Nineteenth-century History

Kaiser Wilhelm II After His Abdication – Part 1

Kaiser Wilhelm II. in Exile
Kaiser Wilhelm II. in Exile
Source: Wikipedia

It is well-known that Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated after the end of the First World War, but that is generally when he exits the stage of popular history. Other than those that have a particular interest in the topic of what happened to him and what he did after his abdication and subsequent escape to the Netherlands, not many people know much about the intervening years until his death in 1941. So what happened to him? What did he do in that time? This article aims to explore some of these questions. 


Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated in November 1918 at the end of the First World War bringing an end both to centuries of Hohenzollern rule in Prussia as well as to the forty-seven year-old German Empire. 

In late 1918, uprisings in Berlin and other cities throughout the empire as well as mutiny within the German Imperial Navy took him and his government by surprise. The German Revolution of 1918-1919 had begun. 

Abdication Statement of Wilhelm II
Abdication Statement of Wilhelm II
Source: Wikipedia

As news of these occurrences reached the Kaiser, he was at the Imperial Army headquarters in Spa, Belgium. His first reaction was to reject any notion of his abdication, but as the situation started to spiral out of control, he tried to find a way to abdicate the imperial crown while still retaining the Prussian crown. However, since both crowns were linked in the constitution there was no way to give up one without the other. 

On November 9, 1918, the German chancellor, Prince Max von Baden, announced Wilhelm’s abdication. No agreement had been made yet with Wilhelm who was still trying to figure out a way to hold onto at least one of his thrones. The announcement, however, forced Wilhelm’s hand and on November 28, he signed the abdication statement formalizing it. 

Statement of Abdication. I herewith renounce for all time claims to the throne of Prussia and to the German Imperial throne connected therewith. At the same time I release all officials of the German Empire and of Prussia, as well as all officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the navy and of the Prussian army, as well as the troops of the federated states of Germany, from the oath of fidelity which they tendered to me as their Emperor, King and Commander-in-Chief. I expect of them that until the re-establishment of order in the German Empire they shall render assistance to those in actual power in Germany, in protecting the German people from the threatening dangers of anarchy, famine, and foreign rule. Proclaimed under our own hand and with the imperial seal attached. Amerongen, 28 November 1918. Signed WILLIAM.

Source: Wikipedia

He was never to set foot in Germany again.

Escape and Exile

On November 10, 1918, Wilhelm rode the train into exile in the Netherlands which had remained neutral throughout the war. The Dutch queen, Wilhelmina, and her government granted him political asylum owing partially to the good relationship the two monarchs had maintained throughout the years.

After the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in early 1919, the Allies formally requested the Kaiser’s extradition so that he may face justice for the war. This was, however, mostly just a political gesture and there was little enthusiasm on the part of the United States and Great Britain. The Netherlands politely refused and the matter was dropped.

Wilhelm first settled at a small castle in Amerongen. It was here that he signed the abdication statement. This was only a temporary arrangement, however, before he purchased Huis Doorn in 1919 for 500,000 guilders.

Where He Settled Down

Huis Doorn in 1925
Huis Doorn in 1925
Source: Wikipedia

Originally built in the ninth century and rebuilt in both the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries, Huis Doorn is a large manor house located in the town of Doorn near the city of Utrecht. The house sits on extensive grounds whose gardens were created in the nineteenth century. Its location in the middle of the grounds makes it a safe, quiet refuge — perfect for the dethroned Kaiser.

Being a refugee made it difficult for Wilhelm to collect any of his belongings from his various residences throughout Germany. However, the newly established government of the Weimar Republic allowed him to have twenty-three railway wagons of furniture as well as twenty-seven wagons of other various possessions, including a car and a boat, moved to Doorn from the New Palace at Potsdam near Berlin.

The Dutch government allowed him to move freely within a fifteen-kilometer radius of his property, but any trips further than that had to be reported to the local authorities. He rarely traveled any further as he did not like having to submit to what was in his option such lowly government officials.

A map of Huis Doorn and its surroundings:

What He Did With His Time

The ex-Kaiser spent a lot of his time tending to his ducks, his dogs, his garden and going on walks throughout the grounds of Huis Doorn. He became infamous for his woodchopping habits as he spent a lot of his time chopping down trees on the property, then cutting them up into pieces of firewood and stacking them. In fact, some of his enemies gave him the nickname “The Woodchopper of Doorn”.

He also entertained a number of guests — including several prominent people, learned the Dutch language, sketched plans for grand buildings and battleships and was an avid hunter. As he aged, he replaced his world-famous W-shaped moustache with a more subtle one and let his beard grow, changing his appearance significantly.

When he grew restless, Wilhelm would go “motoring”. A driver would take him and whoever he invited to come with him for a drive within the fifteen-kilometer radius limit of Huis Doorn. For these occasions, he would even don the military-looking cap of the old Imperial Automobile Club he headed in Berlin.

In 1922, Wilhelm published the first volume of his memoirs, Ereignisse und Gestalten 1878-1918 (English title: The Kaiser’s Memoirs), in which he claimed he was not guilty of initiating the First World War and defended his conduct and policy-making throughout his thirty-year reign.

The Imperial Family, Nazism and More

Part 2 of this article goes into more detail about Wilhelm’s family in exile, attempts to restore the monarchy, the rise of Hitler and the Nazis as well as his death and burial.

Please check back or subscribe by email or RSS to be notified when Part 2 is published.

A Decade of History Rhymes

History Rhymes - Original Blog

History Rhymes – Original Blog

It is hard to believe that an entire decade has elapsed since I published my first History Rhymes blog post entitled “Starting Out.” At that time, the blog was still hosted on and used a standard theme (see the image to the right). In fact, it is even still online.

