At the time when William Wordsworth was born (1770), Great Britain
suffered political struggles concerning freedom of election, speech and the
press. Though slavery was banished in this land, it still continued being
present in many of its colonies. Later on, Britain lost a battle against the
United States as they gained independence. As a result, the trend towards
stronger parliaments grew and the position of monarchs weakened. In continental
Europe, the French revolution was in full swing by 1789 and towards the end of
the century, France declared war on Britain. What is more, Britain had to deal
with a revolt in Ireland which was eventually successfully put down. As far as
industry is concerned, it was the period of the Industrial Revolution in
Britain which made it possible for people to replace wind and water powered
machines by new ones, those powered by steam. It brought a rise in factories
producing thread, textile, flour and beer among many other products. While the well-off profited, this made the hitherto poor living
conditions of common people even worse. Those who suffered the most were women
and children working for the lowest wages for the fact that labour unions were
by law not allowed. Besides this, the new century saw the rise of Napoleon
Bonaparte in France which did not add up to any help for the partly devastated
economic situation in Britain. This means that trade with Europe was banned and
so Britain could only count on its own isolated market. To make the situation
even worse, in the 1810s Britain found herself in two wars. Firstly, it was the
Napoleonic wars which turned out to be a victory for Britain and loss for
France. Secondly, in 1812 the battle against the United States was a draw.
Despite the relative amusement caused by the outcome of the wars, Britain still
suffered within her territory. So called Luddites, opponents of mechanising,
were vandalising factories, common people and workers were protesting about
inappropriate working conditions, low wages and most importantly high food
prices. It all culminated in the “Peterloo Massacre”
which was a demonstration put down by military force. While ordinary people
faced everyday struggles, the industrialisation reached its zenith as the first
steam locomotive and shortly after that also the first steam ship appeared.
Only in the 1820s were labour unions allowed and the right to strike granted,
but “corn laws” made it still hard for people to afford to buy basic
groceries. In the following decade people witnessed a few reforms which
improved their living conditions. Some of them include expansions concerning
universal suffrage, increase in democracy, and amendment to the work laws of
children. As people still did not have enough, they set forth other proposals
in a document called People’s Charter. This, however, did not directly generate
any reforms. Food prices remained high and so called workhouses were
established all over Britain where poor people including children worked in
uninviting conditions. In 1837, Queen Victoria succeeded to the throne and in
around the same period, the modern postage system was developed. In the final
decade of Wordsworth’s life Britain saw slight improvement. Though people still
demanded reforms out of which many were even sent to prisons, “corn
laws” were eventually repealed because people realised that they are
rather damaging to the whole British economy. Having said that, in 1848 whole
Europe experienced violent protests and rebellions demanding national
recognitions, and outside Europe, Canada was granted independence from Britain
in a non-violent way. Such was the period in which William Wordsworth was born
and which accompanied him throughout his life.


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