The Victorian shadow over the 20th century

Queen Victoria died in 1901, so why did the biggest issues of her reign dominate British politics into the 1980s and beyond?

A brooch commemorating Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee in 1897. Queen Victoria is surrounded by a gold frame, ribbons and laces. (Photo by Museum of London/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

This article was first published in the November 2017 issue of BBC History Magazine.

There were two very different versions of the 19th century, both of which exercised a large but contrasting influence on 20th-century British politicians. One iteration of this story took its standpoint in 1897, at the time of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, and catalogued the massive achievements of the preceding 60 years: unprecedented constitutional and political progress, with the ordered march towards democracy, as exemplified by the Reform Acts of 1867 and 1885; unparalleled social stability, compared to the turmoil and revolutions that characterised so much of contemporary Europe; unrivalled economic success as the ‘workshop of the world’, made plain at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and regularly proclaimed thereafter; and the creation and governance of the greatest transoceanic empire the world had ever known.

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