Great Britain Before World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR Special

The Following Episode is sponsored by War2Glory. When the Great War began, Great Britain was
the largest empire in history, on which the sun never truly did set, but what was going
on in Britain socially, economically, and industrially in that prewar period? That’s
what I’ll talk about today. I’m Indy Neidell; this is a Great War Special
Episode about Great Britain before the First World War. In January 1901, Queen Victoria died after
a reign of nearly 64 years. She was crowned as Queen of the United Kingdom,
but she died as Queen also of Canada and Australia, and Empress of India. Mainland Britain had
then 41 million inhabitants in 314,000 square kilometers, British colonial possessions have
450 million inhabitants in 32 million square kilometers- so around a quarter of the world’s
land and population. This is not even considering the huge commercial interests Britain had
in other parts of the world, like South America. The British were the first to industrialize,
doing so already beginning in the 18th century, and this brought about an economic and demographic
revolution. The economic development relied on a global dominance of finance and commerce,
with the pound as global standard, the generalization of free trade, and high technical standards
developed in Britain and then spread throughout the world. National income rose from 232M
pounds in 1801 to 1.75B in 1901, iron production from 120K tons to 13.5M, and by 1900 the British
merchant fleet accounted for just over 50% of global tonnage. The role of the British as citizens was built
around three types of liberties: individual, like freedom of movement, speech, and thought;
economic, based on private property and the freedom of enterprise and contract; and public
liberties, the rights to association and representation. All of this all made Britain the forerunner
in trade unionism. Unions were recognized as early as 1825, legalized in 1871, and by
1900 2 million workers were unionized. The domestic population also increased rapidly
in the 19th century. The birth rate reached nearly 3% a year and
the death rate was below 2%, so a result, other than just growth, is that the population
is young by the new century. 40% are under 20 years of age. Most of the population- some
70%- now lives in densely packed urban areas, and London, with 7M inhabitants, is the largest
city in the world. The traditional social hierarchy has still
remained quite rigid, though. You have 5% of the population as the nobility and gentry;
they own more than half of the land and live lives of ease, the Middle Class, 15-20% of
the population, which also includes the wealthy from industry and commerce, and the working
class- over ¾ of the population. Now, they are very diverse, from farmers to factory
workers and beyond, and they have spatial disparities. For example, they have relatively
decent living conditions in England, but poorer ones in Scotland and Wales. Still, 1% of the
population held 2/3 of the wealth and the working class in total held less than 10%. There had been some notable social achievements,
though. In 1900, primary school is free and mandatory for everyone up to age 14, so the
literacy rate has climbed from 40% in 1870 to 97% 30 years later. This results in a huge
general media and information boom, particularly the expansion of the newspapers and the press,
since everyone can read now, but also in popular literature, with Oscar Wilde, H.G.Wells, Rudyard
Kipling, and more springing to prominence. There is also a rise in the society of leisure,
foremost through sport. Golf, tennis, football, rugby, cricket, boxing, sailing, gymnastics…
cricket in particular was a massive phenomenon. But this society, at the end of the Victorian
Era, was a society that was more and more demanding change. The first signs of the protests in the 20th
century took root in the colonial empire in the 19th. For example, the formation of the
Indian National Congress in 1885 spurred distrust toward the colonial regime. Toward these various
emerging threats, Britain reacted by either speeding up the reform process or using force. That’s what happened in South Africa. We
talked about the Boer Wars so I won’t go into that again, but at the outset it was
thought the British Army could beat the locals in weeks. It took over half a year in the
active field, and two and a half years of guerrilla warfare to finally end. And 22,000
dead of the some 450,000 strong British contingent- that’s one of 20. This all triggered deep
doubts in the national conscience about the ability of the empire to even survive. There were great changes at home in the new
century as well. Even just the new King, Edward VII, brought
society away from Victorian mores. He indulged in things like card games and gambling, which
had been very much frowned upon or even illegal. The financial power of the gentry began decreasing
as they started selling off land to avoid taxation. The Middle Class was raising its
social status, but there was also a big movement toward secularization. By the beginning of the Great War, only 10%