A lot more than just the theme has changed in the past ten years though. Originally, this blog was intended to be a spot where I could dump interesting research material I found that may or may not have interested others. It has since developed into a full-fledged history website whose goal it is to provide informative historical articles about the nineteenth century. Over the years, I have tried to raise the quality and make the whole project more professional.

History remains a passion of mine and I thoroughly enjoy researching and writing posts for History Rhymes even if I do not always have the time I would like to invest in it. I have big plans for it for the future and am looking forward to the next ten years!

— Alex


Kings of Bavaria: Conclusion – After the Fall of the Monarchy

Crown of the Kings of Bavaria

Crown of the Kings of Bavaria
Source: Wikipedia

The Bavarian royal family, the House of Wittelsbach, ruled for 738 years, but were kings of Bavaria for only the last 112 years of that time. Their rule ended with the German Revolution of 1918-1919 in the immediate aftermath of World War I which saw the collapse all of the German monarchies.

The last King of Bavaria, Ludwig III, was forced to flee to Austria on November 7, 1918 to escape the revolution. On November 12, Ludwig issued the Anif declaration (Anifer Erklärung) from Anif Palace where he was residing in exile and, although Ludwig did not abdicate with the declaration, the new republican government in Bavaria led by Kurt Eisner interpreted it as such and declared the King and his family deposed.

Unlike with most other German monarchies, the new republican government decided to treat the royal family’s property and wealth as a civil issue rather than as part of the revolution. The result was the Wittelsbacher Ausgleichfond — an agreement formed by Ludwig III’s son, Crown Prince Rupprecht, with the Bavarian government in 1923, which made public the most important palaces such as Neuschwanstein, Berchtesgaden and Hohenschwangau while allowing the family to keep other valuable assets such as their extensive art collection.

After Ludwig III’s death, Rupprecht worked tirelessly to restore the Bavarian monarchy. He never renounced his rights to the throne and staked his claim on the fact that his father had never officially abdicated.

Rupprecht von Bayern

Rupprecht von Bayern
Source: Wikipedia

As the Nazis rose to prominence in the 1920s under Hitler, Rupprecht kept his distance. Hitler tried to convince him to join their cause by promising the restoration of the monarchy, but, as he later stated, he considered Hitler to be insane.

The Crown Prince and his family were forced into exile in December 1939. Rupprecht fled to Italy while his wife, Princess Antonia of Luxembourg, escaped to Hungary with their children. During the Nazi occupation of Hungary, the Princess and their children were captured and first sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, then moved to the Dachau concentration camp in April 1945 where they were liberated with the rest of the camp by the United States Army.

Until his death in 1955, Rupprecht continued to advocate for the restoration of the monarchy. He was not alone in his endeavors even if they proved to be fruitless. In September 1954, 70 of the 170 members of the Bavarian parliament declared themselves to be monarchists. Upon his death on August 2, 1955, the Crown Prince was given a state funeral in accordance with the old customs of the monarchy.

Rupprecht’s son, Albrecht, took over the duties as head of the House of Wittelsbach, but, unlike his father, he never seriously attempted to restore the monarchy in Bavaria. Instead he chose to live a relatively reclusive life in the country near Munich. Upon his death on July 8, 1996, he was succeeded by his son, Franz, as head of the house.

The Kingdom of Bavaria and its monarchs are often viewed today with a sense of nostalgia. Visitors from all over the world flock to Bavarian royal palaces and castles such as Neuschwanstein, Nymphenburg and Herrenchiemsee which have proven to be very lucrative tourist attractions. The myth and mystery surrounding Ludwig II is still very much alive and continues to have a strong presence in the Bavarian media even to this day.

There can be no doubt that the Kingdom of Bavaria has left its mark on Bavarian culture despite only having existed for such a short period in Bavarian history.

This post is part of a multi-part series about the kings of Bavaria. See the rest of the series either on the Kings of Bavaria project page or in the category of the same name.

History Rhymes Featured on Tutorful

History Rhymes has been picked to be featured in an editorial by Tutorful called “History Lovers: Awesome Websites and Resources To Cure Your Boredom“.


About Tutorful

Our online platform allows you to connect directly with talented and trusted tutors, removes the hassle of dealing in cash, whilst, we believe, providing outstanding customer service. We constantly strive to ensure that everyone can have access to a first class tutor: any subject, any age, we have the right tutor for you.

I would like to extend a big thank you to Tutorful for the honor!

— Alex


Kings of Bavaria: King Ludwig III

King Ludwig III

King Ludwig III
Source: WürzburgWiki

A long, tragic series of events brought King Ludwig III to the Bavarian throne. He was the monarch who was never destined to become king and yet ended up wearing the crown against all odds. He did not inherit it, but instead took it from his mentally ill cousin after the Bavarian Parliament amended the constitution allowing him to do so. Ludwig would also be the last of the Bavarian kings and his short reign, marked by World War I, would, in fact, usher in the end of his family’s 738-year rule over Bavaria.

Ludwig Luitpold Josef Maria Aloys Alfried was born on January 7, 1845 in Munich to Prince (later Prince Regent) Luitpold and Archduchess Auguste Ferdinande of Austria. Like his cousin, Ludwig, he was named after his grandfather, King Ludwig I, who also became his godfather. When Ludwig was born, the odds of him ascending the throne were very slim. His uncle, Maximilian, was the crown prince and any sons he would have (later Ludwig and Otto) would inherit the throne before him. Of course his own father also stood before him in the line of succession.

Not destined to become king, the Prince spent the first part of his childhood in the Electoral Rooms in the Munich Residence before his family moved to Leuchtenberg Palace. At the age of sixteen, he joined the Bavarian military when his uncle, who was by then King Maximilian II, gave him a commission as a lieutenant in the 6th Jägerbattalion. In 1864, Ludwig began studying philosophy, law, history and economics at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich, but quit a year later in 1865.

