Slavery, Piracy and Empire Building
Freedom versus Slavery
1. The people of Britain have always cherished their freedom.
2. The British have not always been free.
3. Much was been made in 19th Century Britain of Boadicea the freedom fighter.
4. In the past the British have imposed slavery on other people.
5. Christianity came earlier to England than was once thought.
6. There is no evidence that the Christianity practiced in Roman times was widespread.
7. King Arthur may not have been a Christian monarch.
8. A form of Christianity was later imposed upon the people of Britain by their rulers.
9. In the 19th Century Robin Hood came to stand for the fight against injustice.
10. In signing the Magna Carta Prince John limited the power of ruling monarchs forever.
11. England turning Protestant meant the people of England had strong Catholic enemies.
12. There were people living in Protestant England who had less freedom than others because they had remained Catholic.
13. Today Catholic British have the same rights and freedoms as anyone else living in Britain.
14. Generally speaking, the British did not want to be slaves to a powerful Catholic king.
15. Being able to rule the waves meant security and freedom for the British.
16. Slavery had been practiced throughout the world for many centuries.
17. At first there seemed to be nothing wrong with the British making other people slaves.
18. The British had a change of heart when it came to slavery in their growing British empire.
19. With the desire not to have slavery in the British Empire came a need to wipe it out elsewhere in the world.
20. Slavery came to an end in the British Empire before it was concluded in the USA.
Why do you believe slavery lasted so long in the British Empire?See results without voting
Never to Be Slaves
The British have had high hopes for decades now of never being under a conqueror's heel. Such hopes, however, may be dashed not through military might but migration.
Muslims living in Britain and demanding Sharia law may well pose the greatest threat in our time to democracy and freedom in general.
Since the time of King John, the very idea of a king or a monarch of any sort ruling purely by an arrangement with God, and with no regard for laws already passed, has been challenged over and over again.
King Charles the First lost his head over the question of whether a ruler could simply ignore his own people and make decisions without their consent.
Should then religious laws be introduced from elsewhere to break this long held tradition?
There was for a long time a great fear that England and also other parts of Britain might fall to other European powers. Today there is the fearsome possibility that parts of London might succumb to Sharia Law which would impose a kind of slavery on some Londoners.
There was the fear, in the 19th Century, that Australia might be invaded by Russia and taken away from the British empire.
In this song we get some idea of how strong this fear happened to be at least in Britain.
Never to Be Slaves
When Britain first, at Heaven's command
Arose from out the azure main;
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sang this strain:
"Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
"Britons never will be slaves."
The nations, not so blest as thee,
Must, in their turns, to tyrants fall;
While thou shalt flourish great and free,
The dread and envy of them all.
"Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
"Britons never will be slaves."
These are the opening lines to Rule, Britannia! which is possibly the most famous poem turned national song in British history. It is a nautical song written, according to the people at Wikipedia, in 1740. Words by James Thomson and set to music by Thomas Arne.
Rule, Britannia! was written at a time when the British indeed had an empire that had been developed through both trade and war. It had also come about through piracy and slavery.
Britons or British might not be slaves but this did not mean that others of different races could not succumb to slavery at the hands of the British.
When the British got a sweet tooth for sugar this resulted in the exploitation of many an African. This is mentioned in Niall Ferguson's history book Empire: How Britain made the Modern World (2003). It also touches upon an episode of the Doctor Who story Remembrance of the Daleks (1988).
The song Rule Britannia! mentions ruling the waves. This basically means having good, reliable ships for trade and a navy capable of taking on all comers.
The buying and selling of slaves in the British Empire would continue until 1807 when it was finally abolished by act of parliament. Slavery was abolished much later in the USA.
The people of Britain, however, have not always been free or have thought of themselves as free. Hence the line in Rule, Britannia! stating that Britions never will be slaves is somewhat misleading though it does suit the times in which it was written.
Britain, as envisioned by the Romans (the goddess Britannia bound as a slave to Rome), and then the people of Britain (a people never to be slaves) both came about through conquest.
Trade with Rome inevitably led to invasion of what is now England by Roman forces. It was hard going for the invaders.
England back then was a very green and somewhat wild place where it rained more often than in other parts of Europe. Forest areas were perfect for ambush by the natives. This hard going by the Romans resulted in various deals being cut with various barbarous leaders.
