The British Empire

Understanding Empire, Colonialism and Imperialism


The British Empire brought the expansion of trade, the development of transport such as railways, the growth of industry which slowly removed people from the poverty of the agricultural age and the spread of representative government to many parts of the world administered by those colonials (Lawes).


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Over the span of three centuries, a worldwide system of dependencies was brought under the sovereignty of the crown of Great Britain and the administration of the British government (British Empire).

dependencies include: colonies, protectorates, and other territories ('British Empire')

Main Colonizing Country

  • The United Kingdom


Major Countries Colonized by Britain

  • Canada
  • Ireland
  • Egypt
  • India
  • Australia
  • South Africa
  • New Zealand




('Thirteen Colonies Timeline')


Reasons for Colonization

Economic considerations were undoubtedly the most effective in promoting colonization. Wealthy businessmen sought opportunities to invest their money. Joint-stock companies sold shares of stock to those who venture and enabled them to share the great expense and risk of founding colonies as business enterprises (Jones).

The prevailing economic theory of mercantilism stressed the need of a nation to accumulate precious metals – the English hoped to find gold in the colonies.

Thus, England wished to secure vital raw materials from her colonies instead of paying precious coin to other countries (Jones).

The need for markets for England’s surplus of manufactures argued for the establishment of captured markets in the form of colonies.

Among individual colonists the simple desire to own land, in scarce supply in Europe, and enjoy a better living (Jones).

Experiences as a Result

By the Colonizer

  • Britain found itself in a powerful position
  • For example, it acquired Dutch South Africa. It found its interests threatened in India by the southern and eastern expansion of the Russians
  • The empires of Britain's traditional rivals had been lost or severely diminished in size, and its imperial position was unchallenged
  • It had become the leading industrial nation of Europe
  • A greater percentage of the world came under the domination of British commercial, financial, and naval power

By those Colonized

1807: Abolition of slavery in Britain was a movement led by the Evangelicals.

1833: Evangelicals freed slaves held elsewhere in the Empire; by the adoption, after a radical change in economic perspective



Reasons for Colonization

The desire for adventure – opportunity and new experiences – moved others to go to America (Jones).

Related to a desire for religious freedom was the wish of some opposed to the monarchy for a greater degree of political freedom than they had in England (Jones).

The English government also wanted to weaken Spain by establishing military and naval outposts (Jones).

Experiences as a Result

By the Colonizer

Royal Proclamation of 1763

  • Issued October 7
  • King George III
  • Followed Great Britain's acquisition of French territory in North America
  • Occurred after the end of the French and Indian War
  • Established limits to colonization west of the Appalachian mountains

(‘The War and Its Consequences’)

Treaty of Paris of 1783

  • Ended the American Revolutionary War
  • Recognized the United States' independence
  • Established the borders of the United States and British North America
  • Guaranteed the fair treatment of British loyalists in the United States
  • Greatly enlarged the territory of the United States (mainly at the expense of Native American tribes)

(‘The War and Its Consequences’)

By those Colonized

  • Law and order was brought into India (William)
  • Government, local organisation and logistical infrastructure (Cameron)


Reasons for Colonization

The enclosure movement, taking land out of cultivation and converting it into pastureland for sheep, was creating a surplus population. Sheep raising, more profitable than traditional agriculture, required less laborers (Jones).

The new lands in America gave these unemployed a place to work.

Also, a surplus was occurring in the upper-classes as second and third born sons were looking for work since England was not at war (Jones).

Experiences as a Result

By the Colonizer

  • British women were outnumbered by the British men
  • Women traveled to many sites of empire, where they established homes and found opportunities and a way of life not available to them in Britain.
  • Beginning around 1850, the numbers of white women living in the empire increased
  • The empire grew considerably in the later 19th century (The Age of New Imperialism)
  • Rising concern in Britain over the relationships between British men and indigenous women
  • Encouraging white British women to travel to the colonies was seen as a way to protect and maintain the social hierarchy of the colonial world
  • Preserved British racial purity

By those Colonized

  • English became a popular language of the world and continues to be dominant
  • Technology was brought into India-changing them into a modern state
  • Led many local intellectuals to rise up to liberalise their country- leading to the appearance of nationalism


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"British Empire". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 09 Mar. 2015

Cameron, David. ‘Is Britain to Blame for Many of the World’s Problems?’.BBC Magazine 7 Apr. 2011. Web. 10 Mar. 2015. <>.

Cody, David. ‘The British Empire’. Hartwick College. N.p., 1988. Web. 10 Mar. 2015. <>.

Fletcher, Alison. ‘British Empire: Introduction’. Women in World History. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2015. <>.

Gascoigne, Bamber. ‘History of the British Empire’. HistoryWorld. N.p., 2001. Web. 9 Mar. 2015. <>.

Jones, Scott. ‘English Motives for Colonization’. My Social Studies Class. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2015. <>.

Lawes, Adrian. ‘What Has the British Empire Ever Done for Us?’. Just About Travel. N.p., 2015. Web. 10 Mar. 2015. <>.

‘The British Empire through Time’. BBC. N.p., 2014. Web. 9 Mar. 2015. <>.

Wiliam, and Sydney Australia. ‘Great Britain’. Skwirk Interactive Schooling. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2015. <>.