To what extent did Britain benefit from her empire in the eighteenth century?
Britain's impact upon the world and the importance of her overseas involvements in the eighteenth century was at least as significant as in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the ages normally taken as the epitome of British imperialism. The eighteenth century saw Britain at near constant war with France, and the role of the empire in providing the revenues that could finance the war grew in importance as the century progressed. Unlike in previous centuries, conflict now centred around the colonial possessions of the two countries, and the need to protect such possessions spurred a new era of military thought and strategy. By the end of the period, Britain was a truly global power, with fleets and armies deployed all over the world, a direct result of superior management and employment of her empire.
It was clear that the empire had been crucial in Britain's victory over France in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, but to assume that this was the sole advantage the Britain gained from her imperial endeavours would be to gravely underestimate the value of the empire.
The most obvious example of the benefits the empire delivered to the mother country are visible in the form of the wealth it supplied that was necessary for the continuation of the wars against France from 1793 to 1815. The conflict had quickly developed into total war in a modern sense. Sustained and effective resistance to France required the greatest ever mobilisation of Britain's manpower and financial resources. Over a tenth of Britain's adult males were drafted into the armed services during the war, and even then the army and navy constantly demanded more. By 1810 there were 145,000 sailors, 31,000 marines and 300,000...