THE British monarchy has a very close relationship with empire that dates back to before there even was a Britain.

Before the Union of Crowns in 1603 or the Union of 1707, the monarchs of both England and Scotland sponsored colonisation efforts across the globe.

The early impulse to expand overseas came from a desire to “civilise” Irish and Gaelic elements within their own geographic orbit.

This gave birth to the methods that British colonial authorities would unleash on the world for centuries to come: the confiscation of native land, the slaughter of its inhabitants and the settlement of “model colonists” on that land.

These methods went on to be utilised across the world and have left deep scars in their wake. While the methods of colonialism were first developed in Ireland, the monarchy found the capital that would fund major imperial expansion in the slave trade.

It was England’s monarchy that first began expanding its power.

The first English overseas colonies were established amid the Tudor conquest of Ireland in the 16th century. English monarchs had laid claim to being Lords of Ireland since 1175, after Henry II landed an army in Waterford and demanded loyalty from the Irish clans.

The National: English monarchs laid claim to being Lords of Ireland since the king landed an army in Waterford and demanded loyalty from the Irish clansEnglish monarchs laid claim to being Lords of Ireland since the king landed an army in Waterford and demanded loyalty from the Irish clans (Image: NQ)

But the English monarchy’s control over the island was tenuous at best, with many Irish lords paying only lip service to the Crown and English monarchs only ever directly controlled the Pale – a stretch of land based around Dublin.

Although there had been some Anglo-Norman settlement, intermarriage and the strength of the native Irish chiefs diluted any power that an English monarch might have hoped to wield in Ireland.

The later Tudor conquest represented a deeper involvement of the Crown in Ireland’s affairs. It lasted nearly 70 years, from around 1540 to 1603. The Lordship of Ireland was abolished in 1542 and replaced by a new structure, the Kingdom of Ireland.

This was a puppet regime of the English monarchy and not, as it appeared, an independent kingdom in its own right.

Colonisation was an intrinsic part of this conquest. The first English colonies in Ireland were established in the 1550s under Mary I. These took the form of “plantation colonies”, whereby the Crown settled Protestant English colonists on Irish lands in attempt to Anglicise and “civilise” Ireland in order to secure the Crown’s hold.

Alongside this, native Irish lordships were disarmed, and English rule was established over the whole island.

Ireland was now governed according to English law and a puppet English Parliament in Dublin. These plantations would serve as the testing grounds of empire, with many of the methods utilised in Ireland being replicated elsewhere.

Many of the fiercest advocates of the colonisation of Ireland, specifically the south-western province of Munster, became deeply involved in later English colonisation efforts in the Americas. This group of “West Country Men” included Sir Walter Raleigh, Francis Drake and Humphrey Gilbert.

The colonial violence inflicted on Ireland would later be repeated across the globe for centuries to come. In many respects Ireland was the laboratory for the English monarchy’s imperial ambition.

To the north, the Scottish monarchy also engaged in colonisation efforts in the late 1500s, similar to the English plantation of Ireland. However, these did not arrive in the form of overseas expansion but rather the attempt to secure the “periphery” of the Scottish kingdom.

In 1598, James VI, anxious to secure his realm, approved a colonial enterprise aimed at the Isle of Lewis in Na-h Eileanan Siar.

This enterprise, under what were known as the “Gentlemen Adventurers of Fife”, was unsuccessful in supplanting the native islanders and eliminating what James saw as the “Irish” influence on the island, represented by the native islanders’ Gaelic culture.

So committed was James VI to the “civilisation” of the island they merited the methods of ‘slauchter, mutilation, fyre-raising, or utheris inconvenieties”.

This “civilising mission” of the Scottish Crown finds much in common with the concurrent English efforts in Ireland, with both involving the confiscation of land from the native inhabitants and the supplanting of them by Protestant settlers.

The failure of this island venture did not deter James VI from his attempt to spread Protestant lowlander hegemony across his realms, as he would later demonstrate in the Plantation of Ulster.

In addition to their subjugation of Ireland, the Tudors sought to emulate the Spanish and Portuguese empires by colonising the Americas and expanding England’s control of trade routes.

In 1584, Elizabeth I granted Raleigh a charter to colonise Virginia. Elizabeth also granted a charter to the infamous East India Company in 1600 and with it, a monopoly of all English trade east of the Cape of Good Hope and west of the Straits of Magellan.

The EIC would establish forts and gain control over vast swathes of India until it was eventually replaced by direct British rule in 1858.

Ominously, Elizabeth’s rule also marked the first recorded involvement of the English monarchy in transatlantic slavery. In 1564, Elizabeth granted a large royal ship, the Jesus of Lubeck, to the slave trader John Hawkins in exchange for a share in the profits from the voyage.

The English Crown supplied Hawkins with provisions and guns. He set sail with the Jesus and three other ships under a royal banner, journeying first to West Africa and then on to the Caribbean.

Hawkins returned to England in 1565, having captured and sold more than 400 Africans. Elizabeth rewarded his efforts, granting him a coat of arms, upon which was a black African bound in ropes.

It is important to recognise this history, as it shows that the monarchy in both Scotland and England were involved in colonial projects as active contributors, not mere passive bystanders.