The British Empire ( English British Empire or shortly Empire ) was the largest empire in history. Under the rule of the United Kingdom, it united Dominions , Crown Colonies , Protectorates , Mandate Areas and other dependent territories that had emerged from the English overseas possessions, trading posts and penal colonies . In 1922, at the time of its greatest expansion, it comprised 458 million inhabitants, a quarter of the world's population at that time. It extended over an area of approximately 33.67 million km², which corresponds to a quarter of the land area of the earth. Like the Spanish colonial empire before, the empire was also regarded as an "empire in which the sun never sets". His political , legal , linguistic and cultural influence is still felt today in many parts of the world. Colonial borders also play a role in today's regional conflicts, as does the continued ties between the countries in the Commonwealth of Nations .
In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Age of Discovery , Spain and Portugal were the pioneers of European exploration and conquest of the world. They formed huge colonial empires that brought them immense wealth. Spurred on by this, England, France and the Netherlands also began to build their own colonies and trade networks in America and Asia. After several wars against France and the Netherlands in the 17th and 18th centuries, England ( the Kingdom of Great Britain with Scotland under the Act of Union 1707 ) established itself as the leading colonial power in America and India. The secession of the Thirteen Colonies after the American War of Independence (1775–1783) meant the loss of the most populous overseas territories, but Britain soon turned to Africa , Asia and Oceania . After the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, Great Britain exercised almost unchallenged dominance over the oceans for over a century. The country was the first industrial nation and paved the way for capitalism to triumph over the world . Since the 19th century it had by far the largest merchant and war fleets in the world for many decades , was considered the strongest sea and world power and practiced splendid isolation until around 1902 . Several settler colonies, whose population increased mainly due to the steady influx of emigrants from the motherland, were given more autonomy over time and were elevated to dominions .
The year 1875 marks Britain's entry into the new imperialist age . At that time, the conservative Disraeli government bought the shares of the Egyptian ruler Ismail in the Suez Canal Company for 4 million pounds in order to secure this strategically important trade route to India as part of the Indian trade . Joint British-French financial control of Egypt ended with the formal occupation by Great Britain in 1882 . The rivalry with Russia (see: The Great Game ), which had first escalated in the Crimean War (1854–1856), and the fear of Russian expansion towards the south and India was another factor in British politics. In 1878 the island of Cyprus was occupied in response to the Russo-Turkish War . Even Afghanistan was temporarily occupied to push back Russian influence there. Britain waged three unsuccessful wars in Afghanistan .
Because of the growing influence of the German Empire and the United States , Great Britain increasingly lost its political and economic supremacy from around 1900. Economic and political tensions with the German Reich are among the most important causes of the First World War , in which Great Britain relied to a large extent on the support of its colonies. The USA had already developed into the strongest industrial and economic power in the world before 1914. Although Great Britain reached its greatest expansion after the end of the war in 1918 with the takeover of German colonies, financial problems and increasing aspirations for autonomy heralded the end of its global importance. During World War II, the Japanese occupation of the colonies in Southeast Asia diminished British prestige. Despite the victory in 1945, the decline could no longer be stopped, as Britain was almost financially ruined by the long war. The most populous colony, India , gained independence just two years after the end of the war.
While the colonies in Australia , Canada , New Zealand and South Africa had already achieved a certain degree of independence as Dominions in the 19th and early 20th centuries and then steadily expanded them, most of the territories of the British Empire were in the course of the second half of the 20th century the decolonization to independent states. For example, in 1960, in the so-called “ African Year ”, Nigeria and British Somaliland gained their sovereignty. The process of decolonization was largely completed in 1997 with the return of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China . After gaining independence, most of the former colonies joined the Commonwealth of Nations , a loose association of sovereign states. To date, 16 Commonwealth States, as Commonwealth Realms, recognize the British monarch as the common head of state. In addition, 14 smaller overseas territories remain under British sovereignty.
Basics (until 1583)
The Kingdom of England acquired its first possessions outside the main British island when the Kingdom of Scotland still existed in the north . The Plantagenet royal family ruled over England and all of western France (the so-called Angevin Empire ) in the second half of the 12th and early 13th centuries . The English possession on the European mainland was almost completely lost until 1453 in the Hundred Years War , the last of which was the port city of Calais which fell to France in 1558 .
The cornerstone of the world empire was the extension of the English sphere of influence to the British Isles themselves. It began in 1171 with the invasion of Ireland and the proclamation of the Lordship of Ireland , although direct English rule was initially limited to small areas on the east coast, especially the Pale around Dublin . It was not until the second half of the 16th century that England was able to expand its influence over the entire island with the Plantations . After more than two centuries of armed conflict, Wales was finally conquered in 1283. Scotland also came under English rule in 1296, but freed itself for around four centuries after the Wars of Independence .
After the successes of the Spanish and Portuguese voyages of discovery in the “ New World ”, King Henry VII commissioned the Italian navigator Giovanni Caboto ( anglicized as John Cabot ) to follow the example of Christopher Columbus and look for a sea route to Asia in the North Atlantic . Cabot's expedition set out in 1497 and landed on the Newfoundland coast in what is now Canada . The following year, Cabot led a second expedition, but it is lost. Henry VII promoted the development of seafaring and had the first dry dock in Europe built in Portsmouth in 1495 . He also reformed the still small English fleet from which the Royal Navy developed.
No further efforts were made to establish English colonies in America until the second half of the 16th century, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The Reformation had made enemies of England and Catholic Spain. From 1562 the English crown decreed state-authorized piracy. English privateers such as John Hawkins and Francis Drake were initially not very successful in their efforts to gain a foothold in the lucrative slave trade across the Atlantic by attacking West African coastal cities and Portuguese ships . As tensions with Spain intensified, Queen Elizabeth gave her formal consent to sack Spanish cities on the American continent and raid the treasure-laden Spanish galleons returning from the New World . Influential scholars such as Richard Hakluyt and John Dee (who was the first to use the term "British Empire" ) began to demand the establishment of an English empire that would rival the Spanish and Portuguese empires.
