A short history of the British Empire

Expansion of the British
A short history of the British
• The British Empire was the largest empire in history and for a
substantial time was the foremost global power.
• by 1821, the British Empire held sway over a population of about
458 million people, approximately one-quarter of the world's
population. It covered about 36.6 million km², about a quarter of
Earth's total land area.
• The British Empire has its origins in the XVI century during the reign
of Queen Elizabeth I (1533 -1603)
• After the victory (1588) of the English navy over the Spanish
invincible Armada, England increased remarkably its maritime
• This led to overseas trade and the setting up of the first settlements
in North America.
• England imported luxury goods and re-exported them at higher
prices to the European countries which didn’t have a direct overseas
The Armada Portrait
Portrait of Elizabeth made to
commemorate the defeat of
the Spanish Armada (1588),
depicted in the background.
Elizabeth's international
power is symbolized by the
hand resting on the globe.
The Imperial Crown to her
right also indicated
England's growth as an
international power during
her reign.
(George Gower, ca 1588).
A short history of the British
• the rise, and successive growth, of the British Empire
was mainly due to economic reasons.
• with the Industrial Revolution the need for new markets
and new sources of raw materials accelerated the
expansion of the Empire.
• When Victoria became Queen, Great Britain had
settlements in:
• Canada,
• West Indies,
• Australia,
• New Zealand
• Africa
A short history of the British
• The years after Victoria’s ascent to the throne were
characterized by the acquisition of new territories both in
India and in Africa;
• in 1876 Queen Victoria was officially proclaimed
Empress of India
Situation in India
• In India the East India Company had established
several trading posts since the beginning of the XVII
century and …
• in the second half of the XVIII century it started to
conquer new territories.
• England imported tea, cotton, wood and pepper from
India and exported mainly cotton textiles and other
finished products.
• From 1857 India was ruled by a viceroy
A short history of the British
Situation in Africa
• British interests in Africa dated back to the XVII century when the
Royal Africa Company provided slaves for the English colonies in
the Caribbean islands.
• But the real expansion in this continent started in the second half
of the XIX century when a number of countries such as
• Egypt,
• Sudan,
• Nigeria,
• Kenya ,
• Uganda,
• Rhodesia,
• Zambia became part of the Empire.
A short history of the British
• In 1899 the interests of the Empire clashed with
those of the Boers in South Africa and caused
the Boer war which lasted 3 years but eventually
ended with the victory of Britain.
• This conflict was caused by both economic and
political reasons : the region was rich in
diamonds and gold mines and the Boer
authorities refused to grant civil rights to the
British immigrants.
The Empire in the XX century
• During the first half of the XX century
almost all the colonies turned into
dominions, this implied that they acquired
political independence from England
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