Tuesday, 24 May 2011

British Empire

The Seven Years' War, which began in 1756, was the first war waged on a global scale, fought in Europe, India, North America, the Caribbean, the Philippines and coastal Africa. The signing of the Treaty of Paris (1763) had important consequences for Britain and its empire. In North America, France's future as a colonial power there was effectively ended with the ceding of New France to Britain (leaving a sizeable French-speaking population under British control) and Louisiana to Spain. Spain ceded Florida to Britain. In India, the Carnatic War had left France still in control of its enclaves but with military restrictions and an obligation to support British client states, effectively leaving the future of India to Britain. The British victory over France in the Seven Years War therefore left Britain as the world's dominant colonial power.

During the 1760s and 1770s, relations between the Thirteen Colonies and Britain became increasingly strained, primarily because of resentment of the British Parliament's ability to tax American colonists without their consent. Disagreement turned to violence and in 1775 the American Revolutionary War began. The following year, the colonists United States Declaration of Independence declared the independence of the United States, thus marking a formal secession. For the first few years, the British populace supported the war, but by 1779 France and Spain had entered on the side of the United States and Britain no longer had secure control of the seas. Its army controlled only a handful of coastal cities. The French and Spanish intervention had the effect of turning the American Revolution into a foreign conflict, which meant that the war itself could not be criticised, only the conduct of it.

1780-81 was a low point for Britain. Taxes and deficits were high, government corruption was pervasive, and the war in America was entering its sixth year with no apparent end in sight. The Gordon Riots erupted in London during the spring of 1781, in response to increased concessions to Catholics by Parliament. In October 1781 Lord Cornwallis surrendered his army at Yorktown, Virginia. The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, formally terminating the war and recognising the independence of the United States. However, the British continued to maintain forts along the Canadian border until 1796 and the Great Lakes remained militarised until 1815.

The loss of the Thirteen Colonies, at the time Britain's most populous colonies, marked the transition between the "first" and "second" empires, in which Britain shifted its attention to Asia, the Pacific and later Africa. Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, had argued that colonies were redundant, and that free trade should replace the old mercantilist policies that had characterised the first period of colonial expansion, dating back to the protectionism of Spain and Portugal. The growth of trade between the newly independent United States and Britain after 1783 confirmed Smith's view that political control was not necessary for economic success.

During its first 100 years of operation, the focus of the British East India Company had been trade, not the building of an empire in India. Company interests turned from trade to territory during the 18th century as the Mughal Empire declined in power and the British East India Company struggled with its French counterpart, the La Compagnie fran├žaise des Indes orientales, during the Carnatic Wars of the 1740s and 1750s. The British, led by Robert Clive, defeated the French and their Indian allies in the Battle of Plassey, leaving the Company in control of Bengal and a major military and political power in India. In the following decades it gradually increased the size of the territories under its control, either ruling directly or indirectly via local puppet rulers under the threat of force of the Indian Army, 80% of which was composed of native Indian sepoys.

On 22 August 1770, James Cook discovered the eastern coast of Australia while on a scientific voyage to the South Pacific. In 1778, Joseph Banks, Cook's botanist on the voyage, presented evidence to the government on the suitability of Botany Bay for the establishment of a penal settlement, and in 1787 the first shipment of convicts set sail, arriving in 1788.

At the threshold to the 19th century, Britain was challenged again by France under Napoleon, in a struggle that, unlike previous wars, represented a contest of ideologies between the two nations.

The British government had somewhat mixed reactions to the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, and when war broke out on the Continent in 1792, it initially remained neutral. But the following January, Louis XVI was beheaded. This combined with a threatened invasion of the Netherlands by France spurred Britain to declare war. For the next 23 years, the two nations were at war except for a short period in 1802–1803. Britain alone among the nations of Europe never submitted to or formed an alliance with France. Throughout the 1790s, the British repeatedly defeated the navies of France and its allies, but were unable to perform any significant land operations. An Anglo-Russian invasion of the Netherlands in 1799 accomplished little except the capture of the Dutch fleet.

It was not only Britain's position on the world stage that was threatened: Napoleon threatened invasion of Britain itself, and with it, a fate similar to the countries of continental Europe that his armies had overrun.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Birth of the Union - 18th Century


The Kingdom of Great Britain came into being on 1 May 1707, as a result of the political union of the Kingdom of England (which included Wales) and the Kingdom of Scotland. The terms of the union had been agreed in the Treaty of Union that was negotiated the previous year and then ratified by the parliaments of Scotland and England each approving Acts of Union.

