Big Ben stops at 12:11 pm for 54 minutes

Year
1997
Month Day
April 30

On April 30, 1997, at exactly 12:11 pm, London’s iconic Big Ben clock stops ticking. For 54 minutes, the most famous clock in the world failed to keep time.

Completed in 1859, Big Ben has a long history of technical issues. The first bell cast for the tower cracked before it could be installed, and the second bell also developed a crack shortly after installation, resulting in silence from the tower until 1862. The bells stopped ringing again during World War I, and the tower was not illuminated at night for the duration of World War II, when most of London was kept dark to make German bombing more raids difficult. Despite the heavy damage that the Blitz inflicted on London, however, the clock stayed within a second and a half of GMT for the duration of the war.

Since then, both extreme heat and the buildup of snow have caused Big Ben to stop ticking. In 1962, snow delayed the bells, causing the capital of Britain to ring in the new year ten minutes later than the rest of the country. The April 1997 stoppage occurred the day before that year’s general election, but the malfunction was probably not a factor in the voting, which Tony Blair’s “New Labour” won in a landslide over incumbent Prime Minister John Major. Big Ben stopped again in May of 2005, on one of the hottest May days ever recorded in London.

READ MORE: How Did Big Ben Get Its Name?

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Edward VIII abdicates


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Year
1936
Month Day
December 11

After ruling for less than one year, Edward VIII becomes the first English monarch to voluntarily abdicate the throne. He chose to abdicate after the British government, public, and the Church of England condemned his decision to marry the American divorcée Wallis Warfield Simpson. On the evening of December 11, he gave a radio address in which he explained, “I have found it impossible to carry on the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge the duties of king, as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love.” On December 12, his younger brother, the duke of York, was proclaimed King George VI.

Edward, born in 1894, was the eldest son of King George V, who became the British sovereign in 1910. Still unmarried as he approached his 40th birthday, he socialized with the fashionable London society of the day. By 1934, he had fallen deeply in love with American socialite Wallis Warfield Simpson, who was married to Ernest Simpson, an English-American businessman who lived with Mrs. Simpson near London. Wallis, who was born in Pennsylvania, had previously married and divorced a U.S. Navy pilot. The royal family disapproved of Edward’s married mistress, but by 1936 the prince was intent on marrying Mrs. Simpson. Before he could discuss this intention with his father, George V died, in January 1936, and Edward was proclaimed king.

The new king proved popular with his subjects, and his coronation was scheduled for May 1937. His affair with Mrs. Simpson was reported in American and continental European newspapers, but due to a gentlemen’s agreement between the British press and the government, the affair was kept out of British newspapers. On October 27, 1936, Mrs. Simpson obtained a preliminary decree of divorce, presumably with the intent of marrying the king, which precipitated a major scandal. To the Church of England and most British politicians, an American woman twice divorced was unacceptable as a prospective British queen. Winston Churchill, then a Conservative backbencher, was the only notable politician to support Edward.

Despite the seemingly united front against him, Edward could not be dissuaded. He proposed a morganatic marriage, in which Wallis would be granted no rights of rank or property, but on December 2, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin rejected the suggestion as impractical. The next day, the scandal broke on the front pages of British newspapers and was discussed openly in Parliament. With no resolution possible, the king renounced the throne on December 10. The next day, Parliament approved the abdication instrument, and Edward VIII’s reign came to an end. The new king, George VI, made his older brother the duke of Windsor. On June 3, 1937, the duke of Windsor and Wallis Warfield married at the Château de Cande in France’s Loire Valley.

For the next two years, the duke and duchess lived primarily in France but visited other European countries, including Germany, where the duke was honored by Nazi officials in October 1937 and met with Adolf Hitler. After the outbreak of World War II, the duke accepted a position as liaison officer with the French. In June 1940, France fell to the Nazis, and Edward and Wallis went to Spain. During this period, the Nazis concocted a scheme to kidnap Edward with the intention of returning him to the British throne as a puppet king. George VI, like his prime minister, Winston Churchill, was adamantly opposed to any peace with Nazi Germany. Unaware of the Nazi kidnapping plot but conscious of Edward’s pre-war Nazi sympathies, Churchill hastily offered Edward the governorship of the Bahamas in the West Indies. The duke and duchess set sail from Lisbon on August 1, 1940, narrowly escaping a Nazi SS team sent to seize them.