of the Anglican community regularly attended services. As a result of that, the demands
for change could not be channeled through moral dogmas and the protests more and more
took a political form. We did a whole special about Ireland that covered the Home Rule Crisis
and it had a massive impact, but things like feminism also became major issues. The Suffragette
Movement to give women the vote, for example, had existed in Britain since the 1870s, but
it really took center stage in the prewar period. There was an awareness of the situation
of children and things like Boy Scouts and Girl Guides were created, the situation of
the elderly as life expectancy rose to over 50 and the idea of a right to retirement raised
new political and medical issues, so the Edwardian era saw a shift toward secularization, acculturation,
and modernity. Economic growth had kept protests quiet before,
but that situation was also rapidly changing. The UK still dominated global commerce, but
national income now trailed the US and Germany, as did the share of global production. And
the revenues from labor were not equally distributed- the dividends go up; the salaries don’t.
This led to the great unrest of 1910-1911. In 1911, over 10 million workdays were lost
to strikes, from 1910-1914 trade union membership rose by 2/3, and in the 7 months of 1914 before
the war began, British industry was hit by 937 strikes. The Conservative Government in power at the
turn of the century was unable to keep up with social dissatisfaction and in 1905 the
general elections brought the Liberal Party to power. They were faced with a really tense
situation, and though they had an undisputed majority until 1910, after that they had to
ally themselves with the newly emerging Labor Party and the Irish Nationalists to form a
government. Their political program rested on Home Rule,
on reforms of social democracy, like workman’s compensation, protections for abused children,
old age pensions, a base salary for minors, and a national insurance act, which granted
almost everyone the right to health insurance. Also Parliamentary reform- the Parliament
Act of 1911 regulated the relations between the houses of Parliament. So despite progress,
Britain’s internal situation was quite dark, with the real prospect of a civil war
in Ireland, and the social unrest and disruption to production caused by the strikes and the
social movements. Internationally, since 1815, British global
leadership had rested on three principles- preserving international peace, fighting against
any hegemony especially in Europe, and defending Britain’s global interests and possessions. So Britain had developed a dense diplomatic
network, and- intending to act as a judge in international relations- refused any lasting
alliance, leading to the policy of “splendid isolation” that allowed her to change sides
whenever needed to protect British interests. But by 1900, only Britain and France favored
maintenance of the status quo abroad, since their imperial ambitions had been met. The
first decade of the 20th century was a different kettle of fish. True, the British navy was
the largest in the world, but much of it was dated, so growing competition had caused Britain
to massively invest in the expansion and modernization of the Royal Navy in order to maintain the
two power standard- Britain’s navy should maintain a fleet of battleships equal to the
next two greatest naval powers combined. So Britain intended to maintain peace while engaging
in an arms race. As for the land forces, the reforms completed in 1912 led to the creation
of a BEF of 6 divisions, around 150,000 men. They did not use conscription so this land
force was far smaller than the continental armies of 2-4 million men, though the British
regulars were all professionally trained soldiers. By now, Britain’s main continental rival
was Germany, whose naval program definitely threatened the two power standard. In 1904,
Britain, rejecting splendid isolation, formed an alliance with its oldest rival, France;
an Anglo-Russian convention follows three years later. Those alliances were tested in
the Moroccan Crises, which ultimately strengthened relations between Britain and France. At Germany’s
expense The Triple Entente also remained strong in the Bosnian Crisis of 1908 and the Balkan
Wars of 1912 and 1913. In fact, Lord Haldane, the British Secretary of State for War who
had carried out those army reforms I mentioned, and who was later Chancellor, told Prince
Lichnowsky, the German Ambassador to Britain during the July Crisis, in the ambassador’s
words, “England, if we attacked France, would unconditionally spring to France’s
aid, for England could not allow the balance of power to be disturbed.” Well, by now, it kinda has been. Now, as I said in the beginning, this episode
was sponsored by War2Glory, a real-time strategy MMO browser game. Become the leader of the
city, take care of its defense and build your own army, carefully choose your own tactic
and strategy to be successful. If you want to learn more about War2Glory
while also supporting this channel, follow the link in the video description.

