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Matt M
Matt M
8 months ago

As ever when the British Empire is discussed, I find myself scratching my head.

For me the empire is a source of great pride. A small island conquered the world and spread civilisation, industry, commerce, parliamentary democracy, common law and Christianity to the darkest corners without the brutality of our continental peers (or our successors in the United States for that matter). We stamped out the hideous practice of slavery worldwide and stopped the genocidal plans of Napoleon and Hitler. What’s more, as the territories we colonised began to think of themselves as nations we handed them over to the inhabitants. Where they chose to stay with us – Northern Ireland, The Falklands – we spent blood and treasure to support that desire. We also allowed millions of former colonial subjects to emigrate to the mother country without much fuss and today their grandchildren sit in the Houses of Parliament.

A pretty respectable record if you ask me.

God Save The Queen!

Last edited 8 months ago by Matt M
ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
8 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Well said. The British Empire was the second greatest Empire the world has ever seen, some may even say first.
Unfortunately many self-hating elements within our own society are deeply embarrassed by its success, and are thus in a perpetual state of denial, poor things!

Rule Britannia!

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
7 months ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

Switiching to the song ‘Rule Britannia’ it is noticeable that, contrary to what many people think, it’s not a jingoistic hymn to actual rule, but an expression of a desire, hence the subjunctive tense in ‘(May) Britannia rule (not ‘rules’) the waves’. It’s a wish rather than a complacent celebration.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
8 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

“…the violence, looting, displacement and sometimes staggering cruelty…”
Sounds a lot like what is going on in SA today.

Julian Pellatt
Julian Pellatt
7 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Wonderful to read words by someone who takes pride in his British history and achievements! British colonial service was essentially one of (temporary) stewardship, not permanent domination.

Jonathan Cook
Jonathan Cook
7 months ago
Reply to  Julian Pellatt

Yes and this concept of stewardship, or trusteeship, was confirmed in 1923, by the Duke of Devonshire, who was Colonial Secretary at the time, in the “Devonshire white paper” relating to Kenya, which stated:
“Primarily, Kenya is an African territory, and His Majesty’s Government think it necessary definitely to record their considered opinion that the interests of the African natives must be paramount and that if, and when, those interests and the interests of the immigrant races should conflict, the former should prevail. Obviously the interests of the other communities, European, Indian or Arab, must severally be safeguarded … But in the administration of Kenya His Majesty’s Government regard themselves as exercising a trust on behalf of the African population, and they are unable to delegate or share this trust, the object of which may be defined as the protection and advancement of the native races. — Victor Cavendish, 9th Duke of Devonshire”

Leejon 0
Leejon 0
7 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Well said.

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
8 months ago

I can bear the loss of the Empire quite cheerfully. It was very expensive and all empires pass in time. Much harder to bear is the loss of dignity, intellectual rigour and moral fibre which now characterises the leading voices of society, especially in the universities.

Peta Seel
Peta Seel
8 months ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

With all the aid that the ex-colonies need and get the Empire is far more expensive now than it ever was in its time.

Leejon 0
Leejon 0
7 months ago
Reply to  Peta Seel

Meh! We generally have very good and friendly relations with our ex-colonies (many of our compatriots have family in these places after all, I certainly do). I for one have no issue with helping friends or family wherever they may be or whatever nationality they may be.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
8 months ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

I share your sentiments. Speaking of morals, I find Harrington’s discussion of what a collective relationship with the past might look like interesting, as in her observation Whatever historiographers may argue, at ground level it’s not easy to see how we can build a shared story from fierce partisanship on such a contested and often still-painful past.
For me, this is the central issue – historiography. The historiographer’s arguments regarding what happened, how it happened and why, sans modern notions of morality. There seems to me to be a lack of sensitivity – in contemporary accounts of colonialism and Empire – to both the presence of reading modern notions of morality into the past and in so doing using language that passes judgement. Perhaps this is what Harrington is identifying as the corrosive narratives of unshakeable moral taint and oppression that increasingly permeate at least the progressive account of our common life.
And does this reading of a modern morality occur here? For example, we can’t weigh the cumulative significance of the British imperial age without taking into account the violence, looting, displacement and sometimes staggering cruelty that also formed part of that story. I can read violence, looting and displacement as abstract observations of behaviours and actions that had occurred, but does “staggering cruelty” read as if it contains both an emotional response and a modern moral judgement on the back of that?