Although previously separate states, England and Scotland had shared monarchs since 1603 when James VI of Scotland become James I of England on the death of the childless Elizabeth I, an event known as the Union of the Crowns. The Treaty of Union enabled the two kingdoms to be combined into a single kingdom with the two parliaments merging into a single parliament of Great Britain. Queen Anne, who reigned from 1702 to 1714, had favoured deeper political integration between the two kingdoms and became the first monarch of Great Britain. The union was valuable to England from a security standpoint, since it meant that Scotland lost the possibility to choose a different monarch on her death, reducing the chance of a European power using Scotland as a route to invading England.

Although now a single kingdom, certain aspects of the former independent kingdoms remained separate, in line with the terms in the Treaty of Union: Scottish and English law remained separate, as did the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and the Anglican Church of England. England and Scotland also continued to have divergent systems of education.

The creation of Great Britain happened during the War of the Spanish Succession, in which just before his death in 1702 William III had reactivated the Grand Alliance against France. His successor, Anne, continued the war. The Duke of Marlborough won a series of brilliant victories over the French, England's first major battlefield successes on the Continent since the Hundred Years War. France was nearly brought to its knees by 1709, when King Louis XIV made a desperate appeal to the French people. Afterwards, his general Marshal Villars managed to turn the tide in favour of France. A more peace-minded government came to power in Great Britain, and the treaties of Utrecht and Rastadt in 1713–1714 ended the war.

Queen Anne died in 1714, and the Elector of Hanover, George Louis, became king as George I. Jacobite factions remained strong however, and they instigated a revolt in 1715–1716. The son of James II planned to invade England, but before he could do so, John Erskine, Earl of Mar, launched an invasion from Scotland, which was easily defeated. George II succeeded to the throne in 1727 and ruled until his death in 1760. During his reign, the rising power of Prussia led to two major conflicts in Europe, the War of the Austrian Succession from 1740 to 1748, and the Seven Years War from 1756 to 1763. Both spilled over into the American colonies, and when the latter ended, Britain gained all of Canada and France was destroyed as a colonial power in North America.

Although British sea power proved decisive in the wars, the French navy had become a serious challenger by the middle of the 18th century and an invasion of Britain nearly took place in 1759. After the death of George II in 1760, his grandson became king as George III at the age of 22. Unlike his two predecessors, he was born in Britain and English was his first language. Frequently reviled by Americans as a tyrant and the instigator of the US War of Independence, he ruled for sixty years. George had fifteen children with his queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg; two of his nine sons became kings themselves. Beginning in the 1780s, he suffered recurrent fits of insanity due to being afflicted with porphyria and became totally insane by the last decade of his life.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The United Kingdom - History

The history of the United Kingdom as a unified sovereign state began with the political union of the kingdoms of England, which included Wales, and Scotland on 1 May 1707 in accordance with the Treaty of Union, as ratified by the Acts of Union 1707. The Union created the united Kingdom of Great Britain, which shared a single constitutional monarch and a single Parliament of Great Britain at Westminster. Prior to this, the kingdoms of England and Scotland had been separate sovereign states, although in personal union following the Union of the Crowns of 1603, each with political, administrative and cultural institutions including representative governance, law systems, and distinguished contributions to the arts and sciences, upon which the institutions of the United Kingdom were later to be built. On the new kingdom the historian Simon Schama said "What began as a hostile merger would end in a full partnership in the most powerful going concern in the world... it was one of the most astonishing transformations in European history." A further Act of Union in 1800 added the Kingdom of Ireland to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

The early years of the Kingdom of Great Britain were marked by Jacobite risings which ended with defeat for the Stuart cause at Culloden in 1746. Later, in 1763, victory in the Seven Years War led to the dominance of the British Empire, which was to be the foremost global power for over a century and grew to become the largest empire in history. By 1921, the British Empire held sway over a population of about 458 million people, approximately one-quarter of the world's population. and as a result, the culture of the United Kingdom, and its industrial, political and linguistic legacy, is widespread.

In 1801, Great Britain and Ireland merged to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1922, following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Ireland effectively seceded from the United Kingdom to become the Irish Free State, a new dominion of the British Empire but a day later, Northern Ireland seceded from the Free State and was confirmed by King George V as part of the United Kingdom. As a result, in 1927 the United Kingdom changed its formal title to the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland," usually shortened to the "United Kingdom", the "UK" or "Britain", but the Style of the British sovereign, as the result of the dissolution of the previous Union, entirely abandoned the term "United Kingdom". It became, and remained until 1953, "By the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas King/Queen, Defender of the Faith".

Following the Second World War, in which the UK was an allied power, most of the territories of the British Empire became independent. Many went on to join the Commonwealth of Nations, a free association of independent states. Some have retained the British monarch as their head of state to become independent Commonwealth realms. In its capacity as a great power, and as a leading member of the United Nations, European Union and NATO, the United Kingdom remains a strong economic, cultural, military and political influence in the 21st century.