omnibus company would form a part of the famous London General Omnibus Company (LGOC) in 1855. While Greenwood’s sons would eventually grow his company from the initial Manchester Carriage Co. into the Manchester Carriage and Tramway Company in the 1880’s. There was serious money to be made on transport in the 19th century which brings us to the most noticeable of 1820’s inventions…

The RailwayMany inventors, chief among them Robert Stephenson

When I think of travel in the 19th century, I think of that strangely terrifying, yet strangely majestic creature, the steam-powered locomotive. Before the 1820’s a trip between London and York would’ve taken several days by carriage. In the 1830’s, that trip could be made in 24 hours by train. While that’s great for passengers, think about what it did for industry when the shipping of their products went from being an expensive, labourous and slow process, into being a cheaper, quick, and easy process. This is why in the 19th century individual factories singular companies with singular factories could begin to dominate things like, well, chocolate, or specific mechanical parts. They could rapidly, consistently, and efficiently ship them anywhere in Britain, and when steam frigates came along, drastically shortening overseas shipping, while increasing the amount of cargo a ship could carry, well, let’s just say it became far more realistic for the already sped up factories of Manchester to produce goods for cities like Toronto, Calcutta, or Sydney.

What is more, railways also made it easier for factories in landlocked cities like Leeds, York, or Manchester to ship their products to the coast cities like Liverpool, Newcastle, or Portsmouth to ship their goods around the globe.

Also, years later, we would try to convince children that trains had feelings and sentient thought.

Also, years later, we would try to convince young children that trains had feelings and sentient thought, and somehow that wouldn’t scare a single one of them.

For passengers it was great too, as families began to migrate and spread out, as the result of rapidly shifting and changing British industry, the good people of the UK began to need to travel in between cities to visit loved ones, do business travels, and many other things. Trains made it faster and easier than ever before. And also led to a strange fad past time in Britain, the notorious sport of trainspotting. (Where kids and some adults would keep a journal of which trains they saw when. No, not related to the drug-induced film that launched Ewan McGregor’s film career).

Not everyone loved the railway, the Napoleonic War hero, and eventual British Prime Minister Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington hated trains. Of course this is likely because he indirectly caused, and therefore witnessed the first ever person to be hit and killed by a train. That kind of thing can mess someone up, apparently even someone who saw the deaths of hundreds of thousands of soldiers on the battlefield.

'Why, yes, I am very eccentric. Why do you ask'?

‘Why, yes, I am very eccentric. Why do you ask’?

Nonetheless, even with the Prime Minister’s refusal to ride trains, in 1825 the Stockton and Darlington Railway opens, and connects the mining village of Witton Park in County Dunham in northern England to Stockton-on-Tees on the Dunham/Yorkshire border, also in northern England. Granted, not the most populated of routes, even back then, but it was the world’s first passenger railway, even if it was founded mostly for the mining corporations of a very small section of northern England.

Compared to the rest of the UK, it's a ridiculously small section to be pulling off such an achievement.

Compared to the rest of the UK, it’s a ridiculously small section to be pulling off such an achievement.

None the less, this highly forgettable railway route sparked yet another industrial boom in Britain, and the year after, 1826, the world’s first railway tunnel is constructed while linking Manchester and Liverpool to each other via rail. (See? That railway makes more sense).

Before you knew it, the British were railway crazy, with virtually the entire UK eventually being covered in tracks. The British entrepreneurs, eager to ship and sell goods to people all over the Empire quickly began to invest in other railways. Eventually, the British funded and built the largest railways in existence, that’s right, India’s and Canada’s. You know the grip Big Oil is reported to have on the British government these days? Big Railways had that grip in the 19th century, as virtually the entire Empire was reliant on the railway corporations that virtually connected Sydney to London, or Vancouver to London, or Calcutta to London.

In other words, kids, unlike the modern day, everyone in the 19th century appreciated that your country is only as strong as its infrastructure. And between the steam shipping networks and the railways, the British had built the world’s largest trading and transport infrastructure, with the majority of it still in use to this day. (The British Commonwealth, kids).

