‘Neither Masters nor Slaves’: Small States and Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century

Richard Whatmore

in Lineages of Empire

Published by British Academy

Published in print April 2009 | ISBN: 9780197264393
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734571 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

‘Neither Masters nor Slaves’: Small States and Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century

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In the nineteenth and twentieth century, the British Empire was viewed as a moral phenomenon. It was often described as supportive of self-government, benevolent, and respectful of the customs and laws of the dependent states of the empire. In the twentieth century, Britain became involved in world wars to defend the independence of its small states. This involvement was partially spurred by commercial interests but it was mainly because of the desire to maintain Britain’s reputation as a defender of liberty and because of its self-perception as an archetypal free state. This chapter determines the origins of the perception of Britain as defender of small states and of Europe’s small republics. It begins with an evaluation of the prevailing perspectives on the empire during the eighteenth century and the survival strategies employed by Europe’s small republics. The chapter also examines the bankruptcy of the traditional policies for maintaining national independence by the latter part of the eighteenth century. It concludes with the perception of Britain as a defender of small states by the time of the Vienna Settlement.

Keywords: nineteenth century; twentieth century; British Empire; Britain; defender of liberty; perception; Britain as defender; Europe’s small republics; Vienna Settlement

Chapter.  13409 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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