Then, when the country seemed tame, greed on the part of the occupying Romans led to an uprising against them. Tribes who thought themselves to be allies of Roman rather than conquered people were suddenly treated as if they had been conquered. This they found intolerable.
Tribes that had previously been hostile to one another joined forces to get rid of the Romans. They came to be led by a wild, redheaded woman named Boadicea. She was queen of the Iceni.
She had suffered greatly at Roman hands and wanted revenge. She had been flogged in front of her people and her daughters were raped. The Romans thought that this would bring the Iceni and other tribes into line. Instead it fueled a rebellion. Boadicea and her daughters had been treated like slaves and this was intolerable.
For a while Boadicea and her forces were successful. It took some time for the Romans to get over the shock of what had happened and to get the troops to where they could confront an enemy they had so stupidly created. In the meantime there was murder, pillaging and burning.
A retirement settlement for Roman soldiers was raided and those within butchered. It is said that these retirees were cruel to the locals so there may have been some justification in what happened to them. Londinium (modern London) was looted and torched.
Boadicea's forces were eventually destroyed but Boadicea was never killed nor captured by the Romans.
From Wales the Romans obtained copper and gold. Scotland proved too hard a nut to crack hence the need for Hadrian's wall to keep the wild ones out of England. It would eventually take the Vikings to tame the southern part of Scotland.
There is now evidence unearthed during a Time Team dig that Christianity came to England during the Roman period of occupation. What's more, there is evidence the native Britons were also worshiping the Christian God.
When it comes to what form this Christianity took, little as yet is known. Suffice to say it was an import from Rome. How many people it actually touched can never be known. It probably only had a toe hold in what was still very much a pagan world.
When the Roman Empire began to totter, Roman forces left England to try to prevent ultimate collapse. The native aristocracy, created in part by the Romans and used to by this stage Roman luxury, found themselves in an awkward position. Wave after wave of conquerors came. Possibly how they were at first resisted can best be gleaned from the surviving tales of King Arthur.
Though much of what has come down to us has been reworked, first for the Saxons and then the Normans, there are hints as to what may have gone down.
The sword in the stone, the lady of the lake, and the divine cup may all point to ancient British rituals practiced by Arthur and his people.
There is little doubt there was a Camelot. It may not have been the magnificent place that it became in 14th Century literature but it was magnificent enough to remain in the memories of the people.
The fabled sword may have sung because of the way it was made. It has been speculated that the blade was made of steel and thus sang when it came into fierce contact with swords made of lesser metal.
Today the story of Arthur and of his times has come under further distortion thanks to modern television shows such as Merlin that have too little regard for the past and too much consideration for political correctness. In time the hints that I have alluded to may vanish altogether like the mists of Avalon.
Was Arthur a native Briton or a mercenary brought in from overseas to aid the rulers of the land? Was Arthur a British king in his own right? This we may never know. Certainly if there was a Sir Lancelot he came from a distant land.
The best version of Arthur that has come down to us is in Le Morte de'Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory (finished in 1470 and first published in 1485). This work brings into play the round table (possibly reminiscent of the Celtic circle) with its noble knights. Then there's the betrayal of the king and the kingdom by Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot over romantic love.
It should be noted, however, that this book is highly Christianised and much removed in time from its settling so it cannot be relied upon as a true history. What's more, we don't know all of the sources available to and used by Mallory when he came to write his masterpiece, or how much of it was his own invention.
It is possible the moral lessons within, which we might take for his own sense of morality, may actually hark back to more ancient times. Morality, and tales of even nobility falling from grace, doesn't belong exclusively to the Christian world.
We know that the idea of the sky dragon or Pendragon isn't Roman. The notion of the once and future king smacks of the Celtic circle that has no beginning and therefore no end.
In 19th Century poetry, by greats such as William Morris, there was an upsurge of interest in King Arthur and his knights. The idea that the king will someday return when England if not indeed the whole of Britain is in peril and in need of him still echoes to us from the past. It is the 'never say die' of a long ago age.
The Crusades that came about during the Middle Ages were more a disaster for the people of Britain than anything else. By the time the Third Crusade had run its course there was heavy debt pressing down upon the people.
During the Crusades Christians were taken into slavery by Muslims. Also Muslims were taken into slavery by Christians. There were some people from the Middle East who converted to the Western style of Christianity and even ventured to England.
