Between 1760 and 1830 the English countryside was transformed as the open-field system of cultivation gave way to compact farms and enclosed fields. Jethro Tull (1674-1741) and Lord Townshend popularised the importance of root crops. The introduction of the four-course (Wheat, turnips, Oats or barley, clover) rotation of crops was historic.
Robert Bakewell (1725-1795) pioneered in the field of systematic stock breeding. He showed how to breed stock for quality food; before this sheep were only valued for wool and cattle for strength.
The Act of Union, Great Britain and Ireland
On January 1, 1801, the ‘Act of Union’ created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, establishing one single Parliament.
The Battle of Trafalgar
For twelve years England had stood in the way of Napoleon’s ‘Grand Armees’ complete domination of Europe. He had convinced himself that his united fleet could annihilate any squadron, which the English could put to sea to meet it.
Napoleon the Emperor of the French, knew that if he could command the seas, he could also control the world.
During the battle the British lost many men, but of the 27 ships of the British fleet, not one had been sunk or captured!
Napoleon’s allied fleet was now ruined and the battle of Trafalgar established England's supremacy at sea for nearly a century and a half, during which time her navy remained the bedrock on which her control of the far-flung British Empire rested through the age of steam and into the 20th century.
Nelsons column still stands in Trafalgar square in London, to remind the British of October 21, 1805, which goes down in history as one of the greatest sea victories in England's long history, when they defeated a combined French and Spanish fleet near Gibraltar.
George IV, William IV
George IV (1820-30) ruled, followed by his uncle, William IV (1830 –1837). When the Catholic Emancipation Bill became law, George threatened to abdicate. George had no male children and his daughter had died. His second brother was childless. The throne thus went to his third brother, who became William IV; he ruled from 1830-1837.
The Irish Potato Famine
Potatoes had come to Ireland in 1586, planted on his estate near Cork by Sir Walter Raleigh. They seemed to be an admirable food to supplant wheat, so dependent upon the weather.
In 1845, over one half the Irish potato crop, (mostly grown on nearly two million acres in spade-cultivated plots of less than one acre), was lost to a fungus. The British and the Irish rulers did little to help the people. Around one million Irish people died and between 1848 and 1851; over a million emigrated for the United States.
The Crimean War began in 1854. English soldiers were also involved in India, where they had to deal with the great mutiny; and a war with China over British export of opium from India in exchange for silks and tea. The Opium War ended with the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 that opened up five Treaty Ports for trade and gave Hong Kong to Britain.
The second war with China came in 1857 but soon ended and won concessions from the Chinese, including more treaty ports, gained diplomatic representation and the right for Christian missionaries to go about their work in China.
By the mid 19th Century due to a growing population, bad harvests, lack of food and heavy unemployment the government of the British Isles, encouraged emigration, especially among the catholic Irish and the Scots. Free land in other lands, was available and it would strengthen the new acquired countries new nationalities.
Reforms had begun under the Tory Party, under Robert Peel working as Home Office Minister. Peel reformed the criminal code, abolished the death penalty for over one hundred offences, improved prison conditions and created the London Police force, the so-called ‘Bobbies.’
Unrest and Injustice in Britain’s workforces
As the world's largest empire flourished, there was unrest at home. Workers in factories were fired for trying to form unions. In 1834, Robert Owen attempted to improve factory conditions and the lives of the workers through his ‘Grand National Consolidated Trade Union’. English farm labourers were deported to Australia, for secretly forming a branch of the GNCTU; they were known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs from Dorset, in the South of England.
The Suez Canal Opened
Benjamin Disraeli became Prime Minister in 1874 with the idea of expanding the Empire, for profit and to spread British ideas of democracy and law, as well as the Christian religion. The Suez Canal, opened in 1869, offered a 5,000-mile shortcut from Britain to India and the East, to Australia and New Zealand.
Many missionaries and explorers went to convert the world - like William Carey who went to India in 1793, and David Livingstone who went to Africa.
In the Boer War the lack of knowledge of the British troops in survival techniques led Baden Powell to found the Boy Scout movement primarily as a form of early outdoor military training.
