The British built the largest European colonial empire, perhaps only exceeded in area by the great Mongol Empire. The British empire largely evolved rather than being created from any central plan. The growth of the Empire was made possible in large measure by the Royal Navy. The first British colonies were the modest enterprises along the Atlantic coast of North America. The first permanent colony was Jamestown in Virginia (1607). They also acquired Caribbean sugar islands and French Canada. Britain obtained large areas of India from France at the samr time it obtained Canada. This first British Empire was closed empire which resticted economic activity and trade in the colonies. Much of that empire was lost in the American Revolution (1776-83). The loss of America was a learning experience for the British. They changed their policies and adopted colonial policies that did not restrict economic activity. They also with a few exceptions adopted free trade policies. Than beginning with the the Napoleonic Wars Britain in the 19th century gradually added colony after colony. Many were acquired in the process of protecting other colonies. The destruction of the Spanish-French fleet at Trafalgur (1805) had left Britain the preminent naval power of the age. The Royal Navy thus played a key role in building the Empire. Two of those colonies were like the early United States and were colonized by people of British stock--building prticularly close ties. Britain has been criticized for its colonialization effort and often rightly so. It is also true that Britain brought the modern world to many areas of the globe. There were many failures, but also a number of successes. The nmost obvious is America, but another is India. The vibrant Indian democratic system and thriving free enterorise economy are both part of the British inheritance.
The British built the largest European colonial empire, perhaps only exceeded in history by the Mongol Empire. America was the first British colony and the first to leave the Empire. The high-ppint of the British Empire was the Edwardian Era just before World War I (1914-18). The Empire actually expsnded as a result of the War, but Britain itself was significantly weakened by the War and its ability and desore to hold the Empire thus undermined. The British Empire after World war I ruled a population of nearly 460 million people, nearly one-quarter of the world's population. It covered about 14.2 million square miles), a quarter of Earth's total land area. It was so extensive that it was said with considerable pride that "the sun never sets on the British Empire". This mean that the spread of British rule accross the globev was such that the sun was always shining on at least one of the Empire.
The first important English explorer was Giovanni Caboto (1450-98), better known as John Cabot. He was Genoese. (Note the importance of the Genoese. As Venice defeated Genoa and limited its maritime commerce, many Genoese like Cabot and Cloumbus sought their fortunes in other countries.) Cabot set up as a merchant in Bristol. Soon accounts of Columbus' voyages reached England. Cabot with his navigational skills was commissioned by King Henry VII to explore the New World and find a passage to the Indies, the famed Northwest Passage. Cabot found Cape Breton Island off modern Nova Scotia and claimed it for England (1497). He explored the coast of Greenland in a second expedition (1498). The English watched in envy while Mary was queen, her husband was Phillip II of Spain. With the accession of Princess Elizabeth, however, this changed. Queen Elizabeth secretly authorized privateers to prey upon Spanish treasure ships and in the process not only seized important quantities of gold and silver, but accumulate increasing information about navigation and ocean seafaring. The English Sea Dogs (Drake, Hawkins, Raleigh, and others) were the bane of Philip's existence. Sir Francis Drake (1545?-96) was the greatest English explorers and one of its preminant naval heroes. Drake received his early training from Sir John Hawkins, a realative and participated in the raids on Spanish shipping. On one f thse fraids, Drake led a small party accross the Istmus of Panama for his forst view of the Pacific Ocean (1572). Queen Elizabeth, depite the fact England was at peace with Soain, approved and helped finance a secret expedition to target Spanish colonies along the Pacific coast of South America (1576). The Pacific at the time a virtual Spanish lake. Drake attacked Spanish cities from Chile north to Mexico and became known as El Drago. Drake and the Golden Hind reached Plymouth having curcumnavigated the globe (1580). The Spanish issued stinging diplomatic protests, but Queen Elizabeth knighted him. Not only were the English plundering his treasure fleets, but they were Protestants and Elizabeth was taking the English church in a decidedly Protestant direction. Philip's response was the Great Armada described above. The defeat of the Armada (1588) opened the way for more intensive English exploration and the founding of colonies. Henry Hudson (?-1611?) made four voyages if discovery primarily aimed at finding the Northwest Passage. On his third voyage (1609) he explored along the coast of North America 150 miles up what is now known as the Hudson River. On his fourth voyage abord the Half Moon (1610) Hudson still searching for the Northwest passage found what is now known as Hudson Bay where his crew mutined and Hudson and his son are believed to have perished.