Another important railway date to remember? Well, initially there were quite a few different designs for trains, from the impractical to the brilliant. On the brilliant end of that spectrum was a very special train from the 1820’s known as Stephenson’s Rocket, built by Robert Stephenson. The Rocket was one of many trains entered to a completion in Britain known as the ‘Rainhill Trials’ held by the Manchester Railway to find the most efficient, the strongest, the toughest, and the fastest train for their railway. The Rocket won the competition dramatically. Especially as it was one of the few (or the only, depending on whom you ask) to finish the competition. The design of the Rocket would become the basis for the design of all steam-powered locomotives for the remainder of their time as the dominate locomotive. (Aka, until they were replaced by Diesel Locomotives in the 20th century).

The Suspension Bridge Thomas Telford

Think of the world’s most famous brides. How many of the ones did you think of are suspension bridges? Probably the majority.

The Suspension Bridge is desirable for a lot of reasons. It can handle high wind, heavy loads, monstrous waves, and the majority of other things you throw at it. It’s an easy to maintain, and it can cover a longer distance than most other bridge designs. The world’s first suspension bridge? Well, it was designed and built by Thomas Telford to connect the island of Anglesey to mainland Wales in 1826. This bridge is known as the Menai Bridge, and you can motor over it today.

One credit you gotta give Britain, once you get out into her countryside, it gets very difficult to take poor pictures of her.

One credit you gotta give Britain, once you get out into her countryside, it gets very difficult to take poor pictures of her.

The Menai bridge also captured the imagination of quite of few people, it was mentioned in Alice in Wonderland, and the locals even wrote a poem for it.

'Let me get this straight, you spent three years writing a poem about a bridge'?  'Loads of people do it, George'.  'Edmund, this is precisely why you're chronically unemployed'.

‘Let me get this straight, you spent three years writing a poem about a bridge’?
‘Loads of people do it, George’.
‘Edmund, this is precisely why you’re chronically unemployed’.

Coming Up Next: The Politics of the 1820’s

Coming Up Later: The (Minor) Wars and The Culture of the 1820’s

Hashtag History: A New Era? Yes, the End of the Napoleonic War, and the dawn of Pax Britannia.

As covered in a previous post, the closing of the Napoleonic War was somewhat confused, due to Napoleon’s escape and subsequent 100 days at large (that is technically near ¼ to 1/3 of a year, depending on how you look at it) and climatic last stand at Waterloo. That said, some things did happen during the Napoleonic War that drastically altered the shape of Europe and the world for the next 100 years, before the First World War changed everything again.

1. The Spanish Empire Catches its Mortal Wind

Surprisingly, everyone expected the fall of the Spanish Empire.

Surprisingly, everyone expected the fall of the Spanish Empire.

Napoleon’s conquest of Spain was the final blow to Spain’s quest for supremacy. The destruction of the Spanish army and the Spanish navy, mixed with the complete displacement of the Spanish government, and the necessity for Spain to quickly recreate its government gave enough space for Spain’s colonies to break off entirely. Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Guatemala, Honduras, Chile, all these countries gained their independence from Spain as a result of Spain’s downfall during the Napoleonic War. Florida went from Spanish control to the US as well. The rapid collapse of the Spanish Empire at this time is one of the main reasons for the instability in the realms formerly claimed by Spain. Spain didn’t withdraw gradually, literally it was a case of one day Spain was there, one day she wasn’t.

2. The Holy Roman Empire is no more

This isn’t the same Roman Empire that started in Rome in 509 BCE. Rather, this is a weird political machination that really was never meant to be. This is a weird extension of Charlemange’s Empire, proclaimed by the Catholic Church (that Holy Rome) that by the 1500’s wasn’t so much an empire as it was a fragile alliance system between Prussia in the North and Austria in the south. When Napoleon created the ‘Confederacy of the Rhine’, Francis II abdicated the throne of Emperor. This kicked started a long series of Pan-Nationalist movements in the German States to create a unified Germany.