When the Austro-Prussian War broke out in 1866, Ludwig participated as a first lieutenant on the side of Bavaria and the Austrian Empire. During the war, he was shot in the thigh at the Battle of Helmstedt which contributed to the fact that he was generally adverse to the military — a bitter fact considering that his reign is primarily associated with Bavaria’s participation in the First World War.

Ludwig married Maria Theresia, Archduchess of Austria-Este and Princess of Modena on February 20, 1868 in Vienna, Austria. The marriage turned out to be very happy and resulted in thirteen children, the oldest of which was Prince Rupprecht who would fight for his claim to the Bavarian throne long after the end of the monarchy.

A Young Ludwig

A Young Ludwig
Source: Wikipedia

The Archduchess brought a significant fortune with her into the marriage, enabling Ludwig to purchase the Leutstetten Estate near the city of Starnberg south of Munich. There he could pursue his life-long interest in agriculture, eventually transforming the estate into a model of success. In fact, he was named the Honorary President of the Central Committee of the Bavarian Agricultural Society in 1868 and many people called him Millibauer (High German: Milchbauer; English: dairy farmer).

On June 9, 1886, the Prince’s cousin, King Ludwig II, was declared unfit to reign, deposed, and his father, Luitpold, was made regent a day later. Suddenly, Ludwig found himself sucked into the center of power as the heir to the regency. His other cousin, who was now King Otto I, had already been declared insane and unfit to reign. His father’s regency lasted for 26 years until his death on December 12, 1912, when Ludwig inherited the regency.

Ludwig’s regency did not last long. Almost immediately, many parts of Bavarian society began calling for him to be named king in his own right since it was clear that Otto would never be fit to reign. The Bavarian Parliament was not in session at that time and it took almost a year for them to amend the constitution which would allow Ludwig to depose Otto and ascend the throne.

Parliament added a clause to the Bavarian constitution on November 4, 1913 that specified that if a regency lasted at least ten years due to the king being incapacitated, the regent could assume the kingship himself with the ratification of Parliament. The next day, Ludwig proclaimed the end of the regency and, upon ratification by Parliament, became King Ludwig III. He took his oath on November 8, 1913.

Even as king, Ludwig continued to walk around Munich without much thought as to where he was going and would frequently meet with bourgeois friends. He continued to cultivate his interest in agriculture which cartoonists made endless fun of, although it never seemed to bother Ludwig.

Less than a year later, Europe was plunged into chaos by the outbreak of World War I. To most royal contemporaries, the war seemed at first to be like any of the other inter-European wars that had taken place for centuries and Ludwig was no different. The King immediately dispatched a message to Kaiser Wilhelm II in Berlin assuring Bavaria’s support on the side of the German Empire, but several days later he made it known that should the German Empire be victorious, he expected more territory for Bavaria, including the province of Alsace.

As the war dragged on, the King became increasingly unpopular. Many accused him of blindly following Prussia into the war and were unhappy with Bavaria’s role in it. On January 28, 1918, there was a general protest against the war all over Bavaria — the first to occur.

King Ludwig III of Bavaria

An Older King Ludwig III
Source: Wikipedia

As the war came to an end, the German Revolution of 1918-1919 broke out throughout all of the German Empire, including Bavaria. On November 12, 1918, King Ludwig issued the Anif declaration (Anifer Erklärung) from Anif Palace in Austria where he had fled to on November 7th. The document released all those who had sworn an oath of loyalty to him, including soldiers, government officials and civil servants from their vows.

The King did not abdicate, however, the new republican government under Kurt Eisner interpreted it as such and declared Ludwig and his family deposed, officially ending the monarchy in Bavaria and, with it, the 738-year history of Wittelsbach rule. He was the first of all German monarchs to lose his throne in the aftermath of the war.

Ludwig returned to Bavaria shortly afterwards where his wife, Maria Theresia, died on February 3, 1919 at Wildenwart Castle in Chiemgau. Shortly thereafter, Eisner was assassinated and, fearing that he might become the target of a counter-assassination, Ludwig fled to Hungary, later moving to Liechtenstein and Switzerland. He returned to Bavaria in April 1920 when he felt that the immediate danger had passed where he lived at Wildenwart Castle. In September 1921, Ludwig took a trip to his Castle Nádasdy in Sárvár, Hungary.

On October 18, 1921, King Ludwig III, the last king of Bavaria and last ruler of the House of Wittelsbach died. His body was brought back to Munich on November 5, 1921 and, despite fears of a movement to restore the monarchy, a state funeral was held with an estimated 100,000 spectators. He was buried in the Frauenkirche in the center of Munich.

Ludwig III’s five-year, serendipitous reign was short, but with World War I and the abolishment of the monarchy, probably the most eventful of any other Bavarian monarch’s. It is difficult to judge his capability as king since the war overshadows any smaller achievements he may have accomplished.

In spite of the fact that it took a long chain of events over the course of many years and an amendment to the Bavarian constitution for Ludwig to be able to ascend the throne, fate saw it fit to make him king. The bitter irony is that it was marked by military conflict to which he was so adverse and in the aftermath, he was forced to witness his family’s long rule over Bavaria come crashing down.

This post is part of a multi-part series about the kings of Bavaria. See the rest of the series either on the Kings of Bavaria project page or in the category of the same name.

Kings of Bavaria: King Otto I

King Otto I

King Otto I
Source: Wikipedia

King Otto I was the king who never reigned. His story was a tragic one that to this day remains unique in the history of Bavaria. He became king upon his older brother’s death, but as he had already been declared insane and mentally unfit to rule, his uncle took over his royal duties as prince regent. Otto made no significant contribution to Bavaria and spent most of his time imprisoned in various palaces in and around Munich.

