The Expansion of England

  • D. George Boyce


England is amongst the oldest of the European imperial powers. Her imperial expansion is often assumed to have begun with the voyages of discovery in the sixteenth century; but her experience of dominion over other lands and people, with its catalogue of war, conquest, treaty, settlement, administrative and legal innovation, and governance began not overseas, but in the British Isles. The temptation to intervene in, dominate, and if need be to conquer, the Celtic lands of Wales, Ireland and Scotland proved too strong to resist, though not always easy to accomplish. This long process of conquest and settlement lasted from the twelfth century to the eighteenth, and England drew upon her even earlier history of consolidation and domination of the Anglo-Saxon lands, with King Alfred promoted as the ancestor of an English and English—British imperial ancestry (and with reference even to ‘an ancestry at once British and Roman Imperial’).1 England was a state and nation answerable only to God. From such confidence, from this early experience of dominion or aspiration to dominion, sprang the early modern British Empire, with its complex English—British identity, and with the prime mover, England, bent on pursuing its destiny in lands outside the ‘British island of England’.2


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    R. A. Griffiths, ‘This Royal Throne of Kings, this Scept’red Isle’: The English Realm and Nation in the later Middle Ages (Swansea, 1983), pp. 14–15.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    J. R. Seeley, The Expansion of England: Two Courses of Lectures (London: Macmillan, 1885).Google Scholar
  3. 13.
    Frederick Madden and David Fieldhouse, ‘The Empire of the Bretaignes’, 1175–1688: The Foundations of a Colonial System of Government (Westport, Conn., and London: Greenwood Press, 1985), pp. 215–17.Google Scholar
  4. 14.
    T. O. Lloyd, The British Empire, 1558–1983 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), pp. 22–4.Google Scholar
  5. 16.
    Anthony Pagden, Lords of all the World: Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britain and France, c. 1500–1800 (Yale, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995), p. 127.Google Scholar
  6. 17.
    Kenneth R. Andrews, Trade, Plunder and Settlement: Maritime Enterprise and the Genesis of the British Empire, 1480–1630 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), pp. 9–10.Google Scholar
  7. 19.
    David Fieldhouse, The Colonial Empires: A Comparative Survey from the Eighteenth Century (London: Macmillan, 1986), p. 66.Google Scholar
  8. 21.
    P. J. Marshall, ‘The British Empire in the Age of the American Revolution’, in William M. Fowler and Wallace Coyle (eds), The American Revolution: Changing Perspectives (Boston, Mass.: Northeastern University Press, 1979), pp. 193–212, at p. 194.Google Scholar
  9. 24.
    Brigadier General Sir C. E. Callwell, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson: His Life and Diaries (2 vols, London: Cassell, 1927), vol. ii, pp. 240–1.Google Scholar
  10. 26.
    See, e.g., J. A. Cramb’s panegyric, Reflections on the Origins and Destiny of Imperial Britain (London: Macmillan, 1900), pp. 139–40.Google Scholar
  11. 27.
    W. D. Hussey, The British Empire and Commonwealth, 1500 to 1961 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963), p. 35.Google Scholar
  12. 28.
    P. J. Marshall (ed.), The Cambridge History of the British Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 8.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. George Boyce 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. George Boyce

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations