What is the Edwardian Era?

by JoHarrington

At the beginning of the 20th century, this was the historical period when Edward VII was on the throne of Britain. A lot happened.

What came before Edwardian times was the long and stable reign of Queen Victoria.

For many it had been a glorious period, especially for Britain. Britannia really did rule the waves and its wealth had been leeched from all over the globe. Industry had boomed and technology had progressed at a heady pace.

This was a new century with a new monarch. And a new generation was kicking back against the staid conventions of their parents.

They were young and vital. They could revel in the riches of the past; and they thought that they were the kings and queens of the world.

They were about to get the shock of their lives. An upheaval so great that, over a century on in 2012, we're still not over it.

Welcome to the Edwardian era.

British Royalty: King Edward VII Canvas Print

When Did the Edwardian Era Begin?

When Queen Victoria died in 1901, it heralded a bright new age of hope and prosperity.

No age begins and ends so precisely with a death and a coronation. The seeds are sown for years before; and the harvest is collected for decades on.

History is a continuum, each act leading into another. Lifetimes overlap and events, both major and minor, create waves which stream away from them in all directions. Like a stone being dropped into a still lake.

That said, chapters help us make sense of the past and the Edwardian age is just one of those. For sheer convenience we place the start in 1901 with the death of Queen Victoria; and the accession to the throne of her son King Edward VII.

This was more than a mere changing of the face on the coinage. It was a brand new century too.

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Buy Books about the Edwardian Period

The Edwardians: the Remaking of British Society

Everyone who lived during the reign of Edward VII was an Edwardian, not merely the rich, the literary or the scandalous. In this book, Paul Thompson records the life stories of ...

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The Edwardians

Edwardian Britain has often been described as a golden sunlit afternoon---personified by its genial and self-indulgent King. In fact, modern Britain was born during the reign of...

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When Did the Edwardian Era End?

Technically it was 1910, when King Edward VII died. In reality it tends to be extended until as late as 1919.

Edward was already 59 years old when he became King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions and Emperor of India. Nine years later, he was dead.

That should have been the end of the Edwardian times. After all, it was named after him (unless you're American, in which case the Gilded Age is often used instead, while the French prefer La Belle Époque (The Beautiful Era)).

If we're going with the end of Edward, then this period stops in 1910. 

No-one ever does that. 

History, once the gears have been set in motion, is slow to grind down. This was particularly true when the King was so popular in his lifetime. It also makes sense to continue the period until a certain line can be drawn under it.

Four years after the death of King Edward VII, one of the most major events of recent history began. This was the First World War, which erupted out of the political manoeuvrings of the Edwardian Age. For some that era ended with this - the Great War of 1914.

But there's a kind of morality tale in letting the hubris and arrogance of the Edwardians result in wholesale destruction. They caused it, so they should remain associated with it. For historians who take this view, then the period is put to rest in 1919 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.

The end of war and the end of the Edwardians.

So what is after the Edwardian era? It's either a kind of limbo half decade of the new Georgians. That's too messy. It sounds too much like the Georgian period over a century before. Or it's the First World War.

For the majority of people, what followed the Edwardian era is none of those. It's the 1920s and the Inter-War Period. It's Austerity or, if you're looking at the positive attempts at kicking-starting the fun and games again, it's the Roaring Twenties.

Asking what dates are Edwardian is problematic though. It's 1901-1910; 1901-1914; or 1901-1919. Take your pick. We can make a case for them all.

Delve into the Culture of the Edwardians

Buy these books to learn more about fashion, art, etiquette and the everyday lives of the Edwardian era.

What was Life Like in Edwardian Times?

Elegant and gentile indeed. But also rushing headlong into social change, which would eventually see even women with the vote!

The first fourteen years of the 20th century have been described as 'a long, sunlit afternoon'.  Remembered from the other side of two world wars, Austerity, The Great Depression and the grim Post-War Period, nostalgia placed rose-tinted glasses onto the most down-to-earth of people.

We tend to recall it in terms of Downton Abbey or the first class apartments of the Titanic. But it was so much more than that. This was an era of huge change, especially for the poorest in society.

Until now aristocracy and wealth could command instant respect, particularly in Britain. Here the class system kept everyone solidly in their place.

The super-rich, often the same aristocrats, lost all of their Victorian predecessors' sense of duty over spending money.  Good works were still done and charity events hosted, but there was no shame now in ostentatious spending. People competed over the greatest display and purchase of luxury items.

The nobility could expect deference from everybody, even the newspapers would hesitate to print anything negative about them. They were untouchable in their large stately homes. Strict rules of etiquette dominated their lives; and an army of servants saw to their every need.

All of this was about to crumble. It's no accident that today we look at the Edwardians through the lens of such programs as Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs. This is the first era in which we start looking past the upper crust to the people waiting on them; and the less wealthy per se.

This was the rise of Socialism and the Labour Party.  Suddenly the lower classes became less an amorphous blob to be controlled or given alms in 'good works', but human beings in their own right.

By the end of the Edwardian era, this political and social explosion led to lower class men and even women gaining the vote. The aristocracy was in decline and a whole new democracy was taking shape. But it also led into the carnage of the Great War and the pinch of Austerity measures.

Britain simply couldn't afford to be Edwardian anymore.

Learn about Edwardian Society

Buy these books to discover more about what life was really like at the time when Downton Abbey is set.

What Happened in the Edwardian Era?

It began in smug self-confidence; and ended in the First World War.

Many Edwardian events have taken on almost mythical status in today's culture. I'll run through some of the biggies.