Queen Victoria (1837-1901)
After the death of her uncle William IV, Queen Victoria in 1837 took the throne. Under her rule, the British Empire doubled in size, encompassing Canada, Australia, India and various locales in Africa and the South Pacific, and there was an evolution in English politics.
Commerce was flourishing, industrial productivity was booming, exports were soaring, the Nation led the world in manufacturing, but in all the wealth, there was still vast poverty amongst the lower classes that were still exploited. At times there was also mass unemployment.
The majority of people lived in severe poverty. Militant spokespersons for the poor gave their desire for change in ‘The Peoples Charter’, a Magna Carter for the modern age, demanding the right to vote for all men, secret ballots, and annual Parliaments. On April 10th 1848, a petition signed by over two million people was taken to London. Soldiers were posted to protect the capital, the royal family had fled to the Isle of Wight. There was no revolution, but it was the beginning of a change for the good of the people. Britain was to become better, as well as richer.
In 1876 she was crowned Empress of India by Disraeli. In 1887 Victoria’s Golden Jubilee marked her 50th year as Queen. On January 22, 1901, she died.
Edward VII, (1901-1910)
Edward VII was Known as ‘Edward the Peacemaker’ for his diplomacy in Europe.
He was 59 when he became king. He made several royal visits that helped to prepare the way for international treaties with France and Russia and his knowledge of Italian, French, Spanish and German was used to good advantage.
Britain was the largest empire the world had ever known. But British society was discontent, and was resentful of living conditions that were endured by the masses.
George V (1910-1936)
George V was the second son of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. He was a serving naval officer until Prince Albert Victor died in 1892, when he assumed the role of heir.
It was George who changed his family name from the German Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor.
1910-1911 saw the greatest industrial unrest in Britain's history. Nation-wide strikes of dockworkers, railway men and miners brought the country to a standstill. The National Insurance Act was passed to ensure that the worker, employer and the government paid in money to pay for free medical treatment, sick pay, disability and maternity benefits. In 1932 George initiated the Christmas Day radio broadcasts that served to link the Commonwealth countries in a common bond.
World War I 1914-1918
With the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in June 1914, Austria declared war on Serbia. Trouble in the Balkans precipitated the outbreak of hostilities. Germany declared war on Russia and on France. Germany ignored the neutrality of Belgium and in August 1914 Britain sided with France. Trench warfare ensued; all endured the harshest of conditions. 600,000 Allies died at the Somme alone.
In 1916 fuel shortages motivated Parliament to pass a ‘summer time’ act, advancing clocks one hour to make the most of available light.
England and Germany were the countries that sent out the most missionaries to proclaim the message of Jesus, the wonderful Saviour of the world. But the war hindered all travel.
British Naval superiority was challenged by the new submarine, but the English Dreadnoughts, the steel armoured ships ruled the waves.
America joined in the War in April 1917. Britain's seizure of Palestine from the Ottoman Turks (aided by Lawrence of Arabia) was followed by the Balfour Declaration of 11th November 1917 that favoured the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.
The abdication of the German Kaiser was followed by the imposition of severe armistice terms by the allies; they were accepted on 11th November 1918. Ten million people had died in the ‘Great War’.
In 1918, women over thirty were granted the right to vote following their efforts as factory workers when the men had been conscripted. The final treaty came in June 1919. The League of Nations met for the first time in Geneva in November 1920. The BBC was formed in 1922.
In 1925 Winston Churchill returned Britain to the gold standard. The return was made at the old pre-war gold and dollar value of the pound. The pound was devalued; British goods became over-priced, and Britain's share of the world export market declined rapidly.
The Widows, Orphans and Old Age Health Contributory Pension schemes extended the Act of 1911 and insured over twenty million people.
In 1928, the Equal Franchise Act gave the parliamentary vote to all women over twenty-one.
A Labour government, elected in 1929, came to power at the beginning of a worldwide depression triggered by the Wall Street Crash. The worldwide depression of 1929-1931 deeply affected England. The heads of Labour, Conservatives and the Liberal party united to form a coalition government.
In the 1930's the situation improved; the gold standard was abandoned. The pound found its own value against the US dollar and made British export prices more competitive.
