The geopolitcs of England and the British Empire : analysis and historical notes


Also in relation to recent geopolitical developments on the international geopolitical stage ( which sees a clash, historically almost unprecedented, between East and West) we feel it is incumbent upon us to analyze the history and political and geopolitical evolution of one of the main geopolitical actors in that conflict. We are talking about England. A hegemonic power for almost half a millennium, today it still exercises, arm in arm with the United States of America, the role of guarantor of the world order as it emerged after World War II and after the collapse of the USSR. Let us try to understand why the power and strength of this geopolitical reality, which, although small and geographically almost irrelevant ( at least in terms of size) has represented something very important for the history of Europe and the entire world in the last five hundred years of history.


England, as a modern geopolitical entity, was born in the year 1066 when the landing of William the Conqueror ( first called “the bastard” and later renamed “the conqueror” by virtue of the conquest of Great Britain ) saw the easy victory over the Anglo-Saxon kingdom ( in the famous battle of Hastings ) then led by Harold II. William, Duke of Normandy and vassal of the King of France, created in England a strong state in which the figure of the sovereign was predominant over that of the nobility (and clergy). He thus organizes the state in a profoundly different way than the political framework found on the European continent at that time. And this explains why the political evolution of the English state will be different (and in some respects diametrically opposed, to that of the kingdom of France where the figure of the sovereign will have to regain, over the years, progressively, the role lost with the advent of the feudal economy in a grueling struggle with its vassals who no longer recognize its regal prerogatives) from that of the rest of the continent. In England the figure of the king is so strong that the nobility is immediately forced to fight fiercely to acquire basic rights.Rights that would be partly protected after the promulgation of the Magna charta libertatum (1215) in which the nobility saw its right to control taxes protected. In England, however, the role of the first state, the clergy, was also soon diminished. With the Constitutions of Clarendon (1164) King Henry II Plantagenet provided for limiting the power of the clergy and the influence of Rome over them. Neither the clergy nor the nobility (i.e., the first and second states) represented in the English Middle Ages a real problem for the sovereign. A sovereign who was so powerful that he felt able to challenge even the King of France ( whose vassal he was formally) in what was one of the bloodiest and bloodiest wars in human history: The Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453). This war, which was dynastically motivated (and in the contradiction of a King of England who as Duke of Normandy was still formally a vassal of the King of France) saw England dominate the first part of the conflict ( thanks in part to the role of infantry and archers in the tactics of warfare that would send the old conception of warfare based on cavalry into crisis) to the point of conquering three-quarters of French territory.The last phase of the conflict saw a patriotic jolt from the French people (of which the figure of Joan of Arc was certainly emblematic) who managed to regain much of the French territory and bring it back under the control of the King of France. However, this conflict’ demonstrated the strength and power of the English kingdom, which emerged as the most powerful state on the European continent at the time. In the decades following the Hundred Years’ War’ there was an internecine conflict between the various factions of the English nobility’ who literally decimated themselves in these clashes. Until the very famous War of the Two Roses (1455-1485), which was so bloody that it weakened the role of the nobility in England irreparably to the benefit of the bourgeoisie, which, thanks to this internal dynamic, found less conflict than elsewhere on the long road that led it to power. The role of the bourgeoisie in Britain was thus crucial from the 16th century onward and enabled the great colonial momentum that led to the exploration and colonization of North America (the first voyage of the Mayflower was in 1620) and paved the way for the formation of the Anglo-Saxon colonial empire that would reach its geopolitical apogee, the apex of its power, during the 19th century (as well as the industrial revolution in the 18th century, which was made possible precisely by the presence of a politically hegemonic and risk-taking entrepreneurial class).All of this was fostered by the political and social dynamics that took shape during the 17th century-that is, the century of the two bourgeois revolutions (that of 1648 and that of 1688-89)-which ,with the deposition of the two Stuart sovereigns Charles I and James I, paved the way for the final seizure of political power by the bourgeoisie ( a full 100 years before the French Revolution, which decreed the end of the Ancien Regime in France, with the advent of the bourgeoisie at the apex of political power at the expense of the’ nobility). Such developments allowed the English state to be the most evolved at the time (as well as in the Middle Ages, it was because of its political exceptionalism created by William the Conqueror as written above) and also the richest thanks to the proceeds of trade with the overseas colonies that, from the 17th century onward, became the mainstay of the English geopolitical vision. All this meant that “perfidious Albion,” which had become a hegemonic power precisely in those years, always looked with detachment at the affairs of the European continent on which it worked only to prevent the various hegemonic attempts of the continental powers from succeeding. England ,enclosed in its splendid isolation, which also geographically ensured its insular nature, asserted itself as a “two-faced power.”That is, as a power that looked on the one hand to Europe, geopolitically understood, and on the other, and even more so, to the overseas colonies under its control and the trade (and immense profits from it) with the latter that were the source from which it generated its wealth. Such wealth enabled London to finance coalitions of states against the powers that, from time to time, threatened its power. It was in this manner that the six hegemonic attempts that took shape on the European continent from the 1500s to the 1900s (the Spanish attempts of Charles V and Philip II, the French attempts of Louis XIV and Napoleon, and the German attempts of William II and Hitler) were thwarted and annihilated, and that attempted to replace, from time to time, England’s power with that of the power that aspired to hegemony on the European continent. England was a master ,in this historical period, in practicing the strategy of divide and rule and in forming coalitions by involving “spaces outside ” the European territory ( colonies or former colonies such as the U.S. but also Russia which was decisive in the defeat of Hitler’s and Napoleon’s hegemonic attempts) so as to prevent the imposition of a continental power’s hegemony on the old continent.All this was made possible by the enormous wealth accumulated as a result of exploitation and trade with its immense colonial and commercial empire (which reached its greatest expansion at the end of the 19th century and covered an area of more than 30,000,000 square kilometers). The maintenance of which was provided by the creation of the world’s largest military and merchant fleet as well as the imposition of a veritable thalassocracy (with associated control of the world’s major sea straits and trading ports) that remained almost unchallenged until the beginning of the 20th century. Century in which it had to cede the scepter of power to its “sister” power: The United States of America. With which the United Kingdom still acts in concert and with which it controls, directly or indirectly, half the world.


