Star of Empire: A Study of Britain as a World Power, 1485-1945


The pages that follow are an attempt to interpret the story of modern Britain. They are not primarily an attempt to tell the story; that has been done in a number of excellent textbooks. The salient facts must of course be given in order to be interpreted, but my interest is in the meaning behind them. They were produced by complex forces -- of ideas or personality, economics or geography -- and the significance of the story lies in the forces. These were seldom clear to any particular generation that had to deal with them; they are not yet wholly clear, and the effort to read their meaning becomes progressively more difficult as the story advances toward the present. But meaning is there, and it is important.

Although I am not attempting to prove any thesis about British history, I am attempting to develop certain ideas that I believe are fundamental to it. They explain the emphases throughout the book, and the reader ought in fairness to know of them in advance. One idea is that religion had a profound influence on British development at least into the nineteenth century; hence my stress in the first chapter on the nature of the Tudor church as the matrix of the future. A second is that until the Victorian era the English system of local government by amateurs conditioned the functioning of national government. A third (which should be a truism) is that Britain has developed in response to outside stimuli, especially European, and that in consequence her history is inseparable from the history of Europe. A fourth, derivative from the third, is that her policy has in the long run been governed by the strategic demands of her peculiar and highly specialized forms of power. A fifth is that since the time of the American Revolution -- which was a much more superficial schism than it seemed to be -- Britain and the United States have been drawing together again toward the entente of the present day. None of these ideas is original. But in sum they will explain, I hope, why the book seemed worth writing.

I do not believe that all historical periods are of equal importance for the present, and I have made no attempt to treat them equally. The crucial nature of the Puritan Revolution explains why the . . .

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • New York
Publication year:
  • 1950


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