This Sceptred Isle - Empire

Christopher Lee's ground-breaking narrative history series returns, telling the story of how Britain's involvement beyond its own shores grew almost by accident into the biggest empire the world had ever seen.

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Episodes

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01No Grand Plan20050926

When Queen Elizabeth I gave permission to Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1578 to seek out new lands, she had no idea what she was starting.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Anna Massey, Mark Heap, Rob Brydon and Martin Freeman.

02Ireland, The First Colony20050927
03Elizabeth I And Ireland20050928
04Looking For China20050929

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson

05Elizabeth, Trade, And Francis Drake20050930

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson

06John Hawkins And Humphrey Gilbert20051003

Queen Elizabeth I gave her official backing to the first British slave traders, with consequences that would reverberate for hundreds of years.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson

07Martin Frobisher And Fool's Gold20051004

In the 1570s, a new route to China was still the priority for British explorers, and their main motivation was greed.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson

08Walter Raleigh And Virginia20051005

The first British attempts to settle in North America were not exactly a triumphant success, despite Sir Walter's attempts to persuade the Queen otherwise.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Anna Massey, Rob Brydon, Martin Freeman and Mark Heap.

09Disaster At Roanoke20051006

When John White returned to England in 1587 to get help for his settlers, he was not to know that none of them would ever be seen again.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Robert Powell and Mark Heap

10El Dorado And The Real Treasures20051007

The British sailed East for spices, to the Caribbean for sugar and to America for a new life.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Robert Powell and Martin Freeman.

11Elizabeth And A New Economy20051010

The beginnings of empire are rooted in the desire for profit, and in the 16th century the greatest profits were to be had from the products most in demand - spices and sugar.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Rob Brydon, Robert Powell and Mark Heap

12The Spice Trade20051011

In the 16th century, British seafarers did not yet lead the world, so trading with the east was a difficult and dangerous business.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Rob Brydon, Anna Massey and Martin Freeman.

13Towards The East Indies20051012

>In the 16th century, British seafarers did not yet lead the world, so trading with the east was a difficult and dangerous business.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Robert Powell, Martin Freeman and Mark Heap.

14After The Armada And James Lancaster20051013

With the Spanish threat diminished, the way was open for the British to establish a sea route to the source of the most valuable commodity of the time - pepper.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Rob Brydon.

151600 - The East India Company20051014

When a group of English merchants petitioned the queen to grant them a charter for the spice trade, they couldn't know that they were laying the foundations of what would become the British Raj.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Anna Massey and Mark Heap.

16The England Of James I And Vi20051017

Trade and profit was one motive for colonisation; another was the chance to start a new life.

So what made some brave souls ready to turn their back on life in Britain in the early 1600s?

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Rob Brydon, Robert Powell and Mark Heap.

171606 - The Virginia Company20051018

With the appearance for the first time of joint-stock companies, the setting up of colonies in north America begins to look like a viable business.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Rob Brydon, Mark Heap and Martin Freeman.

18Jamestown, Virginia20051019

The first serious settlement in north America was far from being an instant success.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Mark Heap

19Bermuda And Shipwreck20051020

Bermuda's part in the story of the British colonisation of Virginia is dramatic and surprising.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Robert Powell and Martin Freeman.

20Slavery - Black And White20051021

There's no avoiding the infamy, or the importance, of slavery in the story of the Empire, but it's a part of the story which has some unexpected aspects.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Robert Powell, Mark Heap and Martin Freeman.

21The Pilgrim Fathers And The Massachusetts Bay Company20051024

The American colonies begin to take on a distinctive identity of their own.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Rob Brydon and Robert Powell.

22The West Indies And Sugar20051025

The economy of the British-owned Caribbean islands was a prototype of modern capitalism, but one that was utterly dependent on slave labour.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Robert Powell, Martin Freeman and Anna Massey

23Barbados And Civil War In England20051026

Even in the 17th Century, the Atlantic Ocean wasn't enough to insulate the colonies from political upheaval in Britain itself.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Mark Heap and Martin Freeman.

24Trade With India20051027

The East India Company took on many of the aspects of government as it sought to boost its profits and extend its influence - whether people liked it or not.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Robert Powell, Rob Brydon and Mark Heap

25Clive Of India20051028

Robert Clive's military successes and personal fame began to cause problems both for the East India Company and the government at home.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Robert Powell, Martin Freeman and Rob Brydon.

26The Scottish Empire20051031

It took an unusually persuasive salesman to get people to invest in a colony on the Panama isthmus, and the result was disastrous.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Robert Powell, Mark Heap and Rob Brydon.

28Canada - Wolfe And Montcalm20051102

When Britain and France faced each other yet again in what was truly the first world war, the outcome was to have a huge effect on the Britain's overseas territories.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Robert Powell and Martin Freeman.

29America - The Way To Independence20051103

Britain's trade with its American colonies had become enormously important to both parties, in a way that led each to start to view the other differently.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Reading by Rob Brydon.