Last edited 8 months ago by michael stanwick
Terry M
Terry M
8 months ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

“When Oxford professor Nigel Biggar argued that we should feel a measure of pride as well as shame in our imperial past, 60 Oxford academics wrote an open letter furiously dissociating “Oxford scholarship” from Biggar’s stance.”
That explains a lot.

Gregory Cox
Gregory Cox
8 months ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

I have just been reading an editorial written in the 1860s arguing that the expense of running the empire was a serious financial drain.
Secondly, I think that the nature of the empire is misunderstood in a variety of ways. For example, boys at Bristol Grammar School were taught in the 1920s that the empire was a stewardship that was temporary. The members of the empire would become democratic independent countries.
When I visit England I get the impression that almost every English person would happily bid adieu to Scotland.
The British Empire is perhaps historically unique in the above respects.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
7 months ago
Reply to  Gregory Cox

“When I visit England I get the impression that almost every English person would happily bid adieu to Scotland”.
Off course, it is a blood sucking parasite of gargantuan proportions Every morsel of food and drop of drink that Nicola Sturgeon & Co consume is provided by the English taxpayer.
Both Scotland and for that matter Northern Ireland, are complete charades, inexplicably funded by English largesse. This must stop. Away with you ye beggars!
More tea Vicar?

Last edited 7 months ago by ARNAUD ALMARIC
Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
7 months ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

Please have at least some sympathy for the benighted Unionists like myself, who have seen immgration from southern Ireland utterly transform Scotland over the last 70 years (i.e. since I was born). Up until the 1970s the SNP were seen basically as a collection of fringe weirdos fixated on the 13th-16th Cs (the ‘Auld Alliance’). It took less than 50 years for them to achieve power.

Last edited 7 months ago by Arnold Grutt
Leejon 0
Leejon 0
7 months ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

Three points:
Scotland is not Nichola Sturgeon, she is merely the head of a (minority) devolved government.
I live in Scotland, and I pay tax (even on assets I hold in England – I do not begrudge this).
Taken to its extreme, your argument seems suggest that taxation rather than a means to redistribute wealth and aid all peoples of a nation (by building roads, hospitals, schools etc.) should only be spent on those who pay it, which seems to negate the entire point of taxation in a modern civilised society.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
7 months ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

Exactly.

Sam Sky
Sam Sky
8 months ago

This article seems to miss that the monarchy also represents a line of continuation back to the Anglo-Saxon era, something childrens books such as the old ladybird series used to good effect.

Last edited 8 months ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
8 months ago

The empire isn’t ‘in ruins’; it has morphed into a multi-national organisation of independent states with many common interests. Far from being ‘ruined’, that change is a mark of its success. Member nations are free to choose to adopt republican governments, again a sign of the flexibility and adaptability of the post-empire Commonwealth. Nobody in the UK wants a return to empire; many in its former colonies do, though.

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
8 months ago

I generally try to develop a narrative that goes completely across the self-admiring narrative of the educated class.
My understanding of the British Empire is, first, that it was based on trade. The Brits and Portuguese went to India to short circuit the spice trade up the west coast of India through the desert and up the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. They didn’t like paying all the taxes and the middle-men on the old spice route.
If you read The British Conquest and Domination of India by Sir Penderel Moon (old chap), you see the progression of received wisdom. First, the Brits had to deal with the feudal and predatory rajahs to protect their trade from loot and plunder, and step by step they pushed the rajahs and the Mughals back. By 1820, the Brits knew that “you know, I don’t think these people like us.” The Brits knew they had to get out of India after the Mutiny (Great Rebellion) in 1857 but not yet, old chap.
Then, don’t forget the Second Hundred Years War against the French, starting in 1688 when the Dutch invaded England and introduced central banking to the backward Brits. It was the National Debt that powered the eventual humiliation of France on the field of Waterloo in 1815 (after the Brussels ball, of course, so that Juian Fellowes could produce Belgravia 200 years later).
Third, if any enpire had a soft landing, it would be the British Empire. Another proof of God’s existence.

