What Made Britain so Different from the Rest of Europe Before 1850?

Topics: United Kingdom, Industrial Revolution, Europe Pages: 6 (1872 words) Published: November 9, 2012
What made Britain so different from the rest of Europe before 1850?- By 1850, Britain had changed in a number of social and economic ways, for a variety of reasons, primarily the industrial revolution as the historians O’Brien and Quinault argue that Britain ‘represented a potent “example” for Western Europe and the United States of what could be achieved’ highlighting British superiority and influence. The consequences of this momentous event can still be seen in Britain and around the world today due to the technological and scientific discoveries and innovations of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The development of British industry consequently led to significant differences between Britain and other European countries such as France and Portugal, however, the industrial revolution was not the single contributing factor to these differences. The expansion of the British Empire changed British society and ultimately led to greater power and influence over Europe, alongside important events such as the Napoleonic Wars, which in turn led to naval and military supremacy, as Britain were affected less negatively in comparison to other European countries. This essay will argue that Britain was different to Europe before 1850 as a result of the industrial revolution and its consequences, the expansion of the empire and the Napoleonic Wars. It can be argued that Britain was different from the rest of Europe before 1850 as a result of the industrial revolution; however, one may argue that this was the case before the advent of industrialization. This can be attributed to the fact that the Industrial Revolution occurred primarily in Britain, rather than in any other European country, emphasising that there were significant differences in order for this to occur. Many historians will argue that Britain was the ideal nation for the events of the Industrial Revolution to occur in as the Agricultural Revolution had preceded it, therefore, productivity of the land and the labour force had increased, unlike in Europe. Furthermore, historians will argue that Britain initiated the revolution due to the fact that they ‘were already a long way ahead of her chief potential competitor in per capita output and trade’, which arguably can be attributed to their naval supremacy over Europe. Additionally, although debatable, it is suggested by the historian Mokyr that before 1780 ‘Britain was comparatively peaceful’ as the nation was politically and socially stable, as people respected institutions and the laissez faire government worked effectively, resulting in a suitable environment for industrial and economic growth . Moreover, Mokyr suggests that there were a number of other ‘British advantages’ such as the large amount of iron and coal available to them, alongside the geography of being an island, which decreased the likelihood of foreign invasions. Therefore, it is clear that Britain was different from Europe before the Industrial Revolution occurred as they possessed significant political, social and economic advantages. Moreover, the Industrial Revolution is certainly a monumental event in causing substantial social, economic and political change, resulting in differences between Britain and Europe. In terms of positive social change, there was an ‘overwhelming transformation of social life in both industry and agriculture’ as the Industrial Revolution was extremely profitable for the middle class, in comparison to that of the nobility, as many workers gained employment in factories as new technology resulted in less need for labour in agriculture. Furthermore, urbanisation transformed cities such as Manchester, by dramatically increasing population from ‘40,000 in the 1780s to 142,000 by 1831’. Additionally, the life expectancy of children increased-the percentage of children born in London who died before the age of five decreased from 74.5% in 1730–1749 to 31.8% in 1810–1829, highlighting that healthcare in Britain had...
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