An expert on the British Empire explains “Her Majesty’s government” in the 20th century.
Queen Elizabeth II’s death last week has prompted both an outpouring of grief and complicated reactions across the globe — in large part because during her 70 years on the throne, she ruled over the twilight of the British Empire.
At the height of that empire after the First World War, the United Kingdom had colonies on every continent save Antarctica, ruling one out of every five people in the world. Over the centuries, Britain extracted wealth from those colonized lands — by one estimate, $45 trillion in today’s dollars from India alone.
“All empires were violent,” said Caroline Elkins, whose second book, Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire, came out earlier this year. “And the British Empire was no exception to that.”