Changes in the Empire
By the end of the 1920s the Empire underwent several changes. An independent Irish parliament was established in 1918. Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada wanted to be self-governed after the First World War. The result was the British Commonwealth of Nations by the Statute of Westminster in 1931.
Edward VIII (1936)
Edward VIII was the eldest son of George V. Edward fell in love with the American divorcee Wallis Simpson.
As the head of the Church of England, he knew that English law ensured that he would need to abdicate if he married Mrs. Simpson. English law had no precedent for a wife of the king with no title or official capacity.
The situation brought the nation to the brink of a constitutional crisis. He abdicated after reigning a mere eleven months and married Mrs. Wallis. He was given the title, ‘The Duke of Windsor’. He died in 1972. Matthew 5:32 ‘Whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.’
George VI (1936-1952)
In the controversial surroundings of the abdication of Edward VIII, the reluctant, yet faithful George VI took the throne.
Upon ascending to the throne George wrote to the British Prime Minister George Stanley Baldwin saying: "I am new to the job but I hope that time will be allowed to me to make amends for what has happened."
Only five monarchs ever succeeded the throne in the lifetime of his predecessor, Henry IV, Edward IV, Richard III, William III and George VI of course.
The actions of the King and Queen during the war years greatly added to the prestige of the monarchy.
World War II 1939-1945
In Germany, Hitler had become Chancellor in 1934, on a rising tide of nationalism and economic unrest. He proclaimed the Third Reich in March, the 1000-year reign, and he was given dictatorial powers.
In March, the Nazis opened their first concentration camp for Jews, gypsies and political prisoners. In August, Hitler became President of the Reich. He announced open conscription early in 1935, in defiance of the conditions laid down at Versailles. The German republic rebuilt her army and air force. The Rhineland a buffer zone was encroached upon. Hitler invaded Austria and then Poland on 1st September 1939.
Soon the clouds in Europe overshadowed every area of British life. For several years the government sought “appeasement” policies with Germany. But on September 3, 1939, an unprepared Great Britain (and France) declared war on Germany. Conscription was ordered for all men twenty years and older. France also declared war on Germany.
A blackout was imposed; rationing was imposed, even the royal family had ration books. Children from the larger cities were moved into the countryside and all persons were issued with gas masks. British beaches were heavily defended with mines and protected by barbed wire.
The Battle of Britain
France had fallen, what remained of the British Expeditionary Force was rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk. It seemed as if nothing could stop the German invasion of an unprepared Britain. Britain stood alone in 1940 against the military might of the German Third Reich.
These are the words of Winston Churchill from his diary..
“What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward to broad sunlit lands.
But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.
Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say 'This was their finest hour'
- Winston Churchill, June 18, 1940.
The Battle of Britain, Part Two
On September 15th 1940, one of the most ferocious battles took place as one of the biggest air raids mounted against London.
The Germans were astonished by RAF’s fighting ability and soon realised that the skies could not be cleared in time for an invasion of England, before the weather deteriorated over the English Channel. The German High Command's thoughts of invincibility were shattered by the RAF.
The Battle of Britain was a pivotal turning point in World War Two. Operation Sealion (the invasion of Britain) was cancelled.
The Germans believed they could break the British spirit by maintaining nightly bombing offensives, known as ‘the Blitz’. But under the amazing leadership of Winston Churchill, the British fought on.
Churchill’s words on this battle echo through history, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."
Pearl Harbour and D Day
On 7th December 1941 Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, which brought America into the war. The Luftwaffe bombed London and other British cities, people sought refuge in the shelters and bunkers and the German V1 and V2 rockets were aimed at the capital.
The 6th June 1944 was D-day; the invasion of the Continent by the allied forces. Hundreds of thousands of allied soldiers landed within a few days. It was a turning point for the war in the West.
In March 1945, the allies crossed the Rhine. In the east, a new Russian offensive began with three million soliders marching to Berlin. In April, East met West as allied forces met with the Russians at the Elbe.
On 7th May 1945, Germany surrendered. Winston Churchill helped lead Britain to victory, but even he acknowledges divine help in crushing the evil enemy Hitler.