3. Germany Starts to Become Germany

This'll only end well for everyone involved.

This’ll only end well for everyone involved.

Again, before the Napoleonic War there was no such thing as Germany, at least in the way we think of Germany in the modern day. Before the Napoleonic War modern day Germany was actually a collection of smaller kingdoms. Prussia was by and far the largest and most powerful German Kingdom at this time, but also present were Saxony, Hesse, Bavaria, Mecklenburg, Brunswick, Saxe, and others. Prussia and Austria very quickly form an alliance, The German Confederation. The Confederation won’t last very long, and is mostly a fight between Prussia and Austria over who has more power, and who has more sway over the smaller kingdoms. When we here at Hashtag History begin the Germany/Austria section of the site, we’ll go more into depth about the rise and fall of the German Confederation. One of the things that kills it? The Rise of Ethnic Nationalism.

4. Ethnic Nationalism Begins to Rise

Okay, so, quickly, quickly, what makes a country a country? At a loss for words? Struggling to create a precise definition? That’s okay. That question is what set off the Enlightenment Era, and all subsequent wars in the first place. It’s actually a terribly difficult and abstract question to think about, which is strange, considering that we all live inside countries, and deal with them on a near daily basis. (And when you start studying geopolitics, things get even more confusing). Regardless, at the end of the day a nation is a group of people. What is this group? How do we define this group? Well, before the Enlightenment Era, it was usually a combination of geography and who your monarch was. (Note for this, Britain is an exception, as Britain’s political history is quite a bit different in several regards. Seeing as this is the British section, we will return to Britain’s unique case soon enough).

Before the Enlightenment, the people of France, for example, had nothing linking them together. Their cultures were different from north to south, their languages were different, their products were different. The only thing linking them? They were all ruled by the same monarch. This is why Louis XIV wouldn’t have been wrong saying ‘I am the State’. Literally, he was the French government, and he was the only thing defining just what the hell a France was.

'Is et a cheese'?  'Non'.

‘Iz et a cheese’?

The Enlightenment changed this. The revolution changed this. France was the people of France, that is, France was the French. Who are the French? Well, back then it was those people of Frankish (Gaul) ancestry.

In the area we now call Germany? We see the rise of Pan-German nationalism. The thought being, ‘we’re all Germans, why not be Germany’? What’s a German you ask? Well, again, someone ethnically German. It wasn’t about monarchs anymore, but it wasn’t altruistic yet. Now it was about ethnicities, and increasingly we would see every ethnic group ask for its own ethnic state, and eventually we’d see some ethnic groups trying to ‘purify’ or ‘cleanse’ other ethnic groups. Yes, we already see the justification for genocide starting to come up. This’ll intensify by the 1850’s.

5. Britain becomes THE super power

I should hope that at least ONE previous entry of mine put into your head that idea that the 18th century was something of duel between two Super Powers trying to spread their influence across the globe. Those two powers were Britain and France. (And to a lesser extent, the Netherlands). For all practical, intensive purposes, France will never be the same after the Napoleonic War. Right after the war, poor old France is exhausted, having been invaded on all sides by her foes, and in no state to compete with Britain. What is more, the French Revolution (as it was 1789-1800) wasn’t the last revolution that France would go through. 1830 and 1848 would see two more revolutions. One replaced the Bourbon monarch with the House of Orleans, and shifted slightly the system of constitutional monarchy that had been sit up in the after math of the Napoleonic War, and the second one, 1848, ended the French Monarchy for once and for all, and established the ‘Second French Republic’. When we open the ‘France’ section of Hashtag History, we’ll return to this. But suffice it to say, France’ll never return to her 18th century stride. She’ll maintain rank as a Great Power, but never to be the top ever again. (To date, that is, never say never, I suppose).

'Iz et a wine'?  'Non'.

‘Iz et a wine’?