301783 - The Empire Loses America20051104

It was probably inevitable that America would break away, but how and why it happened when it did is a story that involves luck and incompetence as much as heroism and justice.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Martin Freeman, Mark Heap, Robert Powell and Rob Brydon.

31After The Revolution - The Boost To Canada20060130

The story of the British Empire resumes in 1783 with the end of the war of American Independence and the loss of the American colonies.

But what was to happen now to those American colonists who had remained loyal to the Crown?

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Denis Lawson and Christopher Eccleston

32Canada20060131

Following the independence of the United States of America, Britain found itself with new and different responsibilities in north America.

And, not for the first time in Britain's history, the French were closely involved.

Readings by Denis Lawson and Christopher Eccleston.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson

33Australia - Captain Cook20060201

When James Cook sailed to the Pacific in 1769 to observe the transit of Venus, he had no idea that the sealed envelope he took with him contained secret orders that would lead to his lasting fame.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Denis Lawson and Christopher Eccleston

34Australia - Transportation20060202

Some of those who went to colonise Australia were free men (and some women), but the nature of the country would be shaped by those whom Britain shipped there as a punishment.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Denis Lawson, Christopher Eccleston and Hugo Speer.

35Australia - Sheep And Gold20060203

The growth and prosperity of the colony were given a kick start by a chance discovery and by the foresight of one remarkable woman.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Denis Lawson and Christopher Eccleston

36The Innocents20060206

The story of slavery in the British Empire includes that of tens of thousands of British children - some of them, but by no means all, waifs and strays - who were taken and sold into servitude, often with official approval.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Denis Lawson and Christopher Eccleston

37Imperialism And Edward Wakefield20060207

By the 1830s, the British were becoming aware that their empire had become more than a large-scale trading opportunity, and some were seeing great possibilities as far from Britain as it was possible to go.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Christopher Eccleston and Denis Lawson.

38New Zealand20060208

The Dutch were the first Europeans to find New Zealand, hence its name, but British missionary zeal saw new opportunities, in spite of the hostility of the people who were already there, the Maoris.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Christopher Eccleston, Denis Lawson and Hugo Speer.

39Shutting The Slave Market20060209

Slavery was taken for granted in the early years of the Empire, not only by the British, and it was crucial to the economy.

But by the 1780s the mood was changing.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Christopher Eccleston and Ben Onwukwe

40The Last Shackle Of Empire20060210

By the early 19th Century, slavery was beginning to be seen as morally unacceptable, but abolishing it was to be a long, slow process.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Denis Lawson, Jemma Redgrave, Vincent Ebrahim and Ben Onwukwe

41Warren Hastings20060213

The first governor-general of British India was a skilled administrative reformer, whose opponents did everything they could to maintain their self-interest.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Hugo Speer, Denis Lawson and Christopher Eccleston

42The Trial Of Warren Hastings20060214

British colonial India in the late 18th Century was rife with corruption, and the man who set out to change all that had a mighty battle on his hands.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Hugo Speer, Denis Lawson and Christopher Eccleston

43Nelson And Empire20060215

After Nelson's victory over the French at the Battle of the Nile in 1798, theatre audiences in London burst spontaneously into Rule Britannia.

Nelson's lasting achievement was to make 19th century British imperialism unstoppable.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Hugo Speer.

44Raffles20060216

The name of Sir Stamford Raffles is almost synonymous with that of Singapore, and for good reason.

But he is yet another British hero whom the British themselves treated appallingly badly.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Christopher Eccleston

45Ceylon20060217

The geographical position of Sri Lanka meant that it was certain always to have a unique strategic importance and vulnerability, beyond its physical attractions.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Hugo Speer.

46Mungo Park20060220

The story of one young Scottish medic's passion for exploring the hinterland of West Africa explains a lot about Britain's involvement in the continent.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Denis Lawson.

47The First Opium War20060221

Britain's acquisition of Hong Kong was the result of one of the most ignoble episodes in the whole history of the British Empire.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Christopher Eccleston, David Yip and Jemma Redgrave.

48The First Sikh War20060222

One remarkable first-hand account bears witness to the fact that the Punjab in the 1840s was the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting in the whole story of Empire.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Christopher Eccleston

49The Origins Of The Indian Mutiny20060223

In 1857, Indian foot soldiers in the British Army rebelled.

The immediate cause was the use of animal fats to grease cartridges, but there were also larger and deeper reasons for their discontent.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Hugo Speer, Denis Lawson and Vincent Ebrahim

50The Sepoy Rebellion, Part 120060224

Once the rebellion started among Indian troops in the Army of Bengal, it spread rapidly, and two years of dreadful slaughter followed on both sides.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Hugo Speer, Denis Lawson, Christopher Eccleston and Vincent Ebrahim

51The Sepoy Rebellion, Part Two20060227

Christopher Lee's ground-breaking narrative history series telling the story of the growth of Britain's Empire.

