What was a colony?

The world is talking about colonies/former colonies and colonialism in relation to the monarchy at the moment. We thought it might help explain more and will use the example of Barbados, so deeply colonised it became known as “Little England”. Remember at its height the British Empire comprised 57 colonies from neighbours like Ireland to Fiji. 

In the 1500s and 1600s commercially-funded and Crown-funded expeditions turned into land grabs with places, resources and people becoming property of the ‘successful invader’. The British Empire was born and ALL land grabbed belonged to…the monarch. 

It was up to the monarch how to divide and rule their land. 

On 2 July 1627 James Hay, The Earl of Carlisle (yes, Carlisle) was given a royal grant by King James I for Barbados to become his ‘Proprietary Colony’. A proprietary colony was when individuals or companies were granted commercial charters by monarchs to establish and effectively ‘run’ the colony, appointing officials and governors themselves. Eventually these colonies would become Crown Colonies; i.e governed by officials appointed by the monarch. A colony’s purpose, from the royal perspective, was similar to that of a mediaeval fiefdom. That is, the foremost function of a royal colony was to benefit the English Crown. 

When the British claimed “Little England” for the Crown, they: wiped away the original inhabitants, built an enslaved-people-based plantation system, growing and exporting tobacco, cotton and most lucrative of all, sugar. Barbados gained a reputation as a hub for the Transatlantic trade of enslaved people. This was a PROFITABLE colony. A very PROFITABLE colony. 

As most know, 1838 marked the end of enslavement. Remember only the owners of enslaved people were compensated, enslaved people received nothing. But they were at least ‘free’ right? Well, under British colonial law the right to vote depended on a man’s wealth and land ownership. In the Caribbean this effectively excluded the poorer, landless Black majority from voting for more than a century after emancipation. 

The Colonial legislation safeguarded the wealth of the White British planter class. In Barbados, for example, formerly enslaved people and their descendants were excluded from purchasing land under the colonial Contract Law. The effects of the law continued after independence and by 1970, an estimated 77% of land in Barbados rested in the hands of the wealthiest 10% of the country’s landowners.

In 1962, Barbados became a self-governing colony and an independent state in 1966. At that time, they joined the Commonwealth of Nations, with Elizabeth II as their Monarch. In Nov 2021 Barbados became a republic.

Colonialism is not as ancient history as people would have you think, and we always say…follow the money.