In 1945, the duke resigned his post, and the couple moved back to France. They lived mainly in Paris, and Edward made a few visits to England, such as to attend the funerals of King George VI in 1952 and his mother, Queen Mary, in 1953. It was not until 1967 that the duke and duchess were invited by the royal family to attend an official public ceremony, the unveiling of a plaque dedicated to Queen Mary. Edward died in Paris in 1972 but was buried at Frogmore, on the grounds of Windsor Castle. In 1986, Wallis died and was buried at his side.

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Grenfell Tower fire kills 72 in London

Year
2017
Month Day
June 14

Shortly before 1:00 A.M. on June 14, 2017, a fire tears through West London’s 24-story Grenfell tower. 72 people died, scores were injured and hundreds were left homeless in Britain’s deadliest fire in more than a century.

The fire started in a Hotpoint brand fridge-freezer in a fourth-floor apartment. The flames traveled from the kitchen and up the exterior side of the building, which was filled with 300 low-income residents. From there, the flames moved fast, engulfing the other sides of the building as well. Firefighters soon arrived, but the fire quickly reached the top floor. By 2 A.M., the fire was declared a “major incident.”

Because residents followed Grenfell’s “stay-put” fire policy, the death toll surged. Unsuspecting victims had been led to believe that their building was designed to contain a fire inside an apartment until it could be put out. So even as smoke filled the building’s single narrow stairwell, many residents heeded instructions to stay in their apartments, while others moved to higher floors, believing the blaze would be contained below them. Some ignored the policy and evacuated the building anyway. As the blaze spread around the sides of the building, it eventually made its way back inside several apartments. At 2:47 building officials abandoned the stay-put policy, telling residents to try and leave, if possible; but for many, it was too late. By 4:30, the flames completely engulfed the tower. Upward of 200 firefighters and 40 fire engines responded, but the fire took more than 24 hours to finally burn out.

As rescue workers underwent the grisly recovery of victims’ remains, and the death count was still being tallied,Londoners angry over what they called , Prime Minister Theresa May’s “flimsy” response to the tragedy protested, demanding more help for survivors. People were insulted that May had met with firefighters before victims. To quell the rising frustration, the British government promised to allocate more money to support and get them into new housing as quickly as possible.

For many, it wasn’t enough—especially those who saw the tragedy as totally avoidable. Documents obtained by BBC revealed that the cladding—or siding—on the building was extremely flammable, and that the council overseeing the building chose it to save money on a refurbishment. (They saved £293,000). Similar buildings subsequently had their cladding tested and failed, too. A public inquiry followed, and days later, the officials responsible for managing the Grenfell tower resigned.

A BBC investigation also found that the fire department was not even properly trained or equipped to fight the blaze. Challenges such as low water pressure and radio problems hindered their efforts, while equipment—like a tall ladder—was either lacking or had not arrived before the fire.

One year later, the remains of the tower were illuminated to mark the anniversary of the disaster.

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Terrorists attack London Bridge

Year
2017
Month Day
June 03

During one horrific 8-minute period on June 3, 2017, eight people were killed as a band of terrorists drove a van through a pedestrian walkway on the London Bridge. The men then exited, armed with pink steak knives, and proceeded to slash and stab people in a nearby market.

The attack was the third to take place in London in 2017.

Just minutes before 10 pm a van filled with three attackers inconspicuously crossed the London Bridge twice. When it reached the end of the bridge the second time, the van made a U-turn, mounting the pavement and mowing down pedestrians.

At the end of the bridge, the terrorists crashed into a nearby pub, where they exited with knives taped to their wrists and fake bombs strapped to their bodies. The men ran from the vehicle, slashing and stabbing through the Borough Market as they screamed “This is for Allah.” They randomly entered bars and restaurants, stabbing whoever came into their path. People tried to fight them off, throwing crates, chairs and glasses, but in the end, 48 people were injured.

