Segments in this Video

Bringing Civilization through Empire (02:52)


At its height, Britain ruled over a quarter of the global population and controlled the oceans. Initially motivated by greed and power lust, colonizers came to believe they had a moral mission. Learn how the small nation justified world domination in the series by Jeremy Paxman.

Beginnings of Expansion (02:33)

In 1763, European powers met in Paris to divide the world between them. The Duke of Bedford negotiated India for Britain, which would provide the resources and manpower to build a global empire. The Crown secured the Mediterranean, South Africa, Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Singapore along the way.

Hiring Troops for Military Control (02:17)

Lacking manpower to maintain an empire, the British paid local soldiers instead. Founded in 1758, the Madras regiment of the Indian army fought most of its battles under the Crown. Captain Shekhar shares his thoughts on colonial rule and independence.

Colonial Political System (01:50)

In the 1880s, the British signed a treaty with the Maharaja of Jodhpur: he could rule his kingdom as before in exchange for payments, a protection racket repeated throughout India. English customs and dress were adopted by local elites—a cultural blend continued today.

Political Tactics in Colonial India (02:54)

Jeremy Paxman interviews the present Maharaja of Jodhpur about the British stripping local rulers of their power. Upset at first, his ancestors learned to use the system to their advantage.

Psychological Colonialism (01:50)

Government house in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) was the seat of British power in India. In 1803 there were 6,000 officials ruling over 200 million Indians; grandiose architectural design and elitist behavior helped legitimize their power—but it was only a matter of time before their domination was challenged.

Indian Rebellion of 1957 (Graphic Images) (04:36)

Troops rose up and killed British officers and their families, culminating in a siege at the Lucknow colonial headquarters. After four months, relief forces arrived and showed no mercy towards the mutineers, committing atrocities to make an example.

Impact of the Siege of Lucknow (01:14)

The 1857 Indian rebellion revealed the delicate balance of colonial power. When peace returned British rule hardened; poet Rudyard Kipling referred to the new attitude as "wearing knuckle busters under kid gloves.”

Delhi Durbars (02:38)

In the 19th century, British rulers held public ceremonies as elaborate shows of power to reinforce psychological submission among Indian subjects. Jeremy Paxman interviews caretaker Mohammed Sultan about Coronation Park's colonial events.

Empress Victoria's Memorial (02:00)

Located in central Calcutta, the queen's shrine is a reminder of her reign—during which India became the empire’s wealthiest colony. After the 1857 mutiny, the British reinforced colonial psychology by ordering Indian subjects to worship her statue as a divine ruler.

Victoria's Diamond Jubilee (03:02)

In 1897, a celebration was held in London to gain British support for colonial rule. Critics questioned how the empire could sustain its control over subjects without further expansion; particularly in India.

Seizing the Suez Canal (02:03)

In 1882, the British army advanced on Cairo to gain access to the trade route to India. Egypt would be occupied for 70 years, although it was never formally part of the empire.

Occupying Egypt (02:26)

British troops were sent to Cairo to suppress riots against foreign influence but never left—a common colonial strategy. Imperialist Consul-General Baring ran the "temporary" operation for twenty years, causing resentment among Egyptians.

Egypt as a Protectorate (04:16)

Consul-General Baring allowed Egyptian elite to think they were running the country but gave them mandatory "advice.” Jeremy Paxton interviews Ahmed Hamroush, a member of Cairo's Gazeera Sporting Club, about the unpopular 70 year British imperial occupation.

Lawrence of Arabia (05:19)

During World War I, the British Empire showed signs of weakening. Desperate to protect the Suez Canal from Turkey, they recruited Bedouin fighters led by the English archaeologist who promised them their own nation in Palestine after the war. Jeremy Paxton interviews an elder about the unusual leader.

Winning Jerusalem (02:17)

In 1917, British “crusader” troops advanced on Palestine's holy city—sacred to Jews and Arabs as well as Christians. Prime Minister Lloyd George began considering the Empire's rule as divine right.

Masking an Imperial Victory (01:45)

In December 1917, British troops entered Jerusalem—on foot as "pilgrims" rather than as armed conquerors. General Allenby publicly claimed the holy city would be preserved for all faiths—but the government had other ideas.

Playing God in the Holy Land (02:57)

The Balfour Declaration committed the British to helping European Jews make a home in Palestine, but tensions with Arabs led to Jerusalem riots in 1929, resulting in an imperial crackdown. Both sides felt betrayed by the crown's failure to deliver a promised homeland.

A Terrorist Act for Liberation (04:34)

British attempts to reestablish the peace between Arabs and Jews disrupted by the Balfour Declaration were unsuccessful. In July 1946, a group of militant Jews bombed a Jerusalem hotel, killing 91. Jeremy Paxton interviews Sara Agassi who was involved; she feels morally justified for her actions.

Retreat from Palestine (02:15)

What T.E. Lawrence identified as a British love of "policing other men's muddles" failed in the Middle East—a hard lesson for the Empire. Troops withdrew in May 1948, walking away from a conflict brewing between Arabs and Jews.

Imperial Legacy (02:07)

After failing in Palestine, the British Empire gradually dismantled a 200 year rule. The post-World War II government focused on domestic improvements—but Jeremy Paxton argues the nation's recent involvement in foreign wars proves it still has interventionist tendencies.

Credits: A Taste for Power: Empire—A British Chronicle (00:44)

Credits: A Taste for Power: Empire—A British Chronicle

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A Taste for Power: Empire—A British Chronicle

Part of the Series : Empire: A British Chronicle
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How did an island on the fringe of Europe come to rule over one quarter of the planet? How did so small a country get such a big head? This program shows how spectacular displays of imperial power were employed to dazzle Britain’s subjugated peoples and helped develop the image of British royalty into an object of awe and admiration. The film travels to India, where local soldiers and maharajahs aided a handful of British traders in taking over vast areas of land, and to Egypt, where Britain’s temporary “peace-keeping” mission turned into a 70-year occupation. In the Arabian Desert, viewers learn how T.  E. Lawrence brought a touch of romance to the grim struggle of the First World War, while the “triumphant” conquest of Palestine by imperial troops is now recognized as an event that haunts the Middle East to this day. Produced by the Open University. A part of the series Empire: A British Chronicle. (59 minutes)

Length: 59 minutes

Item#: BVL51981

ISBN: 978-0-81608-774-7

Copyright date: ©2012

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