The Portuguese and Spanish essentially climed the entire world outside Europe for colonization. This claim was confirmed and adjudicated by the Pope with Papal Bulls and the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494). Other countries, especially the Dutch, English, anf French did not accept this and began making first raids on Spanish colonies and treasure vessels. This lead to conflict between Spain and England whichwas exacerbated by the Reformation. King Philip II of Spain decided tobend English priveteering by seizing the country and restoring Catholocism. He dispatched the Great Armada to transport a Spanish Armyt fighting Protestants in the KLow Lands accross the Channel to England. The Armada's failure left Enfland free to continue privettering as well as actualy seizing colonies and establishing their own colonies. It this made possible the beginning of the British Empire.
The growth of the Empire was made possible in large measure by the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy was founded by Henry VIII in the 16th century and four the next four centuries has played a central role in modern history. It is no exageration to say that Royal Navy was the critical force in the creation of the modern world. The Royal Navy is common seen as an instrument of British colonialism and the suppression of many Asian and african peoples. This is certainly true. It is also true that the Royal Navy helped establish the modern world trading system. It broke up the closed international system established by Spain and Portugal and replaced it with a much more open system. The Royal Navy impact on the modern world is extensive and pervasive. The Royal Navy chartered sea lanes around the world. There are few ports and sea coasts that have not been touched in some way by the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy played an important role in the Indistrial Revolution. It helped to defeat series of opponents for the most part countries goverened by authoritarian or dictatorial rulers (Philip II, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Hitler). Thus the Royal Navy played a key role in establishing parlimentary democracies in the modern world. It was the Royal Navy that ended the slave trade. Although the Royal Navy played a major role in the Revolutionary war, it is also true that for much of the early history, the Royal Navy provided a shield from European interference behind which the American Republic developed. The prestige of the Royal Navy by the 19th century was such that the uniform of the British enlisted sailor became a standard outfit not only for British boys, but also for boys throughout Europe and North America.
The British empire largely evolved rather than being created from any central plan. Begining in the 18th century the British Empire grew in an amazingly chaotic and unorganized fashion until the pink on the maps of the 19th century girlded the globe. It became the largest empire in human history. The Empire did not even have an Emperor, however, until Disreli to cury favor with Queen Victoria, a bit put off by the fact that the German monarchy achieved imperial status, suggested that she be Emperess of India. Even at its zenith, however, there were important leaders like Gladstone that were critical of empire building. And in fact economists to this day still debate whether the Empire was truly beneficial or whether it cost more to maintain than it returned in profits to the nation. While the debate still rages over the Empire, the impact its huge impact on people around the world as diverse as Americans, Indians, and South Africans is undeniable.
The first British colonies were the modest enterprises along the Atlantic coast of North America. The first permanent colony was Jamestown in Virginia (1607). The second was Plymouth in Masschusetts (1620). The two were very different. Jamestown was set up meant to be exploit the natural resources much as the Spanish had done in South America. Only after gold was not found did the colony shift to agriculture, especially tobacco. The colony developed on a rather aristocratic basis. The agricultural system shifted in the 17th century from endetured English workers to African slaves working large plantations. The Plymouth Colony was established by religious desenters and the agriculural developed on the basis of small family plans. Other colonies followed, but these two set the pattern for developments in the North and South. Despite the differences there were some important common threads. First, all the colonies adopted English law and representative government. Second, the prevailing religion was Protesantism in all its many forms with the stress on individual conscious and responsibility. Third, a spirit of toleration developed as a result of the many different Protestant denominations. America was the first British colony and the first to leave the Empire. The Revolutionary War was an astounding occurrence in a world sill dominated by kings. It established the first important republic since Rome in the middle of what at the time was a wilderness far from Europe. It was a war that the British could have easily avoided had King George and his advisors been willing to show the least flexibility. Many in Britain objected to the War and a minority of Americans wanted independence at the time the war began. It was also a war that the American colonists won by the slimmest of margins against the most powerful country in the world. The Americans succeeded in their struggle only because they were aided by a French king who was opposed to offering the same liberties to his people that the Americans were demanding from their king. The American Revolution is a struggle that has been somewhat lost as a result of the much greater scholarly interest in America on the Civil War. As a result, most American's view the war through simplistic primary school readings which obscure the tremendously complicated course of events that led to the War and creation of America. English scholars, perhaps because Britain lost the War, have given it almost no serious scholarly attention.