Richard the lion heart still cuts a romantic figure though how much of this is Catholic Church propaganda we may never know. Suffice to say he was a noble warrior in the service of the pope and of Christianity. His nobility, however, left the coffers virtually empty when his bother John became king. It should be noted that King Richard, with all his warring and wandering, spent less than a year of his life in Britain.
It is true that John made an unsuccessful grab for his brother's throne while he was alive. Upon his brother's death he became ruler of a kingdom less prosperous than it had once been. King John decided that the Church should pay taxes. This seemed fair enough since the Third Crusade had helped empty his kingdom's coffers.
This notion of his representatives in England paying tax outraged the pope.
John was excommunicated. Back then excommunicated meant not only being cut off from Church life but also having the Church's blessing given freely to whoever might want to kick someone excommunicated off a throne. Many of the people living in his kingdom were either deeply religious or knew how to pretend to be. King John had to beg to be let back into the Church. He also had to forget about taxing the Church.
Out of the differences between the two brothers a hero arose. The hero was Robin Hood. Today scholars believe that Robin-in-the-hood or Robin Hood is an amalgamation of a number of highway men that practiced this trade from about the 11th Century to the time John finally took the throne. He is best thought of as a defender of the people of Nottingham against Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham while King Richard was on crusade.
Robin Hood came to prominence in the 19th Century through the historical novel Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott (1820). In the 20th Century there was The Adventures of Robin Hood movie starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland (1938).
There was also The Adventures of Robin Hood television series starring Richard Greene and Bernadette O'Farrell (1955-1959). The songs touched upon in this series were from England's past and so gave the show an authentically British feel. The opening bow and arrow scene still gives this viewer a thrill.
Robin of Sherwood television series starring Michael Praed and Judi Trott (1984-1986) was a conscious effort to try to explore the nature of Robin coupled with the pagan beliefs of the English peasant at the time. In this take there was a Saracen warrior as part of Robin's men but his being there was easily explained through the crusades. There was no effort here to undermine the Robin Hood I grew up with through some political correctness vendetta.
In the 21st Century it seems that at least on television Robin Hood has seen better days. The television show Robin Hood starring Jonas Armstrong and Lucy Griffiths (begun in 2006) looks good but is full of politically correct trickery. It is best if the viewer accept it as just something for kids without much historical merit and leave it at that. Mind you the 2010 movie Robin Hood starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett has a lot historically going for it and doesn't appear to have bowed in any way to current politically correct pressures.
Basically Robin Hood was an outlaw who fought against corruption. He robbed from the rich and gave to the poor.
Possibly the act King John is most famous for is the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. This document limited the king's power making all future monarchs of England, and also Britain, rulers within the law of the land rather than rulers above the law. It is the basis of the Westminster system of law that is practiced in many parts of the world to this day. USA law is, in fact, based on the Westminster system. Some time later King Charles the First would come to challenge the power of the people and lose his head.
During the reign of Henry the Eighth there was the break away from the Catholic Church. England wasn't the first place in the world to make the break away. It was, however, upsetting for the people of England and brought into question the powers of the king like never before. Was the king such a divine being he could create his own Church?
Protestant England found itself surrounded by Catholic enemies. Some of these enemies had better ships than those of England.
The last invaders to conquer England had come by sea in 1066. Was history going to repeat itself? Would England be returned to Catholicism in chains?
Henry the Eighth set out to build a navy worthy of the name. It was in the reign of Elizabeth the First, his daughter, that there was true success in this endeavour.
Much has been made of the fact that, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth the First, the English ships were smaller than those of the Spanish. This is true. They were also streamlined and stripped of unnecessary bulk to make them faster and more agile. Much was learned from English pirates when it came to making hostile moves at sea.
Shiver Me Timbers!
Who do you believe were best at the pirate trade?See results without voting
Some historians have argued that the greatest pirates of all time were the Vikings. Up to a point there is some truth here. I believe, though, that the pirates who supported the English crown under Elizabeth the First were greater. Mind you, it could be further argued that these daring sailors were, to some extent, from Viking stock.
Certainly, in the dark ages leading up to Medieval times, Vikings raided the coastlines of France, England, Scotland and Ireland with great success. Remote monasteries were a prime target. Gold, silver and slaves were to be had. The gains were taken back home to the Scandinavian lands.
