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From Belle Époque to Great Depression

Europe before 1914: An Interactive Map

The British Empire - Craig Bever

        Britain seemed to be enjoying a period of stability, prosperity and optimism before 1914.The Empire was stable and looked like it would not break down. Britain itself had formed a United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and the whole of Ireland with the majority of people living in England. Britain was the capital of the largest empire on earth containing 400 million people and the British people had a sense of pride that they were the sovereign nation of the empire.

British Politics

Britain was a kingdom in 1914 with George V as monarch but he held no real political power. Britain and the empire were governed mainly by the house commons comprised of 670 members of parliament elected by about 8 million adult males. The government in 1914 was a liberal administration with Herbert Asquith as the leader. In the decades before 1914 a strong party system had been built up. This consisted of several strong parties including the liberals, the conservatives and some national parties.

The economy and decline

Britain still had one of the strongest economies in the world and the production rate was rising with Britain producing ¼ of the worlds manufactured goods. The British economy was very prosperous before the war. But by the turn of the century, America and Germanys economies had overtaken that of Britain and a relative state of decline had been established.

Pre-war Liberal Governments

The liberals had been in power from 1905 onwards. They reduced the powers belonging to the House of Lords and also introduced old age pensions in 1908.The government had increased public spending greatly to the extent that some economists were worried it might inhibit economic growth. Trade union membership increased greatly under their reign. There were 4 million trade union members by 1914. Strikes became more often with even a general strike, consisting of miners, railway men and transport workers, threatening.

The Ireland Situation

The most menacing issue of all to the British government was the increasingly worrying situation in Ireland. The Protestants of Ulster opposed the dominant Catholic population. The Catholics wanted to run their local affairs free from the U.K whereas the Protestants wished to stay an integral part of the United Kingdom.

Foreign affairs.

The British press didn’t make much comment on the fact that Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, had been assassinated. It was partly due to this in fact that the First World War started. Britain usually kept free from the toils of Europe, but when Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany started to construct a great fleet, Britain reacted. A naval race resulted with Britain eventually emerging victorious but the main point is that Anglo German relations weakened. The assassination triggered a confrontation between Germany and Russia, Britain’s reaction was uncertain. Eventually Britain declared war on Germany on the 6th of August 1914