Foreign PolicyForeign Policy

Queen Elizabeth II wasn’t innocent of her empire’s sins

By Howard W. French

12 Sep 2022 · 8 min read

Editor's Note

This FP analysis looks at the atrocities that were committed by the British Empire in Africa, India and other countries and how Queen Elizabeth II never criticized or apologized for her nation's past.

In the late 1550s, taking stock of affairs in Europe, an English queen named Elizabeth grew worried about being left behind in a new race underway among her country’s neighbors on the continent: the construction of a far-flung empire.

The Portuguese and Spanish had established an early dominance in this endeavor. The former had shown the way, earning fortunes trading with West Africans for gold beginning late in the 15th century before perfecting a revolutionary formula that conjoined plantation agriculture with race-based chattel slavery to produce tropical commodities on tiny São Tomé and Príncipe. Their model, based on sugar cultivation and commerce of the enslaved Africans who fueled it, would quickly come to dominate economic life in the Atlantic for centuries, supercharging European economies and propelling the rise of the West over the so-called rest.

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