Maurice Vega

100 Responses

  1. shouldn't we have seen this 4 years ago to set the scene? by now there have been so many changes in the UK that it would even for 1918 be looking at a bygone age.

  2. the army may have been smaller than the conscript armies but it was to deal with it's colonial issues. it was entirely professional and had learned from the Boer war, spending the time between the two wars modernizing tactics, concealment and musketry

  3. Interesting video this is! I've visited many former British colonies in Asia. Really brings history of colonialism to life. As a history teacher I teach my pupils about the rise of English industrialization and therefore their empire. Interesting enough the British were fairly flexible towards people in the colonies by reform policies (although their was repression here and there). The Dutch for instance were far more inflexible in the Dutch East Indies. Almost no reforms took place there 'till WW II.

  4. I believe that the land reform/ single tax/ Georgist movement – which advanced furthest in Britain (it resulted in a full blown constitutional crisis) was one factor why the aristocracy opted for war. In this respect it worked – a generation of land reformers was killed and we forget about the only solution to poverty.

  5. Kinda sad looking at the pre-WWI times. How many of those men in the old film footage would be killed by the war? Poor peeps didn't know what hit them.

  6. Obviously you don't know the truth. Today the Queen still owns everything in England, legally speaking. She doesnt have a Passport because she issues them. She Cant not be convicted of a crime! She has No form of ID. Oh she can Dismiss the entire Austrailain govt. She's still the Queen of Canada and let's govt exist at her pleasure! If ya live in the UK you are a Subject!!! It Is The Law. Ya should a paid Attention in School. Not symbolic, just dailed back. The Queen can have anyone killed or declare War at anytime. Let that sink in!!

  7. Oh I might add. The House of Lords, similar to the US Senate, is Not Elected. They are Selected and hereditary claims. May whom? Her Majesty the Queen! She may dissolve Parliament at her pleasure! That is today's English Parliamentary Govt! Read please

  8. History doesn't repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme. The US is doing today exactly what the Brits did back then. We never learn…..

  9. Slightly saddens me to see a nation of progress and workers and industrial production be completely obliterated in modern times where only a few large industrial plants remain.

  10. Excellent stuff indeed. Not wishing to get into a modern political debate, I couldn't help noticing how much of the numerical data relates very similarly to the current situation in the USA.

  11. You wouldn't be blamed for thinking the literacy rate in this country had plummeted back down to 40% in recent years. Lol.

  12. I always thought that Germany had been guilty of war, but today I realized that it was the UK that forced the war to maintain its empire ..

    martin gilbert was wrong

    I love your channel

  13. What staggers me absolutely completely being a person of British decent born and living in Australia is the absolute gross incompetence of the English speaking world in everything today , the politicians are the scum of the earth , useless beyond belief , they deny their heritage and would sell their own countries for a vote so they can gloat about diversity and flooding the country with whoever they think will give them political power at any level , commerce and industry is not given a thought for one second , welfare , public sector employment , any form of handout comes before wealth creation before financial discipline in any way , the Britain you see before ww1 is like a country so far removed from what the Anglo people are today it is incomprehensible that it ever existed , virtually nothing is left of their industries , a people so incompetent you are amazed that they ever were a world power .

  14. The entire problem today with the English speaking nations is their lack of investment in wealth creating industries , welfare spending comes before the money is earnt , but democracy has turned into a auction of public money so all of the public money is squandered on welfare .

  15. As someone with family who served in The Great War, I’ve learned a LOT from your videos. Thank you for doing these

  16. Was soccer still called soccer or was it called football in GB at the time?
    Boy Scouts what were the differences at the time between US & Canada and GB?

  17. Indy's general presentation is kinda like that of someone shouting headlines at a corner somewhere, trying to sell newspapers so when he segways into the promotion in this video it kinda fits the way he usually talks, idk lol

  18. Sponsored by "War to Glory"… The exact sentiments you've been criticising for the last 4 years. I don't know how you kept a straight face.

  19. The entry of Britain into WW1 led to the beginning of the end of Britain being the dominant world power to a irrelevant island off mainland Europe.