By 10:15 all three terrorists had been killed by authorities.

The terrorists were found to be Khuram Shazad Butt, 27, a British citizen born in Pakistan who is believed to have been the leader of the attack; Rachid Redouane, 30, who said he was Moroccan and Libyan; and Youssef Zaghba, 22, a Moroccan-Italian man. The men are reported to have had large amounts of steroids in their system.

2017 was one of the most intense periods for terrorist attacks in England. Arrests for terrorism-linked offenses rose to a record 379 in the 12 months leading up to the attacks, an increase of 67% from the year before. 

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Ireland legalizes same-sex marriage

Year
2015
Month Day
May 23

On May 23, 2015 thousands of LGBTQ activists celebrated as Ireland became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage through referendum.

The referendum passed with 62% of voters (1.2 million people) voting yes. The vote attracted a large turnout, with 60.5% of eligible voters—and an unprecedented amount of young people—making their way to the polls. Support was overwhelming. All but one of the 43 parliamentary constituencies voted in favor, and approval was never really in doubt.

When the polls closed, Dublin Castle, a major Irish government complex, became a sea of color and bodies, as roughly 2,000 activists gathered to celebrate. The crowd cheered, rainbow flags were waved, tears were shed and couples kissed, as Ireland hit a pivotal point in its history.

The journey had been slow. After all, Ireland, a traditionally conservative Catholic country, only decriminalized homosexuality in 1993. Campaigning for the referendum began almost immediately after the date for the vote was announced on February 19 of that year. For the first time, social media played a role in influencing people. Both sides deployed TV ads, billboards and pamphlets encouraging people to go to the polls to fight for their side. On the day of the vote, people used #hometovote to remind and encourage young Irish people living abroad to come home in time to vote. Thousands returned, and tickets from London to Ireland were sold out the night before.

Many politicians welcomed the result. Minister for Health Leo Varadkar publicly revealed he was gay for the first time during the campaign and called the win a “historical day.” The Minister for Equality Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said the win made him proud to be Irish.

The Catholic Church, however, was not as happy with the decision. Archbishop Eamon Martin said the church felt a sense of “bereavement” after the referendum passed, and Cardinal Pietro Parolin called it a “defeat for humanity.”

Ireland’s first same-sex marriage happened on November 17, 2015, almost six months after the vote. The couple, Richard Dowling and Cormac Gollogly, both 35, had been together for 12 years when they were finally allowed to be legally married.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in more than 25 nations and all 50 American states.

READ MORE: Gay Rights

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Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII, is executed

Year
1536
Month Day
May 19

On May 19, 1536, Anne Boleyn, the infamous second wife of King Henry VIII, is executed on charges including adultery, incest and conspiracy against the king.

READ MORE: Who Were the Six Wives of Henry VIII?

Catherine of Aragon

King Henry had become enamored of Anne Boleyn in the mid-1520s, when she returned from serving in the French court and became a lady-in-waiting to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

Dark-haired, with an olive complexion and a long, elegant neck, Anne was not said to be a great beauty, but she clearly captivated the king. As Catherine had failed to produce a male heir, Henry transferred his hopes for the future continuation of his royal line to Anne, and set about getting a divorce or annulment so he could marry her.

For six years, while his advisers worked on what became known as “the King’s great matter,” Henry and Anne courted first discreetly, then openly—angering Catherine and her powerful allies, including her nephew, Emperor Charles V.

In 1532, the savvy and ruthless Thomas Cromwell won control of the king’s council and engineered a daring revolution—a break with the Catholic Church, and Henry’s installation as supreme head of the Church of England. Many unhappy Britons blamed Anne, whose sympathies lay with England’s Protestant reformers even before the Church’s steadfast opposition turned her against it.

Jane Seymour

At Queen Anne’s coronation in June 1533, she was nearly six months pregnant, and in September she gave birth to a girl, Elizabeth, rather than the much-longed-for male heir. She later had two stillborn children, and suffered a miscarriage in January 1536; the fetus appeared to be male.

