How did England emerge as the dominant force among the colonial powers?

By Sunil Kumar

How did England emerge as the dominant force among colonial powers?

Complex answer which is simple at the same time. The primary reason is the history of the countries themselves.

Look at England vs its primary competition; Spain, Portugal, France. We will not consider Germany and Italy as they were not the unified countries we see today until the 19th century.

Spain which had achieved great success in South America with its conquistadores which was the example Elizabeth I sought to be emulated.

In the centuries after the Tudors which marked great change in England and its official religion; moving from Catholicism to the Anglican Church(Protestant denomination); England managed to weather every storm; major and minor in a very adept fashion compared to the volatility in Spain, France etc.

French and Spanish royals in the 1600s and 1700s were relatively effete, pompous and more vain compared to the pragmatic English who merged with their traditional rivals the Scots to form the United Kingdom in 1707.

In comparison; royal excesses in France led to the Revolution in 1789; a period of great instability; the rise of Napoleon; his subsequent defeat and exile.

Spain was also a spent force and it had too much territory to manage in South and Central America. It also lost Belgium etc in continental Europe. Most of the Latin and Central American colonies broke free in the 1800s. North American land went to the U.S.

In comparison; England had Victoria reigning for a long time from 1838 to 1901.

France in the same century(19th) suffered anarchy, defeat after Napoleon; a king who was again dethroned; communists and invasion by Germany. The Victorian age was a period of remarkable stability for the English and also gave rise to great scholars and scientists.

The British after losing the United States in the late 1700s had got a big prize in India which aided them in their colonial expeditions across the world from Africa to Malaya.

In fact; the world wars and their catastrophic impact on humanity was largely a result of German jealousy at the effective stability, vast resources and wealth of the British empire which the Germans believed was a party they had missed. The Kaiser was a relative of Victoria which effectively made the First World War a family conflict. Also; Germans believed they were more efficient than the British who they also admired and despised in equal measure.

I also believe that England had a strength of spirit and camaraderie which distinguished them from the other colonial powers who were in contention.

Like the Germans; England has also believed in its greatness and was also helped by its unique position as a separate island. Although the English like most Europeans are the intellectual progeny of the Greeks and the Romans; their pragmatic spirit, commercial prowess, deviousness and diplomacy; some great visionaries, a mix of cowardice and machismo and sheer luck or divine providence(whatever u fancy) kept them a notch above other colonial powers.


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