Economics and Empires: Europe's Expansion (1870-1914)

The importance of economics in the expansion of Europe and its empires in the time period between 1870 – 1914 will be the thesis of this paper. Since economics hinges for the most part in pre and post industrial empires upon war, the relevance of this factor will be the contributing factor in support of the economics in this heavy expansion. Since money is needed for a war, and after a war reformations are advised for countries, the Great War or World War One will be a focus of this paper as well.

It is with economics and by extension war that empires grow or are lost.

British Parliament, Change, and Expansion Within the British Parliament, the House of Lords has stood as the direct line between the House of Commons and the sitting monarch. In the fourteenth century, the Houses of Parliament officially formed; with the counties, cities and villages represented by the lower house, the House of Commons, and the upper house, the House of Lords, consisting of religious leaders and titled noblemen.

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The House of Lords became a hereditary body in the fifteenth century by removing the ability of the monarch to choose their ranks.

It was also at this time, that the Lords Temporal, the non-religious members of the House of Lords, set their five ranks – Duke, Marques, Earl, Viscount, and Baron. (HoL 1) Until the suppression of the monasteries in 1539, the majority of the House of Lords consisted of bishops, abbots, and priors. However, following 1539, only bishops were able to attend the house, and the Lords Temporal formed the majority for the first time.

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(HoL 1) Other changes took place in the House of Lords in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

These changes further limited the religious power in the House of Lords, added peers from Ireland and Scotland, and, in 1876, created the first Life Peerages. (HoL 1) The House of Lords also became the court of appeals for the kingdom in this era, and formed itself as the high authority in all judicial matters. It is with this type of autocratic power that the expansion and conquest of Great Britain took shape. In order for this geographic expansion into the West Indies, Australia, and parts of Mexico to take place however a necessary amount of money had to be acquired.

The acquiring of this monies began with industry; not only was child labor used a considerable amount to lower the price of goods and create great revenue but also religious aid, the taxing of the poor, and the shipping industry aided in Great Britain’s travel across the sea and gaining new territory. The Parliament Act of 1911 drastically limited the power of the House of Lords which had a great influence on a lack of funding, or at least, the type of autocratic funding the country had become accustomed to in the previous century.

The House of Commons asserted its power, and with the threat of a political coup, increased its power over the House of Lords by implementing two radical changes to the Parliamentary process. First, all money bills approved in the House of Commons would become law if they were unaltered by the House of Lords within one month. Secondly, all other bills, except those to extend the life of a Parliament, without consent of the Lords if it passed the House of Commons three times within two years. (HoL 2)

Ireland The history of the conflict between the people in Northern Ireland and the Kingdom of England has existed since King Henry VII re-conquered the island in 1485. In 1541 King Henry VIII proclaimed himself King of Ireland as well as England. Since this time, the people of Ireland were under the control of England, and tensions began to increase. However, the conflict did not rise to dramatic importance until the late 1700s. Following the success of the French Revolution, the people of Ireland began to stage small acts of rebellion.

This culminated in 1798, when, aided by reinforcements from France, the United Irishmen staged a full scale rebellion. Previous to the 1798 rebellion, the occupation of Ireland by the English resulted in the killing of many Catholic and Protestant members of the group called United Irishmen. This killing was viewed as murder by the people of Ireland and rebellion was almost certain. The rebellion of 1798 failed to remove England from Irish soil – and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of United Irishmen and French soldiers.

However, this event forced the English crown to reassess its possession of Ireland, and reform its policies on its occupation. In 1800, the Act of Union was passed, which unified England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales under one government. However, the rules that were imposed upon the Irish by the new laws still favored the English dramatically. During the industrial revolution, the facilities which were built in Ireland by the English created opportunities for several million unemployed Englishmen to move to Ireland.

Though this was seen as another affront against Irish heritage. The next main source of tension between England and Ireland was exacerbated by the Great Famine of 1846. Thousands of people simply starved, particularly in rural areas. Many also died from typhus, scurvy and dysentery. The British set up soup-kitchens and workhouses for the poor but they drastically underestimated the scale of the disaster, and many people did not receive any aid at all. The problem was compounded by landlords who evicted Peasants who could not pay the rent because they had no potatoes to sell.

