Review: Little Englanders – how the Edwardians shaped 20th century Britain

Review: Little Englanders – how the Edwardians shaped 20th century Britain

Following the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, Britain began to face up to the changing world of the 20th century which would bring an end to the greatest empire the world has ever known. Robert Shiels enjoys a readable new account.

With this readable general narrative of the Edwardian period, Alwyn Turner, wearing his learning lightly, has outlined the contemporary change, with the rise of women’s suffrage and the labour movement, unrest in Ireland and the Boer republics, scandals in Parliament.

The years from 1901 to 1914 have been seen often, but in retrospect, as a transitional era, although they may not have been regarded as that then. Some people then regarded the new century as starting on 1 January 1901, and not in 1900.

Either way, a post-Victorian view was emerging, not content with how things had always been done, or at least had been done for several generations. First principles of politics and society were being questioned.

Further, as a matter of necessity the state was being expected to do more as a right rather than had been done in the past, or at least had been done often by voluntary groups for some people as a matter of charity.

These profoundly political events are considered in the context of the social history of the era. Some at least had more leisure time and money and there is strong reference to the music halls, literature and sporting events of the time.

The title of the book, Little Englanders, was a term used with varying degrees of political insult by Joe Chamberlain MP. Initially, it meant someone who did not wish the Empire to grow any further. Later, it came to be a term of abuse, encompassing both anti-imperialists and free traders.

It is not immediately clear what is being signalled by the use of the phrase in the title. There is some coverage of events elsewhere in the United Kingdom, although the view of events does seem to be London-centric.

Little Englanders: Britain in the Edwardian Era by Alwyn Turner. Published by Profile Books, 388 pp.

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