First British Empire (1583–1783)
From 1577 to 1580 Francis Drake achieved the second circumnavigation in history. In 1578 Queen Elizabeth I endowed the adventurer Humphrey Gilbert with official privileges for discovery and exploration overseas. Gilbert sailed to the Caribbean with the aim of pirating and establishing a colony in North America. But the expedition had to be abandoned before it even crossed the Atlantic. In 1583 he made a second attempt and came to Newfoundland . He formally took the island into English possession and took command of the local fishing fleet, but the attempt at permanent settlement was not made. Gilbert died on his return to England. In 1584, his half-brother Walter Raleigh received his own privileges and founded the Roanoke colony off the coast of North Carolina , which, however, failed due to a lack of supplies.
In 1603 the Scottish King James VI came. to the English throne, with which the two states were linked in personal union. In the following year he ended hostilities with Spain. Due to the now prevailing peace with the main rival, the English interest shifted from forays into colonies of other states towards the systematic construction of their own colonial empire. The British Empire began in the early 17th century with the colonization of North America and smaller Caribbean islands and the establishment of a private trading company, the East India Company , to trade with Asia. The following era to the loss of the Thirteen Colonies after the American Revolution in the late 18th century is called the "First British Empire" (First British Empire) referred.
Africa, America, Europe and the slave trade
The most important and lucrative English colonies were initially in the Caribbean, but only after a few attempts at colonization had failed. The British Guiana colony, founded in 1604, lasted only two years and its main goal - to find gold deposits - was not achieved. The first colonies on the islands of St. Lucia (1605) and Grenada (1609) also had to be abandoned soon. On the other hand, efforts on St. Kitts (1624), Barbados (1627) and Nevis (1628) were successful from the start . The colonies soon adopted the system of sugar cane - plantations , which the Portuguese in Brazil had successfully introduced. The prerequisite for this in America, however, was the work of imported slaves from Africa and - at least initially - the support of Dutch ships, which sold the deportees, bought the sugar for it and brought it to Europe. In order to ensure that the rising profits did not flow too much abroad, the English Parliament passed the Navigation Act in 1651 , which only allowed English ships to trade in English colonies. This move resulted in hostilities with the Republic of the Seven United Provinces . In the ensuing Anglo-Dutch naval wars , England was able to expand its influence in America at the expense of the Dutch. In 1655 the English conquered Jamaica from the Spanish and in 1666 the Bahamas were colonized .
The first permanent English settlement in North America was founded in 1607 and by the London Company managed Jamestown in Virginia . The founding of the Bermuda Colony goes back to shipwrecked people who were stranded there in 1609 on their way to Jamestown. The Virginia Company lost its privileges in 1624 and Virginia became a crown colony . The London and Bristol Company (better known as Newfoundland Company ) was founded in 1610. Their goal was to establish a permanent settlement on Newfoundland, but it failed. The Pilgrim Fathers , a strictly Puritan religious community, founded the colony of Plymouth , Massachusetts in 1620 . They were the first to avoid religiously motivated persecution through the arduous crossing to North America. Maryland (1634) was a refuge for Catholics , Rhode Island (1636) was tolerant of all denominations, and Congregationalists were drawn to Connecticut (1639). In 1663 the province of Carolina was founded. In 1664, England conquered the colony of Nieuw Amsterdam in the second Anglo-Dutch naval war and renamed it New York . In 1681, William Penn founded the Pennsylvania colony . The colonies on the American mainland were less financially successful than those in the Caribbean, but had large areas of good farmland and attracted far more British emigrants, who preferred the cooler climate.
In 1670 King Charles II granted the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) a Royal Charter giving them a monopoly on the fur trade in what was then known as Rupert's Land ; an extensive territory that today corresponds to a large part of Canada . The forts and trading posts built by the HBC were repeatedly attacked by the French, who had established their own fur trading colony in neighboring New France .
The Royal African Company , founded in 1672, was given the monopoly by Charles II of supplying the British colonies with African slaves. From the beginning, human trafficking and enslavement formed the basis of all colonies in the Caribbean. Until the ban on the slave trade (but not the keeping of slaves) in 1807, the British were responsible for the abduction of 3.5 million African slaves, representing a third of all people transported across the Atlantic. To facilitate human trafficking, forts such as James Island or Bunce Island were built on the coast of West Africa . Mainly because of the increasing European consumption of sugar from sugar cane plantations, the proportion of African slave labor in the Caribbean colonies rose from 25 to 80 percent between 1650 and 1780, and in the thirteen colonies from 10 to 40 percent (with slaves making up the majority of the population in the southern colonies ). For cities in the west of England like Bristol and Liverpool , which formed one of the three sides of the Atlantic triangular trade , human trafficking was a major economic factor. Unsanitary conditions on the ships, sexual abuse, people being chained and poor nutrition meant that every seventh deportee died on the crossing.
Even Scotland strove to build in America colonies. Nova Scotia was taken over in 1621, but was lost to France ten years later. The Darién Project , approved by the Scottish Parliament in 1695, envisaged the establishment of a colony on the Isthmus of Panama to stimulate trade between Scotland and the Far East. The project failed miserably and shattered public finances. So severe were the consequences - a quarter of Scotland's capital was lost - that England and Scotland decided to unite the two states. With the Act of Union 1707 , the Kingdom of Great Britain was established and the English took over the Scottish debts.
Rivalry with the Netherlands in Asia
At the beginning of the 17th century, England and the Netherlands began to question Portugal's monopoly on trade with Asia. Private joint-stock companies were established to finance the trade trips - the English East India Company (later British East India Company ) and the Dutch East India Company were founded in 1600 and 1602, respectively. The main aim of these companies was to secure as large a share as possible in the lucrative Indian trade . The relative proximity of the capitals London and Amsterdam and the rivalry between the two countries led to conflicts between the societies. The Dutch secured a position of supremacy on the Moluccas (previously a Portuguese stronghold), while the English gained a foothold in India .
