The Strange History Of The British Empire: How It Developed, Why It Fell Apart, And What Its Legacy Is
Take a journey through four centuries as you explore the British Empire—from its beginnings as a powerful maritime nation to its eventual collapse.
As you explore this wide-ranging and oftentimes complicated history, you’ll learn how a renowned pirate helped launch the Empire, how prisoners became more loyal than even pilgrims, and how wars help grow and destroy it.
You’ll also see how with advances in intercontinental communication, democracy was spread, along with life-saving medications that have benefited generations ever since.
As you delve into the past of this once great empire, you will understand why some see it as an example of imperialism gone wrong, while many others recognize it for bringing stability and promoting international trade to much of the world during its peak years.
Discover the highs and lows of this historic legacy from one of today’s most distinguished historians—Niall Ferguson—in Empire: How Britain Made The Modern World.
The Rise Of The British Empire Started With Buccaneering And Piracy
In the sixteenth century, England had to come up with a strategy to compete with Spain and its overseas conquests.
The answer, they decided, was to send out buccaneers, or private naval warfare sanctioned by the English crown.
This move was focused less on colonizing areas for England and more on challenging the Spanish Empire and stealing its untold riches in silver and gold.
These buccaneers became famous for their daring raids on Spanish colonies, including famous figures such as Henry Morgan and Christopher Newport.
Their exploits brought riches not only to themselves but also helped form the foundations of the British Empire.
For example, Morgan purchased land in Jamaica which turned out to be perfect for growing sugarcane – what would eventually become an official colony of England, with Morgan as its Governor.
It is clear then that without buccaneers there wouldn’t have been an England-controlled empire anymore than without Columbus there would have been an America.
So it is safe to say that buccaneers undoubtedly planted some of the first seeds of British colonization around the world!
Through Competition And Financial Revolutions, The British Empire Expanded Its Reach Through Commerce And Consumerism
The British Empire was built on the backs of commerce and consumerism.
When demand for imported goods from areas such as sugar, coffee, tea, tobacco, cotton, ginger, chocolate and rice skyrocketed in the eighteenth century; it was clear there were big profits to be made.
The English fueled this expansion by their boundless enthusiasm for acquiring imported goods with sugar leading the way – Jamaican sugar cane quickly made it accessible for both aristocrats and commoners alike.
To fulfil this increasing demand, two East India Companies were founded – one Dutch and one English – sparking a fierce competition that witnessed three wars between England and the Dutch Republic in just twenty-two years.
Ultimately though, it was the Dutch who bested England in both war and commerce due to their advanced economy that included financial institutions set up to support their national currency and navy while also managing national debt.
This prompted a coup in England – King James II was overthrown by a powerful aristocrat group who initiated an import of Dutch wealth into England including a merger of both East India Companies and created the Bank of England modelled after Amsterdam’s famous bank.
This allowed for government bonds to be issued as well as money raised for credits and debts thus strengthening Britain’s navy further (than already done through commerce) which helped lay foundations for many new colonies within areas such as India, South East Asia, Africa & West Indies all powered by consumer demand!
The Britsh Empire Underwent Expansion Through European Wars, Territorial Exchanges, And Bureaucratic Control
In the early eighteenth century, tensions began to reach boiling point between France and England.
In 1707, the parliaments of Scotland and England officially united, giving birth to the United Kingdom of Great Britain.
This newfound partnership proved to be a key factor in British expansionism.
The Seven Years’ War was one of the first true world wars and involved all major European powers—including Prussia, Austria, Russia and Spain.
Primarily fought over territories in North America, Britain emerged victorious due largely in part thanks to its superior financial strength compared to that of France.
As a result, France ceded much of its lands in Canada and other strategic areas like India—boosting Britain’s foothold on global power even further.
It became clear during this period that Europe was preparing for what we now call imperialism.
Numerous conflicts broke out as European powers tried to increase their global influence through territorial gains and land rights; these struggles showcasing just how serious empire-building missions actually were.
Migration, Indentured Servitude, And The Slave Trade Populated The British Empire
Migration and the slave trade were two major factors contributing to the British Empire’s rapid population growth in the seventeenth century.
As Europeans left for new colonies in North America, about 700,000 people from British Isles also set out for India, hoping to make a fortune and return home as ‘Nabobs’.
At the same time, servitude was a major factor driving migration – indentured servants had few prospects in their homelands and so sought freedom after five years of servitude.
Many didn’t survive their journey, however, or faced mistreatment at their employers’ hands once they arrived.
Finally, the slave trade from sixteenth to eighteenth centuries saw millions of African people forcibly transported by British ships across oceans to Caribbean colonies and North American territories – leading to unimaginable suffering and deaths.
But thankfully things began changing in late 18th century as powerful abolitionist groups started gaining political victories until finally in 1808 slavery was officially banned in Britain’s Empire.
Britain Learned From The Loss Of The American Colonies, Allowing For Self-Government In Other Territories And Establishing Oversight To Protect Indigenous Peoples
As the British Empire expanded, its governing body faced a difficult challenge: how to effectively maintain control over distant colonies like Australia while also ensuring self-determination and freedom.
This balancing act could be seen even before the formation of the USA, when Britain granted religious freedom to those who sailed across the Atlantic.
When the Americans rebelled and won their independence in the late 18th century, it became even clearer that Britain needed to find ways of controlling its other colonies without coming into direct conflict with them.
To do this, they began granting them self-governance but maintained an oversight role in certain key areas for stability.