The British also acquired Caribbean sugar islands.
The English played a major role in securing the independence of the Netherlands. And usually the Dutch and English were on the same side of European conflicts. Never-the-less, the English fought three naval wars with the Dutch during the 17th century. The more important ones were conducted by Stuart King Charles II who maintained close relations with England's traditional enemy France. The Dutch Wars are thus somewhat of an anomaly in England's basic policy of resisting foreign domination of the Low Lands, although the Third Dutch War turned into Louis XIV's wars of expansion. The Wars were fought as naval engagements. One important outcome was the English seizure of New Amsterdam which became the English colony of New York,
Slavery played an important role in building the British Empire and financing the Industrial Revolution in Britain. This was primarily through the enormously profitable British colonies in the Caribbean which produced sugar. The economy ofthese islands were based on the slave trade. The slaves lived under such brutal conditions that fresh shipments of slaves were needed to replace the slaves that died. It was the Royal Navy that largely maintained the sea lanes open that permitted the slave trade and the commerce that flowed from it to esist.
The French and Indian War was the colonial tgeater of the http://histclo.com/essay/war/swc/18/swc18-7yw.html">Seven Years War in Europe. The fighting in North America is commonly called the French and Indian War and the fighting began in North America when a Virginia militia unit commanded by none other than George Washington ventured into French territory. The French and India War can be seen as part of the Seven Years War, but they are major differences. The Seven Years War was essentially a combined European War to limit the aggressions of Prussia's Frederick the Great. The French and Indian War was a war over colonial control of North America. They are related in that France was deeply involved in both wars and they occurred at roughly the same time. the French and India War was fought by Britain and its North American colonies against France and its Indian (Algonquian) allies. France's North American colonies had evolved differently than the British colonies. The more limited French emmigration and differing attitudes toward Native Americans enduced the Algonquians to fight on their side against the British.
The British acquired Canada in the French and Indian Wars
The original quest for the European powers was China. It was why the Portuguese sailed south along the coast of Africa and why Colunmbus sailed west. Yhey wanted to reach and trade with China. The English were kate comers to China and found it difficult to compete with the Portuguese and Dutch who were already well established there. The English gradually began to focus on India. Other Europeans were estanlished there as well, especially the Portuguese and French. Control of India eventually came down to a struggle between the British and French. The issue was settled during the Seven Years War which some historians have referred to as the first world war. Britain obtained large areas of India from France at the same time it obtained Canada. England at first had the same problem in India that the other Europeans had in China, namely finding something to offer in trade besides bullion. This problem was only resolved by the Indstrial Revolution and the oproduction of low cost textiles. Thus only in the late 18th century did Britain begin to sell more east of Suez than they purchased. Parliament had attemoted to restrict the importation of printed calcos and muslins from India, but the growth of the English textile industry during the opening phase of the Indusytrial Revolution enabled Britain to sucessfully compete in the IJnduian market. This had enormous concequences. It mean that the East was no longer just a source of luxury products, but began to be seen as important markets for expanding British industry. East India Company created the Raj by both conquest and cash. The same Lord Cornwallis who lost America served as as Govenor General.