Although the English later surpassed the Dutch as a colonial power, the latter temporarily gained supremacy in Asia in the 17th century due to a more developed financial system and the effects of the Anglo-Dutch naval wars. Hostilities ended after the Glorious Revolution in 1688 when the Dutchman William of Orange ascended the English throne. A treaty between the two states left the spice trade in the Indonesian archipelago to the Netherlands and the textile trade in India to England. The textile trade was soon more profitable than the spice trade, and by 1720 British society had surpassed Dutch society. The British East India Company no longer focused on Surat , a center of the spice trade, but on Fort St. George, which later became Madras or Chennai , Bombay (today Mumbai , given by the Portuguese in 1661 as a dowry for Katharina von Braganza ) and Sutanuti, one of three villages that made up the city of Calcutta .
Clashes with France
The peace between England and the Netherlands in 1688 meant that both countries were allied in the Palatinate War of Succession (1688–1697). However, England was able to concentrate a large part of its military spending on the simultaneous King William's War , while the Dutch were forced to defend themselves against the French on mainland Europe and their colonial expansion came to a standstill. In the 18th century, Britain rose to become the world's leading colonial power, making France its main rival.
The death of the Spanish King Charles II and the inheritance claim of Philip of Anjou , a grandson of the French King Louis XIV , made the possibility of the unification of Spain and France and their colonies unacceptable, which was unacceptable for the other major European powers. In the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714), Great Britain, Portugal, the Netherlands and the Holy Roman Empire allied against Spain and France. A parallel theater of war between Great Britain and France was the Queen Anne's War in North America . In the Peace of Utrecht , Philip of Anjou renounced his claim to the French throne and Spain lost its possessions in Europe. Great Britain benefited most. It received Newfoundland and Acadia from France, Gibraltar and Menorca from Spain . Gibraltar, which is still in British possession today, became a strategically important naval base and enabled the British to control access from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean . The British returned Menorca in the Peace of Amiens in 1802 . Spain also granted Great Britain the right to the lucrative Asiento de Negros , that is, permission to sell slaves in Latin America .
The Seven Years War (1756–1763) was the first war with worldwide repercussions. The theaters of war were Europe , India , North America , the Caribbean , the Philippines and the coastal areas of Africa . In the United States, the conflict is known as the French and Indian War. The signing of the Peace of Paris had a major impact on the future of the British Empire. French colonial rule in North America ended with the recognition of British claims to Rupert's land and the cession of New France to Great Britain. Spain was awarded Louisiana by France and left Florida to the British. After the Third Carnatic War , France retained control of some enclaves in India, but had to tolerate military restrictions and undertake to support the British vassal states. Thus, Britain was the leading colonial power after the Seven Years' War.
Rise of the Second British Empire (1783-1815)
Rule in India
The British East India Company (BEIC) focused on trading in India in the first century of its existence, as it was unable to challenge the powerful Mughal Empire that had granted the English trading rights in 1617. This changed in the 18th century when the power of the Mughals gradually began to decline under the rule of Aurangzeb, and especially his descendants. In the Carnatic Wars of the 1740s and 1750s, the BEIC gained the upper hand over the rival French East India Company . The victory in the Battle of Plassey over the Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula in 1757 resulted in the unrestricted rule of the BEIC in the economically important province of Bengal . The company established itself as the leading military and political power in India.
In the following decades she was able to gradually expand the territory she ruled. After the Third Marathas War (1817/18) it ruled over large parts of southern India, either directly or through vassals in the Indian princely states , which were under strict control. The local rulers had to recognize the supremacy of Great Britain and were deposed if they refused. The BEIC troops were mostly made up of sepoys . Other conquests were Rohilkhand (1801), Delhi (1803), Sindh (1843), Punjab and Northwestern Frontier Province (both 1849), Berar (1854) and Oudh (1856).
Loss of the Thirteen Colonies
Relations between Great Britain and the Thirteen Colonies in North America deteriorated noticeably in the 1760s and 1770s , particularly as the British Parliament tried to introduce taxes without the settlers being adequately represented in Parliament, which was expressed in the slogan " No taxation without representation " was exemplarily expressed. The British reacted to the Boston Tea Party and other violent riots with the Intolerable Acts , which in 1775 led to the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War . In 1776 the colonists issued the United States' Declaration of Independence . After the decisive victory of the insurgents in the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, Great Britain had to recognize the independence of the United States two years later in the Peace of Paris .
The loss of a significant part of British North America , then the most populous British overseas territory, is referred to by historians as the transition between the "first" and the "second world empire"; Great Britain's attention was no longer focused on North America, but rather on Asia, the Pacific and later also the interior of Africa. In his major work, The Prosperity of Nations , published in 1776, the Scottish economist Adam Smith called colonies superfluous and called for the old mercantilist economic policy to be replaced by free trade . The increasing trade with the independent United States after 1783 seemed to confirm Smith's theory that political control is not a prerequisite for economic success. Tensions between the two states escalated during the Coalition Wars when Britain tried to block American trade with France and forcibly recruited American sailors to serve in the Royal Navy . In the British-American War (1812–1814) neither side was able to gain a decisive advantage and the Peace of Ghent essentially restored the prewar situation.
The events in North America influenced British politics in Canada , where tens of thousands of loyalists had settled after the War of Independence . The 14,000 loyalists who moved to the Saint John River felt too isolated from the colonial government in Halifax that in 1784 the British government separated the new colony of New Brunswick from Nova Scotia . The Constitutional Act of 1791 created the provinces of Upper Canada and Lower Canada ; the former was mostly English-speaking, the latter mostly French-speaking. This should reduce tensions between the population groups. Another goal was to strengthen the rule of the central government and not allow the kind of self-government which, from the British point of view, had led to the American Revolution.
Expansion in the Pacific
Since 1718, deportation to America has been the punishment for numerous criminal offenses in Great Britain. Every year around 1,000 convicts were transported across the Atlantic. After the loss of the Thirteen Colonies, the British government was forced to find a new destination for deportations, which Australia offered itself . In 1770, James Cook discovered the east coast of Australia on his scientific expedition in the South Pacific and took possession of the continent for Great Britain. Joseph Banks , Cook's botanist on this trip, convinced the government in 1778 that Botany Bay was a suitable location for a convict colony. The first fleet of prisoners, the First Fleet , left Portsmouth in 1787 and reached Australia a year later. The first settlement was not built in Botany Bay, but in nearby Sydney Cove , from which the future city of Sydney emerged. Deportations to the New South Wales colony continued until 1840. At that time it had a population of 56,000, the majority of whom were convicts, freedmen and their descendants. Australia became a profitable exporter of wool and gold.
