A brief history of the British Empire, the greatest the world has ever seen

2023-10-21 16:50:41Histori SHKRUAR NGA REDAKSIA VOX
A Brief History of the British Empire

At its height, the British Empire was the largest the world had ever seen.


John Cabot, an Italian explorer living in England, is authorized by Henry VII to "discover and investigate any island, state, region, or province of heathens and infidels, in any part of the world, which were formerly unknown to all Christians". A year later, he lands in North America, marking the beginning of British explorations in the 'New World'.


It is established in present-day Jamestown in Virginia, the first permanent English colony in North America. The early settlers stand strong in the face of hardships and hunger, even resorting to cannibalism to survive. The first African slaves are sent to the colony in 1619.


During the Anglo-Spanish War, Oliver Cromwell's English forces take over Spanish-controlled Jamaica and turn it into an English colony. This happens after the establishment of other English colonies, in what will be known as the British West Indies.


The English occupy New Amsterdam, taking it from the Dutch settlers. They will call it New York in honor of James, Duke of York, brother of King Charles II. The larger province of New York is one of a total of 13 colonies that will make up British America.


The War of the Spanish Succession, a major conflict over control of the Spanish Empire involving nations including the new United Kingdom of Great Britain, ends. The war left Britain in a dominant position with even more territories under its control, including Newfoundland, Gibraltar and Menorca.


The British East India Company, a trading corporation so powerful it has its own private army, wins the Battle of Plassey in India. It defeats the forces of the Nawab of Bengal (ruler of large areas of the subcontinent) and allows British military leader Robert Clive, nicknamed "Clive of India", to become Governor of Bengal and lay the foundations for British control of India.


The seven-year war, fought across the globe between the Allies led by Great Britain and France, and often considered the real "World War I", comes to an end. Britain acquires colonial territories in North America once owned by the French – among them, the colony of Canada. Britain's victory over French forces in India made it the dominant colonial power in the subcontinent.


British explorer and naval officer, Captain James Cook, embarks on an important voyage to the South Pacific, during which he claims New Zealand and eastern Australia. He calls the latter "New South Wales".


After a period of strained relations between Britain and the 13 colonies in North America, with much resentment over taxation by the British Parliament without direct representation there, the American War of Independence breaks out. In the end, Britain will accept the sovereignty of the United States of America.


Many years after James Cook's voyage, the British establish a penal colony in New South Wales, with convicted petty criminals sent there to work for the settlers. Over time, it transitions to a civil society, with the British claim eventually extending to the entire Australian continent. The country would go on to become a self-governing land in the British Empire in 1901.


Thanks in part to vociferous campaigning by anti-slavery activists such as William Wilberforce, Parliament passes the Slave Trade Act 1807, which bans the slave trade in the British Empire. This leads to the creation of the Royal West African Naval Squadron, whose ships patrol the coast of West Africa to suppress human trafficking.


Antipathy to the policies of the British East India Company causes a bloody rebellion by the Indian troops who form part of the Company's army. The uprising, which spreads across the country and sees torture and massacres carried out by both sides, leads to the end of Company rule and the beginning of a long era of direct rule by the British government, known as the British Raj.


Britain, having established colonies elsewhere on the African continent, becomes involved in the Boer War, a colonial conflict against the descendants of Dutch settlers in southern Africa. Although Britain eventually wins, it is a grueling period that costs a lot in money and lives, and causes many to question the strength and invincibility of the British Empire.


Due to factors such as the impact of World War II on British wealth and power, and the campaign for independence led by figures like Gandhi, India gains independence. The end of the British Raj is a major historical moment, marking the unmistakable beginning of the end of the British Empire.


Three years after the former British colony of Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence from European control, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan makes a famous speech acknowledging the 'wind of change' blowing through the colonies. It precedes an era of rapid decolonization in Africa, the Caribbean and elsewhere.


Britain cedes Hong Kong, its last major colony, to the People's Republic of China. The ceremony is broadcast around the world and described by one newspaper as the moment Britain 'brings an end to an empire that once spanned a quarter of the globe'. / bota.al