King Edward VII, after whom the Edwardian period is named.
|Preceded by||Victorian era|
|Followed by||World War I|
|Monarch||King Edward VII|
The Edwardian era or Edwardian period in the United Kingdom is the period covering the reign of King Edward VII, 1901 to 1910.
The death of Queen Victoria in January 1901 and the succession of her son, Edward, marked the start of a new century and the end of the Victorian era. 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 Edwardian period is frequently 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 often to the end of the war in 1918. By the end of the war, the Edwardian way of life, with its inherent imbalance of wealth and power, had become increasingly anachronistic in the eyes of a population who had suffered in the face of war and who were exposed to elements of a new mass media which decried the injustice of class division.
Socially, the Edwardian era was a period during which the British class system was very rigid. It is seen as the last period of the English country house. Economic and social changes created an environment in which there was more social mobility. 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 very tight corset, or bodice, was modified, and later its everyday wearing was gradually abandoned.
The Edwardian period corresponds to the French Belle Époque period. 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. Artists were influenced by the appearance of the automobile and electricity, and a greater awareness of human rights.
In fiction, some of the best-known names are H. G. Wells, John Galsworthy, Arnold Bennett, Joseph Conrad, E. M. Forster, Kenneth Grahame, Beatrix Potter, 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 by modern standards. Live performances, both amateur and professional, were popular. Henry Wood, Edward Elgar, Gustav Holst, George Butterworth and Thomas Beecham were all active. Military brass bands often played outside in parks during the summer.
Film was in its early days 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. In spite of Art Nouveau raging on the European continent, the Edwardian Baroque style of architecture was widely favoured for public structures and was a revival of Christopher Wren–inspired designs of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The change or reversal in taste from the Victorian eclectic styles corresponded with the historical revivals of the period, most prominently earlier Georgian and Neoclassical styles of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
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.
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 members.
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. The Edwardian age could also be seen 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. Recent assessments emphasize the immense and real chasm between the wealthy and the poor during the Edwardian era and portray the age as heralding great changes in political and social life. Robert Tressell's popular novel The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is a strong example of the era's social critique.
Despite this, this type of perception has been challenged more recently by modern historians. The British historian Lawrence James has argued that during the early 20th century, Britain was instead marred in a "bout of intense national soul-searching", following a greater number of existential threats to Britain and her Empire, due to the rise of rival powers such as Germany, Russia and the United States.