The Vikings had dragon ships and well trained crews. In searching for new lands they went as far as America.
Eventually, raids led to conquest. Parts of England came under Viking rule and then the whole of England. The Vikings took southern Scotland, changing the nature of the area forever.
The Normans were Vikings who carved out a kingdom that included parts of modern day France, England and southern Italy. They came to see Christianity as a way of strengthening their rule over conquered lands. Their relationship with various popes was rocky at best. It came to an end for the people of England when Henry the eighth wanted a divorce and the pope of the day would not play ball with him.
By the time of Henry the Eighth much of the land that had been conquered by the Normans had been lost. What's more, their prowess at sea wasn't as great as it had been.
Civil disturbances had weakened the kingdom and would continue to do so well after Henry's death. Despite harsh penalties, there were still Catholics living in England. It proved to be impossible to convert everyone over to the newer form of Christianity that Henry had engineered. What's more, Protestantism was splintering, creating more problems for anyone keen on strict rules over religion.
By splitting with Rome, Henry had raised questions about the very nature of religion. If the king was English and the faith was English then shouldn't the Bible be in English rather than in Latin? Shouldn't the words spoken by Church authority be understood by everyone?
Inroads were made in creating an acceptable English Bible. The end result was the King James Bible which borrowed from earlier English Bibles.
After Henry's death there were attempts to reinstate Catholicism which failed. With Elizabeth the first on the throne, however, it was obvious that England, as well as other parts of Britain, would remain basically Protestant. This did not sit well with papal countries such as Spain.
England was seen as an upstart little kingdom that needed to be pulled back in line with France and other Catholic religion based kingdoms. What's more, its Queen's attitude to piracy left a lot to be desired. Queen Elizabeth, in fact, supported privateers such as Sir Francis Drake by giving them safe haven for a share of the loot.
Ripping off the Spanish was profitable. There was gold from the new world to be had. But how long was Spain going to put up with these attacks upon its shipping?
Much has been written about the Spanish Armada and its attempt at invading Britain. Spain was wealthy and powerful with an empire the English could envy. It was a forgone conclusion that the Spanish, under Philip the 2nd, would win in what appeared to be an uneven contest. This did not happen.
Before the armada was to be launched there was a raid on where the barrels for the armada were stored. The barrels intended for the Spanish ships were destroyed. New barrels had to be made but there was no time to properly dry out the wood they were to be made with. Hence, during the journey across the English Channel, barrels hastily put together split, allowing fresh water to mix with salt water. Not only was drinking water spoilt in this fashion but food as well. This created sickness as well as thirst on board the Spanish ships and reduced the morale of the Spanish attack force.
Also, back in those days, maps accurately outlining the British coastline were only made available to members of the admiralty. There were good reasons for this. Parts of the coastline could prove treacherous. At least one Spanish ship went aground off the Irish coast. The crew were hoping to join forces with Irish rebels. What they found were Irish loyal to England.
The English cannon on board the English vessels has become controversial. Did it really contribute greatly to the English victory? In any event, it was then new technology as was the design of the English warships.
The Spanish were soundly whipped and did not try for an invasion of Britain ever again. They would just have to live with a neighbor of a different religion that indulged in some skulduggery or, at any rate, allowed such skulduggery to go on.
Then the British turned to colonization in earnest. This did not please the Spanish nor the Portuguese.
From Golden Temple to Settlers
The New World
After the Vikings, it was the Spanish and the Portuguese who first set out to discover new lands. Christopher Columbus did not find mainland America. What he did discover, however, indicated that there was more to the world than what had previously been generally known.
The French got a late start and so did the English. Spain claimed lands rich in gold. It didn't matter that there were already people living in these locales. The conquistadors did as their name implies. They conquered. To make it alright the Church converted the surviving natives.
There's a legend that gold was required by the Catholic Church for the coming of the end of the world. A temple, coated in the yellow metal, was to be constructed for the one true God. It was to be a beacon for God when it came to taking the faithful still on Earth to Heaven.
This golden temple never eventuated despite a lot of gold leaving parts of Central and South America for Europe. Perhaps it was discovered that the world wasn't coming to an end quite so swiftly after all.
Raiding Spanish ships for gold was one thing and setting up colonies of your own in America was another. One reason to do so for the British came with the further splitting of Protestantism.