The Revolutionary War was an astounding occurrence in a world sill dominated by kings. It established the first important republic since Rome in the middle of what at the time was a wilderness far from Europe. It was a war that the British could have easily avoided had King George and his advisors been willing to show the least flexibility. Many in Britain objected to the War and a minority of Americans wanted independence at the time the war began. It was also a war that the American colonists won by the slimmest of margins against the most powerful country in the world. The Americans succeeded in their struggle only because they were aided by a French king who was opposed to offering the same liberties to his people that the Americans were demanding from their king. The American Revolution is a struggle that has been somewhat lost as a result of the much greater scholarly interest in America on the Civil War. As a result, most American's view the war through simplistic primary school readings which obscure the tremendously complicated course of events that led to the War and creation of America. English scholars, perhaps because Britain lost the War, have given it almost no scholarly attention.
This first British Empire was closed empire which resticted economic activity and trade in the colonies. Much of that empire was lost in the American Revolution (1776-83). The loss of America was a learning experience for the British. They changed their policies and adopted colonial policies that did not restrict economic activity. They also with a few exceptions adopted free trade policies. Building the British Empire did not proceed from an organized central plan. Much of it was accomplished by the actions of energetic locals on their own initiative. [Brendon] Several individuals plated important parts building the empire, men like Lord Elgin an Cecil Rhodes
The British beginning with the the Napoleonic Wars Britain in the 19th century gradually added colony after colony. Many were acquired in the process of protecting other colonies. The destruction of the Spanish-French fleet at Trafalgur (1805) had left Britain the preminent naval power of the age. The Royal Navy thus played a key role in building the Empire.
It was the Royal Navy that eventually ended the slave trade. The slave trade had been a lynch pin in thr triangular trade that has been a key element of the British economy and helped bring great wealth to Britain. It had in part helped to finance the growth of the Royal Navy. The expansion of the British merchant fleet under the protection of the Royal Navy resulted in Britain dominating the slave trade by the 18th century. British ships beginning about 1650 are believed to have transported as many as 4 million Africans to the New Wiorld and slavery. The British Parliament during the Napoleonic Wars banned the slave trade (1807). This was a decession made on moral grounds after a long campaign in Britain against slavery at considerable cost at a time of War. After Trafalgur (1805) the powerful British Royal Navy could intercept suspected slave ships under belligerent rights. After the cesation of hostilities this became more complicated. The only internationally recognized reason for boarding foreign ships was suspected piracy. Thus Britain had to persue a major diplomatic effort to convince other countries to sign anti-slavery treaties which permitted the Royal Navy to board their vessels if suspected of transporting slaves. Nearly 30 countries eventually signed these treaties. The anti-slavery effort required a substantial effort on the part of the Royal Navy. The major effort was carried out by the West Coast of Africa Station which the Admiralty referred to as the ‘preventive squadron’. The Royal Navy from this station for 50 years conducted operations to intercept slavers. At the peak of these operartions abour 25 ships and 2,000 officers and men were deployed. There were about 1,000 Kroomen, African sailors, operating West African Station. The Royal Navy deployed smaller, shallow draft vessels so that slavers could be persued in shallow waters. Britain also targeted African leaders who engaged in the slave trade. A British forced in one operation deposed the King of Lagos (1851). The climate and exposure to filthy diseased laden slave ships made the West African station dangerous. The officers and men were rewarded with Prize money for both freeing slaves and capturing the ships. The Royal Navy's task in East Africa and the Indian Ocean was even more difficult. This was in part because of the support for slavery among Islamic powers (both Arabian and Persian). The slave trade persisted into the 1860s, in part because of the continued existence of slavery in the United states. Eventhough thecslave trade was outlawed in America, the American Navy was not used to aggresively inters=dict the slave trade. This did not change until President Lincoln signed the Right of Search Treaty in 1862, a year before the Emancipation Proclamation. The Cuban trade ended (1866).
