British Empire

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The British Empire comprised the territories ruled or administered by England and subsequently by Great Britain. The Anglo-Normans had conquered Wales and Ireland but these were not regarded as colonies. England had also held parts of France, notably Aquitaine, Gascony and Calais, but again as provinces, not colonies.


The Empire's origins were overseas and began with possessions and trading posts established by England or English companies between the late 16th and early 18th centuries, particularly on the North American coast. In 1607 The London Company established the Colony of Virginia as the first permanent English colony in the New World. Some of these colonies (not Canada) became the United States in 1776, after their revolution.

In 1600 the East India Company (also known as the Honourable East India Company (HEIC), East India Trading Company, or (after 1707) the British East India Company, and informally known, in slang, as John Company,[1]) or simply The Company was an English, and later British, joint-stock company[2]. It was dissolved in 1874.[3] It was formed to trade in the Indian Ocean region, initially with the East Indies (the Indian subcontinent and South East Asia), and later with East Asia. The company seized control of large parts of the Indian subcontinent, colonised parts of Southeast Asia and established Hong Kong. At its peak, the company was the largest corporation in the world. The EIC even had its own armed forces in the form of the company's three Indian Presidency armies, totalling about 260,000 soldiers, twice the size of the British army.[4][5] The operations of the company had a profound effect on the global balance of trade, almost single-handedly[6] reversing the trend of eastward drain of Western bullion, seen since Roman times.[7]

In the 18th and 19th centuries Britain gradually acquired several of these trading companies which had assumed overlordships of numerous territories.

Having defeated Holland Britain acquired the Dutch colonies at the Cape of Good Hope, and Ceylon. (The Dutch had, in turn, taken these from Portugal.}

Following the loss of the colonies which became the United States, Britain established a new colony in New South Wales and subsequently claimed all of the continent of Australia for Britain. (Australia became a self-governing Dominion under a British Governor-General in 1901.) They also established New Zealand as a new colony. Protectorates and other colonies were established, including the Malay States.

At its height, the British Empire was the largest empire in history and became the foremost global power. By 1922 the British Empire held sway over one-fifth of the world's population and covered almost a quarter of the earth's total land area. As a result, its political, legal, linguistic and cultural legacy is widespread.

After World War I and World War II Britain slipped into permanent decline, politically and economically, and most of the colonies, dominions, and other territories, including British India, were given independence.

Jewish influence

A less often mentioned aspect is the large Jewish influence in England. Jews had been permitted to resettle in England by Oliver Cromwell in 1656, after having been expelled by King Edward I in 1290 (in one of the many European Jewish expulsions). It was one of the conditions the Jewish bankers in Amsterdam who funded Cromwell's 'New Model Army' demanded.

Jews then gained a large economic influence, despite being un-enfranchised. By the 20th century, despite comprising less than three tenths of 1% of the population, Jews constituted over 20% of non-landed British millionaires. All of these belonged to the "Cousinhood" which was an ethnic network of about twenty closely inter-related and mutually supportive Jewish families. The wealth was derived from the fields of "banking, finance, the stock markets and bullion trading".[8]

However, their political influence was limited until the lifting of legal restrictions on Jews in the middle of the 19th century, despite strong opposition, from King William and the aristocracy in particular.[8][9] Jewish political influence has been argued to have been used to support a variety of pro-Jewish activities such as placing Jews from the Cousinhood in many of the most significant administrative positions in the Empire, financial manipulations and scandals, support for the Second Boer War (highly beneficial to Jewish mining operations in South Africa), support for the Ottoman Empire (while it was persecuting Christians but was friendly to Jews), and using exaggerated pogrom propaganda and economic funding in order to support a large Jewish migration to and rising Jewish influence in the United States.[8][9]

Jewish influence has also been argued to have played a part in the Opium Wars, and, of course, the infamous Balfour Declaration.

See Jewish influence
See List of British Jewish politicians before 1900
See Jewish politicians in Britain

See also

Further reading

  • The British Colonies by Robert Montgomery Martin, Tallis & Co., London, 1837, multiple volumes.
  • The Story of the British Nation edited by Walter Hutchinson, M.A., F.R.G.S., F.R.A.I., 4 volumes, London, c1925.
  • The Life and Times of Queen Victoria by Messrs. Cassell and Company Ltd., 4 volumes, London, n/d.
  • India Britannica by Geoffrey Moorhouse, BCA, London, 1983.
  • The Honourable Company - The English East India Company, by John Keay, Harper-Collins, London, 1991, ISBN 0-00-217515-0
  • England's Colonial Wars 1550-1688 by Professor Bruce Lenman, Pearson, London, 2001, ISBN 0-582-06296-9
  • Blood in the Sand - Forgotten Wars of the Nineteenth Century, by Ian Hernon, Sutton, Glos., England, 2001, ISBN 0-7509-2614-7
  • The Colonial Wars Source Book by Philip J. Haythornthwaite, Caxton, London, 2000, ISBN 1-84067-231-5

External links


  1. (1882) 1882 – The Good Old Days of Honourable John Company. Simla: Argus Press. 
  2. The Dutch East India Company was the first to issue public stock.
  3. "Not many days ago the House of Commons passed". Times (London): p. 9. 8 April 1873. 
  4. Erikson, Emily (21 July 2014). Between Monopoly and Free Trade: The English East India Company, 1600–1757. Princeton University. ISBN 9780691159065. 
  5. Roos, Dave. How the East India Company Became the World's Most Powerful Monopoly. History. Retrieved on 2022-04-29.
  6. (2020) The Anarchy - The Relentless Rise of the East India Company. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, xxxv (Introduction). ISBN 9781526634016. 
  7. Dalrymple, William (30 August 2019). "Lessons for capitalism from the East India Company". Financial Times. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Free to Cheat: “Jewish Emancipation” and the Anglo-Jewish Cousinhood, Part 1
  9. 9.0 9.1 Free to Cheat: “Jewish Emancipation” and the Anglo-Jewish Cousinhood, Part 2