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The Origins of the British Empire, 1500-1700

3. The Early Stuarts, 1603-40

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In this module, we think about developments in the period 1603-40, focusing in particular on: (i) the importance of the union of the crowns in 1603, which brought together and intensified what had previously been two separate processes of 'internal colonisation'; (ii) the generally miscellaneous nature of overseas activities, some of which flourished (e.g. settlements in North America), others failed and have been long forgotten (e.g. establishment of English whaling stations in Svalbard); (iii) the establishment (and survival) of English settlements along the Atlantic coast of North America and the Caribbean, and extent to which these settlements had quite different political, social, religious and economic complexions; (iv) the range of activities in other areas of the wold – fishing off the coast of Japan (1613), Thomas Roe's embassy to the Mughal Emperor (1615), the capture of Hormuz (1622), establishment of 'factories' on the Gold Coast (1630), the granting of Madras to the English (1639); (v) the role of government in these activities: the establishment of trading companies (e.g. Virginia Company), charters (e.g. Massachusetts Bay Company) and diplomatic relations (e.g. Thomas Roe in India); and (vi) the limitations of government intervention: no direct military activity, no direct government of these territories, etc.


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 - The Early Stuarts, 1603-40 [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Braddick, M. "The Origins of the British Empire, 1500-1700 – The Early Stuarts, 1603-40." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 21 Feb 2021,

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