By that time, Anne’s relationship with Henry had soured, and he had his eye on her lady-in-waiting, the demure Jane Seymour.

After Anne’s latest miscarriage, and the death of Catherine that same month, rumors began flying that Henry wanted to get rid of Anne so he could marry Jane. (Had he attempted to annul his second marriage while Catherine was still alive, it would have raised speculation that his first marriage was valid after all.)

Henry had apparently convinced himself that Anne had seduced him by witchcraft, and also told Cromwell (Anne’s former ally, now her rival for power in Henry’s court) that he wanted to take steps towards repairing relations with Emperor Charles.

Arrest and Imprisonment 

Seeing Anne’s weak position, her many enemies jumped at the chance to bring about the downfall of “the Concubine,” and launched an investigation that compiled evidence against her.

After Mark Smeaton, a court musician, confessed (possibly under torture) that he had committed adultery with the queen, the drama was set in motion at the May Day celebration at the king’s riverside palace at Greenwich.

King Henry left suddenly in the middle of the day’s jousting tournament, which featured Anne’s brother George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, and Sir Henry Norris, one of the king’s closest friends and a royal officer in his household. He gave no explanation for his departure to Queen Anne, whom he would never see again.

In quick succession, Norris and Rochford were both arrested on charges of adultery with the queen (incest, in Rochford’s case) and plotting with her against her husband. Sir Frances Weston and Sir William Brereton were arrested in the following days on similar charges, while Queen Anne herself was taken into custody at Greenwich on May 2.

Duke of Norfolk 

Led before the investigators (chief among them her own uncle, the Duke of Norfolk) to hear the charges of “evil behavior” against her, she was subsequently imprisoned in the Tower of London.

The trial of Smeaton, Weston, Brereton and Norris took place in Westminster Hall on May 12. At the conclusion of the trial, the court sentenced all four men to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Three days later, Anne and her brother, Lord Rochford, went on trial in the Great Hall of the Tower of London.

The Duke of Norfolk presided over the trial as lord high steward, representing the king. The most damning evidence against Rochford was the testimony of his own jealous wife, who claimed “undue familiarity” between him and his sister.

Trial of Anne Boleyn

As for Anne, most historians agree she was almost certainly not guilty of the charges against her. She never admitted to any wrongdoing, the evidence against her was weak and it seems highly unlikely she would have endangered her position by adultery or conspiring to harm the king, whose favor she depended upon so greatly.

Still, Anne and Rochford were found guilty as charged, and Norfolk pronounced the sentence: Both were to be burnt or executed according to the king’s wishes.

On May 17, the five condemned men were executed on Tower Hill, but Henry showed mercy to his queen, calling in the “hangman of Calais” so that she could be beheaded with the sword rather than the axe.

Anne Boleyn Execution 

On the morning of May 19, a small crowd gathered on Tower Green as Anne Boleyn—clad in a dark grey gown and ermine mantle, her hair covered by a headdress over a white linen coif—approached her final fate.

After begging to be allowed to address the crowd, Anne spoke simply: “Masters, I here humbly submit me to the law as the law hath judged me, and as for mine offences, I here accuse no man. God knoweth them; I remit them to God, beseeching Him to have mercy on my soul.” Finally, she asked Jesus Christ to “save my sovereign and master the King, the most godly, noble and gentle Prince that is, and long to reign over you.”

With a swift blow from the executioner’s sword, Anne Boleyn was dead. Less than 24 hours later, Henry was formally betrothed to Jane Seymour; they married some 10 days after the execution.

While Queen Jane did give birth to the long-awaited son, who would succeed Henry as King Edward VI at the tender age of nine, it would be his daughter with Anne Boleyn who would go on to rule England for more than 40 years as the most celebrated Tudor monarch: Queen Elizabeth I.

Sources

Antonia Fraser, The Wives of Henry VIII (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992).
Alison Weir, The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn (New York: Ballantine Books, 2010).