  • Art Nouveau is the biggest style movement of the era (throughout until 1914).
  • Theodore Roosevelt became President of the United States (1901).
  • Rudyard Kipling wrote Kim (1901) and the Just So Stories (1902), and many more besides.
  • Edward Elgar began composing Pomp and Circumstance (1901), including Land of Hope and Glory (1902).
  • The Second Boer War ends in Africa (1902).
  • J.M.Barrie wrote Peter Pan (1902).
  • Beatrix Potter wrote The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902), as the start of a series spanning the Edwardian period and beyond.
  • Emmeline Pankhurst created the Suffragette Movement (1903).
  • The Wright Brothers had their first powered flight (1903).
  • Paul Poiret opened his Haute Couture Fashion House in Paris (1903).
  • Roald Amundsen and his team traversed the North-West Passage (1903-1906).
  • The first hacker interrupted a demonstration of the Marconi telegraphic system (1903).
  • The first World Series was held in America (1903).
  • W. Somerset Maugham had four plays simultaneously running in London (1904).
  • The Panama Canal zone was acquired (1904).
  • The Olympic Games were held in St Louis, USA (1904).
  • Albert Einstein published a paper explaining his Special Theory of Relativity (1905).
  • Fauvism became a major art movement with Henri Matisse at its helm (1905-1908).
  • E.M. Forster wrote several famous novels, including A Room with a View (from 1905).
  • Theodore Roosevelt negotiates the Portsmouth Treaty to end the Russo-Japanese War (1905).
  • Playwright Henrik Ibsen died at home (1906).
  • San Francisco was practically destroyed in a large earthquake and resultant fire (1906).
  • John Galsworthy started writing The Forsyte Saga (1906).
  • Mount Vesuvius erupted over Naples, Italy (1906).
  • Vaughan Williams and Percy Dreamer published The English Hymnal (1906).
  • Edith Nesbit wrote The Railway Children (1906).
  • A mining disaster in West Virginia killed 361 people (1907).
  • Oklahoma became an American state (1907).
  • The Olympic Games were held in London (1908).
  • Kenneth Grahame wrote Wind in the Willows (1908).
  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was established (1908).
  • William Howard Taft became President of the USA (1909).
  • Roald Amundsen led an unsuccessful expedition to the North Pole (1910-1912).
  • H.G.Wells wrote The Sleeper Awakes (1910).
  • New Mexico and Arizona become American states (1912).
  • The Titanic sank on her maiden voyage (1912).
  • George Bernard Shaw wrote Pygmalion (1912), better known to us as My Fair Lady.
  • Woodrow Wilson becomes President of the United States (1913).
  • Henry Ford creates the modern assembly line (1913).
  • Emily Wilding Davison became a martyr for women's rights (1913).
  • World War One erupted across Europe (1914).
  • Gustav Holst composed The Planet Suite (1914-1916).
  • P.G.Wodehouse started writing about Jeeves and Wooster (1915).
  • RMS Lusitania is torpedoed and sinks (1915).
  • The Easter Rising occurred in Dublin, Ireland (1916).
  • The Halifax Explosion killed thousands. (1917)
  • Max Planck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for his introduction of quantum theory (1918).
  • The Spanish Flu Epidemic killed thousands in Europe (1918-1919).
  • The Treaty of Versailles was signed (1919).
  • The Irish War of Independence begins (1919).
  • The 18th Amendment started Prohibition in the USA (1919).

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Updated: 03/16/2014, JoHarrington
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


JoHarrington on 05/10/2012

I'm glad to hear that you think so, thank you very much. :)

DavidPaulWagner on 05/10/2012

You have really brought the Edwardian Era to life in this page!

JoHarrington on 05/08/2012

Awww, bless you. <3

Then I shall research her and hope to do you both proud. And if you want to write about the show in the meantime, I'll link it up too.

Holistic_Health on 05/08/2012

@JoHarrington aw shucks. You can do it. I like your writing :)

JoHarrington on 05/08/2012

I've briefly checked it out. It looks very entertaining. I'll have to watch the series.

Unfortunately, it's only based on the Edwardian period, rather than being actually in it. Mind you, one of us could write an article on Rosa Lewis. Are you up for it?

Holistic_Health on 05/08/2012

@JoHarrington Definitely! It's based on a true story. The main character, Louisa, was rumored to be Edward's mistress, and he makes an appearance in the series. Makes me want to write a wiz on Poldark, my other historical favorite.

JoHarrington on 05/08/2012

I've vaguely heard of that one. Please refresh my memory! Is it big enough to go into my list of Edwardian events?

Holistic_Health on 05/08/2012

One my my favorite Masterpiece Theater shows comes from this period - The Duchess of Duke Street. Thanks for reminding me of it.

JoHarrington on 05/08/2012

WendyFinn - Thank you very much. :D That's a good debate. Living upstairs means dying of boredom. Living downstairs means working yourself into utter exhaustion, with every minute of your day accounted for. It's a tough call and I don't think I'd have liked either!

Thanks for your comment. :)

JoHarrington on 05/08/2012

2uesday - A very tough time for those who weren't rich, which is why this is the era of all those movements aimed at social mobility and equality. We were still a long way off either coming true, but things really sped up in Edwardian times.

So many of that generation really did live in fear of the workhouse, with good reason. My Nan was born in 1915, so she was a late Edwardian baby (if we're taking this until 1919). As late as 1997, when she died, she was terrified of our local hospital. Back in the day, it had been the workhouse. The purpose of it just shifted with National Health.

Thank you for your comment.

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