The British Empire refers to a global dependencies’ system made of protectorates, colonies as well as other territories spanning for about three centuries under the Great Britain’s crown and the British government’s administration. In the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, Britain dominated many parts of the world. England made its tentative step towards making its presence felt past the ocean in the 1490s. In the 16th century, seamen from England such as Drake realized that raiding Spain could be more profitable. This tentatively marked the interest of Britain in expanding her territory to different parts of the world including America where England made the first attempt to expand in 1606.
What led to the emergence of the British Empire?
Commercial ambitions and maritime expansion as well as competition with other countries such as France led to the emergence of this empire. Establishment of settlements in the West Indies and North America also accelerated the emergence of this empire. As of 1670, Britain had established American colonies in Virginia, New England, Maryland as well as settlements in Barbados, Nova Scotia, Antigua, Honduras and Bermudas. In 1655, British also obtained Jamaica via an imperial conquest.
Basically, the emergence and growth of this empire was largely due to competition for markets and resources. This competition existed between England and Continental rivals for centuries. England was competing mainly with France, Holland and Spain. At the time when Elizabeth I was the Queen, England established trading companies in East Indies, Russia and Turkey. She also explored the North American coast where she had colonies. At the beginning of 17th century, the colonies expanded while systematic colonization of Ireland, in particular Ulster began.
How the empire was developed
At first, the empire was a mercantilist empire. It was under Cromwell and Stuarts. Eventually, outlines of empire building and further colonization became apparent. Up to the beginning of the 19th century, the imperialist policies were mainly aimed at facilitating the acquisition of more foreign territories. This entailed establishing companies that had political control and commercial monopolies in some places. They also established trading posts that were fortified in places where the indigenous governments were not strong. During the era of Victoria, territory acquisition and trading concessions increased. The imperialist policies were justified by their advocates with the invocation of racist and paternalistic theory. Thus, the empire thrived in not just strategic or economic ideas but the incapability of the primitive people to self-govern thereby necessitating British guidance.
What led to the fall of the British Empire?
Since the Second World War, this empire has been dipping. The British became prideful and content and she forgot the need to make her borders safe as well as to instill the nationalism sense in her people. This was mainly due to the past victories where the British fought valiantly for centuries. Eventually, Britain became comfortable and soft after growing wealth. Eventually, Britain was unable to protect her commercial interests especially overseas. Industrial competition posed by the United States and Germany also contributed to the decline of this empire. These countries were competing with Britain in terms of economic wealth and industrial power and they dominated trade in some places.
Costly wars such as the Boer war also affected the empire to a level where the United Kingdom almost became bankrupt. Dominions of New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and Australia also considered themselves as no longer the subjects of foreign people in their land. By the time the World War II came to an end, Britain had been exhausted to a level where it did not have enough money and manpower to sustain the entire empire. This combined with the fight for independence and presence of superpowers such as the United States after 1945 added pressure on the empire.
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