The United States hasn’t really industrialised outside of the East Coast, and Germany goes through a rough series of unification wars, Russia is mostly backwater outside of the Moscow, St Petersburg areas, and so Britain becomes the undisputed global champ for the next 100 years. It would take the emergence of the United States as a super power following the First World War to finally bring a real challenger to Britain.

Needless to say, this changes the way that Britain pursues foreign policy for the duration of the 19th and first half of the 20th century.

6. Britain Picks Up New Colonies

Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka), South Africa, and Tobago all become British colonies, taken mostly from the Netherlands and won by Britain, both as conquests and as a part of war reparations. Britain also becomes the undisputed champion of India, which is actually kind of lucky for India, as it gets to avoid the mess that would consume Africa later when all the European Powers decide to divide it up. (The division of Africa is called, ‘The Scramble for Africa’, and that happens later, yes there will be an entry on this).

7. The Very Seeds of the Modern World Are Planted

Absolute Monarchs are on their way out. And the monarchs know that now. Factories, technologies, and free trade are on their way in, and everyone knows that now. The last effects of the Middle Ages have whispered through the land, and from here on out it’ll be less a battle of kings and families over land and money, and more a battle of political ideas. Think about it. The Napoleonic War, this was a battle of Napoleon’s unique ‘modern’ ‘enlightened’ dictatorship, ‘Bonapartism’ versus the conservatism and the monarchies of the Europe, and most strikingly a battle of the French Revolution and the unique Napoleonic state-controlled uber-patriotic economic and political ‘all power to the state’, ‘all duty to the state’ system versus British capitalism, British constitutionalism, British individual liberties and rights, and the general British political system. Napoleon wanted a world dominated and dictated by Paris, and Britain favoured a world that only Britain, with her own strange, patch-work history could favour in that instance, one where London was important, yes, one where London was the centre for global trade, yes, but hardly one where London ruled all.

So, wait, since this is the British section of Hashtag History, we will bring it back to the British? And you’re telling me the British are against centralisation?


You see, outside of the weird chapter that is the latter 19th century and early 20th, British political and economic philosophy tends to be against centralisation. And honestly, even as the 19th century proceeds, and as the Empire gets more and more centralised on London, we’ll see increasingly how that sudden centralisation doesn’t really fit the British spirit, system, or mentality.

The British and the Americans mock each other constantly. The British refer to the Americans as their ‘strange cousin’ or their ‘strange child’. The Americans refer to Britain as their ‘cultural forefathers’ or as their ‘strange cousin’. One trait that British political philosophy passed on to their American cousins was the cultural distaste for a centralised authority.

Think the British don’t like a centralised authority? Well, take a quick peek at the 17th century! Three Civil Wars in a row just because the King got too powerful, and then another because Cromwell got to powerful! The only resolve to those Civil Wars? Make sure the Parliament and the King both spread out their power equally.

Think the British don’t like centralised authority? Look at the bickering between North England, South England, North Wales, South Wales, South Scotland, North Scotland, and Northern Ireland over how much power each of these regions should have! This bickering isn’t new! It dates back to 1603 when the British crowns unified under James VI and I! (He was known as James VI in his native Scotland and James I in England, and so when he became the first king of a unified Britain he was simply called James VI and I. In many ways, the British are practical to a fault).

Some men collect titles behind their names, this man collected numbers.

Some men collect titles behind their names, this man collected numbers.

But that’s the nature of British (and its strange child, American) democracy. It’s a damned bloody mess. But it’s a beautiful mess, and its one that the country always survives. I love the United Kingdom, and I also have great admiration for the United States, not because of what it is presently but because of what it can be. Something both nations have going for them? They’re democracies, and the very nature of democracies are their flexible, adaptable natures.

So how does Britain adapt into the rest of the 19th century? How does Britain adapt into being the sole superpower left standing after a very messy 18th century? And how does the on-going British conversation about what exactly a British mode of government is impact her sometimes erratic policies over the course of the rest of the 19th century? (We’re only at 1815, here kids, we still have 85 years left in this century)? And does Britain invent the modern world, in both good and bad ways? (Yes).

Tune in for more Hashtag History!