During his trip, Cook made it to New Zealand . In 1769 he took possession of the North Island and in 1770 the South Island . At first, contact between Māori and Europeans was limited to the exchange of trade goods. Especially in the north, whaling stations were built in the first half of the 19th century. In 1839 the New Zealand Company announced that it would acquire large tracts of land and establish colonies in New Zealand. In 1840, Captain William Hobson and around 40 Māori representatives signed the Waitangi Treaty . This treaty is considered the founding document of New Zealand, but different interpretations of the English and Māori versions still cause legal disputes to this day. In the New Zealand Wars (1845–1872) the British were able to enforce their rule over all of New Zealand.
Napoleonic Wars and the Abolition of Slavery
During the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte , Great Britain was challenged again by the newly formed French Empire in the so-called British-French colonial conflict. In contrast to the past, it was not just a matter of armed conflict between states, but also between ideologies. Not only was British supremacy in the world at risk; Napoléon also threatened to conquer Great Britain himself, like numerous other states on the European mainland. The British invested many resources and large sums of money to win the war in their favor. The Royal Navy blocked French ports and won a decisive victory over the Franco-Spanish fleet in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 . France was finally defeated by a coalition of European armies in 1815. Again, Britain was the greatest beneficiary of peace treaties. According to the conditions negotiated at the Congress of Vienna, France had to cede the Ionian Islands , Malta , the Seychelles , Mauritius , St. Lucia and Tobago . The British received Trinidad from Spain, Guiana and the Cape Colony from the Netherlands . In return, the British returned Guadeloupe , Martinique , Gorée , French Guiana and Réunion to France, and Java and Suriname to the Netherlands - territories they had occupied during the coalition wars.
The British government came under increasing pressure from the abolitionism movement, whereupon Parliament passed the Slave Trade Act in 1807 , which banned the slave trade, but not slavery, throughout the British Empire. Sierra Leone was established in 1808 as the official British colony for freed slaves. The Slavery Abolition Act passed by Parliament in 1833 made not only the slave trade illegal, but slavery itself. On August 1, 1834, all slaves in the Empire were given freedom.
Great Britain's "Imperial Century" (1815–1914)
The period between 1815 and 1914 is referred to by some historians as the "imperial century". After defeating France, Britain had no serious rivals, with the exception of the Russian Empire in Central Asia . The British, unrestrictedly dominant at sea, took on the role of a “world policeman”, a state doctrine later known as “ Pax Britannica ”. Foreign policy was shaped by the principle of “ splendid isolation ”: other powers were bound by conflicts in Europe, while the British stayed out and expanded their supremacy by concentrating on trade. Great Britain not only exercised control over its own colonies, but thanks to its leading position in the world economy also influenced the domestic politics of numerous nominally independent states. These included China , Argentina and Siam , also known as the “informal empire”.
New technologies developed in the second half of the 19th century supported the imperial power of Great Britain. These included the steamship and telegraphy , which facilitated the coordination, control and defense of the Empire. Until 1902, all colonies were linked by a network of telegraph cables, the All Red Line .
The East India Company in Asia
British policy on Asia in the 19th century was mainly aimed at securing and expanding rule in India, since it was the most important colony and was considered the key to the rest of Asia. The British East India Company drove the expansion of the Empire into Asia. The company's army first worked with the Royal Navy in the Seven Years War (1756–1763) . They also cooperated outside of India, for example in the expulsion of the French from Egypt (1799), the temporary conquest of Java by the Dutch (1811), the acquisition of Singapore (1819) and Malacca (1824) and the conquest of Burma (1826).
Of their Indian base of the company was since the 1730s as part of the China trade in the increasingly profitable opium business involved with China. This trade, the Emperor Yongzheng had declared 1729 to be illegal, contributed to the negative British trade balance , resulting from the import of tea and silk showed reversed and the outflow of foreign exchange to China, leading to a noticeable shortage of British silver reserves had led , could be stopped. When the Chinese authorities confiscated over 20,000 boxes of opium in Guangzhou in 1839 , this led to the First Opium War . In 1841 the British conquered Hong Kong , then a small settlement.
The beginning of the end of the British East India Company was a mutiny by the sepoys against their British commanders, triggered in part by the tensions the British had built in attempting to westernize India . It took the British half a year to put down the Sepoy uprising in 1857, and the conflict resulted in many deaths on both sides. Thereupon the British government introduced direct rule over British India and an appointed governor general with the rank of viceroy administered the crown colony . Queen Victoria was crowned Empress of India in 1877 . The East India Company ceased operations in 1858 and was dissolved in 1873.
In the 19th century India suffered a series of bad harvests and the famine that followed resulted in around 10 million deaths. During its reign, the East India Company failed to take any coordinated action against famine. This only changed under direct British administration. After each famine, commissions were set up to investigate the causes and take action. The first effects became apparent at the beginning of the 20th century.
"The Great Game"
During the 19th century, Britain and Russia sought to fill the power vacuum in Central Asia created by the weakening of the Ottoman Empire , the Persian Qajar dynasty, and the Chinese Qing dynasty . This rivalry is known as The Great Game . From a British perspective, the victories won in the Russo-Persian War (1826–1828) and in the Russo-Turkish War (1828–1829) were a clear sign of the imperial ambitions and possibilities of the Russians, they also aroused fears of an invasion of India by land. In 1839 Great Britain tried to forestall this goal by conquering Afghanistan . This ended three years later with one of the most devastating defeats of the Victorian era, when the British invasion force was almost completely destroyed by Pashtun tribes armed with Russian weapons when they withdrew from Kabul in 1842 . The Second Anglo-Afghan War in 1880 resulted in a devastating defeat at Maiwand , the siege of Kabul by the Afghans and the British retreat to India. After the Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919, Great Britain had to finally recognize Afghanistan's sovereignty.
