British Empire with characteristics Political organization Colonies End

British Empire

Set of colonies, protectorates, mandates and domains governed by the United Kingdom of Great Britain. In this article we will provide you the detail of the British Empire.

Date 1707 to 1997.
Capital London.
Idiom English.
Form of government Parliamentary monarchy .
Religion Anglican .
Currencies The shilling and the pound sterling.

The British Empire was a collection of colonies, protectorates, mandates and dominions ruled by the United Kingdom of Great Britain .

Although it had its origins in the 16th century , it began to take shape during the first half of the 17th century , when the English established thirteen colonies on the Atlantic coast of North America . At this time they also occupied small islands in the Caribbean, such as Jamaica and Barbados.

The turning point in the process of constitution of the British Empire was the Seven Years’ War (1756-63). This warlike conflict ended with the defeat of France and the triumph of Great Britain, which incorporated Canada, India, Senegal, Florida and some Caribbean islands into its dominions.

The British Empire reached its peak between 1815 and 1922, when it expanded its dominance over vast areas of Asia, Africa, and Oceania. In 1921 it reached an extension that made it the largest empire in world history .

It began to decline after the end of World War II , when decolonization processes ended with the loss of a large amount of territory in Asia and Africa. For some authors, the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997 marked the end of the British Empire.

At present, Great Britain retains fourteen overseas dominions, including Gibraltar, Malvinas and Bermuda.

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Characteristics of the British Empire

Among the main characteristics of the British Empire, the following can be highlighted:

  • It had a global reach since it had territories or military presence on all continents.
  • It was held in command of the seas by the British Navy , which reached this position of power after destroying the fleets of Spain and France at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
  • It was made up of colonies, protectorates, domains and mandates of the League of Nations .
  • Its metropolis was the United Kingdom of Great Britain, formed in 1707 after the union of England and Scotland. 
  • Its capital was the city of London.
  • Their official language was English; and his religion, the Anglican.
  • The population was multi-ethnic, as it was made up of Europeans, Americans, Africans, Asians, Maori, Polynesian peoples, etc.
  • Their economic activities were segmented. Since the Industrial Revolution , the main activities of Great Britain were industrial and commercial, while agriculture, livestock and mining predominated in the colonies. These primary activities generated raw materials for British industries and food for their workers and the general population.
  • During the nineteenth century the ideological justification for its existence was based on various theories about the racial superiority of Europeans and the inability of the peoples of Asia, Africa and Oceania to govern themselves and seek their progress.

Political organization of the British Empire

The political organization of the British Empire was characterized as follows:

  • Its form of government was the parliamentary monarchy, instituted in 1689, after the Glorious Revolution .
  • The king (or queen) of Great Britain was the head of the empire, while a prime minister was the head of government
  • It had a bicameral Legislative Branch made up of the House of Lords and the House of Commons .
  • The colonies, mandates, and protectorates were run by officials appointed by the British government.
  • The Dominions (Canada, Newfoundland, South Africa and Australia) had governments of their own, meeting with British officials at regular summits, the first of which took place in London in 1887. But the foreign relations of the Dominions were directed by the Foreign Office British.
  • In 1931 the Statute of Westminster proclaimed the independence of the dominions, although they continued to be linked to Great Britain by the British Commonwealth of Nations (Commonwealth).

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Colonies of the British Empire

In 1921, the year of its maximum extension, the British Empire was made up of the following colonies, dependencies, mandates and dominions:

  • Europe: Cyprus, Gibraltar and Malta.
  • America: Canada, British Guiana, British Honduras, West Indies, Falkland Islands, South Sandwich Islands, South Georgia Islands, and Newfoundland.
  • Asia: Burma, Borneo, Qatar, Ceylon, Hong Kong, India, Kuwait, Malaysia, Maldives, Mesopotamia, Nepal, Oman, Truce Oman, Palestine, Sarawak, Singapore, Tianjin, Transjordan, and Weihai.
  • Africa: South West Africa, Ascension, Bechuanaland, Basutoland, North Cameroon, Gold Coast, Egypt, Gambia, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, Nyasaland, Saint Helena, Sierra Leone, British Somaliland, North Rhodesia, South Rhodesia, Swaziland , Seychelles, Sudan, Tanganyika, British Togoland, Tristan de Acuña, Uganda, Union of South Africa and Zanzibar.
  • Oceania: Australia, Fiji, Cook Islands, Ellice Islands, Gilbert Islands, Solomon Islands, Nauru, Niue, New Zealand, New Hebrides, Papua and New Guinea, Pitcairn, Samoa, Tokelau, and Tonga.

End of the British Empire

After the end of World War II, Great Britain was bankrupt, with an insolvency that was only avoided thanks to a loan of 4 billion dollars granted by the United States. This loan made it clear that Great Britain had lost the position of the first world power and that it accepted the hegemony of the United States.

At the same time, anti-colonial nationalist movements jeopardized the existence of the Empire, especially after the Independence of India in 1947. By then the British leaders had understood that the days of the Empire were numbered, and in general, the Metropolitan government adopted a policy of gradual and peaceful withdrawal , once non-communist governments were established in power.

During the 1950s and 1960s, decolonization in Africa, the Caribbean, Oceania, and Southeast Asia advanced rapidly, stripping the Empire of nearly all of its colonies. This process ended with the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997.

At present, only fourteen overseas territories remain under British administration, including Ascension, Bermuda, Cayman, Gibraltar, Malvinas, Montserrat, Santa Elena and Tristán da Acuña. Britain also has military scientific bases in Antarctica.

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