How did this phenomenon cause the history of empires of spain, France, holland and England to develop in different ways

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How did this phenomenon cause the history of empires of spain, France, holland and England to develop in different ways

How did this phenomenon cause the history of empires of spain, France, holland and England to develop in different ways


Over the nineteenth century, France, the United States, and the Great Britain created states that were more or less democratic. Of these three nations, France suffered several transitions from monarchy to democracy and back accompanied by violent revolutions and the United States experienced a bloody civil war that left over 600,000 dead. Great Britain, however, did not. Why might Britain have avoided the instability of France and, to a lesser extent, the United States?

1. I feel that the main reason the British Empire was so successful was the Royal Navy.Before the advent of aircraft, most of the colonies were accessible safely only by sea routes. The Royal Navy was among the largest and most advanced of the navies during the Age of Discovery and it helped them establish good connectivity with trading stations and forts in their colonies. The victory against the Spanish Armada and against the French at Trafalgar are just two of many battles which bear testimony to this fact. The Spanish and Portuguese reached South America early and had really wealthy empires there. The British hired privateers to loot Spanish galleons, loaded heavily with gold, in the open ocean, of which Sir Francis Drake and Captain Henry Morgan are the most famous.

2. The second important reason was technology. The Industrial Revolution sparked off in England in the early 18th century, with the invention of new machines like the reaper, the Spinning Jenny, the steam engine, the power loom and many others in the fields of textile, metallurgy, steam power and agriculture. These machines greatly improved production. This provided the British with goods to sell and the need to explore for new markets. They also had the advantage of gunpowder weapons and horses which the Native Americans did not have, initially.

3. The third was military prowess and discipline. The Redcoats were highly disciplined soldiers. “Theirs not to make reply, theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die”. In short, Tommy Atkins was one of the best trained soldiers. Also, British commanders used new tactics to confuse the enemy e.g., the Thin Red Line. This coupled with the technological advancements mentioned above, enabled small British armies fighting far away from home and supplies to overcome larger and better equipped armies as seen at Blenheim and Plassey.

4. A major reason why Britain grew tremendously wealthy was the wealth of its colonies. In India, their arrival coincided with the peak of the Mughal Empire and they were in no state to take on its might. So they took permissions to establish trading posts and continued trading in peace. When the power of the Mughals started waning, a power vacuum was created and they eyed this keenly. They weakened the French influence in the Carnatic wars and with victories at Plassey and Buxar, they became a formidable presence on the subcontinent. This made them the most powerful European force in South Asia and it gave them right to rule and tax the region of Bengal. Slowly, with the adoption of policies like the Doctrine of Lapse, they became the rulers of the entire subcontinent. They found a ready market for their textiles and products here and sold them at the expense of livelihoods of local artisans and craftsmen. During the Scramble for Africa in the 19th century, the European powers decided to divide the continent among themselves, recognizing each others territorial claims. In Africa, the British acquired the Cape Colony driving away thousands of Dutch Afrikaners who moved away to form their own republics, the Orange Free State and Transvaal Republic, which would later be incorporated into the British empire. They repelled invasions by Zulus and emerged victorious in the Boer Wars. They also established their rule in Egypt, Sudan and East Africa, thus gaining control over one of the biggest resources in all of Africa, the Nile. Barring Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi, they controlled provinces across the length of Africa, leading Cecil Rhodes to propose the setting up of telegraph and railway lines from Cairo to the Cape. The main reason for controlling Egypt and the Cape Colony was that they could be used as halts by ships on their way to India. Egypt also gave the British control over the Suez Canal. They also defeated the Ashanti confederation in Ghana, then known as the British Gold Coast. Nigeria, Somalia, Sierra Leone and the Gambia were also ruled by them. Territories in North America and the Pacific were also colonized, with Australia being used as a penal colony.

5. They had great monarchs with a stable government, only with the exception of the Glorious Revolution. They were also one of the best placed nations during the Age of Discovery. The French were consumed in the Napoleonic Wars, to emerge powerful during the Scramble for Africa. The Italians were a group of city-states until they were united by Victor Emmanuel II in 1861. The Prussians and Germanic city-states formed the German Empire only in the second half of the 19th century. The Russian Empire was the second largest, though the only colony they occupied was Alaska. The Spanish never ruled any major colony beyond South America, and that gold dried up. The Portuguese held colonies in South America, Africa and the East Indies, with some colonies even in India, they never became a major threat to the British. The Dutch had a good trading network, but they weren’t able to match the military muscle of the British.

The two World Wars were too much for the economy of Great Britain and almost all other European powers and they left their coffers virtually empty. They were running losses in governing their colonies and hence many countries got independence post WW2. The conclusion of the Second World War marked the end of imperialism all over the world. And all European empires became simply shadows of their former glory.

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