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Victorian Family Life

Edward I


William's ruthless leadership has achieved some stability in England. He builds castles along the Welsh border and in 1072, reaches a truce with Scotland’s King Malcom III who agrees to recognise William as his lord. In 1075, he quashes the last serious revolt by English nobles and marriages between French-speaking Normans and Anglo-Saxons become common, beginning a melding of cultures still evident in the English language of today. Words including onion, pork, beef and mushroom derive from the French nobility.

William’s next achievement was an unparalleled undertaking in medieval history – a vast survey of all the land and holdings in England. An incredible display of Norman efficiency, the country-wide survey was finished in six months. It records the transfer of power from the old Anglo-Saxon elite to the Normans - now only 5% of land was in English hands. His motives are unclear, but it’s thought Domesday was a way of legitimising William’s kingship while also enabling him to collect taxes more effectively in order to fund his wars. Whatever its purpose, nothing of its kind and scale would be produced again until the 19th Century.

Much of the last portion of William's life is spent back in Normandy, hunting and indulging his generous appetite. William's legacy endures – the English language is transformed, the Domesday Book completed and power shifted from Northern to Western Europe. It is another 300 years before an English-speaking king is crowned in Westminster Abbey.

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King Edward I ascended to the throne of England upon the death of his father, King Henry III of England, in 1272. Edward I, who became known as Longshanks due to his wars with the Scots and his height, was one of the greatest Plantagenet kings. He was born on 17 June 1239 at Westminster Palace - the first child of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence.

To finance his war to conquer Wales, Edward I taxed the Jewish moneylenders. When the Jews could no longer pay, they were accused of disloyalty. Edward decreed that the Jews were a threat to the country. All Jews were made to wear a yellow patch in the shape of a star, an idea Adolf Hitler would adopt 650 years later. Over three hundred Jews were taken to the Tower of London and executed, while others were murdered in their homes. Finally in 1290, the King banished all Jews from the country.

In 1291, Scottish nobles recognised the authority of Edward I. He had planned to marry off his son to the child queen, Margaret I of Scotland, but when Margaret died he was invited by the Scottish nobles to select her successor, and he chose John Balliol (over Robert Bruce). Balliol was effectively a puppet of the English which led the discontented Scots to rise up against him. An English army marched into Scotland in 1296 and Edward stormed Berwick upon Tweed, killing its inhabitants and sending the humiliated Balliol to the Tower of London. The Stone of Sconce, a venerated relic that Scottish kings had been crowned on, was moved to Westminster in 1296. The banner of the Scots was taken up by William Wallace, who defeated the English at Stirling Bridge in 1297. Edward's plan to unite the two countries never came to fruition.

Edward died on 7 July 1307, and was buried at Westminster Abbey.

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Queen Victoria ruled the UK from 1837 – 1901. This period in the history of the country is called Victorian. It is marked by great change. During this period the country became one of the richest and most powerful in the world as a result of the growth in industry and trade and the development of the British Empire. At the same time in Victorian England the gulf between the rich and the poor became wider, and Victorian factories were notorious for using children’s labour.

When people think now of the Victorian period, it is often seen as a time of strict moral standards when people were very serious and often pretended to have better moral principles than they actually had, marriages were always permanent and sex was never mentioned. This way of life and many of the Victorian ideas may seem strange to us and often rather hard, but the Victorians were contented, and they were satisfied with few pleasures.

In a Victorian middle-class family father, known as Papa, with his beard or side-whiskers, was the Head of the House and the breadwinner, and everyone, especially the children, treated him with the greatest respect. His word was law for all the household: his wife, children and servants. He sat at the head of the table and carved the joint of meat at dinner. The youngest members of the family were not supposed to talk unless spoken to by a grown-up.

Mama kept her large family in order, and used a cane, if necessary. With eight, ten, twelve or more children she was a very busy mother, for there were no vacuum cleaners, washing machines or electrical gadgets in the house. Tinned goods and foods prepared in packets were unknown. Clothes were mostly made at home or at a dressmaker’s in the town. After she was thirty Mama was considered quite middle-aged and often took to wearing a little lace cap in the house.

At the end of the day Papa took family prayers when everyone, including the servants, knelt down in the dining-room or study. He also led the family to church on Sunday. Sunday was a very solemn day and as little work as possible was done. No shops were open and there were certainly no amusements. Everyone put on their best clothes which were usually stiff and uncomfortable. On Sunday afternoons the family often went for a walk, but no games were allowed. Even picture books were forbidden on Sundays; Sunday reading included the Bible and certain books about the saints.

Although there were no radio sets, television, cinemas or motor cars, the Victorians didn’t find life dull. People worked longer hours, often twelve or fourteen hours a day. Amusements were simple and the family often gathered round the piano to sing the latest popular songs or entertained each other by reciting or playing the piano. Public readings from Dickens and recitations were popular and drew large audiences. In London and the large towns the music halls were not considered quite respectable, but the theatre was sometimes visited.

Children very rarely went to any entertainment, except perhaps to the circus or to a pantomime. They had their parties with many of the games which are still played, like blind man’s buff. Children had plenty of books. Many of the best children’s stories were written in Victorian days: “Alice in Wonderland”, “The Water Babies”, “Tom Brown’s Schooldays”, “Black Beauty”, “Little Women” and “Treasure Island”.

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