The Edwardian period or Edwardian era in the United Kingdom is the period covering the reign of King Edward VII, 1901 to 1910.
The death of Queen Victoria, Empress of India in January 1901 and the succession of her son, Edward, marked the start of a new century and the end of the Victorian period. While Victoria had shunned society, Edward was the leader of a fashionable elite which set a style influenced by the art and fashions of continental Europe—perhaps because of the King's fondness for travel. The era was marked by significant shifts in politics as sections of society which had been largely excluded from wielding power in the past, such as common labourers and women, became increasingly politicised.
The period is often extended beyond Edward's death in 1910 to include the years up to the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912, the start of World War I in 1914, or even the end of the war in 1918. The war sealed the end of the period as the Edwardian way of life, with its inherent imbalance of wealth and power, became increasingly anachronistic in the eyes of a population suffering in the face of war, and exposed to elements of a new mass media which decried the injustice of class division.
Class and society
Socially, the Edwardian era was a period during which the British class system
was very rigid. However, economic and social changes also created an environment in which there was more social mobility than previously. Such changes included rising interest in socialism
, attention to the plight of the poor and the status of women, including the issue of women's suffrage
, together with increased economic opportunities as a result of rapid industrialization. These changes were to be hastened in the aftermath of the first World War.
The lower classes, as with earlier periods, were segregated from the aristocratic and mercantile "society", and led lives far removed from the relative luxury enjoyed by the other classes.
The upper classes
embraced leisure sports
, which led to rapid developments in fashion
, as more mobile and flexible clothing
styles were needed. The corset
was modified, and later its everyday wearing was gradually abandoned.
The Edwardian period was also known as the Belle Époque
—meaning beautiful era. Despite its short pre-eminence, the period is characterized by its own unique architectural style, fashion, and way of life. Art Nouveau
held a particularly strong influence.
In fiction, some of the best-known names are H.G. Wells
, John Galsworthy
, Arnold Bennett
, Joseph Conrad
, E.M. Forster
, Kenneth Grahame
, Lucy Maud Montgomery
and P.G. Wodehouse
. Apart from these famous writers, this was a period when an enormous number of novels and short stories were being published and consumed, and a significant distinction between highbrow literature
and popular fiction
was emerging. Among the most famous works of literary criticism was A.C. Bradley
's Shakespearean Tragedy
(1904). Mass audience newspapers, controlled by press barons such as the Harmsworth brothers, Alfred Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Northcliffe
and Harold Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Rothermere
, became increasingly important.
The available recordings of music, such as wax cylinders played on phonographs
, were poor in quality. Live performances, both amateur and professional, were popular. Henry Wood
, Edward Elgar
, George Butterworth
and Thomas Beecham
were all active. Military brass bands often played outside in parks during the summer.
Film was in its infancy and audiences preferred live performances to picture shows. Music hall
was very popular and widespread; influential performers included male impersonator Vesta Tilley
and comic Little Tich
The theatre was marked by the rise of the New Drama, or plays by George Bernard Shaw, Harley Granville Barker, and Continental imports by Henrik Ibsen and Gerhardt Hauptmann. The actor/manager system, as headed by Sir Henry Irving, Sir George Alexander, and Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, was in decline.
Notable architects included Edwin Lutyens
, Charles Rennie Mackintosh
and Giles Gilbert Scott
Science and technology
The turn of the century saw many great innovations. Continental Europeans, such as Max Planck
, Albert Einstein
, and Sigmund Freud
were producing some of their greatest work. The first Nobel prizes
were awarded, and Ernest Rutherford
published his book on radioactivity
. The first transatlantic wireless signals were sent by Guglielmo Marconi
, and the Wright brothers
took their first flight.
By the end of the era, Louis Blériot had crossed the English Channel by air, the largest ship in the world, RMS Olympic, had sailed on her maiden voyage, automobiles were common, and the South Pole was reached for the first time by Roald Amundsen's and then Robert Falcon Scott's teams.
The 1908 Summer Olympics were held in London. Popularity of sports tended to follow class divisions, with tennis and yachting popular amongst the very wealthy and Association football (soccer) favoured by the poorest.
Politics and significant events
In the early years of the period, the Second Boer War
in South Africa
split the country into anti- and pro-war factions. Great orators, such as the liberal David Lloyd George
who spoke against the war, became increasingly influential although pro-war politicians, such as Conservative Joseph Chamberlain
, held power. The imperial policies of the Conservatives eventually proved unpopular and in the general election of 1906
the Liberals won a huge landslide. The Liberal government was unable to proceed with all of its radical programme without the support of the House of Lords
, which was largely Conservative. Conflict between the two Houses of Parliament over the People's Budget
led to a reduction in the power of the peers in 1910. The general election in January that year
returned a hung parliament with the balance of power held by Labour
and Irish Nationalist
The Edwardian period is often regarded as a romantic Golden Age of long summer afternoons, garden parties and big hats—this cultural perception was created by those that remembered the Edwardian age with nostalgia looking back to their childhood across the vast, dark, horrid abyss of the Great War
. Later, the Edwardian age was viewed with irony, as a mediocre period of pleasure between the great achievements of the Victorian age, which preceded it, and the great catastrophe of the war which was to come after. Today, the immense and real chasm between the wealthy and the poor during the Edwardian era has led to more sober assessments, which seek to portray the age as heralding the great changes in political and social life that it presaged.