Around 55 million people including civilians had died, of which 6.5 million were Jews who had been killed in concentration camps (A third of the world’s Jewish population). In Poland visitors can see the remains of the Auschwitz concentration camp. It has been preserved ‘lest we forget’, it is a sad and moving place.
The War in the Pacific came to an end on August 14, 1945. Japan surrendered only after the American Airforce dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Elizabeth II (1952)
Britain’s current Queen ascended to the throne on February 6, 1952 upon the death of her father, King George VI. Her Coronation followed on June 2, 1953.
She has been a faithful figure of stability in the royal household. 2002 marked the 50th anniversary of the Queen's Accession to the Throne. Sadly within the same year, the Queen Mother and her sister died.
The Queen often speaks of her personal faith in Christ during her Christmas speeches.
Post War Years
The war had been won, but there was a huge debt to be paid to America and certain food items were still on rationed even until 1954.
A new Labour government was elected after WW2, and the welfare state was expanded, including the establishment of the National Health Service in 1948, which provided free medical treatment for all.
Independence was desired by the remainder of Britain’s colonies; an independent India and Pakistan was formed in 1947. Britain retained links with the former colonies through the Commonwealth.
The new state of Israel was formed in 1948 and in 1967 after the seven-day war they recaptured old Jerusalem.
Britain, France, Italy, the U.S and others set up the North Atlantic Treaty (NATO) for the defence of Europe against Communism.
During WW2 the British and American scientists had produced the Atomic bomb. However the US McMahon Act of 1946 barred Britain from any further participation in the research! So on the 3rd October 1952 Britain tested its own bomb.
In December 1952 a four-day London smog caused the city's death toll to rise threefold.
In 1955, London passed its Clean Air Act to ban the burning of untreated coal to prevent a recurrence of the killer smog. One year later, the whole country adopted the Clean Air Act.
In 1954, a British athlete, Roger Bannister, was the first man ever to run the sub-four minute mile.
In 1956 Britain initiated full-scale use of nuclear fuel to produce electricity at Calder Hill.
1956, Egypt’s General Nasser desired to nationalise the Suez Canal. Britain, France and Israel attacked to stop this from happening. After US intervention all parties withdrew.
In 1957 transatlantic passenger flights began and took under six hours.
In 1959, England developed the Hovercraft to cross the English Channel.
In 1967, Britain was forced to devalue the pound in an attempt to check inflation and improve the trade deficit. Four years later, Britain converted to the decimal system, ending the old system of 240 pennies to the pound.
In 1969 Britain became a major oil producer because of its discovery in the North Sea.
Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973.
In 1979 Margaret Thatcher became the nation's first woman Prime Minister. Her government systematically undermined trade union power, especially during the 1984-5 coal miners' strike. British Telecom, British Steel, British Gas and other nationalised industries were privatised.
In 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, claiming sovereignty over the small group of islands; it was home to a few thousand British settlers. After only two months of war, the British were victorious, and the Argentinians surrendered.
In July 1981 Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer.
Margaret Thatcher broke the back of many of the unions. The Poll Tax was birthed; it caused many street demonstrations and violent opposition. Interest rates rose to 15%.
In 1990 the United Nations multi-national task force went to war. After Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, the allies’ mission was to liberate it. The short war ended with stringent conditions being applied to Iraq, and a ‘no fly’ zone protected by the Americans and the British.
In the 1997 General Election a Labour landslide victory thrust Tony Blair into power.
Fighting broke out in 1998 in Kosovo between the Serbian government and the Kosovar Albanians who were seeking independence. The Serbians refused a peace settlement and NATO was transformed from a defensive to an offensive alliance, as Britain and the United States began air attacks on Serbia.
September 11th 2001
Terrorist attacks on the U.S. changed American foreign policy forever. Within days the British Prime Minister travelled Europe and around the world, meeting world leaders to show their support for America, in the new ‘War on Terror’.
Britain, as the closest ally to the world’s sole super power, sent troops to fight in Afghanistan, and in the very controversial war to ‘Liberate Iraq’.
Today Britain as a member of the G8 is one of the wealthiest and influential countries in the world.
