The British Splendid Isolation

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Splendid Isolation is a popular conception of the foreign policy pursued by Britain during the late 19th century, under the Conservative premierships of Benjamin Disraeli and the Marquess of Salisbury. The term was actually coined by a Canadian politician to praise

Britain's lack of involvement
in European affairs. There has
been much debate between
historians over whether this policy was intentional or
whether Britain was simply
forced into the position by
contemporary events. Some
historians, such as John Charmley, have argued that Splendid Isolation was a fiction for the period prior to
the Franco-Russian Alliance of 1892, and only something
forced on them against their will following it. [1] Origin of the phrase As descriptive of British foreign policy, the phrase was
most famously used by Lord Goschen, First Lord of the Admiralty, during a speech at Lewes , Sussex, on 26 February 1896, when he said: "We have stood here alone in what is
called isolation – our splendid
isolation, as one of our colonial
friends was good enough to
call it." The phrase had appeared in a headline in The Times a few weeks earlier, on 22 January 1896, paraphrasing a comment by Canadian
Finance Minister George Eulas Foster (1847–1931) to the Parliament of Canada on 16 January 1896: "In these somewhat troublesome days
when the great Mother
Empire stands splendidly
isolated in Europe..." The ultimate origin of the
phrase is suggested in Robert
M. Hamilton's Canadian
Quotations and Phrases:
Literary and Historical (Hull,
Que.: McClelland and Stewart, 1952), which places the Foster quotation beneath the
following passage from the
Introduction to Robert
Cooney's Compendious
History of New Brunswick, published in 1832: "Never did
the 'Empress Island' appear so
magnificently grand, – she
stood by herself, and there
was a peculiar splendour in
the loneliness of her glory." Foster began his career as an
educator in New Brunswick , [2] where he would certainly have had access to Cooney's history. Thus, the elements of,
and the sentiments
underlying, the phrase appear
to have originated in colonial
New Brunswick during the reign of William IV, approximately 64 years before it became known as a
catch-phrase for British
foreign policy. Background During the late 19th century,
Britain's primary goal in
foreign policy was to
maintain the balance of power in Europe and to intervene should that balance be upset. Its secondary goal was to
protect its overseas interest in
the colonies and dominions, as free trade was what kept the Empire alive. The sea routes to the colonies, especially those
linking Britain to India (via the Suez Canal), were vital. The policy of 'Splendid Isolation' is perceived to have
been characterized by a
reluctance to enter into
permanent European alliances
or commitments with the other Great Powers and by an increase in the importance given to British colonies, protectorates and dependencies overseas in an era of increasing competition in the wider world, a situation

relatively unknown since
Britain's conflicts with France
during the eighteenth
century. Change After the 1871 unification of German Empire , Bismarck sought alliances with other European powers to prevent France's revenge. Successful alliances began with the Dreikaiserbund and Dual Alliance, 1879. The Triple Alliance was formed in 1882, the signing countries being Germany, Austria-Hungary , and Italy. The rise of Germany in both industrial and military terms

alarmed Britain though there
was an appreciation by British
policy makers that under
Bismarck the country was largely a status quo power. It
was not until the naval
aspirations of Germany under
the guidance of the German
Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz in the years following
Bismarck's fall that Whitehall became especially alarmed.
After the Triple Intervention in China, leading politicians, such as Joseph Chamberlain questioned the policy of remaining free of...
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