Sam Sky
Sam Sky
8 months ago

You say ‘the Brits’ but the real driving force of these trends was the East India Company. The British government waivered between indifferent to hostile as Warren Hasting’s trial showed and only fully accepted the economic and strategic reality after the scare of 1857.

Last edited 8 months ago by Ferrusian Gambit
ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
8 months ago
Reply to  Sam Sky

The driving force was England not Brits, and whilst the East India Company was of supreme importance as you say, other English ‘nutters’ were establishing themselves in the Americas & elsewhere.
Incidentally it was Warren Hastings not Harding.

Last edited 8 months ago by ARNAUD ALMARIC
Robin Daly
Robin Daly
8 months ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

Simply not true, the Scots were far more invested – per capita – in empire than the English, the entire Indian civil service was dominated by them, not to mention industrial supply of empire. So it’s an old, but untrue trope, to blame the WASPS.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
8 months ago
Reply to  Robin Daly

The foundations of the Empire, say from 1603- 1707 were laid without any help from benighted Scotland. They had nothing to do with the fabulous East India Company, nor the settlements in Virginia, New England or the West Indies.

As you must know Scotland even tried to found its own little Empire in the 1690’s, resulting in the Darien Fiasco.

Prior to 1707 the only Scotch to see the Empire were those who were shipped there, to the Americas and West Indies as virtual slaves after their thrashing by Messrs Cromwell and Monk.

After 1707 and the magnificently generous Act of Union, I would agree with you. The English Empire was the salvation of Scotland, as it morphed into the British Empire.

Richard Parker
Richard Parker
8 months ago
Reply to  Robin Daly

Fair point – and one often overlooked in the rush to pin all guilt on perfidious Albion.
James MacPherson and his gang of Edinburgh heavies, for example, were up to their armpits in every dirty imperial pie they could locate (when Jimmy himself wasn’t inventing “newly-discovered” epic bards from scatterings of authentic ancient writing). That said, given the mores of the time, they probably weren’t any more culpable than any of the other chancers in the Game. And after the failure of the ‘45, the Scots probably had more incentive to go out and make or take something for themselves…

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
7 months ago
Reply to  Robin Daly

My Scottish maternal grandparents managed a tea plantation in Assam for Booker.

Cantab Man
Cantab Man
8 months ago

In my view as an American, the Queen’s fortitude, grace, dignity, and her lifetime of service and duty is far more respected and remembered by the citizens of the world than the internal navel-gazing about past glories/sins of empire that beset some within the UK.

The Queen pulled off an impressive feat – almost singlehandedly redefining the world’s conscious understanding of what it means to be a worthy royal. She leads by example.

Our younger generations could learn a very positive life lesson or two from her. And hopefully they will.

R S Foster
R S Foster
8 months ago

…well…up to a point. But let’s bear in mind that despite it’s very small size and comparatively small population…the United Kingdom remains on the UN Security Council, a member of the G7….the Five-Eyes…the Inner Councils of NATO…home to the HQ of the Commonwealth (55 members and growing)…and in the top twen or twenty Countries in the World by any measure from top Universities and Nobel Prize Winners…to GDP and the liquidity of the City…plus hundreds of people every week spend every penny they possess and risk their lives to get here, having passed through about a dozen perfectly safe, stable and wealthy places much beloved by the Guardianistas, to make the attempt…and perfectly serious people consider us to be the only Global Power in Europe.
We are not a Superpower (although we invented one of the two there are, as well as the language they speak, which is pretty much the universal “Lingua Franca”)…but we are a big, poweful and very serious Country with or without an Empire…not bl##dy Luxembourg!
Furthermore…we gave the Empire away…having started the process at the Imperial Conference in 1926 with the “Old Dominions”…but started planning then to do the same with the Raj in the 1980’s, and the rest in the decades that followed. WW2 changed the timetable, not the outcome…
…so why the uneasy cringe?

