Origins of the Empire
• The foundation for the British Empire was laid at a time before the
creation of Great Britain, when England and Scotland were separate
• The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates,
mandates, and other territories ruled or administered by the kingdom,
that had originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts
established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
• At its height it was the largest empire in history and, for over a century,
was the foremost global power.
• The British had no monopoly on technological innovation but the Royal
Navy would undoubtedly become a formidable military institution.
– Being an island nation, shipbuilding and sailing would be important skills
– They had come to understand the ship design, navigational and long
distance skills required to explore and commercially exploit the routes that
• The Caribbean initially provided • In 1695 the Scottish parliament granted a
England's most important and lucrative charter to the Company of Scotland, which
colonies, starting in 1604 with a few first proceeded to establish a settlement on the
failed attempts. isthmus of Panama.
• In 1655 England annexed the island of
Jamaica from the Spanish, and in 1666 • At the end of the 16th century, the British
succeeded in colonizing the Bahamas. East Indian Company’s primary aim was to
• England's first settlement in the tap into the lucrative spice trade, and they
Americas was founded in 1607 in focused their efforts on the source, the
Jamestown, managed by the Virginia Indonesian archipelago, and an important
Company. hub in the trade network, India
• In 1670, a charter was granted to the
Hudson's Bay Company for monopoly on
the fur trade in a vast stretch of territory
that would later make up Canada.
• Two years later, the Royal African
Company was inaugurated, receiving a
monopoly of the trade of slaves, and so
forts were established on the coast of
Colonization of North America
• In 1548, Walter Raleigh was granted a patent for discovery and overseas
exploration. Later that year, he founded the colony of Roanoke on the coast of
present-day North Carolina, but lack of supplies caused the colony to fail.
• England's first permanent settlement in the Americas was founded in 1607 in
Jamestown, led by Captain John Smith.
• In 1609, Bermuda was discovered and a new colony was established.
• In 1624, the Crown took direct control over the American colonies, thereby
founding the Colony of Virginia.
• The Newfoundland Company was created in 1610 with the aim of creating a
permanent settlement on Newfoundland, but was largely unsuccessful.
• In 1620, Plymouth was founded as a haven for puritan religious separatists.
– Fleeing from religious persecution would become the motive of many English
colonists to risk the trans-Atlantic voyage:
• Maryland was founded as a haven for Roman Catholics (1634)
• Rhode Island (1636) as a colony tolerant of all religions
• Connecticut (1639) for Congregationalists.
• From the outset, slavery was the basis of
the British Empire in the West Indies.
• The Caribbean colonies adopted the
system of sugar plantations successfully
which depended on slave labor.
• The American colonies were less
financially successful than those of the
Caribbean, but had large areas of good
agricultural land and attracted far larger
numbers of English emigrant.
• Servile, or indentured, labor and
increasingly African American slave labor
provided the basis for plantation
With the Colonies With Europe
• Britain tended toward a • A series of wars in the 17th and
decentralized and empirical 18th centuries with the
Netherlands and France left
type of colonial administration, England the dominant colonial
in which some degree of partial power in North America and India.
decolonization could prepare • In 1604, King James VI of Scotland
the way for eventual self-rule. negotiated the Treaty of London,
ending hostilities with its main rival,
• Realizing that direct rule over Spain.
ancient civilized lands could not • Peace between England and the
last indefinitely, Britain worked Netherlands in 1688 meant that the
for a continued British two countries entered the Nine
presence in areas where the Years' War as allies
empire conferred self- • But the conflict waged in Europe
and overseas between France,
government. Spain and the Anglo-Dutch alliance.
Relations With The Natives
• At first, colonists survival depended upon the Native’s hospitality,
particularly gifts and food, but colonial leaders soon demanded too
much of local Natives.
– Natives resisted land invasions and fought a bitter war for survival.
• English landlords secured
land from local Natives
through treaties or just took
the land through royal
charters or land grants.
• In all regions, Natives
initially entered into trading
relations with the English
and enjoyed the economic
• Increasingly, however, English settlers wanted more land, and they
often forced treaties upon starving Native groups in exchange for
• As native lands became English ranches, farms, and plantations,
Natives were often plunged into a state of dependency and despair
because they no longer could support themselves by growing their
– Indians either migrated or violently resisted further English
• Indians witnessed the introduction of radically new technologies
and ways of life. Foreigners from distant lands arrived in their
homelands. They came in strange vessels, carried strange items,
spoke strange languages, and often acted violently towards native
• Such new and revolutionary developments brought unprecedented
changes to Native societies and created different ways of living.