The extent in which Britain dominated during the period of 1850-1929 is an ambiguous field of exploration, as well as the word dominance itself. The impact that Britain played throughout this time does perhaps, suggest that countries across the world portrayed a vast amount of subservience in areas such as economic strength, the Empire that is infamous for its widespread supremacy, and the complementary military which as a defence mechanism, efficiently earned Britain its powerful status.
Britain also thrived in its political and social stability, its power covering most aspects of a dominant country. However, it’s possibly the ever-growing nations such as Germany and the United States which undermined Britain’s ability and deprived them of the majestic title in which they may have inhibited otherwise; or as some would propose, the economic and naval decline which hindered this status to a limited expense. One thing in favour for the dominance of Britain was the fact that it became the place in which situated the world’s first urban industrialised economy, as early as by 1850.
To a further extent, Britain was so powerful and unrivalled in this area that it accounted for a massive 50 per cent of the world’s trade in coal, cotton and iron, something that would clearly have earned Britain a respected and admirable title. As well as this, its gross national product (GNP) accumulated to more than the combination of China and Russia, countries which were physically larger by an extreme amount. Enhancing the strong authority even more, this steady expansion was proposed with a miniscule two per cent of the worldwide population, something which some would class as a miraculous, yet praiseworthy achievement.
The fact that the British population increased by 27 million in just one hundred years (1801-1901) stated that Britain would not let its limited size undermine its possible future accomplishments. As a nation, it also managed to create an influence in the newly found banking and financial system based in London, unearthing prosperity and uniqueness for the country, as well as the rest of the world. Despite its size, Britain managed to become the workshop of the world and the world’s banking house by 1870.
Although the thriving situation within both the population and economic status seemed to express inevitable dominance for a healthy period of time, by the time the twentieth century took its toll, Britain’s economic position was no longer appearing to contract the stability it once obtained, and it was certainly not remaining unrivalled for much longer. This may not have been due to decline within Britain, but the inclination of power that Germany and the United States were gaining at a rapid pace.
In sectors such as motor car production and electrical good production, Britain was limited and began to slowly fall behind these two powerful nations. This is believed by some to be due to the lack of knowledge exemplified in the applied science, and the inadequate investment within this field. Despite the pessimistic views of many Britons, the British economy was not as weak as it may have been exposed as in the twentieth century.
This is backed up by the fact that its merchant fleet obtained one half of the entire world’s sea-borne traffic by 1914. Britain was clearly heading in a prosperous direction once again, excluding the close rivalry for dominance by the USA and Germany. Regardless of problems issued by competition, London was able to maintain its status as the world’s financial centre. Britain was able to remain at a high level above the close competition within the technological side of power and dominance.
Between the periods of 1876- 1900, around 15 percent of the significant and impacting inventions were originated in Britain, including the telephone. Scientific and technological instruction improved to a significant extent, as the government soon began to fund the vital university research and expansion. The government also channelled large amounts of money into scientific projects which were designed to improve armed services. For example, the Admiralty subsidised the development of wireless technology.
Taking each of these facts into account, despite the slight economic decline which occurred by 1900, and the rivalry of the USA and Germany, Britain managed to hold onto the dominance by the tip of their fingers through the struggle, and fought back at a stronger rate to maintain that status across the world. The Royal Navy radiated such mightiness and distinctiveness throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century that their dominance in this field was unquestionable, let alone was there any form of rivalry to even be considered.
The Royal Navy did in fact, rule the waves and protect Britain in pride and strength. The Navy preserved the trade routes with the Empire and with other commercial partners, as well as doing the most obvious job; providing Britain with security and stability. It was most definitely a vital factor within European politics, providing invaluable in a vast amount of colonial campaigns, providing safe passage for troops, costal bombardment and the protection for bridgeheads shore. In addition to this, however, it was during the late nineteenth century, that naval vessels changed from sail and wood, to stream and steel.
As a result of this, Britain had to progressively alter its Navy in a modernising form, which clearly affected the economic strength as change did not come cheap. It was perhaps the rapid alterations after slow development that limited Britain, especially with warships now being obsolete on completion. The fluctuating technology and the consistent threat of development of new weapons conjured up doubts about whether or not the British Navy would be able to defend Britain to an effective extent.
An increase of 65 per cent in naval expenditure between 1889 and 1897 proved to be a worry for the protection of Britain, but was perhaps also an advantage as they were made aware of the fact that actions had to be taken before it was too late. Notwithstanding, the unique strength of the British navy continued to regress. 38 battle ships belonged to Britain in 1883, in comparison to the 40 which belonged to France, Russia, Italy, Germany, Japan, and the USA.
Fourteen years later, the ratio had declined to 62:97, a serious offence within the British Empire. Once the twentieth century arrived, Britain was no longer solitary in its Navy, and the power it once inhibited was slowly revolving on a reversal effect. More issues arose between 1900 and 1910 when Germany began the production of a large fleet. In response, and perhaps without much thought, Britain created a shipbuilding programme in order to maintain the supremacy of the Royal Navy.
Although it did not draw extreme attention, the strength of the navy created the ability to construct Britain’s administration in the Crimean and Boer war, as well as the First World War, ensuring that the troops were able to be deported to the necessary locations. One area that may have deprived Britain’s dominance and unrivalled name was the army. In the years from 1854-1929, the size of the army reflected the physical size of Britain itself; it was relatively small for the majority of the time, consisting of rarely more than 130,000 strong in peacetime.
This did not however, include the troops that were stationed in India. The army had two main functions and tasks- it had to maintain home defence and control maintenance of the Empire. The army showed dysfunctional aspects due to the harsh discipline, the poor conditions and the low wages. Each of these factors contributed to the manpower problems. The majority of the rank and file were simply men who joined due to economic necessity, meaning they were either unskilled, and or casual labourers.