Mark Gourley
Mark Gourley
8 months ago
Reply to  R S Foster

Exactly! Compare the hideous conflict between France and Algeria, to name but one example.

Gregory Cox
Gregory Cox
7 months ago
Reply to  R S Foster

‘but started planning then to do the same with the Raj in the 1980’s,…’
1930s. 

R S Foster
R S Foster
7 months ago
Reply to  Gregory Cox

…what I mean is we pencilled in the hand-over for the 1980’s…the planning did indeed start after the Imperial Conference in 1926. I suspect we broadly agree…

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
7 months ago
Reply to  R S Foster

An excellent synopsis, with but one caveat, you omitted to mention that we are, for better of worse, a Client State of the USA. The reputation we had built up over several centuries was finally destroyed by ‘our’ appalling conduct in joining the Bush/Blair Iraq War.
By the way what has tiny little Luxembourg ever done to vex you so?

R S Foster
R S Foster
7 months ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

…if we are a Client State of the USA, so is every other western democracy…and we could, after all, defend ourselves. The others couldn’t…but I’d suggest we agree to disagree…

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
8 months ago

My wife’s keen on this stuff and we’ve had the TV on all day. Lots of pomp and circumstance, red coated marching bands etc etc.

We’re on the flight route into London for the fly past, so we’ve had the Typhoon’s, Red Arrows Spitfires and Hurricanes flying over the garden, which was cool.

I’ve been working in the garden, but whenever I’ve popped in and caught an interview, it’s been with a POC. Every one, without exception, I’d be proud to consider a fellow Briton. They’ve all been articulate intelligent people who’ve made a real contribution to our national life.

And yet I’m irritated by it. It’s unbalanced and denigrates the contribution of the indigenous population to our great nation.

Will we ever lose this obsession with race?

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
7 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

No.
Also most of the aircraft seem to be US built.

Last edited 7 months ago by ARNAUD ALMARIC
Warren Trees
Warren Trees
8 months ago

Well, at least the daughter’s book wasn’t about drag queens.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
8 months ago

Another interesting essay by Mary. As she eloquently points out, it is no longer possible to have an intelligent review of the Empire. Any discussion is a battle ground between competing ideological viewpoints.

Alas, history is written by the victors and my side aren’t winning. Hasn’t stopped my garden being awash with Union Jacks ahead of the weekend’s celebrations.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Both sides of my family left Portsmouth for Massachusetts in 1637. I am a proud and loyal American with a very deep affection for Great Britain – England in particular. I will be celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and contemplating once again my mysterious aversion to France and Spain!

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
7 months ago

What about the Scotch and their ‘cousins’ the Irish?

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
8 months ago

“the defining feature of Elizabeth’s reign has been the disintegration of the colossal empire held by her predecessors: a process that began in earnest a few years before her coronation, with the independence of India and Pakistan in 1948. Then 1952, the year she was crowned …”

Not mentioning the U.S.A., Canada or Australia – fairly significant bits of the Empire? Wasn’t the Queen crowned in 1953?

Last edited 8 months ago by Russell Hamilton
Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
8 months ago

Interesting point, RSA as well. They are somehow “different” in my head. More, sparsely populated “vacant” land, populated by settlers, as opposed to existing, and alien, polities conquered.

Sam Sky
Sam Sky
8 months ago

Canada and Australia were never really ‘lost’ though but dissolved into constitutional copies of the motherland.