People left Britain in order to practice in peace their own sometimes peculiar brand of Christianity. As Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter (written in 1850) would indicate, there was a certain amount of religious intolerance practiced among themselves by some of these settlers. This work is set in Puritan Boston in 1642. In other works by Hawthorne there is portrayed the fear the Puritans had of what they saw as the wilderness. This encompassed just about anything beyond their own settlements.
Strangely enough, the British settlers brought the belief of witchcraft with its supposed evils to the new land. The Salem witch trials of 1692 to 1693 are notorious. The reasons for the trials? Mass hysteria seems to be the most common answer. Regardless, innocent people were hung and one was pressed to death. This chapter in American history of flying accusations and condemnations was captured quite vividly in Arthur Miller's 1953 play The Crucible. It seemed that the settlers could get away from their persecutors in the old country but not so easily away from the persecutors in their own ranks.
The towns and eventually the cities of New England were given very British names indicating some homesickness on the part of the settlers. In 1664, when the British obtained New Amsterdam off the Dutch, it was renamed New York.
The main mission of the settlers was to tame the wilderness and not to adapt to it though some adaption in the early days was required for the sake of survival. The British would have liked to of found gold where they settled in America. At first there was none to be found. There was profit, however, in the growing of grain. Many of the local Indians did not see the danger to their own way of life posed by what the settlers were doing until it was too late.
By the time the 'no taxation without representation' controversy erupted there were 13 robust British colonies on American soil. The question was whether the colonies wanted to stay as part of the British Empire or go it alone. This was followed by the question of whether or not the British could stop their American colonies from going their own way. The American War of Independence settled the issue.
At first forces loyal to the British crown seemed to be unstoppable. The fighting, however, dragged on to the point where it was best for the British to pull out.
It wasn't all monetary concerns on the side of the British. There was the threat from the French. It was dangerous to spread the British fleet too thinly in various parts of the world for too long. With this in mind, the French had given the rebelling colonists some ships with which to fight for their freedom from British rule.
Not all the American colonists were against British rule. Those who had remained loyal to the crown and had even fought against the rebels had, at war's end, gone into British Canada.
There were north American Indians who fought on the side of the redcoats in the hope of getting land back off the colonists. They were dealt harshly with. There were also north American Indians who fought on the side of the colonists in the hope of a better deal from them. In the end the north American Indians who kept out of it no doubt made the right choice.
Before, during and after the American War of Independence there was slavery. There may have been life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness but this wasn't for everyone. There were people such as Thomas Jefferson who contemplated the ending of slavery in what was now the United States. He could not, however, envision how it could safely be done.
Slavery to Jefferson was like holding a wolf by the ears. You didn't like it but you didn't dare let go.
Washington, the first president of the USA, had slaves. The same can be said for Jefferson.
The worst place for black slaves was New York as a recent excavation of a slave burial site has revealed. Black men who sort freedom through rebellion were slowly roasted alive on a spit over hot coals.
All this came to a close soon after Britain ended slavery in the British Empire. The British became reluctant to do business with slave holders and trade with Britain was important to the growing city. It was thus that New York was made over into a slave free zone. Unfortunately these New York based the slaves were sent down south to work on plantations.
In the USA in the 1850s a number of issues threatened to split the nation. One of them was slavery. It was decided by congress that the people living in a territory entering statehood should decide whether or not their state would be free or for slavery. This resulted in pro-slavers from the south and abolitionists from the north both flooding into Kansas territory. The result was that Kansas became known as bloody Kansas years before the American Civil War officially started.
Abraham Lincoln was voted into power as a moderate. He was against new states becoming slave states but not against states that were already slave states remaining so for the time being. His father-in-law had owned slaves. A moderate approach, however, wasn't enough for the south.
The states that dropped out of the United States felt they had a right to do so. when war came there were southerners who considered it to be the 2nd War of Independence.
One good thing that came out of the Civil War was the Emancipation Proclamation. This officially marked the end of slavery in the USA.
The freed slaves, however, were not to be citizens with most of the rights of citizenship for another decade. It would take even longer for them to lay claim to all the civil rights they were entitled to.
What has eventuated in the 21st Century is a black president. This would not have been possible in the 1870s. This would not have been possible even in 1965 - a hundred years after the American Civil War had ended.
