20th Century

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FROM EDWARD VII TO WORLD WAR I (1901-1914)

The death of Queen Victorian, seemed to make the end of an era, even if what was typical Victorian faded away and gradually. When EDWARD VII became king in 1906, he introduce an important changes into British politics: in fact, with the general election, the Liberal Party to office was restored. Moreover, were introduced legislative measures of social improvement:
• Medical service in schools (1907);
• Invalid and Old Age Pension Act (1908);
• Coal Mines Regulation Act (1908): eight-hour working days for the first time;
• National Insurance Act (1911): free medical treatment available to insured workers.
But the pre-war years of 20th century were a time of industrial unrest, strikes and violence. Some workers’ organisers sympathised with French syndicalism, according to which trade unions should use strikes as weapons to disrupt industry and bring down the Government. But violence came also from women!
In 1903 was founded the “Women’s Social and Political Union. The “Suffragettes” wanted women to have the vote, and soon won massive publicity, but the use of violence won them few friends.
In 1909, the Liberal Chancellor DAVID LLOYD GEORGE, in presenting the budget, declared his intention to favour the poor and penalise the rich by taxing the “unearned” incomes. But lords dejected it (Conservative Party).
After that, in 1911, Conservative Party introduced Parliament Act which made it impossible for the Lords to reject a finance bill and restricted their veto and other bills to a maximum of two years. This system still operates.
GEORGE V’s (1910-1936) was characterised by political violence and a jingoistic mood in foreign affairs in the face of growing German rivalry. Home Rule in Ireland became a possibility: the civil war would have broken out in Ireland if the British Empire had not suddenly found itself at war with Germany.
Europe was divided into two rival camps:
• Triple Alliance between Germany, Austria and Italy;
• Triple Entente between Britain, France and Russia
In 1914 there was the outbreak oh the war: Russia was forced to defend Serbia and Germany came to the aid of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914. the nation was told that it would defend the weak against the strong (Germany).

BRITAIN AT WAR (1914-1919)

The great war caused the ruin of four empires, made possible a communist revolution in Russia and revolution in Russia and prepared the way for the rise of dictators like Mussolini and Hitler.
• Britain escaped devastation and political breakdown, but never recovered from its economic effects;
• Germany expected a brief conflict. It nearly defeated the Allies in first few weeks of war in 1914: it had better equipment, better trained soldiers and a clear plan of attack.
This was Britain’s first European War and Napoleonic Wars and the country was unprepared for the terrible destructive power of modern artillery, machine guns and tanks.
“Shell shock” was the term used by doctors to allude the psychological disorders among soldiers caused by the frequent shell explosions. The War Poets expressed their anger about the “stupidity” of this war. In 1916 were introduced:
• Military Service Act: forced men between 18 and 41 to enlist;
• Female Work also became a means of emancipation;
• Large Contingents coming from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa reinforced the Britain troops;
• Arrival of American troops in France: ended the hopes of Germany, which surrendered in November 1918.
In 1919, the Peace treaty was signed at Versailles. The victory brought Great Britain in a further extensions of its colonial possession but also economical problems, unemployment and the unresolved Irish question.
Was founded the League of Nations, a precursor of the Unit Nations in its aim of securing peace and guaranteeing all nations against aggression.
But that had two fundamental weaknesses:
• Its constitution was very vague;
• Not all the great powers were members:
➢ The USA refused to join it;
➢ Germany and Russia were not invited to join it.
So, the task fell entirely to Britain and France, and they failed.

THE TWENTIES AND THE THIRTIES (1918-1939)

The rapid rise of the Labour Party as a consequence of the war, whose leaders were members of the middle classes, the People Act, were entitled all men over 21 had the right of vote and at women were granted suffrage, but they had to be over 30 years of age and property owners.
Ireland was unrest. During the war the Irish volunteers had organised a rebellion on Easter Monday 1916 and proclaimed an Irish republic. The rebellion was crushed. In 1919, the Irish volunteers became the IRA (Irish Republican Army) an prepared for Civil War. The war ended with the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1921. In 1949 there was the official proclamation of the Republic of Ireland.
In India, GANDHI started a non-violent protest against the British Government.
All over Europe and America a serious crisis, known as the “depression”, was taking place.
Germany, under Hitler’s leadership, was preparing to regains its position in Europe, by force if necessary.
In England, Edward VIII announced his intention to marry a divorced American woman, meeting the opposition of all parties. He therefore abdicated and was succeeded by his brother GEORGE VI.

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