The empire that formed the territory of the USA is generally considered the “first empire” quite distinct to the structure of the later empire, formed as it was by a quilt of colonial charters. Indeed the expasion amd creation of this second empire was in many ways driven by the challenges and necessities of the loss of the 13 colonies.

Last edited 8 months ago by Ferrusian Gambit
ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
8 months ago
Reply to  Sam Sky

The loss of America on 1783 is much exaggerated. Trade with the place remained unabated, whilst we were rid of perhaps a million or so ungrateful former colonials.

On the other side of the world the East India Company was controlling the lives of perhaps 30 million, whist happily plundering the place on a simply epic scale, not seen since the great days of Ancient Rome.

Sam Sky
Sam Sky
8 months ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

But it had practical and long lasting consequences. Convicts could no longer be sent to the 13 Colonies as indentured servants, which lead to an overcrowding of hulks, that was finally solved by sending them to Australia.

Last edited 8 months ago by Ferrusian Gambit
ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
8 months ago
Reply to  Sam Sky

It didn’t take long to start using Australia as a convict dumping ground.

I always think ‘we missed a trick’ when we didn’t attempt to reconquer the US in 1814-15. New England was on the cusp of succeeding and I doubt if the rest would have taken much to ‘roll over’. Off course the ‘Iron Duke’ (an India man.) disagreed, but he wasn’t infallible, as his only too hopeless Premiership was to prove.

Last edited 7 months ago by ARNAUD ALMARIC
Terry M
Terry M
8 months ago
Reply to  Sam Sky

Convicts could no longer be sent to the 13 Colonies as indentured servants, which lead to” a great increase in the trade in African slaves.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
8 months ago
Reply to  Terry M

Indeed, and my forebears and many others made a small fortune from that God sent opportunity to profit and plunder without let or hinderance. Happy days.

Rob Britton
Rob Britton
8 months ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

The War of Independence was more like a civil war with many of the royalists travelling north to Canada after 1783 where they made the country more British and less French.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
8 months ago

Canada, Australia and NZ were essentially ‘freed’ by the 1931 Statute of Westminster.
Ireland*off course, had already escaped in 1922.

(*most of it.)

Sam Sky
Sam Sky
8 months ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

Although in reality that was a mere legal formality in many ways: they were already highly self-governing by that point thanks to the confederations of 1867 and 1901. They were recognised as having a special status within the imperial structure as dominions and seen as sort of equals with Britain as the primus inter pares as might be seen by the Ottawa Conference in 1932 or the co-ordination in the world wars.
And neither Canada nor Australia lost the link to the Law Lords as their highest court of appeal until the 1980s, which could be seen as another date when they were ‘independent’. As I said in reality it was a slow dissolution of imperial power not a great break; a fact that was true for nearly all the dominions except South Africa.

Last edited 8 months ago by Ferrusian Gambit
ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
8 months ago
Reply to  Sam Sky

I agree, although I think the moment that the last British Infantry Battalions were withdrawn from New South Wales etc in 1870, and a few years later in Canada, was the seminal event, as I think so did Mr Kipling.

At the 1922 Washington ‘Disarmament’ Conference it was the Canadian Prime Minister (Ulster born) who insisted/suggested that the UK sever the 1904 Anglo-Japanese Naval Treaty, with ultimately catastrophic results for the Empire.

Sam Sky
Sam Sky
8 months ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

Although from the Canadian side it was quite reasonable because they didn’t want to be drawn into the wrong side of a US/Japan war which everyone knew was going to happen and much like happened to Australia in WW2 they knew would probably result in their being left to fend for themselves in any land invasion. And without Australia’s advantage of being an isolated continent.
It is also doubtful Japan and Britain could have stayed on good terms regardless given how the Japanese deliberately coveted the resources of the region and took an increasingly strident anti-Western stance as time went on, their strategic interests were diverging too much and how they saw both Britain and the Netherlands becoming increasingly overstretched and thus making their most far-flung territories juicy targets for exapansion.