When Russia occupied the Turkish-ruled part of the Balkans in 1853 , both Great Britain and France feared Russian dominance in the Mediterranean and the Middle East . They sent expedition armies to the Crimean peninsula to take the Russian naval base there. In the Crimean War , which lasted until 1856, numerous new methods of modern warfare were used. This war was the only one against another colonial power during the Pax Britannica and ended in Russia's major defeat. The situation in Central Asia remained tense for the next two decades. While the British annexed Balochistan in 1876 , the Russians conquered the territories of what is now Kyrgyzstan , Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan .
In 1878 the Ottoman Empire leased Cyprus to Great Britain and in return received an assurance that it would receive support if the Russians made a renewed advance. In the same year, however, Great Britain and Russia agreed on spheres of influence, which defused the conflict. The last attempt to expand their influence in Central Asia was made by the British in 1903/04 with the unsuccessful Tibet campaign . The destruction of the Russian fleet in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) nevertheless reduced the threat to Great Britain.
Race for Africa
The Dutch East India Company founded the Cape Colony on the southern tip of Africa in 1652 as a stopover for their ships on the way to the colonies in Asia. Great Britain occupied the colony in 1795 in order to protect it from the French after the conquest of the Netherlands. In 1806 Great Britain formally annexed the Cape Colony. After 1820, more and more British immigrants came here, displacing the Boers , who rejected British rule. Thousands of Boers traveled northeast on the Great Trek in the 1830s and 1840s and established short-lived Boer republics .
In 1843 the British annexed Natal . In 1879 British troops penetrated from there into the neighboring Zulu empire and subjugated it in the Zulu War . The Voortrekkers repeatedly got into armed conflicts with the British, who were pursuing their own goals in southern Africa. Eventually the Boers founded two republics that could hold out for a long time, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State . In the Second Boer War (1899–1902), the British, who were primarily interested in the large gold deposits, conquered both republics. However, they granted the defeated Boers generous peace conditions.
In 1869, the Suez Canal , built under French management, was opened in Egypt , which connects the Mediterranean with the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean . The British initially rejected the construction of the canal; when it was open, however, they quickly saw its strategic value. In 1875 the British government acquired the 44% share of the indebted Egyptian ruler Ismail Pasha in the canal company for four million pounds . Although this did not give the British complete control of the waterway, they were able to exert a great deal of influence. The joint British-French financial control of Egypt ended in 1882 with the British occupation of the country following the suppression of the Urabi uprising . The French remained majority shareholders and tried to weaken the British position. The issues at issue were settled through negotiations in 1888. The resulting treaty went into effect in 1904 and made the canal a neutral territory. In fact , the British were in control until 1954.
In 1874 the British forced the Fomena Treaty on the Ashanti Empire. The Ashanti had to renounce all their rights on the coast and declare the slave trade, once their main source of income, illegal. The areas on the coast were incorporated into the British colony of Gold Coast , the rest of the Ashanti Empire also subjugated until 1902. When the activities of France , Belgium and Portugal in the mouth of the Congo created the danger of war, the European colonial powers adopted rules for the division of Africa at the Congo Conference in Berlin (1884/85). They defined the "effective occupation" as the criterion for international recognition of a claim in this " scramble for Africa " ( scramble for Africa ).
In Sudan there was the Mahdi uprising in 1881 , which was directed against the Egyptian occupation . In 1885 the rebels conquered Khartoum , a British expeditionary army reached the city too late and had to withdraw again. It was not until 1896 that a British-Egyptian expeditionary force was deployed, which two years later defeated the Mahdists in the Battle of Omdurman . Also in 1898 France had occupied parts of Sudan from the south; However, the resulting Faschoda crisis was settled with the withdrawal of French troops and the Sudan Treaty . In 1899 Sudan was constituted as an Anglo-Egyptian condominium .
The British conquests in South and East Africa moved Cecil Rhodes to strive for an empire from “Cape to Cairo” and to build a transcontinental railroad from South to North ( Cape-Cairo Plan ). The British South Africa Company , of which Rhodes was chairman, annexed the territories named after him Rhodesia in 1888 . However, the colony of German East Africa stood in the way of uninterrupted British rule extending from Cape Town to Cairo . In the Helgoland-Zanzibar Treaty in 1890 , the German Reich waived its claims to Zanzibar and received the previously British Heligoland in return . Powerful interest groups from business and politics came to the view that the formation of a “formal” empire was necessary in order to stop the loss of importance in world markets. Above all Joseph Chamberlain advocated vehemently. During the 1890s, the new imperialism became the guiding principle of British politics. So this did not arise from a position of strength, but was rather a consequence of the fear of the economic loss of importance.
New status of the settler colonies
The road to independence for the settler colonies of the British Empire began in 1839 with Lord Durham's report on the situation in British North America . In it he proposed the unification and self-government of Upper Canada and Lower Canada in response to the crushed rebellions of 1837 . With the Act of Union in 1840 which was Province of Canada created. Nova Scotia was the first colony to receive an independent government in 1848, soon followed by other colonies in British North America. In 1867 Upper and Lower Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia merged to form the state of Canada , which was politically independent in all areas with the exception of foreign policy.
Other areas were granted a similar degree of self-determination at the beginning of the 20th century: The Australian colonies in 1901 when they merged into a state, New Zealand and Newfoundland six years later. During the Reich Conference of 1907, the term Dominion was officially introduced for these areas. In 1910, the South African Union , which was formed through the merger of Cape Colony, Natal, Transvaal and Orange Free State, also received this status.
Towards the end of the 19th century there were more and more campaigns for self-government in Ireland ( Home Rule ) . After the 1798 rebellion , Ireland was annexed to the United Kingdom by the Act of Union 1800 . The Great Famine from 1845 to 1849 killed up to a million people. Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone supported the Home Rule in the hope that Ireland would follow Canada's example and become a Dominion. However, on June 8, 1886, Parliament rejected such a law (the Government of Ireland Bill 1886 , also known as the First Home Rule Bill). Many MPs feared that a partially independent Ireland would pose a security risk to Britain and lead to the breakup of the Empire. A similar law was also rejected in 1893. The third attempt in 1914 was finally successful, but could not be implemented because of the outbreak of World War I , which led to the Easter Rising in 1916 .
