Defining Pax Britannica

To read the full-text of this research, you can request a copy directly from the author.


This is the history of an idea as much as it is an account of the practice of exerting power. Inasmuch as it bears partly on matters of intellectual history it is really when you think of it, a form of biography “of the means whereby ideas are formed by men, are applied to their daily affairs, and are changed in that process of application”.1 During its most potent years, its adherents, proponents or critics did not call Pax Britannica that. It had no currency in its most formative years. It is a term with retrospective associations. Only late in that epoch did it come to be called that. At the outset of the period, 1815, the practitioners were far too preoccupied with reorganizing an efficient system of global influence and reach to presume that they had come to a state of Pax Britannica. They were, too, mindful of the possible resurgence of those two powers with which they had recently fought major wars: France and the United States. It may be kept in mind that towards the end of Pax, those two powers became complicit or actual allies of Great Britain and the British Empire. They, too, had gone through long changes and accommodations to British power. Throughout most of the years here under consideration, the British contended with the rivalry of these two foreign powers and did so with others of intractable character — Holland in the 1820s in Southeast Asia, Spain in regard to slavery and its nest in Cuba, and Belgium in equatorial Africa in humanitarian matters.

No full-text available

Request Full-text Paper PDF

To read the full-text of this research,
you can request a copy directly from the author.

ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
I have the honour of being the second incumbent of this Chair.1 My predecessor, Dr John Parry,2 is a distinguished scholar who has concentrated his attention on the themes of Caribbean history in particular, and on exploration, expansion and commerce in general — on all of which he has thrown much light. I myself, having worked in the fields of diplomatic and imperial history, am being more and more strongly attracted to a field wherein lights are few and far between. The field I speak of is that of intellectual history; the history of ideas, a history — or, as I prefer to say — a biography of the means whereby ideas are formed by men, are applied to their daily affairs, and are changed in that process of application. Probably more nonsense is written, in worse English, on the subject of the human condition than on any other topic. I mention this to indicate that I know, even although I cannot necessarily avoid, the risks of this particular avocation. But how fascinating are the assumptions and the presumptions of men!
In an article in the Journal of British Studies in November 1965, Helen Taft Manning, referring particularly to the period 1830 to 1850, asked the question, “Who ran the British Empire?” She was especially concerned with the influence of the famous James Stephen, but her question raises matters of wider concern. “Patterns of historical writing are notoriously difficult to change,” she wrote. Much of what is still being written about colonial administration in the nineteenth-century British Empire rests on the partisan and even malicious writings of critics of the Government in England in the 1830s and '40s who had never seen the colonial correspondence and were unfamiliar with existing conditions in the distant colonies. The impression conveyed in most textbooks is that the Colonial Office after 1815 was a well-established bureaucracy concerned with the policies of the mother country in the overseas possessions, and that those policies changed very slowly and only under pressure. Initially Edward Gibbon Wakefield and Charles Buller were responsible for this Colonial Office legend, but it was soon accepted by most of the people who had business to transact there. This legend is still to be found, as Mrs. Manning says, in general textbooks, among the more important of the fairly recent ones being E. L. Woodward's Age of Reform , and more surprisingly in the second volume of the Cambridge History of the British Empire . Of course, Wakefield and the so-called colonial reformers are well recognized as propagandists.
Naval Administrations The Experience of 65 Years
  • John Briggs
Lloyd’s of London (rev
  • Raymond Flower
  • Michael Wynn Jones
  • R Flower
A Description of Pitcairn’s Island and Its Inhabitants
  • John Barrow
  • J Barrow
The Shield of Empire
  • Andrew Quoted
  • Lambert
  • A Lambert
A Pattern of Islands
  • Arthur Grimble
Imperial Defence (rev
  • Charles Wentworth Dilke
  • Spenser Wilkinson
  • CW Dilke
The Foreign Policy of Castlereagh
  • Charles Webster
  • C Webster
Allusions to Rome in British Imperialist Thought in the late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries”
  • Raymond F Betts
  • RF Betts
Some Elements in Imperial Naval Defence
  • H W Richmond
  • HW Richmond
Thirty Years of Colonial Government from the Dispatches and Letters of the vols
  • See Stanley Lane-Poole
The Experience of 65 Years
  • J Briggs
The Stability of Our Indian Empire
  • SJ Owen
Imperial Defence, 1815–1870”, Cambridge History of the British Empire
  • B Tunstall
Crown and Charter: The Early Years of the
  • JS Galbraith
The True Conception of Empire The World’s Famous Orations (10 vols
  • J Chamberlain
Thirty Years of Colonial Government from the Dispatches and Letters of the Rt Hon Sir G.F. Bowen (2 vols; London, 1889)
  • See Stanley Lane-Poole
  • JS Galbraith
The Stability of Our Indian Empire”, Contemporary Review, 31 (1878), 517. I owe this reference to Christopher Hagerman
  • S J Owen
  • SJ Owen