Last edited 8 months ago by Ferrusian Gambit
ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
8 months ago
Reply to  Sam Sky

The pressure on Canada came from the US, which like Japan and our good selves coveted a very large slice of China.

Regardless of our very close relationship with Japan, the truth of the matter was we were bankrupt to the US as far back as 1916, and thus would have to acquiesce in whatever the US desired.

Hence the countdown to the Pacific War and the destruction of the British Empire in the Far East had started.

Rob Britton
Rob Britton
8 months ago

The fact that Canada, New Zealand and Australia have decided to retain the monarch as their head of state shows the virtues of empire – the British one, at least. Australia and New Zealand go through periodic bouts of republicanism, as Australia is doing now with a new government, but it never quite happens. The Canadians seems to like the monarchy because it differentiates them from their bigger, southern neighbour.

Nicholas Rowe
Nicholas Rowe
8 months ago

The source of frustration for modern liberal interventionists must be that, whether they want to interfere at home or abroad, they don’t have an empire with which to do it. If they had an empire as Britain once had, by jingo, they’d do a better job with guns and human rights than the Victorians did.
The recessional under Queen Elizabeth has been humbler and of greater longevity than Kipling thought it could.
Far-called (to Afghanistan), our armies have indeed melted away. Sterling as the world’s reserve currency; Britain’s innovative banking system, the foundation of commerce; her vast foreign investments that paid for much of the Great War in the first two years; her ownership of much of the world’s telegraphic communications, all of which made the Empire at least as much, if not more, than Kipling’s ‘reeking tube’, have faded from memory as Nineveh and Tyre.
Yet, the monarchs have not departed and in Her Majesty still stands that ancient sacrifice, a humble and a contrite heart. Perhaps the Lord God of Hosts has spared us. Perhaps much depended on her coronation oath made before Him.

Liam F
Liam F
8 months ago

Sure, the British Empire died off in 20th Century – as did all the other European empires – Dutch, Portuguese , Spanish, Dutch, German, French et al as democracy replaced monarchies. But for all the negativity expressed in the article how many ex-Empires are still on As good terms with their ex-colonies as Britain?

Lucas D
Lucas D
7 months ago

One of the most enduring myths of empire is that it’s the source of Britain’s wealth. In truth, saying the empire made Britain rich is like seeing a man driving a Porsche and saying that Porsche makes him rich. Empire was a thing rich countries did. A status symbol.

Adam smith said the empire was costing too much money. Our biggest trading partners were the US and Germany – and they were also the two countries most challenging British dominance, with no empire. Indeed, if the empire was as powerful as we think, the Great War would have been a walkover as a quarter of the worlds population, plus France and Russia rolled up Germany with no problem at all.

Truth is empire was a paper tiger.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
7 months ago
Reply to  Lucas D

And we were bankrupt by late 1916, mainly due to subsidising our feckless Allies.Such a policy had worked quite well in previous wars, but by 1914 was simply unaffordable.

Last edited 7 months ago by ARNAUD ALMARIC
Andrew Dixon
Andrew Dixon
8 months ago

“…he Caribbean colonies were mostly independent by the early Sixties”.
This is true only of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago (1962). The others that gained independence did so in the second half of the 1960s, the 1970s or the first half of the 1980s. Montserrat, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the Cayman Islands all remain British Overseas Territories. As does Bermuda which isn’t in the Caribbean but is often spoken of as if it were.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Dixon

Odd to think that the first major James Bond film, “ Dr No” was filmed in colonial Jamaica in 1961!

R Wright
R Wright
7 months ago

“Much of Britain’s imposing architecture was built with the wealth of empire”

Why do people repeat this tired falsehood? Aside from the Indian Raj nearly every single British colony was a financial loss maker, failing to cover their costs and requiring English taxpayers to pay for the shortfall. Anyone who has read a single book on colonial history would know this.