The primary motive as the Europeans launched their militaty outreach was the Eat, especially China. The Chnese had tea, silk, porcelain and much more. All this once reached Europe over the Silk Road and at great expense. Thev British and other Western European counties had no part in this valuable trade except as purchasers of expensive products. England was not the first to reach China, The Catholic Portuguese and Spanish were first. They led the age of discovery (15th and 16th centuries). Portugal and Spain pioneered European maritime exploration and the primary goal was to reach the East, primarily China. This was the beginning of the extensive Europan overseas empires. Envious of the enormous profits, the Protstant Ditch and English followed and eventually the Catholic French. Portugal was the first to round the Cape of Good Hope and reachInia, the Eat Indies an China. They had established frtified trading posts streached from Afria, across the Indian Ocean
to China. Spain became the dominant power in the Americas and entered the Pacific from their Latin American colonies. The Dutch also estanbished trading posts. The English thus had to contend with many well-established competitors. England had trouble competing in the original China trade with the Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch (16th and 17th century). Britain at first was not an important naval power (15th century). As the British began to establish their naval dominance and position in India this changed. The East India Company drove the expansion of the British Empire in Asia. China duruing this period continued to be the preeminant economic and political power in Asia. They produced all sorts of products the Europeans desired. The Europeans including the British produced the very little the Chinese wanted. The Chinese demanded silver, but the Europeand had only so much silver. The Europeans could not colonize all of China, it was just too large. Rather they establish coastal enclaves. The British established themselves in Hong Kong and Shanghai. They were geographically important for trade because of the port facilities, firt Shanghai and then Hong Kong. Shanghai was locate on East China Sea and Hangzhou Bay. Hong Kong was located on the Kowloon Peninsula along the South China Sea
The Industrial Revolution in Britain would change the trade situation in China. The new methods of proiduction meant that what was once considered luxuries were put within the means of the toiling masses. This began to undermine China's preminence in Asia. Britain successes in trade were matched in technical advances that poropelled the Britains to a position which they could challenge the Chinese Empire militarily.
The British challenge to the Chinse Empire finally led to war--the Opium Wars. The First Opium War was precipitated by the desire of English merchants to pursue a profitable trade. Opium was one of the few products that Engloish merchants in India could sell to China. The trade was opposed by the Chuinese Imperial Government foir both inderstandable moral reasons, but for economic reasolns as well. The Opium Wars were at their heart not really about opium. Rather they were wars of prestige and dominance. The Britush as well as other Western merchants were demanding the right to do business in China without interference by the Imperoal Government. This questuion was answered with the defeat of the Imperial forces in the Second Opium War (1860). Until the Opium Wars, the Chinese had refused to engage in diplomatic relations with the West on terms of equality. Foreigners had to kow-tow to the Emperor and foreign diplomats were not alloed to reside in Peking (Bejing). This changed with the conclusion of the Second Opium War. The Imperial Government was forced to conded the entry of foreign envoys to Peiking and yhey were not required to kow-tow. The ports open to foreigners were jncreased from 5 to 17. The island of Hong Kong wa ceded to Britain after the first Opium War (1842) and additional land was conceeded afyer the Second Opium War (1860). The rights of extra-territiriality were expanded.
British outposts in the Mediterranean began with Gibraltar. The British then obtained Malta in the Napoleonic Wars, followed by Corfu and Cyprus.
Two of those colonies were like the early United States and were colonized by people of British stock--building prticularly close ties.
Canada is the senior Dominion in the British Commonwealth and Empire and was primarily influenced first by France in the 1700s and then by Great Britain in the 1800s and the first half of the 1900s and finally by the United States since 1945. Until World War II, while French fashions, including smocks and berets, were popoular among French-speaking Canadian boys, British fashions were quite strong among the English-speaking Canadian population including breeches, shorts, knee socks, flat caps and sailor suits. However, due to Canada's close proximity to the United States, American fashions began to take prominance in Canada after the Second World War as jeans and T-shirts became the most common style for all Canadian boys, both English and French-speaking. Two other Dominions acquired un the 18th and 19th century were Australia and New Zealand.
The growth of The Britisj Empire is a complicated empire. Unlike many empires, the British were in many cases reluctant imperialists. This was represented by the long running differences between Benjamin Disreali and William Ewart Gladstone who dominated British politics in the mid/late-19th century. Disreali the Conservative argued to expand tge Empire. It was he who suggested Victoria become the Emperess of India.) Gladstone wanted to limit it.