Otto Wilhelm Luitpold Adalbert Waldemar was born on April 27, 1848 and was the second son of King Maximilian II Joseph and Marie of Prussia. Most of his childhood was spent with his brother, the future King Ludwig II, and their tutors at Hohenschwangau Castle near Füssen in southern Bavaria. Both were estranged from their parents who spent hardly any time with them and were very strict. Their mother, for example, always made sure that Ludwig wore blue clothing while Otto was made to wear red, despite rarely seeing them.

At the age of fifteen, Otto began his brief career in the Bavarian army in 1863 where he was appointed sub-lieutenant on his birthday of the same year. As was typical with royalty, he moved up through the ranks quickly. Less than a full year later, on March 1, 1864, he was admitted to the Cadet Corps and a couple of months later, on May 26, 1864, was promoted to full lieutenant. Otto was then promoted to captain on his eighteenth birthday on April 27, 1866 when he began active military service in the Royal Bavarian Infantry Guards. In this role, the Prince participated in both the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 and later as colonel in the fateful Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871.

When King Maximilian II died on March 10, 1864, Otto’s brother, Ludwig, inherited the crown making Otto next-in-line to the throne. As such, his responsibilities increased. The apex of his royal career was representing his brother together with his Uncle Luitpold at the proclamation of Prussian King Wilhelm I to German Emperor at the Palace of Versailles, which Ludwig refused to attend. Both brothers were disgusted by the formation of the German Empire as well as their ambitious Prussian relatives. This fact did not escape the Prussian government. Otto lambasted the ceremony in a letter to Ludwig: “Oh Ludwig, I cannot describe to you the endless pain and hurt I felt during the ceremony […] Everything was so cold, so proud, so lustrous, so flaunty and ostentatious and heartless and empty.”1

A Young Otto

A Young Otto
Source: Wikipedia

Otto and Ludwig remained close and performed many of the royal duties together, such as visiting Wartburg Castle in 1867. Although his brother was reclusive and introverted, Otto was outgoing and extroverted until the Franco-Prussian War after which the dark clouds of mental illness began to form. He became depressed and anxious and began to seek solitude, avoiding contact with other people altogether. Reports on his decline were regularly sent to Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.

In 1872 — less than a year after the end of the Franco-Prussian War, Otto was officially declared mentally ill. He would spend the majority of the rest of his life locked away in various palaces. At first, he was moved to the southern pavilion of Nymphenburg Palace in Munich in 1873, then later removed to Schleissheim Palace north of Munich. In 1883, three years before his brother’s displacement and death as well as his own ascension to the throne of Bavaria, he was moved to Fürstenried Palace just south of Munich where he spent the remainder of his life imprisoned.

Not only did Otto retreat from all public life, he also had outbursts of strange behavior that were embarrassing for the royal family. The most famous example occurred in 1875, during Corpus Christi Mass in the Frauenkirche in Munich. He ran into the middle of the service wearing hunting clothes and, dropping to his knees, begged the celebrant, Archbishop Gregor von Scherr, for forgiveness for his sins. Churchmen had to lead him away.

Dr. Bernhard von Gudden, head of the Munich Asylum, was commissioned to treat Otto. This is the same psychiatrist who, several years later, would diagnose Otto’s brother, Ludwig, as mentally ill without so much as an examination. Dr. von Gudden made no effort to treat the Prince, prescribing several drugs instead to pacify him. Several contemporaries speculated that this treatment was part of a plan by Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck to prevent both Otto and Ludwig from ruling Bavaria. Both were known to be anti-Prussia and to loathe the new German Empire whereas their uncle, Prince (later Prince Regent) Luitpold, and Dr. von Gudden were both pro-Prussia and for the German Empire.

Ludwig died on June 13, 1886 and Otto became king of Bavaria. Though he was officially king, his mental state prevented him from performing any of his royal duties and so a regency began with his Uncle Luitpold ruling in his place. In the same year, the senior royal medical officer diagnosed Otto as schizophrenic.

Body of King Otto I of Bavaria

Body of King Otto I
Source: Wikipedia

Luitpold remained prince regent until his own death in 1912, when his son, Ludwig — Otto’s cousin, took over the regency. At this time, it was obvious that Otto was never going to be able to reign and many parts of Bavarian society began calling for Ludwig to become king in his own right. On November 4, 1913, the Bavarian constitution was amended by Parliament to include a clause specifying that if a regency lasted for ten years with no reasonable expectation that the king would ever be capable of reigning again, the Parliament and the regent could depose him and the regent could become king.

Exactly that happened the next day. Ludwig proclaimed himself King Ludwig III and Parliament confirmed it a day later on November 6, 1913, ending Otto’s kingship. King Otto was, however, allowed to keep his title and honors for the remainder of his life.

Otto only lived another three years when he died unexpectedly on October 11, 1916 of a volvulus (an obstruction of the bowel). His remains were buried in the crypt of the Michaelskirche in Munich and, as was Bavarian custom, his heart was placed in a silver urn and sent to the Gnadenkapelle in Altötting with those of his brother, father and grandfather.

As the king who never reigned, King Otto I is a figure in Bavarian history that is easily forgotten. He lived in the shadows of those who were kings before him: his father and his brother (arguably the most famous of all Bavarian kings) as well as those who were kings for him: his uncle and his cousin. He never made any significant contribution to Bavarian history and spent most of his years locked away, alone with his demons.

This post is part of a multi-part series about the kings of Bavaria. See the rest of the series either on the Kings of Bavaria project page or in the category of the same name.

The Rise of Democracy in England

Houses of Parliament in the Nineteenth Century

Houses of Parliament in the Nineteenth Century
Source: C_KHA

Democracy is a term, which is universally understood today to be a style of government in which the everyday person has a say. Today’s idea of democracy, however, has taken centuries to develop and no other country has such a unique history with democracy as that of England. From the first Norman kings in the eleventh century CE, to today’s complex relationship between the English people, the monarchy and the Parliament, the process by which the English have come to govern themselves in modern times is quite a tale unto itself. England’s unique style of democracy is the by-product of centuries of development in which the struggle for authority and power between the monarchy, the aristocracy, Parliament and eventually the middle class play a significant role.