  20. Secularisation was only in church attendance, most people were still Christian and most people wouldn’t stop being Christian for a while. The idea of a “liberal war” that was morally right was born in this supposed era of secularisation

  21. "1% of the population holds 2/3 of the wealth and the working class holds less than 10%."
    – Nothing changed according to the newspapers here in Germany. Even more: the gap between rich and poor is widening!

  22. Hi Great War team. I love your content, it’s really informative about such a large and complex topic, in very easy to digest pieces. You’ve truly done an outstanding job!

    I am doing a large research task for my work at school, and decided to do it on the causes of the First World War among the major European powers, to decide which was the greatest cause of the tensions leading directly to the conflict.

    I’ve watched many of your videos on the pre WWI situations in Europe, and while it’s extremely informative, I don’t know the sources for each topic for my essay, which makes it difficult to argue when only using one source.
    I’ve struggled to find information on some topics from other sources.

    I hope it’s not an issue, but I’d like to know where you get much of your sources on things such as the German Commonwealth, or German fears of Russia etc.
    And, if you could, help point me towards some as well!
    It’d be a real help!

    If I you can’t, thank you for the content nonetheless.

  23. Was there an event on the first anniversary of ww1 where british war veterans wore pawn tickets instead of their medals to protest unemployment in britian?

  24. the situation Britain was at the start of the 20th century reminds me of the situation America is in there I believe America is going to fall as the world hegemony

  25. Where the sun never sets huh well I gusse they never went to Denmark because our weather is blocked by Norway Iceland and Britain

  26. Who can help me I have an exam tomorrow about the role of Britain in the world war 1 😭😭😭😭😭

  27. How much wealth was collected from countries they looted? A country built on theft and exploitation.

  28. So when Himmler said he was going to enslave and kill the working class of Britian he was meaning 3/4 of the population….

  29. "a base salary for minors": this makes if you consider that they wanted to curtail reduce employment of minors. Pity that everyone forgot the meaning of such measures when it comes to adults

  30. Not so hard to build this empire since 2 continents were populated with far less advanced cultures like Amerika with Indians AND Australia with some others. India and afrikan nations were also less advanced. On the other hand the Mongols make their empire through 160 years endless wars with empires and kingdoms equally and sometimes more advanced. The Russian empire took Siberia which doesn't count much as well but still more land taken harder than the Brits.

  31. Can one argue that Britain entering tha was was a form of canalisation of domestic crisis ? Like worker strikes who were on the rise

  32. It still confuses me to this day why the British ever decided to join WW1 as they never needed to. If the British never got involved in WW1 then the British empire would still be alive and pumping.

  33. All those freedoms, And now, big brother tells them all whether or not their allowed to wipe their own posteriors or not, and with what type of toilet paper they’re allowed to use.

  34. It was a splendid Empire wasn't it ……It led the way in many social services, it gave the world many institutions intended to improve the quality of life.
    The problem always is that world financial positions change and those with most wealth/power can protect themselves from dire poverty better than those with the least.

  35. So it all started to go wrong when Feminism, Socialism, and The Federal Reserve began, while the aristocracy became desperate for a new money making scam. Coincidence? Maybe not.

  36. Suffragists, suffragettes , feminists. Three different groups that are now all erroneously grouped together as "feminism".

  37. Wow.. I started subscribing to you guys when I was just starting my first job. How time flies.. I found out about your channel not from Youtube recommendation, but instead from a local newspaper of my hometown, Jakarta. There was an article about the 100 years commemoration of WW1. There, they mention (in all caps with your logo covering 1/4 of the article) a youtube channel that specifically tells the history of The Great War on a weekly basis. During lunchtime on the same day I found you guys on youtube and started watching your videos..until now. I also subscribed and watch all your other videos from different channel that you guys made. You guys are the best!!👏👏👏👏👏

  38. Remember New Zealand was the first Country to give women the right to vote 👍😎😏 in 1893… Years before the UK and almost thirty years before Americans in 1920..

  39. You're a gentleman I'd love to have at a dinner table. You're incredibly knowledgeable and interesting. So rare these days! Great video as always.

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