Background: My summer reading goal is to get a handle on Europe from 1850-1914, with a strong focus on the British Empire, and within that a focus on England. So far, I've seen multiple historians single out the Crimean War as an event with major cultural, political, and military consequences.

At this point, I admit that I feel like I'm starting to lose track of all those consequences, which I'd like to bear more closely in mind as I move on to the latest part of the 19th century. I'm hoping someone more knowledgeable might be willing to give me a list and summary of the major changes, so I can reference that going forward. Where relevant, I'd also appreciate it being pointed out to me where these changes were totally contingent, and where they dovetailed with broader already probable trends, just so I can keep the threads of causality straight.

The Question: What were the major cultural, political, and military consequences of the Crimean War for Britain, and more specifically England, in the latter half of the 19th century?

3 Answers 3


Two major events of the Crimean War that had an impact on British society, and on later wars were the "Charge of the Light Brigade" and Florence Nightingale.

The "Charge of the Light Brigade" is nowadays considered an exercise in heroic futility, but at the time it was treated as an epic. It succeeded on its own terms, the Brigade overran the guns, but charged the wrong ones. It was held up as an example of British heroism that led to mindless (infantry) charges in the First World War, at least up to Passchendaele.

The Crimean war was perhaps the first war to the be "reported" to the public, through new inventions such as the telegraph and the photography. The heavy (and well publicized) cost of the Crimean War led to the introduction of the Victoria Cross for valor in battle, which, unlike earlier decorations, was awarded to both officers and men, beginning the "democratization" of British society.

Florence Nightingale is considered the pioneer of "nursing," or at least military nursing. She was from a wealthy reforming family that pushed for rudimentary health care and sanitation measures in the British army. Up to that time, more soldiers died of disease than of battlefield casualties. Following the reforms that she wrought, the disease rate for both the military, and civilians, went down sharply.

Another, political, change was Anglo-French collaboration. Prior to the post Napoleonic period, these two countries had been bitter enemies. In the Crimean war, they fought side by side in order to maintain a European balance of power (to prevent Russia from crushing Turkey, and thereby dominate eastern Europe). This presaged Anglo-French cooperation in the World War I, about half a century later, against a rising and aggressive German power that threatened to dominate central and eastern Europe.

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    I would say that Florence Nightingale was also a pioneer in the use of statistics in the field of what is nowadays called "Public Health". Aug 2, 2017 at 0:43

The Crimean War was one of the very first wars where there was an immediate journalistic presence (instead of relying on military reporting) - William Howard Russell (a reporter) and Roger Fenton (a photographer) sent back reports and images that were then printed in The Times newspaper. As such, the public of Britain received "direct" reporting from a war for the first time.

The various blunders through the war, of which the infamous "Charge of the Light Brigade" is the most well known, ended up leading the public to question the leadership and led to various protests and riots - including the Snowball Riots in Trafalgar Square.

When parliament passed a bill requesting a full accounting of the men and materiel lost through the war, the prime minister (the Earl of Aberdeen) resigned - taking the passing of the bill as a loss of "no confidence".

Tom has already covered the reforms to nursing through Florence Nightingale.

The last major change from the war was the eventual abolition of the Army's sale of commissions - meaning that any person with reasonable income or wealth could purchase themselves a commission in the Army (including the ranks of Captain, Major, and even Lieutenant Colonel). Not all commissioned positions were filled via purchase as officers could and would be promoted to fill positions left by wounded or dead men (especially during times like the Napoleonic Wars), but the Crimean War was after a long period of relative peace, and so much of the officer corps of the infantry and cavalry were filled by such purchased commissions. By removing the practice, the British Army took another big step into professionalisation (although, social background rather than ability continued to be a major factor in advancement well into the 20th century).


In addition to the other two excellent answers, this was the first "telegraph war": the governments in London and Paris could communicate with the field commander in (almost) real time and the newspapers received communications in real time too.

Think about it:

  • Something happens in the field.
  • Reporters telegraph it to The Times.
  • The public is outraged (because the outrageous news sell better).
  • The government reacts - telegraphs to the commander in the field a micromanaging order.
  • The field commander has to do damage control instead of actually leading the troops.
  • The Russian diplomats and/or spies in London (and neutral capitals which subscribe to the Times feed) read the paper too and telegraph to St Petersburg the valuable intelligence.

This lead to attempts to censor the papers which only exacerbated the tensions.

See The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-Line Pioneers.

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    Presumably, the Russian diplomats left London for the duration of the war. But I am sure the Russian government had other ways to obtain British newspapers promptly enough. Aug 3, 2017 at 4:50

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