World Wars (1914–1945)
At the turn of the century, fears increased that Great Britain would no longer be able to defend the entire empire and at the same time maintain " splendid isolation ". The German Reich had seen a rapid rise, both militarily and economically, and was now considered the most likely opponent in a future war. Great Britain concluded new alliances: in 1902 with Japan , as well as with the former archenemies France ( entente cordiale ) in 1904 and Russia in 1907 ( Triple Entente , Treaty of Saint Petersburg ).
First World War
The declaration of war by Great Britain and its allies on the German Reich at the beginning of the First World War also drew the colonies and dominions into the conflict. They provided the mother country with extensive military, financial and material support. More than 2.5 million soldiers served in the British armed forces, plus thousands of volunteers from the colonies. Most of the German possessions in Africa were quickly taken; Australia and New Zealand occupied the German possessions in the Pacific, German New Guinea and Samoa . The contribution of the troops of these Dominions during the Battle of Gallipoli against the Ottoman Empire had a great impact on their consciousness as a nation. Both countries commemorate this event on ANZAC Day . In the case of Canada , the Battle of Arras on the Western Front had similar effects. Prime Minister David Lloyd George honored this important contribution by the Prime Ministers of the Dominions in 1917 he imperial war cabinet (Imperial War Cabinet) was formed to coordinate the joint efforts.
According to the provisions of the 1919 Peace Treaty of Versailles , the area of the Empire grew by 4.662 million km², the number of subjects by 13 million, which was the greatest expansion. The colonies of the German Empire and parts of the Ottoman Empire were divided among the Allies as mandate areas of the League of Nations . Great Britain gained control of Palestine and Jordan , Iraq (with the German oil concessions in the north), parts of Cameroon , Togo and Tanganyika . The Dominions were also granted mandate areas: South West Africa (today's Namibia ) came to the South African Union , German New Guinea to Australia and Samoa to New Zealand. Nauru was a joint mandate between the British and the two Pacific Dominions.
The new world order brought about by the war, in particular the increasing importance of Japan and the United States as sea powers and independence movements in India and Ireland , resulted in a fundamental reorientation of British imperial policy. Great Britain decided not to renew the 1902 alliance with Japan and instead signed the Washington Naval Agreement in 1922 , which set the parity of the British and US fleets. This decision sparked numerous debates in the 1930s, as fascist-militarist regimes seized power in Germany and Japan as a result of the global economic crisis . Government circles feared that the Empire would not be able to withstand a simultaneous attack by both countries. In addition, the empire became increasingly important to Britain's economy. During the interwar period , the share of exports to the Dominions and Colonies grew from 32 to 39 percent and the share of imports from 24 to 37 percent.
Disappointment with the delays in the Home Rule in Ireland led members of Sinn Féin , who held a majority of Irish seats in Parliament, to form their own parliament in Dublin in 1919 . This Dáil Éireann then proclaimed the independence of Ireland, at the same time the Irish Republican Army began a guerrilla war against the British occupiers. The Irish War of Independence ended in a stalemate in 1921 and with the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty , which created the Irish Free State - a largely independent Dominion within the Empire, but which was still constitutionally linked to the British Crown . The majority Protestant Northern Ireland immediately exercised the option provided for in the Government of Ireland Act and remained in the United Kingdom.
A similar dispute began in British India in 1919 , when the Government of India Act failed to meet the demands for independence. For fear of communist and foreign infiltration, the Rowlatt Act extended wartime security indefinitely. This led to riots , especially in Punjab , which culminated in the Amritsar massacre in April 1919 . The British public was divided: some believed India had been saved from anarchy, others found the massacre abhorrent. The Indians ended the non-cooperation campaign after the incident in the village of Chandi Chaura in 1922 , and discontent continued to ferment for the next 25 years.
In 1922, Egypt under the rule of Muhammad Ali dynasty after a popular uprising its independence and became Kingdom . The country was declared a protectorate after the First World War. British troops remained stationed in the country even after independence and the political influence of the British on the country remained strong. The British troop presence was legitimized by the signing of the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement of 1936. Great Britain received the right to continue to defend the zone around the Suez Canal . In return, Egypt received support in joining the League of Nations in 1937 . In the jointly administered British-Egyptian Sudan , the Sudan crisis broke out in 1924 between the Egyptians and the British for its status. The Iraq , since 1919 a British mandate, was recorded also in the League of Nations after independence in 1,932th
At the Reich Conference of 1923, the Dominions enforced that they were allowed to conduct their foreign policy independently. Canada and South Africa had refused to provide military support during the Chanak crisis a year earlier , and Canada did not feel bound by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne . Under pressure from Ireland and South Africa, the 1926 Reich Conference passed the Balfour Declaration . She declared the Dominions to "autonomous communities within the British Empire", which were equal to the United Kingdom, but were loosely connected to this in the Commonwealth of Nations . This declaration was given legal substance with the 1931 Westminster Statute . The parliaments of Canada, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, the Irish Free State and Newfoundland were now completely legislatively independent. Newfoundland , which suffered from massive financial difficulties due to the Great Depression, became a crown colony again in 1933. The Irish Free State distanced itself further from Great Britain in 1937 by adopting a new constitution, although the exact constitutional status remained unclear (until the Republic of Ireland was proclaimed in 1949).
Second World War
Britain's declaration of war on the Nazi- ruled German Empire in September 1939 included the crown colonies and India, but not automatically the Dominions. Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand declared war on their own, while the Irish Free State chose to remain neutral during World War II. From the defeat of France in June 1940, Great Britain and the Empire faced the German Reich and its allies alone until the Soviet Union entered the war in 1941. The United States was not yet ready to openly join the war on the side of the British, but provided them with much-needed assistance through the Loan Act. Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Atlantic Charter in August 1941 . Among other things, it contained the agreement that "the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they want to live" should be respected. The wording was ambiguous; it could apply both to European states occupied by the Germans and to peoples colonized by European states. The British, Americans and nationalist movements later interpreted the agreement in their own way.
