The summer of 2012 showed that when it comes to their gene pool, the Windsors have got longevity down pat. Elizabeth II celebrated sixty years on the throne and Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, made it into the record books of being the heir kicking his heels the longest, having now bested his great-great grandfather Edward VII who waited sixty years and 72 days for his turn. Charles has now logged in 61 years and is older than Edward was at the time of his ascension to King.
But it isn’t the current royal family, the Windsors, that is the topic here. It’s the Hanoverian Princess Vicky, who ended up ruling an empire, and her son, that patient playboy diplomat, Bertie Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. The current queen’s great-great grandmother and great grandfather.
Not that I’m going to go into their lives here. No, it’s the mark the reigns of Victoria and Edward (Bertie) left on the world that’s the topic. I mean, how many people in the course of history have had “eras” named after them? Not many. In fact, for the most part, the “era” ends up carrying their family name and covering more than a single monarch. We may say “the Elizabethan Era” in referring to Elizabeth I but her sister, brother, father, and grandfather get lumped together as “Tudors”. Same sort of thing happens with the Stuarts, and with George II, George III and George IV, who become the “Georgian Era” – what would it have been called if one of them hadn’t used “George”? Even when George IV was the Regent, the time period got named for the “job” (The Regency Period) rather than for him.
Okay, not exactly the kind of questions to keep one up late at night, is it? Though perhaps wondering how the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family mutated into the Windsors does have you scratching your head. Answer is George V decreed it in attempting to divorce the British royals from their German cousins in 1917 when World War I was still playing out.
Now you can get some sleep.
Back to Vicky and Bertie though.
Victoria’s reign set records. She was born during the Regency era in 1819 and with a father and a couple uncles ahead of her she placed 4th in line, which is where Prince Harry will be once William and Kate’s child is born, to give you some perspective. The difference was that her father was quite a bit older when she came along, as were her uncles. When her uncle the king died in 1837, he was in his seventies, and Victoria had just celebrated her eighteenth birthday.
This put her in an excellent position to dominate the 19th century for all the modern technology being churned out of labs, and inventors’ workshops happened during her reign.
While Victoria is the face of the 19th century – or perhaps more accurately, the form as we tend to think of a short, stocky middle aged to elderly woman draped in black silk, satin, and bombazine – the sound of the 1800s is one of released steam, clicking gears, lectures on new discoveries in the sciences or on previously unexplored parts of the world.
The Victorian Era is one of transportation advances – trains, steamships (as well as Clipper ships), luxury liners, early gasoline powered motor cars (Daimler and Benz in the 1880s with the first truly workable models), airships (the first steam engine powered one appearing in 1852), and even the bicycle (which was a craze in the 1860s and again in the 1890s, the “Golden Age of Bicycles”).
The Victorian period saw the rise of the middle class and terrible conditions for the poor, both elements that mark Charles Dickens’ novels. Exploration of everything followed: geology came into its own as did archaeology; the sources of various important rivers were sought – the Nile, the Amazon; Sigmund Freud explored the mind while Charles Darwin noted elements that led to his theories on evolution, and the polar regions beckoned to other explorers. The telegraph came into being, as did the telephone, electric lighting, and the Underground in London.
The mystery novel came into being, particularly the detective novel, as did science fiction. Forensic science in police work began as did the modern police department. There were wars in the Crimea, in the Veldt in Africa, a mutiny in India, an opium war in China, all seeing soldiers with red coats on the field. The Raj began in India. In the US a war for independence was fought by people who had immigrated to the Mexican territory known as Tejas, which was followed by the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Indian Wars, and the Spanish-American War.
The modern world was galloping into sight as the century turned. Victoria moved on to join her dearly departed husband Albert leaving their son Bertie to become Edward VII. He’d long held the media title of “Europe’s uncle” because his siblings had married into other European royal families and had children of their own. Nearly every royal or high ranking peer from Russia to the far reaches of the Continent and the island nations bordering the North Sea was related to Edward.
Oddly enough, his “era” outlived him for while Edward witnessed the arrival of fixed wing flight with the first airplanes (1909 Wilbur Wright was demonstrating the Wright Flyer in Europe but other inventors were hot on his heels with models of their own) and Albert Einstein came up with that catchy E=mc2, he wasn’t around when Hell broke loose. The tensions that led to World War I were building throughout Edward’s nine years on the throne which is why historians set the end of his “era” in 1919 with the close of the war. His son George V therefore reigns during the final eight years of the Edwardian Era.
And during his section of it the TITANTIC goes down, the LUSITANIA is torpedoed, trench warfare moves away from being a sometime element to being the norm, troops are gassed, and aerial warfare between flying aces in flimsy craft begins. Silent movies, rag time jazz, recorded music, and the future all arrive.
And these are merely the highlights.
Whether you are fascinated with the Victorian Era for Steampunk uses or for straight historical settings, or want to know more about what’s happening in the world outside DOWNTON ABBEY, there’s a workshop coming up that could answer your questions or tweak your interest to know even more.
VICKY AND BERTIE: VICTORIAN AND EDWARDIAN HISTORICAL ELEMENTS kicks off March 11th for a 4-wk run…almost like it was playing at your local music hall or vaudevillian theatre. Popcorn will not be available, but perhaps tea and biscuits?
The 19th century was not Beth Daniels’ first choice of time period when it came to history. No, she was all High Medieval/Plantagenet War of the Roses or nothin’ in high school. By her mid-twenties though, she had given up men in armour for fellows with six-guns on their hips or bowlers and canes in hand. Since that time she snagged a BA in history and has found it difficult to pry herself free of research materials for all things 19th century since then…particularly those of the US and Britain. The author (as Beth Henderson) of six historical romantic adventures set in the 1800s and of WRITING STEAMPUNK, she hasn’t shifted gears away from this time period in decades now.
Join her at www.RomanceAndMystery.com and/or www.Muse2Ms.com.
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