The south wanted Britain and possibly France to come into the American Civil War on their side. It was hoped by them that Britain's need for cotton would tip the scales in their favor. The British and the French, however, kept out of it. What might have happened if Britain had sided with the south sending troops down from Canada has been the subject of excellent alternate history novels by Harry Turtledove.
One organisation with a history of discrimination against black Americans came into existence at the end of the American Civil War. The Ku Klux Klan is still in existence today.
Pirates, Convicts and would-be Revolutionaries!
From would be Revolutionary to Convict
Does it matter that a percentage of those sent to Australia as convicts were Irish fighting for independence from English rule?See results without voting
Australia and New Zealand
Before Australia was colonized by the British it had been visited by people from Indonesia. For a time the south coast of Australia was used by pirates as a base of operations.
When the British did get serious about finding some part of Australia suitable for colonization they found themselves in competition with the French.
In part to stop the French from grabbing up too much territory in the south pacific, Captain Cook set sail in search of suitable land.
There was also the question of what to do with British convicts. At this stage they could no longer be sent to the colonies in America. The colonies there had become the USA.
Captain Cook discovered good possibilities for colonization on the east coast. Soon after his return to England the first fleet was put together and sent out.
It should never be forgotten that a percentage of the convicts sent to Australia up until this movement ended were political. There were Irish who resented English rule and so rebelled. Convict uprisings in the early days of New South Wales were generally engineered by the Irish among them.
There were attempts to make the British colonies in Australia completely Protestant. This failed to happen. The Catholics resisted. Ned Kelly the outlaw might not have reached fallen hero status in Australia if he had not had an Irish Australian background.
Today many religions can be found throughout Australia. There is also a healthy assortment of atheists and agnostics.
Merino sheep from Spain were introduced to New South Wales and Victoria. For quite some time the colonies and then the states thrived financially on the wool produced. Sheep also did well in New Zealand. There was a downturn in the wool industry when cheap artificial fibers became popular.
Aborigines did not do all that well under British rule. In many instances the land was simply taken from them as if they didn't exist.
The play The Cake Man by Robert J. Merritt tells much of what went down from the point of view of the Aborigines. Resistance was dealt with harshly. There were attempts to 'civilize' them and turn them into good Christians. It was only in the 1960s that they became citizens of their own country with the rights of other citizens.
To my knowledge no treaty was ever signed between any tribe of Australian Aborigines and the British crown.
It was different in New Zealand. Tough resistance by New Zealand natives did lead to at least one treaty being signed. This has meant that New Zealand natives have had at least something to fall back on when dealing with the British.
The colonies of Australia were formed into one country under federation in 1901. In 1907 New Zealand became a dominion within the British Empire.
Britannia Ruling her Empire!
World Wars, Great Depressions and A Bombs
An Empire no longer Strong...
- The British had a very impressive war fleet at the beginning of World War One.
- As the Germans discovered, a submarine is cheaper to build than a battleship bristling with guns.
- As the Germans also discovered, a submarine can sink a battleship bristling with guns as well as cargo vessels.
- By the end of the First World War, airplanes could bomb battleships, doing real damage to them.
- During the First World War, London was bombed from the sky for the very first time.
- The cost of keeping an empire going was getting hard on the British people.
- The profit of empire was becoming less than it had been.
- There was much damage during the Battle of Britain.
- Borrowing from the USA during the 2nd World War made Britain a debtor nation.
- Britain took a long time to recover financially from the 2nd World War.
- It was best to let pieces of the empire go rather than to struggle to hold onto them.
- The nature of world power was changed by the atomic bomb.
The Sun Never Setting...
It was said that the sun never set on the British Empire. This was true. It was huge. At least a third of the world's overall land had Britain's stamp of approval.
Certainly by 1914, with its impressive fleet of warships, the empire could claim to rule the waves.
There had been an arms race leading up to the First World War. The Germans were building an impressive fleet of their own thus challenging the British.
Little did anyone know at the time that these massive great hulks with their bristling big guns would prove to be next to useless in the coming conflict.
Britain had India. It was said to be the jewel in Queen Victoria's crown. What had made British dominion over this part of the world was the fact that, in some respects, British rule, at first, was better than what had gone before.
There was rumblings, however, for independence from Britain. These rumblings would continue well into the 1920s. Even so, troops from India were needed when the First World War did break out and they generally served the empire admirably.
