To fully understand Victoria and Albert, it is necessary to understand the world in which they lived. One observer once commented that the world in 1819, the year of Victoria's birth, was more like that ancient Greece than that of the modern world. Britain's population still largely lived in rural areas and Britain largely fed itself. Most people lived and died close to where they were born. Education was limited to the privlidged and wealthy. Power was largely based on human or animal power. The fastest form of transportation was by horse. Marine transport was sail powered. Travel to America could take 3 months and to Britains Asian dominions more than twice as long. During the life of Victoria, most of it as Queen, the world underwent the industrial revolution which was to usher in the modern age. It was in Britain that these forces were first unleashed and the imapct on the country and its people were the most pervasive in British history.
It was this world that was transformed by an amazing series of inventions. Steam power was at the center of the transformation. Soon steam locomotives and ships were moving people and goods at amazing speed and significantly lowering the cost of producing goods--stimulating economic activity. Traveling from London to Bristol took 15 hours by horse drawn stage. Prince Albert in 1842 made that same trip on the Great Northern Railway in 3 hours. The 3 month Atlantic crossing was reduced to 2 weeks. The telegraph was developed in 1837 allowing for almost instantenous communications.
The impact on Britons was massive. Some made huge fortunes. Many more flocked to or were driven to the growing cities seeking work at often starvation wages in factories, mills, and mines. Little provision was made for sanitation and health. Few free schools existed for the children who often had to work themselves just to feed the family. Many lived lives of abject despair.
It was in this world that the young couple found themself. How Britain, as the world's dominate power, was to deal with the problems would have a tremendous impact on world history. Poweful forces in Britain were oposed to social reforms. The landed airistocracy wanted high food prices regardless of the impact on the urban poor. They also resisted basic government efforts to provide free state schooling reasoning that education would simply causeworkers to make greater demands. On the other side were social reformers and workers demanding change. Britain was by Victoria's time a constityution monarchy. She could not rule by fiat, but the guidance she and Albert provided would be critical in forging modern Britain.
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