William Cameron
William Cameron
7 months ago

I grew up in West Africa. My Country gained independence without any great fuss. The Country has since had its ups and downs but is now stable again. My memories of colonisation are essentially benign. Racism hardly existed. The colonial power invested money into roads schools hospitals rule of law etc- This was country whose economy couldnt have afforded those without British money. It was a happy peaceful place.
When I listen to the utter nonsense spouted by today’s young people about the evils of colonialism -they are completely wrong. History has been traduced by lack of proper research.

Mike Oliver
Mike Oliver
8 months ago

I thought the Coronation was 1953 and Suez in 1956.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
8 months ago
Reply to  Mike Oliver

Correct, an uncharacteristic blunder by Ms Harrington. Well spotted!

Henneli Greyling
Henneli Greyling
8 months ago

Her taste in hats have definitely improved in line with years on the throne :). God save the queen!

Last edited 8 months ago by Henneli Greyling
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago

“…Queen Elizabeth’s reign is profoundly representative of the collective British post-war condition: rattling around in draughty halls…”
Mary’s observation is profoundly representative only of an inability to grasp what the collective British post-war condition actually involved: most notably a disregard for what she describes by the great majority of the population as they sought to improve their lives and those of their children, with a large measure of success. This might be epitomised by the advent of the Beatles and the way in which working- or lower-middle class lads (and now lasses!) could take their lives by the scruff of the neck and make of them whatever their talents enabled.
It’s only those who know what “FHB” entails who have such a dismal view of our history – meanwhile, scraping together the means to feed one’s kids was of rather more concern to far greater numbers of people, who opportunity may have passed by.
Was there some irony in Mary using FHB as an example? Perhaps, but in my opinion it was a poor example (no pun intended!). The article demonstrates a lack of balance in judgement towards where the UK stands, as others have pointed out with some clarity.

Alan Birks
Alan Birks
7 months ago

When the history of the British Empire is discussed, reference is usually made to its wealth and grandeur. However, so little mention seems to be made of the squalid conditions that most working class people lived in, with whole families, even small children, toiling long hours in appalling conditions for a pittance, the alternative to which was destitution, starvation or, if you were lucky, the workhouse.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
7 months ago
Reply to  Alan Birks

How many ‘Workhouses’ were there in India or Africa in the 19th century?

Ray Mullan
Ray Mullan
8 months ago

I once met Denis and Margaret Thatcher in “the least lived–in of the Queen’s homes” Hillsborough Castle.
The late prime minister did not come specifically to see me so it is a not very interesting story — except to note that she was unexpectedly short and her handshake felt like something cool slipping along my palm under water.
Still, she at least employed the right hand, unlike her husband, also unexpectedly short, who reeked of juniper leaves at eleven o’clock in the morning and seemed to think that his left would do me.
Gapsh!te.
Our bags were rifled by unseen hands while we were upstairs.
Tossers.

Last edited 8 months ago by Ray Mullan
Peter Oldfield
Peter Oldfield
7 months ago

P. Oldfield
What is oppressive about Harrington’s essay is the incessantly moralising tone. The facts about British history and that of most countries are available to all who wish seek them out.
Should we moralize only about British history or about all history? What conclusions would the second path lead to?

Anton van der Merwe
Anton van der Merwe
7 months ago

It is not difficult to separate what is clearly positive from what is negative. The positives include contributions to knowledge, technology, culture, human rights and institutions. Liberal democracies have become the most flourishing societies to date. We are incredibly lucky that english has become the language of science and the worlds second language.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
7 months ago

“I have some sympathy with those who argue we should wrestle openly with the complexities of our national past.”

There is no complexity .. like all Empires they come and they go … most of us recognise this and are comfortable about losing our own


Richard Craven
Richard Craven
7 months ago

I don’t really see how the peaceful and voluntary relinquishing of an empire amounts to decline and disintegration.