When William I formally received the crown of England on Christmas Day in 1066, he probably had no idea that he would be the founder of an era of English, and later British, history that would last a thousand years into the present day. Traditionally looked upon as the founder of the modern British monarchy, William of Normandy won control of England after defeating the Anglo-Saxon king and ruler of England, Harold II, on 14 October 1066 at the Battle of Hastings.1 By this time, England had been united under a single king for just over one hundred years. When William I established himself as king, he brought with him ideas and practises of governing from the continent hitherto unknown in the British Isles. One such concept was the idea of feudalism. A minor form of feudalism already existed in England prior to William’s conquest of England, but it was nothing like the formal system that existed in continental Europe which was introduced to England when William became king.2 The introduction of feudalism gave the new monarchy an air of legitimacy in that England’s established nobility was replaced with Norman nobility who already owed liege to William.3 He used this situation to establish himself as king and to subjugate the English people under his absolute control. For two more centuries, the power of the king would go largely unchecked, practically giving the king free reign to rule as he saw fit.

By the thirteenth century, however, the power, which the monarch could wield, began to wane under pressures from the English nobility. The unfortunate reign of King John (1199-1216) resulted in signing of the Magna Carta, a charter guaranteeing certain rights to the English nobility, in 1215. King John was not very adept at warfare and, as such, lost much of what had belonged to the English monarchy in France since the time of William I. His futile warfare in France was funded by heavy taxation on English barons. By 1215, the English barons had had enough of the heavy tax burdens and forced King John to sign a document that listed their demands if they were to provide the king with further funding. Their list of demands was laid out for the king in the Magna Carta, which became one of the most important documents in English history. While some of it was only relevant to thirteenth century England, many parts of the document still apply to today’s society. Such pieces guaranteed “justice of the court” for everyone and prohibited the king from taking property without compensation or consent, to name a few4. Although the Magna Carta did not mean as much to contemporaries as it did to later generations, it was the foundation upon which subsequent bills guaranteeing rights and civil liberties to the common man in England would be built.

While other implementations of the Magna Carta would be introduced in the subsequent decades and centuries after King John’s reign, no other century played such an important role in the development of human rights in England as did the seventeenth century in terms of the number of important pieces of human rights legislature enacted by the English government. Seventeenth century England would see the greatest social upheaval in English history since the time of the Romans: the English civil wars. Several years of civil war would result in the creation and adoption of several new bills guaranteeing rights to the individual. The execution of King Charles I on 30 January 1649 marked the end of the Second Civil War (1647-1649), as well as the end of the English monarchy. Under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, the English Parliament abolished the monarchy, leaving England, for the first time in centuries, without a monarch. During the ensuing reign of Parliament, not much was done for civil liberties for the common man, however, upon the reestablishment of the monarchy with the return of Charles II to England as king in 16605, it was clear that the civil wars had had an impact on the role and limitations of the monarch in England.

The period after the reign of King Charles II is known as The Glorious Revolution and was a prime environment for the culturing of human rights and limitations on the English monarchy. The Bill of Rights was made into law in 1689. This important bill made the monarchy conditional on the will of Parliament, it denied the crown the ability to suspend laws without parliamentary authorisation, it prohibited the levying of taxes and maintenance of a standing army during peacetime and it gave members of parliament complete freedom of speech, among many other things.6 The Triennial Act of 1694 guaranteed that general elections would be held for Parliament every three years and the Toleration Act of 1689 granted religious tolerance to Protestants. Together, many of the acts enacted by the English government during this time formed the basis for England’s modern-day constitution and constitutions in other western democracies such as the United States.7 If the seventeenth century saw an escalation of interest in human rights, the following century would challenge the ideals formed during that time.

Parliament in session ca. 17th-18th Century

Parliament in session ca. 17th-18th Century

Eighteenth century England was a period marked with an abrupt change of thinking when compared to that of the previous century in which the government and aristocracy’s struggle to maintain their place in the English hierarchical society would induce a surge of radical, democratic thought. No one during this time embodies this struggle so much as King George III (1760-1820). The beginning of his reign saw the transformation of England from nothing more than a European power to a world power with the defeat of France at the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763. King George’s place as monarch of the most powerful nation on Earth suddenly meant that he was the most powerful person in the world. As such, he felt compelled to attempt to restrict the rights of his subjects. The king gathered to him a secret group of people, known as the “King’s Friends,” which used bribes to degrade the English constitution.8 He encouraged Parliament to encroach on the rights of individuals in his kingdom to the point that Parliament, especially the House of Commons, “was beginning to exercise control upon the people, whereas ‘it was designed as a control for the people’”. King George’s policy of civil rights infringement provoked radicalism towards democracy.9 In 1780, a band of reformers, led by Charles James Fox, founded the Society for Constitutional Information.10 The society published pamphlets in which they proposed a programme that demanded annual parliaments, universal suffrage, equal voting districts, abolition of the requirement of being a landowner to become a member of Parliament, payment for members of Parliament and the ability to vote by ballot for parliamentary elections. Although quickly forced to disband, the impact that the society had on England was quite strong. The movement was revived 58 years later in 1838. Factors outside of England, such as the French Revolution, also contributed to the rise of democratic thinking.

When the people of France revolted against their long established monarchy, the impact of the revolution rippled across the English Channel and caused much unrest amongst the English people. The public at large suddenly became more interested in politics than they had been previously and began to demand reform in the English government. Political clubs began to form all across the nation. Clubs such as The Birmingham Club attacked the electoral system and claimed that “seats for the House of Commons were sold as openly as stalls for cattle at a fair”.11 Despite the newly generated interest in politics by the people of England, the French Revolution caused any prospects for democracy in Britain to suddenly grow dark as politicians and the king began to sternly crack down on the people to prevent such a revolt from happening in England. Fortunately for the English government, however, when Napoleon became emperor of France in 1804, it disgusted most English people and caused them to lose any interest they once may have had in revolution.12 The early nineteenth century not only saw Napoleon’s ascension as French emperor, but also wrought enormous changes in the social structure of English society.

