University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Violence and Conflict Graduate Workshop, Faculty of History > Class Conflict and Armed Conflict: Constructing The Crimean War and the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 in the British middleclass press

Class Conflict and Armed Conflict: Constructing The Crimean War and the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 in the British middleclass press

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Following Europe’s ‘long peace’ of the nineteenth century, which extended from 1815 and the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo through to the 1850s, Victorian Britain found itself involved in two conflicts in quick succession which captured the public imagination and dominated popular interest for much of the decade.

Whilst the Crimean War was generally construed as a failure for the British Army in which widespread military mismanagement, bungling senior officers and a lack of equipment conspired to result in unnecessary deaths within the British ranks, the British response to the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 was celebrated as an unequivocal triumph in the face of adversity. What makes the contrast between how these conflicts were constructed within the popular imagination all the more surprising is that the British military response to the Mutiny could be said to have suffered from all the deficiencies exposed during the Crimean War. Indeed, if one considers the primary causes of death in each conflict, it is clear that in each case only between 10-20% of the British troops to die did so as a result of actual fighting, the rest died as a result of either illness, primarily cholera and dysentery, or due to the equally inhospitable, but diametrically opposed climates of each war zone compounded by a lack of suitable equipment for the conditions faced by the soldiers.

Through an examination of the dominant narratives of these two conflicts which emerged within the British middle class press in general, and The Times in particular, this paper will explore why these two conflicts were represented in such radically different ways. Further, this paper will interrogate the ways in which the popular imagination of these conflicts impacted upon how the British military was regarded during a period of intense class conflict in which the concept of war greatly underpinned the continued value to the country of an embattled Aristocracy and resulted in a dramatic re-imagination of the concept of war within Victorian Britain.

This talk is part of the Violence and Conflict Graduate Workshop, Faculty of History series.

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