The British Empire was the result of maritime expansion. From the seventeenth century new maritime growth underpinned the evolution of an international trade network. British economic, military and cultural influence was felt globally. As the British government and private firms developed they protected this infrastructure through an intimate economic partnership. This alliance provided new goods and fashions to the growing British markets, while acting as a catalyst for future industrial growth.
Britain competed for territory with the French, Spanish and the Dutch navies. While wars were won as well as lost, Britain’s dominance was not simply confined to the acquisition of land. The ‘informal empire’ also extended its influence through increased trade and mass migration. Millions of people emigrated great distances in search of work. Many never reached their destination, most never returned home and some put down new roots in the countries to which they had moved.
During this time the British liked to assume that their role was essentially peaceful. They believed they were only protecting their existing empire while trade and culture was allowed to spread. However the reality was an almost continuous record of invasion and aggression between 1783 and 1870.