Changes brought about to England in the early nineteenth century redefined the English people’s role in society as well as England’s role in the world, ultimately contributing to the rise of a free economy and a shift towards new democratic thinking. With the end of the Napoleonic Wars at the Battle of Waterloo, England suddenly found itself as the dominant military force in Europe having defeated the other major military power of France. After the conclusion of the war, the English government began to withdraw from monitoring and interfering with local markets and the economy, allowing the free market economy to prosper, as its focus shifted to managing its vast empire. Food traders were now virtually entirely independent from government intervention and apprenticeships among the various trades were no longer controlled.13 The new free market economy allowed industry to make a phenomenal leap in progress. England’s Gross Domestic Product rose from £19,258,000 in 1792 to £105,698,000 by 1814 and exports of England’s primary industry – goods made of cotton – tripled between 1801 and 1814. Growing industry in England contributed directly to the growing wealth and influence of the lower classes. Before this time, it would have been impossible in English society for any member of the lower class to gain relatively similar status and influence of that of the hereditary gentry. The new class created for these lower class industrial entrepreneurs was what is now called the middle class.

New members of the middle class possessed unheard of influence on the ancient English aristocracy and as such, intended to have their political voices heard. The wealth of the upper echelon had become dependent on the wealth of the middle class as a large number of ordinary people began to consume products created by companies initially owned and ran by the land-owning upper class. England’s cotton goods industry, for example, produced clothing for the masses and therefore depended on the ability of the middle class to purchase their products. As prominent business figures rose in the middle classes, there was a shift in the source of income for all classes. The aristocracy became dependent on rent of buildings and land; the middle class, or bourgeoisie, depended on profit made from product sales; and the working class, or proletariat, became dependent on the wages earned at places such as factories.14 By the 1820s, the power and influence of the middle class had become so prominent that Earl Grey – who, a decade later, became Prime Minister – branded the middle class as becoming “’the real and efficient mass of public opinion without whom the power of the gentry is nothing’”.15 As the working and middle classes gained more influence, their tolerance for the government’s high taxation and slow responses to domestic disasters quickly waned.

In the early nineteenth century, the English government began to tax the working and middle classes heavily and, despite this, did nothing to solve some of the most prominent domestic crises of the time, which caused unrest among the lower classes. England had accrued an enormous national debt from its wars in the eighteenth century and early in the nineteenth century. The national debt was estimated to be around £861,000,000 with an annual interest rate of £32,600,000.16 To pay for this debt, the government imposed a tax of 30 shillings a head on the working class, who could barely afford food. Industrialism had brought about a mass migration to England’s cities, which were unable to keep up with the influx of new workers. Limited housing and cramped quarters cultured disease and misery among the working class in the cities. Parliament did nothing to relieve the situation, despite the desperation of it.17 Disgruntled workers began to congregate and discuss parliamentary reformation, even though the workers’ right to organise and demonstrate was directly controlled by Parliament. Workers began to no longer accept the authority of the traditional aristocracy or even of businessmen and began to question the old ways of governing. William Cobbett, a contemporary political pamphleteer and journalist, predicted in his October 5, 1816 publication, “Political Register,” that the national debt and the condition of the working class would eventually lead to much needed Parliamentary reform and a means by which the common people could express their political opinions.

Immediate reform came in the form of two act of Parliament. The first of which was the Reform Act of 1832, which increased the number of seats in the House of Commons for the large industrial cities, gave more individuals among the middle class the legal right to vote18 and gave the middle class more political power than ever before. A second reform came for the working class and the paupers in the form of the New Poor Laws Amendment Act of 1834. This act reorganized local parishes into unions governed by the national Poor Law Commissioners.19 Each union had a workhouse, or sometimes called a poorhouse, to which the destitute were sent to live. This act remained the most effective means for the government to deal with the poorest people of England until the first system of welfare was introduced in 1946.

The nineteenth century saw the establishment of democracy as an institution that was made a permanent part of English government and the following century saw its transformation into an intricate system through which all social classes have a voice to some extent in the way they are governed. Despite years of opposition by the monarchy and despite attempts by the gentry to make sure Parliament is run by the upper classes of society, democracy has flourished in England, paving the way for England and its people to govern themselves into the future.


Alsford, Stephen. “Medieval English urban history – Growth of self-government.” (January 2008). (accessed 10 October 2008).

Bolitho, Hector. The Reign of Queen Victoria. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1948.

British Civil Wars, Commonwealth and Protectorate 1638-60. “King Charles the First 1600-1649.” (accessed 4 October 2008).

Checkland, S. G.. The Rise of Industrial Society in England: 1815-1885. New York: St Martin’s Press. 1964.

Encyclopædia Britannica Online. “Bill of Rights (British history).” (accessed 4 October 2008).

Encyclopædia Britannica Online. “Magna Carta.” (accessed 23 September 2008).

Encyclopædia Britannica Online. “Parliament.” (accessed 4 October 2008).

Encyclopædia Britannica Online. “Society for Constitutional Information.” (accessed 9 October 2008).

Encyclopædia Britannica Online. “William I.” (accessed 23 September 2008).

Evans, Eric J.. The Forging of the Modern State: Early Industrial Britain 1783-1870. New York: Longman Group Limited, 1983.

Gooch, R.K.. The Government of England. New York: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc, 1937.

Hibbert, Christopher. Queen Victoria in her Letters and Journals. Middlesex: Penguin Books, Ltd., 1984.

