The First British Empire
Global Expansion in the Early Modern Age
- John Oliphant
15th October 2023
The First British Empire is an authoritative, highly readable and substantial account of the origins, growth and transformation of the British Empire from its European beginnings until the aftermath of the American Revolution.
Taking a regional and chronological approach, and highlighting the dual drivers of profit and power, it shows that the early empire was a mechanism not for dominance but for survival. From the naval war against Spain to the ‘Glorious Revolution’ to the wars against Napoleon, with a population perhaps one third that of France, England needed an oceanic empire to offset its European weakness. Expansion from mainland North America to the Caribbean and West Africa to the Indian sub-continent is seen in terms of the needs of the metropole, the narrower perspectives of settler societies, and the experiences of the colonised, the collaborators and the enslaved.
Drawing on recent research, it demonstrates fragility of British power in India, that the loss of North America was neither inevitable nor complete, and that the first Australian colony was a strategic investment rather than a dumping ground for convicts. Above all, it shows that the long, painful and often haphazard rise of this ‘first’ empire history is an essential key to modern British and world history.