Queen Victoria’s Empire

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At the time of Queen Victoria’s birth in 1819, England was an agrarian society. Within a few short decades, this small island nation was transformed into an industrial superpower, with an empire spanning the globe. Queen Victoria’s Empire is both the story of this remarkable time and an engaging portrait of a queen who ruled over one-fifth of the world’s population. Queen Victoria’s Empire airs Tuesdays, June 19 and 26, 2012 at 7 p.m. on Eight, Arizona PBS.

Queen Victoria’s Empire is the story of the influential figures who would shape a distinctively British imperialism: Gladstone, Disraeli, Livingstone, Rhodes and Prince Albert, Victoria’s husband. Whether driven by profit, passion or noble ideals, these figures fueled an expansion unequaled in history, forever changing Britain and the lands it controlled. Personal accounts, re-enactments and cinematography from former outposts of the empire, including India and Africa, re-create the dramatic clash of personalities and cultures that drove Victoria’s remarkable 64-year reign. Actor Donald Sutherland narrates.

“Engines of Change” – Beginning with the birth of Queen Victoria, this episode explores the changes brought to Britain by the industrial revolution. By the 1840s, urban migration has created overcrowding and extremes in pollution and poverty. However, British subjects remain loyal to their queen. Prince Albert, Victoria’s husband, becomes a guiding force in the monarchy. Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone, political stars with starkly contrasting visions of empire, turn the nation’s attention abroad.

“Passage to India” – In the 1850s, one half of the world’s industrial goods are made in Britain, and steamships take British exports and families to far corners of the globe. In India, the clash of Victorian values and Indian culture explodes in the Great Mutiny and Cawnpore massacre of 1857. Appalled by the bloodshed, Victoria and Albert draft a proclamation to assume direct rule over India. The episode also reveals the devastating effects of the Crimean War, the first major war of Victoria’s reign, and the death of Prince Albert.

“The Moral Crusade” – By 1861, Britain is the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth. However, the death of Prince Albert weakens Victoria, and many of his political ideals fade in importance. David Livingstone’s explorations of the African interior fascinate the British public. Disraeli and Gladstone battle for control of the British government and debate the course of empire. The purchase of the Suez Canal solidifies British presence in the Middle East, igniting a stampede for the colonization of Africa.

“The Scramble for Africa” – The Suez Canal is threatened by a holy war in the Sudan, and General Charles Gordon, killed by the rebels, becomes an “imperial martyr.” Cecil Rhodes prospects diamond deposits in southern Africa and asserts British control in the region. However, as Victoria celebrates her Diamond Jubilee, the empire is on the verge of its darkest hours. The Boer War leads to devastating losses and a reassessment of British purpose. Finally, in 1901, the death of Queen Victoria marks the end of an extraordinary era.

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