Kuhn, William M.. Democratic Royalism. New York: St. Martin’s Press, Inc., 1996.

Owston, Timothy J.. “The New Poor Law – 1834 – Britain.” (accessed 7 December 2008).

Putney, Albert H.. Popular Law Library Vol1 Introduction To The Study Of Law Legal History. Cree Publishing Company, 1908.

Rose, J. Holland. The Rise and Growth of Democracy in Great Britain. Chicago: Herbert S. Stone & Company, 1897.

The Official Web Site of the British Monarchy. “History of the Monarchy > The Anglo Saxon Kings.” (accessed 23 September 2008).

The Official Web Site of the British Monarchy. “History of the Monarchy > The Normans.” (accessed 23 September 2008).

Traill, H. D.. Central Government. London: Macmillan and Co., 1892.

UK Parliament. “Parliament: The political institution.” (accessed 4 October 2008).

Wikipedia. “Parliament of England.” (accessed 4 October 2008).

Wikipedia. “Reform Act 1832.” (accessed 21 October 2008).

Williams, Kate. Interviewed by Rob Attar. BBC History magazine – October 2008 – Part 2. BBC History Magazine Podcast, October 10, 2008.

Houses in Fin-de-Siècle Britain: Conclusion

Terraced House with Floor Plan

Terraced House with Floor Plan
Source: The Great Wen

Fin-de-Siècle Britain saw many new styles and innovations in the architecture of houses. Some of these new designs were visual whilst others were more practical. A mishmash of styles were created by a number of different architects in an attempt to redefine British architecture, but they would effectively only give the period a sense of chaos. Throughout it all, however, there were common trends which emerged such as the use of new technologies to make homes more affordable and to raise living standards.

Technologies such as electricity and better plumbing were new to the period and gave houses a new set of features which their predecessors never had. Electrical lighting became a standard for upper-middle class houses as early as the Late Victorian period, but had become common for the rest of the middle class by the Edwardian era. Indoor plumbing gave rise to the use of bathrooms and stationary bathtubs as well as indoor water closets. Other technologies directly affected the home, but were not a part of it.

The ability to mass produce wallpaper, glass, rounded wooden balustrades and other decorative items meant that homes became more decorative than they had in the past. The average person could now afford to wallpaper every room in the house to their liking whilst windows became more ornate with the ability to cheaply produce geometric patterns in the glass as well as stained-glass windows. Staircases in the average middle class home could now be much fancier with carved balustrades and decorative railings. All of these were used to the owner’s advantage to show off the family’s social and financial standing in the community. Of course all of these Fin-de-Siècle trends had their exceptions. Not all buildings were built following them, but enough were to be able to define the era’s architecture by them.

Architecture in the Fin-de-Siécle found itself in a similar situation to just about everything in the period. It was at a crossroads between the old and the new as technology continued to develop at an ever-increasing, exponential rate which would see the twentieth century advance like never before. Houses reflected this mixture between the old and the new in that many elements and values of the home remained from the High Victorian era, but obvious signs of change had already begun to take place in every aspect. The Fin-de-Siècle house, therefore, is a very important milestone in the evolution of British housing.

This post is part of a multi-part series about the houses in Fin-de-Siècle Britain. See the rest of the series either on the Houses in Fin-de-Siècle Britain project page or in the category of the same name.

The full bibliography is located on the Houses in Fin-de-Siècle Britain project page.

Houses in Fin-de-Siècle Britain: The Interior in Fin-de-Siècle Britain

Edwardian Interior

Edwardian Interior

Middle class families, like their upper-class peers, took the interior of their houses very seriously. It was the primary means with which they could put their financial and social status on display for the world to see. As such, interior design was arguably the quickest developing part of the house which continually morphed into different styles. Naturally trends in decoration still did occur.

Public rooms in the house were always by far the most stylish and highly decorated. One of the sure signs of a room’s public intention is the ceiling rose. This was an ornate decorative piece which was attached to the ceiling in the centre of the room. They usually contained floral patterns, although they were normally painted to match the ceiling.40 The primary light — a gas lamp at the beginning of the Fin-de-Siècle, but quite often powered by electricity by the Edwardian period — hung down from the centre of the ceiling rose. Another sign of a public room was its cornices. Also called covings, these trim pieces decorated the upper corners of the room where the walls met the ceiling. In upper-middle class homes, these could be very ornately carved pieces with patterns such as leaves.41 The ceiling rose and the cornice were only a couple of many holdovers from the High Victorian period. Private rooms were more often fairly simplistic and lacked many of the decorative features of the public rooms. A common feature shared among all rooms, however, was the fireplace.

Located along one wall or, in many Edwardian houses, in a corner of the room, the fireplace was arguably one of the most important aspects of any room. Furniture was usually placed in the vicinity of the fireplace which was practical for Britain’s long winters. It became a symbol of sociability and family unity. Whilst these were also Victorian values which had been inherited, they remained very important throughout the Fin-de-Siècle as well. Decorative pieces made out of wood were attached to the wall immediately surrounding the fireplace and together were called the chimneypiece.42 As with other aspects of a room, chimneypieces were highly ornate in public rooms, often containing carved floral designs or simple patterns. They remained more practical in private rooms with less carvings. The mantelpiece, located directly above the fireplace, served as a shelf on which to set a clock and knick-knacks for prominent display. Like their Victorian predecessors, fireplaces also had an overmantel which usually consisted of nothing but a mirror to give the room a larger appearance. Unlike in the Victorian era, however, it generally did not matter how large and fancy the mirror was as far less importance was placed on it. This was due to the fact that plate glass had become cheap enough that even the poorest of the middle class could afford large mirrors.43 Another piece of decoration which became more affordable during the Fin-de-Siècle was wallpaper.