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Britain’s Prince William weds Kate Middleton

Year
2011
Month Day
April 29

On April 29, 2011, Great Britain’s Prince William marries his longtime girlfriend Catherine Elizabeth “Kate” Middleton at Westminster Abbey in London. Some 1,900 guests attended the ceremony, while another 1 million spectators lined the streets of London and an estimated 2 billion people around the world watched on television.

The 29-year-old bride and 28-year-old groom, second in line (behind his father) to the throne, met in 2001 as students at the University of St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland. Middleton, the eldest of three children, was raised in the English village of Bucklebury. Her parents, former flight attendants, became millionaires running a successful party-supply business. Middleton majored in art history at St. Andrews and went on to do a stint as an accessories buyer for a British clothing chain. Prince William, the elder of two sons born to Charles, Prince of Wales and Diana, Princess of Wales, embarked on a military career after college, eventually becoming a helicopter search-and-rescue pilot with the Royal Air Force (RAF). His parent’s lavish 1981 wedding was a media sensation witnessed by a global television estimated as high as 750 million; however, in December 1992, it was announced the couple was separating. The couple, who publicly admitted to infidelities during their marriage, officially divorced in 1996. Diana died in a car crash in Paris the following year.

READ MORE: Glorious Behind-the-Scenes Photos of Queen Elizabeth’s 1947 Wedding

After dating for eight years, William and Kate became engaged in October 2010 while vacationing in Kenya, Africa. Their engagement was publicly announced the following month, on November 16, ending years of media speculation about whether they ever would tie the knot—and immediately kicking off a new wave of speculation about the wedding details, including the guest list and the bride’s dress.

At their Friday morning marriage ceremony on April 29, the bride wore a gown designed by Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen, a British fashion house, while the groom donned the scarlet tunic of an Irish Guards officer. Middleton’s younger sister, Pippa, served as maid of honor, while William’s brother, Prince Harry, was best man. The nuptials were presided over by the archbishop of Canterbury, with world leaders and celebrities including Elton John and David and Victoria Beckham in attendance. After the ceremony, the newlyweds kissed twice on a Buckingham Palace balcony before hundreds of thousands of cheering fans. Overhead, RAF planes made a ceremonial flyby. An afternoon reception at the palace presided over by Queen Elizabeth for some 650 guests followed, and that evening, Prince Charles hosted a dinner dance at the palace for 300 people.

The couple, who once married became the duke and duchess of Cambridge, honeymooned in the Seychelles, before returning to Wales, where William resumed his duties as a helicopter pilot.

On July 22, 2013, the duchess gave birth to the couple’s first child, George, who is third in line to the throne. She gave birth to Princess Charlotte on May 2, 2015 and to Prince Louis on April 23, 2018.

READ MORE: Not Every Royal Wedding is the Stuff of Fairytales

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Winston Churchill retires as prime minister

Year
1955
Month Day
April 05

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, the British leader who guided Great Britain and the Allies through the crisis of World War II, retires as prime minister of Great Britain.

Born at Blenheim Palace in 1874, Churchill joined the British Fourth Hussars upon his father’s death in 1895. During the next five years, he enjoyed an illustrious military career, serving in India, the Sudan, and South Africa, and distinguishing himself several times in battle. In 1899, he resigned his commission to concentrate on his literary and political career and in 1900 was elected to Parliament as a Conservative MP from Oldham. In 1904, he joined the Liberals, serving a number of important posts before being appointed Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911, where he worked to bring the British navy to a readiness for the war he foresaw.

In 1915, in the second year of World War I, Churchill was held responsible for the disastrous Dardanelles and Gallipoli campaigns and was thus excluded from the war coalition government. However, in 1917, he returned to politics as a cabinet member in the Liberal government of Lloyd George. From 1919 to 1921, he was secretary of state for war and in 1924 returned to the Conservative Party, where two years later he played a leading role in the defeat of the General Strike of 1926. Out of office from 1929 to 1939, Churchill issued unheeded warnings of the threat of Nazi and Japanese aggression.

