Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The British monarchy in the twentieth century

This post does not claim to be comprehensive - simply to pick out some of the major trends in the development of the monarchy. I am indebted to the following books:
Sarah Bradford, George VI (Penguin, 2011)
Ben Pimlott, The Queen: A Biography of Elizabeth II (HarperCollins, 1996)
William Shawcross, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother: The Official Biography (London: Macmillan, 2009)

The twentieth century saw the British monarchy rebrand itself so that its German roots became obliterated. It also saw a further diminution in the powers of the Crown.

Ireland in the early twentieth century

The partition of Ireland after 1920
I have been indebted for this post to Roy Foster's Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (Penguin, 1989). 

Foster writes that 
'The First World War should be seen as one of the most decisive events in modern Irish history.’ 

By April 1916 about 150,000 Irishmen were in active service in the war. The Unionist community was deeply committed to the war effort and John Redmond, the parliamentary leader of the constitutional nationalists also gave strong support to the war, trying to demonstrate that Home Rule was not incompatible with loyalty to the British state. However, the Irish radicals, represented by Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Brotherhood took the view that this was a British imperial war. The Irish Volunteers, previously united, were now split over the question of whether to support the war.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

The Liberals and Ireland 1912-14

The re-emergence of Home Rule

Following the two disappointing elections of 1910, the Liberals were increasingly dependent on the Home Rulers for votes. But Home Rule had never been approved by the British electorate, and it involved coercing a quarter of the population of the island of Ireland into (as they saw it) giving up their British allegiance.

In the early twentieth century many Irish Catholics become increasingly radical, and impatient with the more modest agenda of the Home Rulers.  In 1905 Arthur Griffith began the process of bringing the various nationalist factions and societies together as Sinn Féin

One pressing problem was over how Irish Home Rule would affect the rest of the United Kingdom. Churchill advocated the division of the UK into ten or twelve separate ‘provinces’, each of which would have its own assembly, but his proposition was greeted with derision: why should Britain be dismembered just to please the ‘disloyal’ Irish. However, Asquith continued to home that Home Rule would be a first step towards a wider devolution.

The Liberal government 1906-14

David Lloyd George (1863-1945)
radical chancellor

The Unionists in turmoil

By 1905 the Conservative (Unionist) party was in a state of civil war over the question of free tradeIn December their leader, A. J. Balfour resigned and the King sent for Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman, who formed a minority Liberal government. Balfour was the last Prime Minister to resign to an opposition leader without first being defeated in a general election.

The election of 1906: Liberal landslide

The general election of 1906 gave the Liberals an absolute majority of 130 seats (and nearly 50% of the vote). With their allies they had a majority of over 350.

The sensation of the election was the return of 53 Labour MPs. 24 were closely allied to the Liberals and the other 29 were elected under the independent auspices of the LRC (now renamed the Labour Party). 

The government was to be plagued with three great constitutional issues:

  1. The relationship between the Lords and Commons
  2. Whether women should be given the vote
  3. Whether Ireland should be granted Home Rule.