In Late Victorian and Edwardian houses, walls were primarily covered in wallpaper and relief paper rather than painted. This was true of the houses belonging to the upper-middle class as early as the High Victorian era, but by the Fin-de-Siècle, wallpaper had become cheap enough that the lower-middle class could also afford it. Cheaply produced rolls of wallpaper printed in factories had become available mid-century and were very fashionable by the end of the century.44 These were simpler in design and used much lighter colours than before as both were easier to print. Relief paper was also popular and was generally used to cover the dadoes — the lower part of the wall where a wainscot would be located. This type of paper had three-dimensional patterns which were pressed into the paper to make them pop out. Other innovations in materials also allowed for other parts of the house to be more decorative than before.

Flooring is a prime example of something which became more elaborate during the Fin-de-Siècle. The rising popularity of a new material called linoleum allowed the middle class to have ornate patterns covering their floors.45 Linoleum could be cheaply mass produced and could be made with a very large variety of designs which is how it gained such popularity. An advertisement for it from the early twentieth century shows several, very different designs and boasts of the ‘ever increasing popularity’ whilst claiming that the company has ‘an enormous stock suitable for Halls, Offices, Libraries, Books, Yachts, Churches, Bedrooms, and Nurseries’.46 Cheaper building materials, however, were just a single type of innovation of the Late Victorian and Edwardian periods.

This post is part of a multi-part series about the houses in Fin-de-Siècle Britain. See the rest of the series either on the Houses in Fin-de-Siècle Britain project page or in the category of the same name.

The full bibliography is located on the Houses in Fin-de-Siècle Britain project page.

Houses in Fin-de-Siècle Britain: Floor Plans and the Layouts of Houses

Town House in Charles Street, London

Town House in Charles Street, London
Source: Edwardian Promenade

The floor plans of Late Victorian and Edwardian houses began to reflect the continually increasing standards of living and the rise of new domestic technologies throughout the periods. Whilst working-class houses and the homes of the wealthy did not change much in terms of style or size, houses targeted at the middle class generally became larger. One interesting development during the Edwardian period was the inclusion of the service rooms — kitchen, water closet, coal stores, etc — into the actual layout of the house itself.32 Victorian houses tended to have rear extensions attached to the back of the house which contained these rooms and effectively separated them from the main living quarters. The main purpose for this was to make the rear garden a more lively and presentable place where home owners could entertain guests without the service rooms intruding on the occasion.

Other service rooms were relatively new comers to moderate-sized houses. The most obvious example is the domestic bathroom. By the Edwardian period, bathrooms had become standard in houses.33 Bathrooms were not, however, as are seen today as toilets were still located in a separate room called the water closet.34 Although many houses had contained some sort of indoor water closet as early as the High Victorian era, most were either built in later by the owner of the house or they were only to be found in the much larger homes of the wealthy. Bathing still generally took place in bedrooms or dressing rooms. Indeed, the idea of having a separate room exclusively for bathing was quite new itself, even in wealthier homes. Bathrooms first became widespread after centralised plumbing and water heating systems became popular. Whilst boilers were also used in High Victorian homes, they were generally only useful in the room in which they were located which was most often the kitchen. It wasn’t until the Late Victorian period when plumbing throughout the entire house allowed hot water from the boiler in the kitchen to be redirected to a different part of the house that having the tub situated in a fixed location made any sense. Before, hot water had been taken from the kitchen up to a tub in a bedroom or dressing room by pitchers rendering the location of the tub was entirely irrelevant. By the Edwardian era bathrooms had become an essential part of the house and were even included in many new working class homes.35 Whilst this was a significant addition to the working class house, larger houses underwent even larger changes during this period.

The floor plans of larger houses designed for the upper-middle class changed quite significantly during the Fin-de-Siècle. Whereas in the High Victorian era, the front hall would usually have been quite narrow and restricted due to the general narrowness of the houses, Late Victorian and especially Edwardian houses tended to be wider, allowing for much larger central halls to impress guests as they first entered the building.36 This was especially true for detached houses. Located in the main hall was the house’s primary staircase. Ornamented with elegantly carved wooden trimmings, they were a often a source of pride for the home owner and therefore its central location played a vital role in presenting the owner’s home to guests.37 As in most layouts for High Victorian homes, public rooms tended to be located on the ground floor towards the front of the house. These were rooms such as the dining room and the parlour. More private rooms or rooms which were out of necessity supposed to be quieter such as the library and the drawing room were usually located towards the rear of the house. Service rooms such as the kitchen and scullery were also normally placed at the rear so that they were out of sight.38 Rooms on the first floor were primarily bedrooms, bathrooms and other private rooms, although some larger but narrow houses carried over the tradition from Regency and Early Victorian homes with the dining room and/or drawing room being located on the first floor. Smaller houses, however, did not change nearly as much as their larger counterparts.

Throughout the Fin-de-Siècle smaller houses aimed at the middle class tended to carry on the layout traditions first established in the Early Victorian era. These were mostly terraced or semi-detached houses which were larger than their working class equivalents. The predominant changes were the addition of bathrooms and indoor water closets as well as the inclusion other service rooms into the house proper. Service rooms were still located toward the rear of the house, however. Due to the narrowness of these houses, the rooms were located one behind the other meaning that only one room could have been located in the front. As in larger houses, however, the most important public room would have been located at the front of the house. This would generally have been either the parlour or the dining room.39 Whereas the front door in working class houses would have opened directly into the front room, even narrow middle class houses would have had an entrance hallway with a decorative main staircase. This was a very important distinction between the two types of houses and was often one of the only distinguishing factors aside from pure size differences. Interiors in general were used in setting those apart who were socially and financially better off.

This post is part of a multi-part series about the houses in Fin-de-Siècle Britain. See the rest of the series either on the Houses in Fin-de-Siècle Britain project page or in the category of the same name.

The full bibliography is located on the Houses in Fin-de-Siècle Britain project page.

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