In the 19th Century Britain, along with other European nations, tried to carve up mainland China among themselves. This wasn't a very successful enterprise. The carving up of Africa, however, was more successful.
By the time the First World War got started it could claim to be a global war because of the many interests the Europeans, including the British, had in various other parts of the globe.
You had Australians and New Zealanders fighting Turks at Gallipoli in the name of the British Empire. You had men from India in the trenches of the Western front in France. There was fighting going on in Africa and in Palestine. Then there was the USA. The Americans at first were determined to stay out. When they did get involved in 1917 it was on the side of the British.
The First World War weakened the British. Airplanes and submarines showed that depending too much on big warships with bristling guns was a flaw. There was also financial loss. This meant borrowing from the USA. Other countries also borrowed. Thus when the depression hit the USA it quickly became a world wide catastrophe and thus the Great Depression. It quickly flowed on to Germany, France, Britain, Australia and New Zealand. This led to a further weakening of the British Empire.
If there had not been a Great Depression Adolf Hitler might not have risen to power in German. If not for the Great Depression Britain might have been better prepared for war when it did come. The upkeep of empire was becoming a drain whereas before the First World War the profit to be had more than made up for expenses.
It was hoped that the British Prime Minister Chamberlain could keep the British Empire out of the 2nd World War. In 1938 this seemed possible. With the German invasion of Poland, however, war with Germany could not be avoided.
It was, however, Churchill who took the reigns as Prime Minister in what was said to be Britain's darkest and also finest hour.
The Battle of Britain, waged in the air, pitted German pilots not only against British but also against Poles, Free French, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders. The Germans were beaten but at a great cost. Many buildings were either damaged or destroyed. There was also great loss of life. The price of rebuilding once the fighting was over was high and took at least a decade.
The Japanese caused trouble in the south pacific for both the British and the Americans. In fact it was the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese that brought the USA into the war. The British lost ground to the Japanese and in doing so lost some of their prestige in the region. Australia came to rely more and more on the Americans for aid against the Japanese.
It was a combined force of British and Americans (including Canadians) that resulted in a successful invasion of Normandy in 1944. Further efforts resulted in the absolute defeat of Germany. This victory, however, also went to the Russians. Already the seeds of the coming Cold War had been planted. Berlin was divided up between the conquerors. There was already distrust between the Americans and the Russians.
The war with Japan came to its conclusion via the use of two A bombs. This firmly put the USA up there as a super power.
Other countries came to know the secrets of the A bomb including Britain and Russia. There were atomic tests carried out by in Australia by the British in the 1950s. It was Russian and then communist China that came to pose the greater threat to world peace during the 1950s and '60s.
In 1947 the British pulled out of India. At around the same time a part of India broke away and became Pakistan. What was to be the modern India and what was to be Pakistan was worked out by the British before they left. The African colonies run by the British all now go their own way.
Until the mid-1960s, the British continued to have some military influence in the south pacific. Today Australia looks to the USA for what military protection cannot be provided by Australian ships and airplanes.
The Cold War between the USA and soviet Russia is over. It came to an end in 1989. Today, Communist China holds the purse strings for a number of countries including the USA. Financially speaking, Communist China is now a power to be reckoned with.
There was lots of War Damage after the 2nd World War
Britain's future may well rest in the northern hemisphere and no longer in locales such as Australia and New Zealand.
Since becoming part of the European market, Britain has looked to Europe for trade.
There still remains a strong connection with her former colonies through the Commonwealth. The game of cricket continues to be a force that unites.
Australia more and more looks to the countries in its own region of the world for commerce. It was Australian Prime Minister Whitlam who first instigated this.
Britain and the USA remain on friendly terms as allies.
More by this Author
Australia, convict past, Irish political prisoners, Freedom , Drunkenness, Federation, World War One, Australia today, Future, Britain, Jonathon Swift, Catholics, Muslims, Charles Dickens, USA.
Religions such as Christianity and Islam have resulted in the spilling a lot of blood. It continues in France, the USA, Germany, Belgium and Australia. Saladin, Richard the lion heart, Robin Hood.
Banjo Paterson, Don Bradman, Don Boyd, Steve Carter, Antoinette Rydyr, Dick Smith, John Curtin, John Monash, Southern Cross, Sigrid Thornton, Paul Hogan, Steele Rudd, Dad and Dave, Heath Ledger.