By Charlie Dunne – Contributor
Royalism. Colonialism. Imperialism. Divide and Conquer. That was the practice of the British from the early 17th Century right until the decolonisation era that begun in the post-war era, which arguably is continuing in smaller ways today. Many understand the practices, the horrifying atrocities committed against millions of indigenous peoples by the invading forces that acted in name of ‘King/Queen and Country’. Yet why do we find ourselves skimming over the real root cause behind British imperialism? In this article we will explore how royal psychology bled through British society in order to co-opt the state, land and its people for imperialistic gains, which the royal family used to exponentially expand their own personal wealth, power and status (and still benefit from today). We will cover the history, the impacts of colonialism on oppressed and oppressor, and what a republican future would mean as a corrective measure to begin to resolve 400 years of colonialism.
As this is such a massive topic, this article will be the first of three pieces which will allow for each component to be properly explored and respect given to the people’s that lost everything to Empire. The title will remain the same yet the image will change (Not so different to Monarchy in itself..).
How the Royal Family forged an Empire on which the Sun never set
The most impactful founding tenant behind the moral justification of monarchy is the idea of ‘Divine Right’. The right for one to rule over another is rooted in the fervent religious belief that ‘God’ ordered it to be so. This idea is crucial to the founding psychological basis of Royalist thought, and thus provides a moral grounding for the subjugation of anyone they wish to, looting of any riches they please, and the expansion of their own territory into any part of the world. Arguably this basis is present in any monarchical or dictatorial organisation that subscribe to religion. However, it has been nowhere more powerful than in Britain. This much is obvious; the Monarchy still exists in 2022.
Yet this ideal was forged as early as British Kingdoms began to take territorial shape and convert to Christianity after the Benedictine missions to the Island in the centuries after the Roman collapse (5th Century CE). Arguably the idea was originally extrapolated from the experiences of Roman colonisation and civilisation. Royal embodiments of this idea include Alfred the Great, King Charles I and Queen Victoria to name a few. This idea has been so powerful within Britain, and contributed massively to the production of imperialistic mindsets throughout the halls of power during the colonial era. However, where things dramatically change is when Divine Right combined with racial theorists to produce another momentous ideology; white supremacy. The combination of these two deadly ideas formed the modernist ideological basis for greater colonial expansion beyond just trading relationships, and the time we generally think of when we think of the British Empire. Beginning at the height of power, the Royal White Family conceptualised themselves as religiously, financially and racially superior to all those below them and thus were justified in all ways to exploit as they pleased. It was ‘God’s’ will remember?
This narcissistic psychological foundation was disseminated from the top down into British society through the centuries, cementing the Monarchy as an immovable political actor in Britain. Co-opting the people into believing in the legitimacy of their own rule, whilst simultaneously convincing white Britons of all social classes of their superiority over the rest of the world. These were the founding characteristics that allowed the Royal Family to guide the nation onto a path of unending conquest. This as a result produced a social psychology of entitlement, and for those of a more liberal disposition a white saviour complex. Conservatives believed in the undisputed right to take, Liberals believed in the inability of foreign lands to govern themselves; both supported colonial expansion. The Royals had got what they wanted by the 17th Century; a serviceable population that, regardless of political sway, supported imperialism.
Divide & Conquer: The East India Company and The Royal African Company
Practically this was carried out through a method that would be used a thousand times over to a wide variety of nations, lands and peoples. Divide & Conquer, Royal Charters and Private Companies. Britain as an Island on the North-Western tip of the European continent did not possess the ability to field a massive fighting force of natives like various different empire’s had been able to in the earlier stages of colonial expansion. Instead they leaned on their strengths; Naval power and pitting regional groups against each other. In some cases utilising the local population to police their own oppression. This was the case in India when the East India Company (EIC) began to recruit Indians to collect taxes for the company from the local population that previously had been paid to the native Mughal Empire before it was defeated and forced to concede power by the EIC in 1765. How this links back to the Royals however, is through the issuing of Royal Charters. Royal Charters were unilateral decrees made by Monarch’s, given to private companies to carry out specific tasks on behalf of the crown in the imperialist sense.
The Crown did not have the ability to do it themselves; constrained by parliament (rarely), taxation problems, or an angry local population at home, the Crown could not and would not do their own dirty work. So they hired private companies (read militias) to carry it out, who acted in the name of the Crown and Country without any legal constraints on their actions, no accountability to a voting population and unlimited financial support from the Crown, government funds and private investors. You can see how things got very bad very quickly. An example of such a Charter is the 1672 Charter given to the Royal African Company (RAC) by Charles II. It ‘granted’ the company the ability to ‘trade’ along the west coast of Africa. This was a front; the original intention was to exploit the Gold Fields found in modern day Gambia during the Interregnum period by a ‘Prince Rupert’ who went on to become the colonial governor of Canada (Among the many other things he did). The RAC shipped more African slaves to the Americas than any other company in the history of the Atlantic slave trade, and was owned entirely by the British Crown. If that doesn’t show you how directly responsible the Crown is for the worst aspects of Colonialism during the British Empire then I’m not sure what does.
History is the Past; We are the Present
Through this short introspection of the History behind the foundations of Colonialism, the Royal Family, Social Psychology and practical views of Imperialism I hope you have learned something new. I encourage you to do further research yourself, starting with the links below that I used to create this article. Next week we will explore the impacts colonialism had on the fortunes of the oppressed and oppressors, and how this came to shape the path of history, and get us where we are today. This week took examples from the early stages of the British Empire, next week we will move onto the 18th-20th Centuries and analyse the development of Colonialism. Until next time, keep learning!