Updated: Oct 24
Queen Elizabeth II was the monarch of 14 Commonwealth nations and the UK revealing how colonialism continues to impact today’s global politics.
The British Empire, at its height, was the largest in history, flaunting the moniker of “the empire on which the sun never sets.” England began its formal history of colonisation at the turn of the 17th century when Jamestown was established in North America. Even before that, England had forcefully taken over Irish and Scottish lands. By the 18th century, England had colonies in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Australia. According to an estimate, nearly 458 million lived in the Empire in 1922.
History shows that British rule had been violent towards its colonial subjects. It was marred by racial discrimination, indentured labour, forced impoverishment, looting, and indiscriminate violence. England had dragged all its colonies to the World Wars, causing death to millions. Colonised subjects would be deprived of food, causing famine and killing millions. The British Museum is filled with artefacts stolen from Asia and Africa, such as the Parthenon marbles, Rosetta stone, and the Hoa Hakananai’a, which the government refuses to repatriate even today.
Elizabeth’s father, George VI, was the last Emperor of the British period and Elizabeth’s era oversaw the majority of the decolonisation process. It was especially violent in settler colonies, like Kenya, where English descendants wished to retain their colonial rights. Last year, Barbados was the latest commonwealth country to become a republic and remove the British monarch as its head. With the death of the Queen, more nations plan to follow the same route.
While the history of colonisation might feel like a distant past, its effect is still felt by the coloniser and the colonies. Most erstwhile colonies saw unstable regimes and weak economies immediately after independence and suffered under them. Britain continues to enjoy the fruits of its colonial past and the riches it acquired through it. It will be worth witnessing how the regime change will affect the Commonwealth setup.
Photo © sbs.com.au