In December 1941, Japan attacked British Malaya , the US naval base Pearl Harbor and the British crown colony of Hong Kong in quick succession . Since the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895), the power of Japan in the Far East had grown steadily, the long-term goal of the Japanese was a “ Greater East Asian sphere of prosperity ” dominated by them . The United States' long-awaited entry into the war had now become a reality and Britain's victory now seemed possible, but the quick capitulations in East Asia severely damaged its prestige as a colonial power. The fall of Singapore , which was considered an impregnable fortress , was the most devastating . The realization that Great Britain was unable to defend the entire empire led to closer cooperation between Australia and New Zealand and the United States, and finally to the signing of the ANZUS Agreement in 1951 .
Although Britain was able to successfully end World War II as one of the main powers of the anti-Hitler coalition with the Empire in 1945, the conflict had profound effects. Europe , a continent that had dominated the world for several centuries, was literally in ruins. The now dominant world powers, the USA and the Soviet Union, were able to expand their sphere of influence enormously. Occupation troops were stationed in a number of states, their political systems were introduced and military bases were established. As a result, they became global superpowers . Britain, on the other hand, had amassed huge debts and narrowly escaped bankruptcy in 1946 , not least thanks to a US $ 3.5 billion bond.
At the same time, anti-colonialist movements gained in importance. The situation was further complicated by the growing tension in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Both states rejected European colonialism, although the Americans and Western Europeans had far more anti-communism than anti-imperialism and the British therefore continued to receive support. The end of the British Empire was in sight and Great Britain tried a policy of peaceful retreat from the colonies, which did not always succeed. The aim was on the one hand to transfer state power to stable anti-communist governments and on the other hand to guarantee the British settlers a safe home through stable economic relations. In some former colonies in Africa, however, an African socialism established itself, such as B. in Zambia or Tanzania. Other states, such as France or Portugal , waged sometimes costly and ultimately unsuccessful wars to save their colonial empires. Between 1945 and 1965, the number of people outside the United Kingdom under British rule decreased from 700 million to five million (including three million in Hong Kong).
First tendencies towards dissolution
The Clement Attlee- led Labor Party , which had come to power in the 1945 general election , quickly addressed the most pressing problem, that of Indian independence. The Indian National Congress and the Muslim League had campaigned for independence for decades, but disagreed on how to implement it. The former advocated an all-Indian state, the latter a separate state in areas with a Muslim majority. In the face of unrest and the threat of civil war, Lord Mountbatten , the last British viceroy, declared the majority Hindu India and the majority Muslim Pakistan independent on August 15, 1947. The boundary established by Great Britain turned tens of millions of people into members of a religious minority. The onset of refugee flows led to violence and war between the two groups and hundreds of thousands of deaths. Burma and Ceylon gained independence in 1948. Unlike India, Pakistan and Ceylon, Burma did not join the Commonwealth of Nations .
The British League of Nations mandate for Palestine , where an Arab majority coexisted with a Jewish minority, proved to be a problem similar to India's for Britain. It was exacerbated by the large number of Jewish refugees who wanted to settle in Palestine after the oppression and genocide by the National Socialists during World War II. Rather than looking into the matter, the British government announced in 1947 that it would withdraw its troops the following year and leave problem-solving to the United Nations . It tried to do this by working out a partition plan , but was unable to prevent the Palestinian war that resulted in the unilateral proclamation of the State of Israel .
After the Japanese defeat in World War II, the Malay resistance movements turned their attention to the British, who had quickly regained control of the colony. The fact that the rebels were mostly Communists of Chinese descent led the Muslim majority to support the British in the crackdown - with the country's subsequent independence in return. This "Malayan Emergency" (Malayan Emergency) lasted from 1948 to 1960, but in 1957, the British felt sure enough, the Federation of Malaya to dismiss as part of the Commonwealth to independence. In 1963 the Federation, Singapore , Sarawak and British North Borneo merged to form the state of Malaysia , but then had to be defended by British troops against attacks by Indonesia , which began the Konfrontasi . After tensions between the Malay and Chinese communities, Singapore left Malaysia again in 1965. The Sultanate of Brunei , which had been a British protectorate since 1888, retained its status until independence in 1984.
The Suez crisis and its consequences
After the general election of October 1951 , the Conservative Party under Winston Churchill took over the government again. On 3 October 1952 the UK was its first successful nuclear test, the Operation Hurricane , to nuclear power . The Conservatives believed that Britain's status as a world power depended on the continued existence of the Empire. The Suez Canal played a key role in this despite the loss of India. Gamal Abdel Nasser , who came to power in Egypt in 1952 , negotiated the Suez Agreement , which provided for the withdrawal of British troops from the Canal Zone by 1956.
In 1956, Nasser suddenly nationalized the Suez Canal. In response, the new Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, held negotiations with the governments of France and Israel. An Israeli attack on Egypt would serve as a pretext for the British and French to retake the Suez Canal zone. The US President Dwight D. Eisenhower was not informed about the plans and refused any support out of anger. Eisenhower also feared a war against the Soviet Union , as Nikita Khrushchev had threatened to rush to the aid of the Egyptians. The Americans exerted pressure by threatening to sell their sterling reserves, which would have led to the collapse of the British currency. Although the invasion was militarily successful, pressure from the United States forced the British into a humiliating withdrawal of their troops and Eden resigned in early 1957.
The Suez Crisis clearly indicated the limits of British power and ushered in the final decline of the Empire. Without the consent or even support of the United States, Great Britain could no longer act on its own. Although the British position of power in the Middle East was considerably weakened after the Suez Crisis, it did not collapse. Great Britain soon returned troops to the region and intervened in Oman (1957), Jordan (1958) and Kuwait (1961), albeit with American approval. The British presence in the Middle East ended with the orderly withdrawal from Colony Aden (1967) and Bahrain (1971).
"Wind of Change"
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan held in February 1960 in Cape Town a speech, saying it from the "wind of change" (wind of change) , the blowing through Africa. He wanted to avoid wars of independence such as the Algerian war , in which France was involved. However, a bloody conflict had already broken out in Kenya with the Mau Mau War that had dragged on for years . Sudan had gained independence a year before Macmillan's inauguration . The new prime minister pushed decolonization forward quickly. The remaining British colonies - with the exception of Southern Rhodesia - followed until 1968 (see map). The British withdrawal from eastern and southern Africa caused problems because of the immigrant European settler minorities, particularly in southern Rhodesia, where Prime Minister Ian Smith unilaterally proclaimed independence from Great Britain in 1965. Then there were civil war-like conditions between the African (different, sometimes rival tribes) and the European population until the Lancaster House Agreement was signed in 1979. Southern Rhodesia temporarily became a colony again until elections could be held under British supervision. These elections were won by Robert Mugabe , who became Prime Minister of the newly independent state of Zimbabwe in 1980 .
In Cyprus , the resistance organization EOKA fought for self-determination and the annexation to Greece since 1955 . The country gained independence in 1960, but was not allowed to join Greece out of consideration for the Turkish minority. In addition, the British remained present with the military bases Akrotiri and Dekelia , which are still British territory today. Since the invasion of Turkish troops in 1974 and the unilateral declaration of the internationally unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus , the island has been divided. The independence of Malta in 1964 did not cause any problems.
In 1958 the West Indian Federation was established. Great Britain attempted to meet the demand for independence in eleven colonies in the Caribbean at the same time and to unite the islands under one government. However, this state fell apart when Jamaica , the two largest provinces, left first in 1961 and then in 1962, Trinidad and Tobago . Barbados and Guyana gained independence in 1966, with further colonies in the Caribbean following in the 1970s and 1980s. In contrast , Anguilla , the Turks and Caicos Islands , the British Virgin Islands , the Cayman Islands and Montserrat remained part of Great Britain. British Honduras , the last remaining colony on the American mainland, was granted self-government in 1964, renamed Belize in 1973 and gained full independence in 1981.
The British colonies in the Pacific were granted independence between 1970 ( Fiji ) and 1980 ( Vanuatu ). In the case of Vanuatu, this process was delayed due to political disputes between the English- and French-speaking parts of the population (the archipelago was previously a condominium administered jointly with France ).
The end of the empire
At the beginning of the 1980s, decolonization was largely complete. Great Britain only had a few areas scattered around the world. The only new acquisition in 1955 was Rockall , an uninhabited rock in the North Atlantic; this was to prevent the Soviet Navy from observing missile tests in the Hebrides . In 1982 Argentina occupied the Falkland Islands , invoking claims from the Spanish colonial era. In the subsequent Falklands War , the initially surprised British were able to recapture the archipelago; the defeat of Argentina led to the overthrow of the military dictatorship there. In the same year Canada was completely constitutionally separated from the mother country by the Canada Act 1982 passed by the British Parliament . Corresponding laws for Australia and New Zealand followed in 1986.
In September 1982 Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher negotiated with the government of the People's Republic of China on the future of the last significant and most populous British colony, Hong Kong . Under the terms of the Nanking Treaty of 1842, the Chinese ceded Hong Kong Island "forever". But most of the colony consisted of the New Territories , which had been leased for 99 years; this lease would expire in 1997. Thatcher wanted to hold on to Hong Kong and proposed a British administration under Chinese sovereignty, which the Chinese refused. In 1984, both governments agreed the Sino-British joint declaration on Hong Kong , which provided for the establishment of a special administrative region under the principle of " one country, two systems ". Many observers, including the present Prince Charles , described the handover ceremony on June 30, 1997 as the "end of the Empire".
Great Britain exercises sovereignty outside of the British Isles over 14 territories which have been designated as British Overseas Territories since 2002 . Some are uninhabited, with the exception of military or scientific personnel, the rest to varying degrees are self-governing and dependent on Britain for foreign policy and defense. The British government has pledged its support to any overseas territory should it seek independence. British sovereignty over various overseas territories is being called into question by neighboring states: Spain claims Gibraltar , Argentina the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands , the Seychelles and Mauritius to the British Indian Ocean Territory . The British Antarctic Territory overlaps with claims of Argentina and Chile , while numerous other states do not recognize any territorial claims in Antarctica at all.
Most of the former British colonies are members of the Commonwealth of Nations , a voluntary, impartial, economic and political association of states with equal rights, in which Great Britain has no privileged status. Fifteen Commonwealth States, the so-called Commonwealth Realms , share the head of state, the British monarch , with Great Britain .
Decades, in some cases centuries, of British rule and emigration have left their mark on the states that emerged from the British Empire. The English language is the primary language of over 300 million people and the second language of over 400 million. This is partly due to the economic and cultural influence of the United States , which in turn emerged from the Empire. The English parliamentary system ( Westminster system ) and English jurisdiction ( common law ) served as a model for many former colonies in shaping their state. The Justice Committee of the British Privy Council is still the supreme court of appeal in some of the previous colonies in the Caribbean and Pacific. Protestant British missionaries spread the Anglican denomination to every continent. Examples of British colonial architecture such as street and town planning, churches, train stations and government buildings still shape cities that were once part of the Empire. Ball games developed in Britain - soccer , cricket , rugby , hockey , tennis and golf - have spread all over the world. Some countries have retained the British system of measurement and left-hand traffic .
The political boundaries drawn by the British often did not correspond to ethnic or religious criteria and led to conflicts, for example in Kashmir , Palestine , Sudan and Nigeria . The British Empire was also responsible for large migration flows. Millions of people left the British Isles and formed the basis of settler states such as the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Tensions between the European or Indian minorities and the indigenous majorities in Africa (especially in South Africa or Zimbabwe) remain largely intact to this day. The British settlement of Ireland created a deep divide in Northern Ireland between indigenous Catholics and immigrant Protestants. Millions of people migrated, often as slave labor, between the various British colonies, particularly Africans, Indians and Chinese. After the Second World War, easier immigration from former colonies also changed the composition of the population of Great Britain.
- British colonies and protectorates
- British overseas territories
- Commonwealth of Nations
- List of the greatest empires and empires
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