Key Facts & Summary:
- The British Empire was founded when England and Scotland were separate kingdoms.
- The beginning of the empire was not planned by anyone since there were no imperial constitution or office of the emperor.
- Humphrey Gilbert who was an explorer was granted patent by Elizabeth I to sail the Caribbean in order to establish a colony in North America.
From Gibraltar to Jamaica, from the Pacific coast of Canada to Australia, from South Africa to India and Hong Kong, the control of the seas and oceans belonged to the English. On the coasts of all the continents, colonies and points of support had been conquered since the 17th century. Everywhere, naval bases were created for the supply and maintenance of boats.
The British Isles, mainly composed of Great Britain and Ireland, is now divided into two states, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The United Kingdom consists of Great Britain, England, Wales, and Scotland, and in Ireland, Ulster, or Northern Ireland. As for the Republic of Ireland, it occupies the remaining four-fifths of Ireland. England dominated the political history of the British Isles. She absorbed Wales in 1536 and united with Scotland in 1707.
Britain, which until then had been a geographical entity, had also become a political entity, in which all the small surrounding islands (Orkney, Hebrides, Shetland, Man, Wight) were also included. The colonization of Ireland by England began in the twelfth century, and the political annexation of the island was made effective by an Act of Union, in 1800. The name, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, was then adopted for use by the British Empire. However, with the independence of Ireland, in 1921, this name became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The terms England or Great Britain, are commonly used as synonyms of United Kingdom.
The island of Great Britain was inhabited by the Celtic people and Britons. When the Ceaser of Italy descended on the British island between 54 AD to 56 AD, he and his army considered it a new world. The Roman army attempted to conquer Britain but they failed in these two expeditions:
The conquest of Britain, recommenced by the Romans under Emperor Claude, in 43 AD, was decided upon. Due to the lack of unity among the people that were living in Britain, the Roma army managed to conquer the lands. It was Agricola who, from the year 78 to the year 85, brought the Roman power in Britain to its highest point.
Between 117 to 138 AD, the Roman Emperor, Hadrian was opposed to the incursions of the Caledonians (the History of Scotland). This is because the Land was fortified with a ditch which extended through all the island (the Wall of Hadrian). A new defensive wall, in memory of Emperor Hadrian, was built under Antoninus (The Antonine Wall). Since the previous fortification was considered to be weak, the new wall was built of stone. The remains of this wall still attest to its solid construction.
Britain formed, in the Roman Empire, a diocese of the District of Gaules, subdivided into 6 provinces: B. I and. B. II., the Caesarean Grande, Cesarean Flavia, Valentia, and Vespasienne, which was in possession of the Romans. However, few ancient historians make little mention of it. Christianity entered Brittany as early as the second century BC as a result of the Roman conquest.
The Late Middle Ages.
The Romans had remained in England for about 400 years. In 420, the invasion of the Goths in Italy forced them to abandon completely their conquest and the Briton tribes recovered their complete independence.
Anglo-Saxons and Normans.
These tribes were divided into two confederations: Confederation of the Logrians in the East and the Confederation of the Cambrians in the West. The first confederation, in order to triumph over the second one, summoned foreign auxiliaries to the island. From 449 to 536, German-born pirates settled on the shores of the North Sea.
The Jutes, Saxons, Angles, came to England several times and ended up settling on most parts of the country, repressing in the mountains of Cumbria (Wales) and those of the Celts who did not want to submit to the foreign yoke.
The victors, all confounded together in history as Anglo-Saxons, founded seven small kingdoms known as the Heptarchy (Saxons: Kent, Sussex, Essex and Wessex, Angles: East Anglia, Mercia, and Northumbria). About 827-829, Egbert, king of Wessex, would unite all the kingdoms of Heptarchy in one and become the first to receive the title of king of England (king of the land of the Angles). They had been converted to Christianity around 596 by the Augustinian monk.
Meanwhile, from 787, new invaders, Danish pirates and Vikings, operating on the East Coast a series of raids, managed to enslave the Anglo-Saxons several times. A large part of the territory thus fell into the hands of new invaders, who made an incessant war against King Alfred. A Danish dynasty even settled in England, at the beginning of the eleventh century. The excess of the evils which they suffered urged the latter to rise. After the death of Knut, Edward the Confessor succeeded (1042 – 1046) to restore the Saxon dynasty; he left the crown to Harold II, also of Saxon origin.
The Anglo-Saxons, having re-established their national kings, thought themselves safe from all external danger when William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, came with his fleet carrying a powerful army to attack England. The only battle of Hastings (October 14, 1066) submitted the whole country to William. Proclaimed king, he immediately organized the feudal system in his new possessions. He and his barons treated the Anglo-Saxons as a conquered people but knew how to stifle any enterprise of rebellion.
Dating from this memorable event, the history of England is often closely intertwined with that of France, especially during the Hundred Years War, which almost destroyed French nationality. But it is already the case, when a dynasty of Angevine origin, the Plantagenets accedes to the throne of England in 1154, with Henry II.
The Plantagenets and the Tudors (twelfth – sixteenth century).
Events of great importance took place under the Plantagenet dynasty. Anjou, Touraine, Poitou, Saintonge, Auvergne, Périgord, Limousin, Angoumois, and Guienne were united to England by the accession to the throne of the leader of this dynasty in 1154. Ireland was conquered by this same prince in 1171.
England then lost Normandy, Maine, Anjou, Touraine, and Aquitaine, which were confiscated by Philip Augustus. The Great Charter (Magna Carta), the foundation of English liberty, was imposed by the invaders. Limousin, Perigord, Quercy, and Aquitaine were restored to Henry III. by St. Louis. The deputies of towns and villages, representatives of the Commons, were called to sit in Parliament with the spiritual and temporal lords, and the representatives of the counties. During the revolt of Simon of Montfort, county of Leicester, against Henry III, in 1265, the Kingdom of Wales was united to the crown in 1285 by Edward I, who also submitted temporarily to Scotland.
British Imperial Expansion
The English power developed its imperial expansion throughout the 19th century thanks to the undisputed mastery of the seas. The strategic desire to ensure the security of maritime commercial communications, particularly with India, reflected the logic of British expansion. From the west, the Gulf of Guinea provides points of support for Cape Town, which opened access to the Indian Ocean via the eastern coast.
From there, institutions in Malaysia marked the Strait of Malacca, a gateway to the China Sea, where Hong Kong served as a bridgehead to “opening” an area of influence in the Middle Kingdom. Another route to China from the west was marked by the annexation of the Falkland Islands and points of support in the Pacific.
But above all, the secular interest for the Mediterranean was doubling with the opening of the Suez Canal which significantly reduced the time and cost of transport to India. The control of this major axis was made easier for the British by the acquisition of Cyprus, the military occupation of Egypt, the protectorates on Aden and British Somaliland.
The territories and ports of the Empire were homes to military garrisons whose main forces were concentrated in strategic points on the main sea routes.
London also controlled most of the major transoceanic cables that formed, between 1865 and 1914, a global network of communication for military and commercial purposes. This influence was reflected by the adjustment of time zones to universal time on the meridian of Greenwich.
The influence of the United Kingdom also owed a lot to the emigration people from the metropolis to the settlements, and to the increase of Christian missionary societies that propagated British culture through the evangelization of the indigenous populations and fight against slavery. Spearhead of free trade until the 1870s, the United Kingdom tried, at the end of the century, to form with its empire a protected commercial space. But as the world’s largest financial power, it derived more profits from the “informal empire” of British investments in the world.