England’s geopolitical role has been ,since 1066, simply astonishing. Surprising especially because the small island has always enjoyed a character of exceptionality. And this not only at the geopolitical level ( starting with its insular nature that has protected it from attacks by antagonists with hegemonic aspirations) but also at the political and social level. Its political and social evolution has been quite different from that of other nations on the European continent. It always came first, always anticipated developments that in other nations were implemented decades if not centuries later. All starting with the work of William, Duke of Normandy and vassal of the King of France, who, having taken possession of the island, was careful not to reintroduce a feudal model like the one on the continent that would limit its powers and faculties. And he created a political model that represented a “unicum” on the European political and geopolitical stage of the times ( even compared to the Byzantine empire, which, by preserving the political-economic model of the Roman empire, in fact turned out to be the most politically evolved state of the time). Hence the geopolitical relevance of England in the Middle Ages.From the Renaissance onward, the character of exceptionality was evident in the social evolution that Britain experienced in relation to the exhaustion of the historic role of the nobility and the coming to power of the bourgeoisie, which gave a commercial and mercantilist imprint to the English empire. It was by virtue of such developments that the English empire could expand so much in relation, precisely, to the wealth created by commercial and mercantile activity. And it was by virtue of such developments that the first industrial revolution in the history of mankind was possible here. ( Many think that the determining factor that enabled this phenomenon was the presence of raw materials on English soil but, in truth, as important as the abundant presence of carbon coke was not the main cause of the industrial revolution. Much more so was the risk appetite of the English bourgeoisie as well as the abundance of labor provided by the enclosures and the outlet markets represented by the colonies). It is no accident, then, that “perfidious Albion” has been what it has been. And if, despite being so small, it was able to impose its dominion over the world and tame all those who, over the course of many centuries, aspired to replace it in the leadership of the world.

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