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The Origins of the British Empire, 1500-1700

4. Civil War and Revolution, 1640-60

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In this module, we think about developments in the period 1640-60, focusing in particular on: (i) the importance of the British civil wars in expanding the military capacity and strengthening the fiscal position of the English government; (ii) the consolidation of English control in Scotland and Ireland; (iii) the use of purpose-built warships to massively expand British naval power in this period, and the knock-on effects of British naval strength in terms of international trade; (iv) the targeting of overseas possessions as opposed to 'home' territory, as demonstrated by the (largely unsuccessful) attacks on Spanish possessions in the Caribbean in the 1650s; (v) the extent to which competing commercial interests provided the justification for war (e.g. war with the Dutch in the 1650s) as opposed to confessional disputes (e.g. war with the Spanish in the 1580s); (vi) the extent to which the crown was directly involved in territorial expansion, e.g. New York in the 1660s, expansion in Canada in the 1650s; (vii) the continued importance of private enterprise in other parts of the world, not least the creation of a slave-based plantation economy in Barbados; and (viii) the figure and activities of Martin Noell, who to some extent epitomises the key changes in his period


In this course, Professor Michael Braddick (University of Sheffield) explores the origins of the British Empire between 1500-1700. In the first module, we provide some thoughts on how we as historians can best approach such a complex historical phenomenon as the British Empire. In the four modules that follow that, we trace development in four distinct periods – the Tudors (1500-1603), the early Stuarts (1603-40), the civil war(s) and interregnum (1640-1660), and the Restoration (1660-1700). In each case, we think about key developments in what kinds of activities were taking place, where they were taking place, the extent to which the government was involved in these activities, the role of capital and investment, and the overall 'vision' (if any) of what was going on. In the sixth and final module, we provide some more thoughts on how to think about the development of the British Empire, and offer some suggestions for how the kinds of analyses seen in this course can be fruitfully applied to the development of the Empire from 1700 onwards.


Michael Braddick is a Professor of History at the University of Sheffield. Before that, he was Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Alabama and Assistant Professor at Birmingham-Southern College, Alabama. He has held fellowships from the British Academy, the Nuffield Foundation and a Major Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust. He has also held visiting scholarships at the Huntington Library, California, the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History in Frankfurt, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, the École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris, and an ARC distinguished visiting fellowship at the University of Adelaide.

He is the author of five books and around 40 chapters and articles, dealing with aspects of state formation, the English revolution and forms of political engagement and agency in early modern England, Ireland and the British Atlantic. He is also editor or co-editor of nine essay collections, three special editions of academic journals and of a major edition of seventeenth century letters.

His most recent publications are: The Oxford Handbook of the English Revolution, God's Fury, England's Fire: A New History of the English Civil Wars, Popular Culture and Political Agency in Early Modern England and Ireland (co-edited with Phil Withington), Suffering and Happiness in England 1550-1850: Narratives and Representations (co-edited with Jo Innes), as well as an edited collection on The politics of gesture: historical perspectives.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Braddick, M. (2021, February 21). The Origins of the British Empire, 1500-1700 - Civil War and Revolution, 1640-60 [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Braddick, M. "The Origins of the British Empire, 1500-1700 – Civil War and Revolution, 1640-60." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 21 Feb 2021,