At its peak the British Empire was the largest empire that has existed. Following the Glorious Revolution there followed a period in which modern political Britain emerged. This developing Britain had a thirst for riches, was inquisitive and believed that her ideals and virtues were worthy of being spread. Exploration led to lands being settled, resources being acquired and domination of lands taking place. Wars were fought to maintain dominance. Empire impacted at home and abroad. It brought a diversity of people and goods. Empire also saw cultures collide and opposition turn to violence. The British Empire is both loved and loathed. It is a source of national pride to some and shame to others.
Making of the United Kingdom
Economic Consequences of Empire
– Royal African Company
– Triangular Trade
– Lifting of the RAC monopoly
– The Slave Economy
– Opposition to the Slave Trade in North America
– Slave Resistance
– East India Company
– Expansion of trade in East India
– Bank of England
– South Sea Bubble Bursts
How did the Empire affect working lives and consumer habits in Britain?
How did the Empire affect British politics and changing ideas?
Common questions about the British Empire
- When did the British Empire start?
- When did the British Empire end?
- What countries were in the British Empire?
- Why did Britain want an empire?
- What was life like in the British Empire?
- Was the British Empire a force for good or bad?
- What is Is perfidious Albion?
- How was the British Empire controlled?
British Global Domination
The British Empire dominated world trade and politics throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Emerging from the colonisation of North America it soon added trading companies that grew to control trade in Slaves, Spices, Sugar and Cotton. Companies such as the Royal African Company and East Indian Company became large, global concerns. Commercial ventures led to war, administrative control being asserted and British ways of life being imposed. This imposition of rule leads to critical commentary of some aspects of British rule. Exploration and settlement of virgin lands brought many benefits. It created new countries, such as Australia and New Zealand. Indigenous peoples were both feted and subjugated at times. Wars against indigenous peoples of North America, Australia and New Zealand show the extremes to which the British would go to expand her empire. Yet it was also the British who became the policemen of the seas. Though they weren’t the only European power to abolish Slavery, they were the ones who established naval patrols to intercept Slave ships.
Empire and Culture
Empire brought goods and culture from around the globe into the heart of the British Isles. The vast array of fabrics, foods, minerals and cultural ideas could all be found in shops. Fashion became influenced by colonial produce. Politicians and the monarchy became bound to the Empire. Views of how the population of this huge empire should be treated varied. Examples range from brutality, enslavement and nonchalant overworking of peoples through to views along more philanthropic or missionary basis.
The British Empire became involved in the politics of most parts of the globe. British interests were protected by the Royal Navy. A large army was nominally controlled by the British: the Empire providing millions of men to both world wars. Control could not be just won through weight of arms though. As the empire aged, it’s component parts began to want independence. From the American Revolutionaries onward there were calls for reform, for colonies to have a greater say in their governance. This led to dominion status for some, then, particularly after the Second World War, independence for others.
This unit has initially been developed based on the content of the OCR GCSE unit on the British Empire. It does not cover all aspects of the British Empire. Areas such as South Africa, Australia and New Zealand are not included on that course and so for the time being are not included here. Some of the content included in this unit on the British Empire are ones in which a great deal of scholarly work has been undertaken. They could quite easily be units in their own right, for example the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The pages here are intended to act as summaries suitable for young adults, learners at GCSE, A Level and K-12. Links to more academic work are included to extend this for teachers, interested adults and undergraduate students.
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