For example, in Australia, where violent clashes between farmers and Aborigines was taking place much like the conflicts happening between Native Americans and US government in America, the British created Aboriginal Protectorates in New South Wales and Western Australia.
This limited power over colonists while still allowing their own people protection from direct harm.
In Victorian India, The Imposition Of Christianity Led To Unrest And Rebellion
In the Victorian Era, Christian missionaries had started to make their way into India, with the mission of converting local people.
The British were also trying to effectively exploit India for economic purposes, and as such welcomed these missionaries in order to further spread their influence.
The missionaries had genuine concerns about various traditions in India that involved females; namely, female infanticide and the practice of sati – which saw a Hindu widow being burned alive atop her deceased husband’s funeral pyre.
These reports were often exaggerated although it is believed that this played a role in strengthening resolve amongst Christian-minded organizations based in Britain.
This led to changes in social customs and resulted in important victories such as the Maharaja of Marwar officially banning the practice of female infanticide and William Bentinck’s 1829 ban on sati.
However, some Indians questioned whether this was just the beginning of heightened religious impositions by colonial rulers, including Lt.-Col William Playfaire who warned against unrest if such measures were put forward.
In addition to this, there was also uproar when bullets issued to Indian Army soldiers required them to bite off ends which was against their faith.
This was seen as another example of religious interference leading to an uprising across India known as The Indian Rebellion of 1857.
The Sepoy Mutiny Of 1857 Showcased The Cruelty And Brutality Of British Rule In India, Resulting In Large-Scale Massacres And The Adoption Of The Government Of India Act To Officially Bring India Under British Control
The British Empire had an expansive reach in Africa during the 19th century, thanks to commercial needs and desires.
The most notable example of this is Dr.
He was a quintessential Victorian missionary, who recognized that many Africans were “wiser than their white neighbors” despite the fact that they laughed off his attempts to introduce Christianity.
Despite this setback, he still believed in the potential of commerce and dreamt of bringing wholesome business opportunities to Africa’s heartlands.
This desire for commercial expansion continued with people like Cecil Rhodes who was backed by wealthy banker Nathaniel de Rothschild.
With a 700-man army and powerful machine guns such as the Maxim, Rhodes tricked Matabele king into signing over mineral rights when, in reality, he took everything – creating a new British territory called Rhodesia.
Rhodes wasn’t satisfied with just securing this territory however; he desired an uninterrupted pathway of British controlled territories stretching from north to south Africa and by the start of the 20th century, his vision had come close to becoming reality.https://www.historyofinformation.com/detail.php?entryid=2929
The Scramble For Africa Highlighted The Unsustainable Cost Of British Imperialism And Prepared The Way For World War I
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, a period known as the Scramble for Africa saw countries all over Europe vying for colonies in Africa.
This led to Britain having claims stretching from Egypt in the north to South Africa, forming a nearly complete chain with only German East Africa interrupting their colony rule.
This was both their greatest and most costly period of imperial rule–the high watermark of Empire that would soon prove untenable.
In order to secure diamond and gold reserves in southern Africa, Britain engaged in what are now known as the Boer Wars – an ongoing saga between 1880-1902 against Dutch settlers in south-east Africa.
The violence employed by British forces not only involved burning 30,000 Boer homes but also keeping women and children in concentration camps – where nearly 30,000 died – and another 14,000 black prisoners dying in internment camps too.
This tragic event swept across London with grief and indignation at unnecessary death and suffering – where the Liberal party seized upon this moment to take control of government from Conservatives.
Criticism at home over Britain’s overseas holdings reached a boiling point prior to World War I when Germany was playing up tensions.
Seeking war seemed dangerous with Germany having such a superior army, however there was no option that could be accepted that allowed Germany free reign as world ruler – therefore ultimately Britain had to fight back despite untenable financial costs mentioned by J A Hobson who wrote “Imperialism: A Study” suggesting a huge tax burden fell on the wealthiest elite carrying out imperialism activities supported by British citizens.
The Rise And Fall Of The British Empire Shows That Empires Cannot Last Forever
The end of the British Empire was caused by two major costly wars.
Following World War I, the financial drain on Britain proved to be too much when they were given the territory of Iraq and the cost in 1921 alone was more than what the UK spent on health care that year.
This prompted Britain to invest more into rebuilding their defenses and modernizing their military, but they were not able to do this in time for World War II.
The lack of modern tanks and artillery They had left them in an incredibly weakened position, and it was Winston Churchill who understood Hitler’s intentions for a treaty to be false.
With the help of soldiers from the Empire, Britain managed to win the war with around 5 million troops raised.
However, due to America’s entry into the war being decisive and making demands after its end, Britain left with massive debt and a need for rebuilding instead of maintaining its vast empire.
India would gain independence in 1947 and become one among fifty-four members of The Commonwealth which replaced The British Empire as a globalized economy strengthened.
Ultimately, it is clear that following two major wars, The British Empire collapsed due to its costly aftermaths.
The British Empire is a complex and varied phenomenon that began in the 1600s with the help of pirates like Henry Morgan who helped it to expand its global presence.
Competition with France led to the Seven Years’ War which helped solidify key territories like India, but the loss of America was still a crucial blow.
In spite of this though, Britain made important gains with Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
In addition, further gains were made in Africa during the beginning of the twentieth century.
However, these days attitudes towards colonialism have changed drastically, and following two world wars the costs for maintaining an Empire have grown too high.
Currently, there has been growing talk about creating a modern voluntary version of a global empire as an attractive proposition, but nevertheless the stigma of colonialism remains present around the world.