The British effort was more chaotic. The Royal Navy gave the British the ability to essentially estblished colonies whereever they pleased. There was, however, considerable debate in Britiasin over the colonian enterprise. Colonies were created in both West and East Africa. In South Africa, the British not only faced the Bohrs, but also th Zulus. Cecil Rhodes dreamed of railroad connecting British colonies from Captown to Cairo. Ironically the greatest debate in Europe over adding colonies occurred in Britain the world's greatest imperial power. Control of the British Government fell back and forth between Benjamin Disraeli who was an apostle of empire and Willam Gladstone who question imperialism. Disreali managed to capture Queen Victoria's imagination, in part by dreaming up the idea of making her Emperess of India.
Suez was a key connecting point between Britain and its key colony, Indua. ThecFrench were principally responsible for building the Suez Canal. The British managed to gaon control of the joint stock company operating the Cabal (1875).
Colonel Ahmad Arabi ('Urabi) and the nationalists gained control of Tawfik Pasha's cabinent (early 1882). Nationalist elements in the Army threatened the Turkish and Circassian officers. Tawfik Pasha himsel was in danger. Nationalists led riots in Alexandria and other port cities. This threatened not only Tawfik Pasha, but the Europeans living there. Both Britain and France dispatched warships to blockade Alexandria. The British landed troops and formally made Egypt a protectorate (1882). The growth of The Britisj Empire is a complicated empire. Unlike many empires, the British were in many cases reluctant imperialists. This was represented by the long running differences between Benjamin Disreali and William Ewart Gladstone who dominated British politics in the mid/late-19th century. Disreali the Conservative argued to expand tge Empire. It was he who suggested Victoria become the Emperess of India.) Gladstone wanted to limit it. Gladstone did not forsee a prolonged occupation of Egypt or to formally seize political control. A factor here was the diplomatic consequences (the Sultan in Constantinople and other European powers), but the major factor was Gladstone's reluctance to further expand the Empire. Even Gladstone, however, was unwilling to abandon Egypt to the nationalists without securing Britain's position in Suez. And there seemed no way of doing this with a hostile nationalist regime. Thus a military presence ws deemed necessary. Subsequent colonial officials orojected an extended British presence.
Marxists predicted a war over colonies. When war came , it was in Europe a sparked more by nationalism than colonialism. None-the-less there were substantial consequences for the British Empire. On one hand the economic foundation of the British Empire was undermined by the huge cost od winning the war. On the other hand the Britis and French Empires expanded by acquiring the former German colonies in Africa and the Middle East.
The entire structure of the British Empire which had included a quarter of the earth's people unraveled in a very short period following World War II. The first to go was India (1947). As this was the center-poece of the Empire, the rest soon followed. Several factors explain the rapid disolution of the Empire. First was Britain's war-weakened economy and the cost of maintaining an empire. Second was the Labour Party with its Socialist anti-imperialist outlook. Third was the pressure of the Cold war and Soviet anti-colonial propaganda while building an empire in Eastern Europe, Fourth was the developing attitudes in Britain concerning Empire and racial supperiority. One historian writes, "At its heart waswas a betrayal of the civilized values which the British claimed to espouse." [Brendon]
The disolution of the Empire was in many instances messy and tragic: India/Pakistan, Ceylon, Singapore, Burma, Palestine, iraq, Egypt, cyprus, Aden, Kenya, Uganda, Rhodesia, Sudan, Ghana, Nigeria, and ireland. There was civil strife, violence, partition, military coups, autocracy, racism, and corruption. The great sucess of the Empire proved to be India where democracy took hold.
The size and duration of the British Empire meant that Brurain had a major impact on countries throughout the world. The impact included legal and governmental systems, economic practice, the military, educational systems, sports (such as cricket, rugby and football), and not the least in the global spread of the English language. One of the few national institutions holding India together, for example, is the Enhlish language which has become something of an internatiojal language.
Britain has been criticized for its colonialization effort and often rightly so. It is also true that Britain brought the modern world to many areas of the globe. There were many failures, but also a number of successes. The nmost obvious is America, but another is India. The vibrant Indian democratic system and thriving free enterorise economy are both part of the British inheritance.
Brendon, Piers. The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997 (2007).
Morris, Jan. Pax Britannica trilogy
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