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Grappling with Britain’s past

Updated: Sep 16, 2022

By McKenzie Ward

Opinions Editor

When Queen Elizabeth II’s death was announced on Sept. 8, 2022, the world went into a frenzy.

As I scrolled through my social media timelines, I saw a countless number of posts honoring the memory of the queen and her legacy as the longest reigning English monarch.

However, while Queen Elizabeth II did greatly impact the history of the entire world and was seen as a fixture of stability, the British monarchy should not be romanticized.

Rather, we need to ask the British government to grapple with its devastating and painstaking history.

The queen’s death brought upon conversations across social media platforms about the devastation that a multitude of countries have faced as a result of British colonization. However, those who did attempt to address these tragedies, were attacked and accused of being disrespectful.

According to British historian Stuart Laycock, who wrote “All the Countries We've Ever Invaded: And the Few We Never Got Round To,” out of 193 countries who are members of the United Nations (UN), Britain has either invaded or fought conflicts in 171 of them.

That is nearly 90% of the members of the UN.

And while Laycock does define invasion very broadly, which has caused some debate among historians, it is still jaw dropping the sheer number of countries that Britain has had control over at some point in history even if one does not use a broad definition of invasion.

And although dozens of countries that were colonized by the British Empire have since declared independence from Great Britain following Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1952, according to Time Magazine. That does not mean that these countries are free from the effects of colonization.

An example of a country still negatively impacted by colonization is the Green Isle - Ireland.

Ireland was essential to Britain’s colonial expansion and this colonization of Ireland allowed the British to perfect their techniques in terms of expanding their empire, according to University of Manitoba scholars, Aziz Rahman, Mary Anne Clarke, and Sean Byrne.

In Rahman’s, Clarke’s, and Byrne’s article on the British colonial model in both Ireland and Canada, they state that Ireland is Great Britain’s first colony. They invaded in 1179 and have been under Britain’s rule for nearly 1,000 years.

While the Republic of Ireland, formerly known as the Irish Free State, became fully independent and severed all political ties with Great Britain in April 1949, according to The New York Times, Northern Ireland has yet to gain independence from Great Britain, even 843 years since the Norman Invasion of Ireland, which marked the start of Irish colonization.

One of the lasting effects of British colonization in Ireland has been its impact on language.

Currently in Ireland, the most prominent language is English. However, the indigenous language of Ireland is Irish Gaelic.

But as a result of British colonization, there has been a steep decline of fluent Irish Gaelic speakers in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. According to historian Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc, in 1541 legislation was passed in Ireland that banned the use of Irish in all areas under British rule.

Unfortunately, Ireland’s story of their colonization is just one of dozens.

As the British monarch moves into a new era with King Charles III, it is necessary for them to address their empire’s past with colonization, even if these atrocities were committed by their ancestors.

In 1910, after King George V’s visit to Ireland, James Connolly, who opposed British rule and led the Irish Citizen Army during the 1916 Easter Rising, wrote, “We will not blame him for the crimes of his ancestors if he relinquishes the royal rights of his ancestors; but as long as he claims their rights, by virtue of descent, then, by virtue of descent, he must shoulder the responsibility for their crimes.”


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