The failure for the English to adequately deal with and avoid the dramatic loss of life and population of Ireland, created the idea that England would rather let Ireland die than support them. World War One, Economics and Expanding Empires The stalemate of World War I, in 1916, offered the opportunity for Ireland to remove the English from the island. The Easter Rebellion was the first large scale act against British rule of Ireland since the Rebellion of 1798 – and this one faired just as well.

Though the rebels captured several important government Buildings in Dublin, the nation’s capital, they were forced to surrender after five days of heavy fighting. Following the end of World War I, the Sinn Fein, the main party of Irish liberators and politicians, attempted to gain Irish freedom during the redrawing of Europe – stating that Ireland should be free from English rule. However this request was ignored. The failure of the Sinn Fein to gain Irish sovereignty through political means prompted a reorganization of the Irish Volunteer Force, into the Irish Republican Army.

The first act of the IRA was to kill eleven British agents, on November 21, 1920. This act of rebellion officially began the “War of Independence”. This war would last until the present day – with small events of violence occurring often. The actions increased in frequency during the 1960s. The World Wars in Europe were a defeating accomplishment because of the overall death toll. In order to have a grasp of the world wars in Europe, a short history of communication and rivalry in Europe will be discussed in order for a clear picture of why so many countries were involved in these world wars.

A focus on the daily lives of countrymen, especially Germans and especially the women left to fend for themselves while the men fought in the war will be dissected since Germany was a country who suffered financially after each war and the cruel reality that the country itself made their own people suffer with hunger in order to win the war (because funds were being transferred to developing weapons and not to the people of the country). It was this financial struggle which left Germany in a quandary of financial burden to its citizenry which in turn promoted poor industry.

With the loss of expansion for Germany in losing the war and the reformations it had to depend on other countries in order to survive. Since Germany lost the war, the reflection of this devastation is relevant to Germany’s economic loss and its subsequent lack of expansion in Europe and around the world. Not only were troops mobilized in the sea (which was part of the economic factor in acquiring new land and countries and power), which is common practice for war, but for the first time in history, a battle commenced in the sky. The death rate of this war was tremendous due to numerous factors, as Solar Navigator, states, the Battle of St. Mihel in 1918.

Here, within a matter of one day, American troops, supported by tanks, airplanes, and artillery, advanced over 20 miles, clearing a salient that had been a thorn in the side of the French army since 1914. More than 9 million soldiers died on the various battlefields, and nearly that many more in the participating countries' home fronts on account of food shortages and genocide committed under the cover of various civil wars and internal conflicts. In World War I, only some 5% of the casualties (directly caused by the war) were civilian - in World War II, this figure approached 50%. (Solar Navigator)

These devastating facts highlight the true gruesome reality of World War One and its dramatic increase in deaths. The end of World War one saw the demise of many empires and the eventual creation of different countries. These included the end of the Russian Empire but the birth of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics which would become a world power. The destruction of the Ottoman Empire led to the Republic of Turkey and other Middle East states. Central Europe saw the rise of Czechoslovakia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Yugoslavia while other states were reestablished such as Austria, Hungary and Poland.

Not only did World War One create new states of power and conflicting issues between these state would eventually lead to World War Two. In 1923 for example Fascists came into power in Italy and as Solar Navigator states, “…in 1933, 14 years after the war, Nazism took over Germany. Problems unresolved or created by the war would be highly important factors in the outbreak, within 20 years, of World War II” (Solar Navigator). Thus, the reflection of expansion is reflected in the country’s economic state which in the time period between 1870-1914 was greatly influenced by the many wars in Europe but especially World War One.

Updated: Nov 20, 2023
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Economics and Empires: Europe's Expansion (1870-1914). (2017, Feb 25). Retrieved from

Economics and Empires: Europe's Expansion (1870-1914) essay
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