After hundreds of years, Christianity influenced the very centre of power in Britain. As the nation obeyed God’s laws, the promise of the Bible came true.
‘The Lord shall make you the head, and not the tail. And you shall be always above, and you shall not be beneath, if you listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, to observe and to do them’. Deuteronomy 28:13.
Queen Victoria took the throne in 1837, when Britain was the greatest power in the world. Britain had gained the largest Empire the world had ever seen. Someone once asked Queen Victoria, "What made the British Empire great" she replied, "The Bible". The Lord had been faithful to His Word.
As we obeyed God’s rules the country prospered, as we neglected God in selfish pride, the nation lost power and were ready for God’s Judgement.
Britain for many years did more for Christianity than any other nation. William Carey ‘The father of modern missions’ started the mission movement that would change the world. Great revivalists like the Wesleys and Whitefield saw revival here and abroad. Great men like William Wilberforce urged on by their Christian faith influenced politics to abolish slavery.
God made Britain the head. Britain’s naval power ruled the waves. The industrial revolution born in Britain changed the world economically forever. Britain’s Empire was the richest the world had ever seen. By the eve of the Second World War, over a fifth of the world's land surface and nearly a quarter of the world's population were under some form of British rule. The Empire was far from perfect, it made many very bad and costly mistakes, yet it did also have many positive impacts upon the world.
God’s Promise, Part Two
The Nazis' perverted idea of world domination highlighted the difference between their rule and that of the British Empire. Some today would consider that Britain’s most significant day was when it stood alone in Europe defending freedom and democracy.
In the mid 1940’s, most of Europe was ruled or under the direct influence of the Nazis. An unprepared Britain was virtually isolated. Between July and October 1940, under the extraordinary leadership of Winston Churchill, and by the grace of God, the Royal Air Force won the ‘Battle of Britain’, dashing Hitler’s plans to invade the unprepared England.
If the nation had fallen, the last beacon of democracy and freedom in Europe would have been distinguished and Germany could have probably conquered the unprepared Russia.
The world could have looked so different today. Imagine a Nazi dominated World in conflict with America, who at the time did not want to be involved with a ‘European War’.
But of course historians can only speculate what the world would have looked like if Britain had fallen. Some extremes suggest that the Nazis could have developed an atomic bomb. (The Allies continually attacked Nazi research on the atom bomb, and all three of the prototype planes which were developed to bomb America were destroyed by British air attacks. The US stealth bomber is based on a Nazi plane which was designed for destroying America). This could have lead to a ‘Cold War’ between the Nazis and America; or even more horrendous, if the Nazis developed the Atomic bomb first, they could have bombed America into submission.
In the words of Winston Churchill...
“But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science”.
After the Second World War, former colonies gained their independence and Britain settled as a member of the EU.
God’s Promise, Part Three
God has been very good to us. Britain entered the 21st century as a wealthy and influential nation; however the days of Britain being a world superpower are long gone.
As we forsook the Lord, so we lost our influence around the world. America can learn a lot from the demise of the British superpower.
"I spoke to you in your prosperity; but you said, I will not hear" Jeremiah 22:21.
Its two greatest mistakes were to forsake the Lord and to turn its back on the Jewish people.
‘Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgements, and His statutes, which I command you today, lest when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied when your heart is lifted up and you forget the Lord your God… then you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.' And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. Then it shall be, if you by any means forget the Lord your God, and follow other gods, and serve them and worship them, I testify against you this day that you shall surely perish’ Deuteronomy 8:11-14,17-19.
The future of Britain depends on how we respond to the gospel. If we continue down the path of ignoring God’s Word and breaking His commands, we only have an expectation of future judgement.
If we repent, turning from our wicked ways, we can expect to see God’s continuing blessing on the UK. Our history inspires us to seek God for revival. The Wesleys sought God in the dark days of moral decline, yet the revival that followed put Britain’s focus back onto the Lord. As a nation our hope can be found only in the Lord.
A Prayer for Revival
‘O Lord, though our iniquities testify against us, do it for Your name's sake; For our backslidings are many, We have sinned against You’ Jeremiah 14:7.