After the outbreak of World War II in Europe, Churchill returned to his post as First Lord of the Admiralty and eight months later replaced Neville Chamberlain as prime minister of a new coalition government. In the first year of his administration, Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany, but Churchill promised his country and the world that Britain would “never surrender.” He rallied the British people to a resolute resistance and expertly orchestrated Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin into an alliance that eventually crushed the Axis.

After a postwar Labor Party victory in 1945, he became leader of the opposition and in 1951 was again elected prime minister. In 1953, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. After his retirement as prime minister, he remained in Parliament until 1964, the year before his death.

READ MORE: 10 Things You May Not Know About Winston Churchill

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Winston Churchill dies


Year
1965
Month Day
January 24

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, the British leader who guided Great Britain and the Allies through the crisis of World War II, dies in London at the age of 90.

Born at Blenheim Palace in 1874, Churchill joined the British Fourth Hussars upon his father’s death in 1895. During the next five years, he enjoyed an illustrious military career, serving in India, the Sudan, and South Africa, and distinguishing himself several times in battle. In 1899, he resigned his commission to concentrate on his literary and political career and in 1900 was elected to Parliament as a Conservative MP from Oldham. In 1904, he joined the Liberals, serving in a number of important posts before being appointed Britain’s first lord of the admiralty in 1911, where he worked to bring the British navy to a readiness for the war that he foresaw.

In 1915, in the second year of World War I, Churchill was held responsible for the disastrous Dardanelles and Gallipoli campaigns, and he was excluded from the war coalition government. He resigned and volunteered to command an infantry battalion in France. However, in 1917, he returned to politics as a cabinet member in the Liberal government of Lloyd George. From 1919 to 1921, he was secretary of state for war and in 1924 returned to the Conservative Party, where two years later he played a leading role in the defeat of the General Strike of 1926. Out of office from 1929 to 1939, Churchill issued unheeded warnings of the threat of Nazi and Japanese aggression.

After the outbreak of World War II in Europe, Churchill was called back to his post as first lord of the admiralty and eight months later replaced the ineffectual Neville Chamberlain as prime minister of a new coalition government. In the first year of his administration, Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany, but Churchill promised his country and the world that the British people would “never surrender.” He rallied the British people to a resolute resistance and expertly orchestrated Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin into an alliance that crushed the Axis.

In July 1945, 10 weeks after Germany’s defeat, his Conservative government suffered a defeat against Clement Attlee’s Labour Party, and Churchill resigned as prime minister. He became leader of the opposition and in 1951 was again elected prime minister. Two years later, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his six-volume historical study of World War II and for his political speeches; he was also knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. In 1955, he retired as prime minister but remained in Parliament until 1964, the year before his death.

READ MORE: 10 Things You May Not Know About Winston Churchill

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Charter granted to the East India Company


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Original:
Year
1600
Month Day
December 31

Queen Elizabeth I of England grants a formal charter to the London merchants trading to the East Indies, hoping to break the Dutch monopoly of the spice trade in what is now Indonesia.

In the first few decades of its existence, the East India Company made far less progress in the East Indies than it did in India itself, where it acquired unequaled trade privileges from India’s Mogul emperors. By the 1630s, the company abandoned its East Indies operations almost entirely to concentrate on its lucrative trade of Indian textiles and Chinese tea. In the early 18th century, the company increasingly became an agent of British imperialism as it intervened more and more in Indian and Chinese political affairs. The company had its own military, which defeated the rival French East India Company in 1752 and the Dutch in 1759.

In 1773, the British government passed the Regulating Act to rein in the company. The company’s possessions in India were subsequently managed by a British governor general, and it gradually lost political and economic autonomy. The parliamentary acts of 1813 ended the East India Company’s trade monopoly, and in 1834 it was transformed into a managing agency for the British government of India.

In 1857, a revolt by Indian soldiers in the Bengal army of the company developed into a widespread uprising against British rule in India. After the so-called Indian Mutiny was crushed in 1858, the British government assumed direct control over India, and in 1873 the East India Company was dissolved.

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