Jack Mizrachi
Jack Mizrachi
7 months ago

……. just 8magine the World without the British Empire ⁉️

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
8 months ago

superb

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
8 months ago

“…the violence, looting, displacement and sometimes staggering cruelty…”. Clearly, the empire varied from place to place, and from time to time, but once it was recognizable, it was generally doing its best to avoid looting, displacement and cruelty.
I’m aware that there were times when this wasn’t true, and brevity prevents mention, but those were generally exceptions. However, I’ll mention just one; until a point it’s difficult to place exactly, military practice and honour permitted looting, especially if a fortress refused to surrender.

Last edited 8 months ago by Colin Elliott
Trisha Smith
Trisha Smith
8 months ago

Interesting comments.

Last edited 8 months ago by Trisha
Tom Scott
Tom Scott
8 months ago

I’m not really sure what the aim of this article was?
If the author wishes to read her article to her child of reception class age, that’s fine with me.
Either way, the history of our empire, and giving back to those who now wish, is also fine with me.

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
7 months ago

To comprehend the legacy of this “authoritarian grit in the political oyster”. . . we might as well ask how could a grain of sand get stuck in an oyster? And how could that oyster, in retaliation against that rough, alien irritant, then generate a pearl–such a beautiful thing, lustrous and white–coming forth in response to a small alien presence that had taken unwelcomed residence inside the creature’s own domain?
The answer, old chappess, is hovering in the high, rising, curved arch of Westminster, where the entreaties of a billion British souls have ascended . . . to be heard and accepted by the Eternal Lord of the Realm, for whom all this rugged isle’s fruit, goods, products, blood, sweat, tears and prayers. . . was long ago dedicated.
Never forget the Source of all legitimate Authority.
God save the Queen! And the coming King, should Providence approve.

William Shaw
William Shaw
7 months ago

Empires rise and fall. Britain had its time in the sun and yes, the Scots, Irish and Welsh were part of it despite what their devolved governments may now like to portray.
American has had 80 years or so of “empire” since Europe destroyed itself in two world wars. Next will come China then perhaps India, Brazil, who knows.
As we move from material wealth to intellectual and information wealth size will become less and less important. In the future a pinprick of a nation might rule the world.

Last edited 7 months ago by William Shaw
Garrett R
Garrett R
7 months ago

Can someone educate this American on the Suez Crisis? The article says 1952 but I thought it was 1956?

M. Jamieson
M. Jamieson
7 months ago
Reply to  Garrett R

Yes, I think it is an error.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
7 months ago

Any ideas on the caption photograph anyone? K.A.R.?

M. Jamieson
M. Jamieson
7 months ago

As a colonial, I think this article is a little parochial. One way or the other we all live our daily lives on the bones of the past, products of a fight for survival and resources our ancestors won, weird ideologies, and unpleasent couplings. If naval gazing – or wrestling with past empire – is necessay, we all ought to be doing it, not just the British, but I really wonder about the moral imperitive or what the desired outcome is supposed to be.

Leejon 0
Leejon 0
7 months ago

As ever an interesting and thoughtful article. I would however take issue with one point, We do not all live in the ruins of an empire, the upper and upper middle classes may live in one. But the ordinary working classes of the U.K. never really had much experience of being imperial overlords, we live as we have ever lived, in our own communities (like many people the world over), and think in terms of them. I may be passinly interested in the such things as an historian, but the existential angst felt by some has passed me by, I suspect I am far from alone in this.

Matthew Estill
Matthew Estill
8 months ago

A reflective piece, but I think the general silence in our histories concerning the direct involvement of the monarchy in the slave trade, through the establishment of the Royal African Company under the Stuarts (Charles ii and James ii) is rightfully a source of grievance for many. Our histories of slavery appear to make it something that happened elsewhere.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
8 months ago
Reply to  Matthew Estill

It was a long time ago. What were other countries doing at the time, even if they existed? What were other countries doing even 100 years ago (if they existed). And for the record, the history I learned at school decades ago was factual, and made clear that it happened elsewhere only after the abolition. At least we were fairly self-confident at the time and the teachers were self-evidently apolitical.