The Edwardian era or Edwardian period of British history covers the brief reign of King Edward VII, 1901 to 1910, and is sometimes extended in both directions to capture long-term trends from the 1890s to the First World War. The death of Queen Victoria in January 1901 marked the end of the Victorian era. The new king Edward VII was already the leader of a fashionable elite that set a style influenced by the art and fashions of Continental Europe. Samuel Hynes described the Edwardian Era as a "leisurely time when women wore picture hats and did not vote, when the rich were not ashamed to live conspicuously, and the sun really never set on the British flag'".
Below the upper class, the era was marked by significant shifts in politics among sections of society that had been largely excluded from wielding power in the past, such as common labourers. Women became increasingly politicised.
The Edwardian period is sometimes imagined as a romantic golden age of long summer afternoons and garden parties, basking in a sun that never sets on the British Empire. This perception was created in the 1920s and later by those who remembered the Edwardian age with nostalgia, looking back to their childhoods across the abyss of the Great War. The Edwardian age was also seen as a mediocre period of pleasure between the great achievements of the preceding Victorian age and the catastrophe of the following war. Recent assessments emphasise the great differences between the wealthy and the poor during the Edwardian era and describe the age as heralding great changes in political and social life. Robert Tressell's popular novel The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists is a strong example of the era's social critique.
Despite this, this type of perception has been challenged more recently by modern historians. The British historian Lawrence James has argued that, during the early 20th century, the British felt increasingly threatened by rival powers such as Germany, Russia, and the United States.
There was a growing political awareness of the working class, leading to a rise in trade unions, the Labour movement and demands for better working conditions. The aristocracy remained in control of top government offices.