Clearly this was hindering and depriving the success and power that Britain could reach, so dominance in this field is extremely miniscule, or even non-existent in some cases. Throughout the nineteenth century, there were impacting changes imposed in the national and social composition of the army. Changes in the demographic area of the army meant that it focused on recruits from urban areas instead of the countryside. Assuming that they were brought up in the open air, men from agricultural backgrounds were favoured by the officers, as they were seen as better suited soldiers than those from towns.
Despite this, it may have been the complete opposite in reality, as the experience of Soldiers in the American Civil War suggests that those born and raised in towns had a longer life expectancy due to resistance to germs being much stronger. Therefore this decision may have resulted in regression rather than progression within the army, limiting Britain’s power to a further level. In spite of all this, the performance of the British army is usually associated with a high rate of success and dominance.
In the majority of the colonial wars, the army stood out as successful due to its opponents lacking in strength in this field. This is evidence for the unrivalled nation in which Britain was, as other countries were unable to reach such standards of dominance. The way in which Britain thrived was learning from their mistakes and adapting this in an efficient way. As the Crimean army suffered greatly in the winter of 1854-1855, they took time in alterations, ensuring that the army would not suffer the following winter. This was proven a success.
The army was also able to defeat the main Boer armies, and to follow on, waged a successful yet difficult war against the opponents that used guerrilla tactics. Though one major achievement was in 1918, when the British army represented their dominance in the most rewarding way possible- winning the First World War, ultimately defeating any close rivals. In comparison to the Navy, the army did not represent equality in the vast amount of power, the Navy was much more advanced and dominant in Britain than it was in other countries, meaning the military power may have been restricted based on the army alone.
The economic and naval strength imposed by Britain allowed the acquiring chance for a extensive Empire. This is truly representational by the fact that it amounted to a quarter of the world’s land surface and population. Accounting to this alone, British dominance couldn’t possibly be rivalled by any country, simply because the Empire was so widespread. Although now the Empire is perceived as both embarrassing and indifferent, in this particular period it was thought of a source of pride to most of the British population.
To people during this time, it conferred a great amount of power to people outside Britain, as well as providing Britain with reliable sources of food and raw materials and a captive market for British exports. It also accommodated the Royal Navy with the required naval bases from which allowed them to dominate the world’s sea lanes. It was not a directly structural acquisition which made up the Empire, but more the fact that particular colonies were added subconsciously along the way.
Local circumstances were the prime reason behind the British rule obtaining new territories. In several cases, it was due to the fact that they were gained under the idea of defensive or for reasons that were simply strategic. Before 1880, the main rivals that expressed dominance were France and Russia, however after this time, Germany, Italy and Japan also sought empire. Between 1880 and 1900, the ‘scramble for Africa’ unfolded, and as it stood, 90 per cent of the continent was appropriated by European powers.
Britain, being the dominant nation it was known as, obtained nearly five million square miles, expressing its true power. This was 1. 5 million square miles more than France, and double the amount that Italy and Belgium shared together. It was clear that the main factor was down to economic interest, something that every country would fight to obtain regardless of the issues that may assist it in the foreseeable future. The most important part of the Empire was India- also known as the ‘jewel in the crown’ due to its glorified impact.
The British army spent the largest single element on protecting the Indian army, most likely to protect its own state. Although the Royal Navy’s main task was to protect Britain, it also put a lot of effort into protecting the trade route to India. Ruling India would allow Britain to be the greatest power in the world, according to Lord Curzon, enhancing the importance of Indian protection. The East India Company in the operation of British rule came to an end after the Indian Mutiny. This is due to the fact that the whole civil and military system of British India was reorganised.
In a state of pride, the British government accepted full responsibility for the majority of the sub-continent, an area which was larger than all of Europe- with the exclusion of Russia. However, in spite of this, the Empire was at times proved a disadvantage as British governments were not fully committed to the running of the Empire. Their main goal was to maintain it at the least costly price possible. Less than 6,000 people were employed to administer the whole Empire, most of which were from affluent middle-classed backgrounds, in the year 1914.
This meant a lot of responsibility was rested in such a small amount of hands. The major cost of Empire for Britain was defence and not administration, however. It was in Britain’s hope that the colonies would contribute to their own defence costs, something that was barely realised. Although the Empire was successful in areas such as emigration, high returns on capital investment and increased trade, most of Britain’s trade was with countries outside the Empire, perhaps suggesting that the extensiveness of it was unnecessary, despite recognised as dominant.
As well as this, the Empire showed a decline in trade as it decreased from 49 per cent in 1860, to 36 per cent in 1929. Nevertheless, the dominance in which the Empire inhibited was clearly unrivalled, no other Empire showed such large success and surface area control. To conclude, each area of dominance in economic strength, the military and the British Empire, Britain as a whole did appear to be unrivalled in dominance between 1850 and 1929, to a further extent in certain areas more than others.
One aspect that particularly works in favour of total control is the Royal Navy. It’s extreme power and success was not seen in any other country in this period of time, and Britain thrived off this. They were able to maintain a high status that would have lured other countries into defeat- a mechanism which would have been extremely admirable. The economic strength was so vast, that even as a small country, Britain was the workshop of the world and the world’s banking house by 1870. It was the centre of economic power, remaining unrivalled for a great period of time.
Although Germany and the USA were ahead in terms of technological sectors, Britain soon adopted an attitude which gave them the ability to thrive in scientific invention. The Empire itself was so large it would be merely an impossible to match such dominance, however despite the fact it was physically empowering, its minimal success rate was perhaps not worth such a costly factor. Taking each area into account, it’s quite clear that Britain was progressively ahead of other countries, leaving it as the leading nation of dominance and success.