51/90.

The Sepoy Rebellion, Part Two

After two years of dreadful fighting, the British in India began to get the upper hand, but the brutal conflict is poignantly expressed in one father's experience.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Hugo Speer, Jemma Redgrave, Christopher Eccleston and Vincent Ebrahim

52End Of Mutiny20060228

Christopher Lee's ground-breaking narrative history series telling the story of the growth of Britain's Empire.

52/90.

End of Mutiny

After the Sepoy Rebellion, the British made some important and long-lasting changes in the way they administered India, which was now set to become the Jewel in Victoria's Imperial Crown.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Hugo Speer and Vincent Ebrahim

53The Viceroys20060301

Christopher Lee's ground-breaking narrative history series telling the story of the growth of Britain's Empire.

53/90.

The Viceroys

From 1858, the British crown ruled India, and the Governor General now became a Viceroy, the Deputy of the Queen, and the nearest a Briton could ever hope to being an actual monarch.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Denis Lawson, Christopher Eccleston, Hugo Speer and Jemma Redgrave.

54Abyssinia20060302

There were no British colonies in the north east of Africa, but it was a region that was to play an important part in the story of the imperial 19th century.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Denis Lawson and Hugo Speer.

55West Africa: Jaw Jaw20060303

Christopher Lee's ground-breaking narrative history series telling the story of the growth of Britain's Empire.

55/90.

West Africa: Jaw Jaw

The importance of West Africa to the British Empire was first as a staging-post on the journey to the east, but the region's natural resources led to increased interest for its own sake.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Christopher Eccleston

56The Missionaries20060306

Africa was a target for Christian missionaries in a way that no other part of the empire had been, and their zeal and sense of adventure gave a different emphasis to colonialism there.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Christopher Eccleston and Denis Lawson.

57South Africa - The British Arrive20060307

The Dutch and the French had colonised the Cape long before the British, but the need to protect trade routes meant that once again the British felt they had to strengthen their presence.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Hugo Speer.

58South Africa - Boers And Brits20060308

Tension between British and Dutch settlers in the Cape was to have a long and difficult history, one that started the moment the British took it from the Dutch in 1795.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Christopher Eccleston, Hugo Speer and Ben Onwukwe

59Zulu War20060309

The British and the Dutch in South Africa may have been at odds with each other, but neither of them could afford to ignore the presence and the rights of the native people.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Christopher Eccleston and Hugo Speer.

60Empress20060310

In 1876, Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli crowned an era when he proclaimed that henceforth, Queen Victoria should add Empress of India to her long list of titles.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Christopher Eccleston and Hugo Speer.

61From Ireland To Ireland20060508

In the late 19th Century, Ireland, which had been the very first colony 700 years earlier, is once again the focus of imperial attention.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Joss Ackland and Jack Davenport

62The Irish Question20060509

From the mid-19th century, following disastrous famine and centuries of exploitation, Irish nationalism becomes an increasingly important factor in the politics of Britain and its empire.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Joss Ackland and Rupert Degas

63Egypt, Sudan, And The Suez Canal20060510

The opening of the Suez Canal made a huge difference to trade with the Empire, and created a new set of strategic priorities.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Joss Ackland and Jack Davenport

64The Death Of General Gordon20060511

A new British hero was created in Khartoum in 1885, the greatest since Nelson, but why was he there? And why was he not following orders? And what has it all to do with a game of schoolboy cricket?

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Anna Massey, Jack Davenport, and Joss Ackland

65Bismarck's Carve-up20060512

In 1884, European nations divided Africa up and greedily parcelled it out among themselves with little regard for Africans themselves.

The consequences are still far from resolved.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Jack Davenport and Joss Ackland

66The Munshi20060515

When Queen Victoria's personal servant John Brown died, it wasn't long before he was replaced in the Queen's affections by a young Indian from a poor family in Agra.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Joss Ackland and Anna Massey

67Christopher Lee's Ground-breaking Narrative History Series Telling The Story Of The Growth Of Britai20060516

n's Empire.

67/90.

Diamond Jubilee

In the 60 years from the teenage Victoria's accession to the throne, the world had changed enormously, and the British Empire had reached its peak.

And so it seemed the whole Empire wanted to join in the celebrations.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Joss Ackland, Jack Davenport and Jemma Redgrave.

68Omdurman And Churchill20060517

In 1898, the death of General Gordon in Khartoum was finally avenged, but at enormous cost.

Young Winston was in the thick of it, and left a startling firsthand account of the battle.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Jack Davenport and Joss Ackland

69Boers, Outlanders, And The Jameson Raid20060518

The British and the Dutch in South Africa never really got on well.

One solution was to give the Dutch - the Boers - their own territory.

But it was never going to be that simple.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Jack Davenport and Rupert Degas

70Gold And The Second Boer War20060519

When gold was discovered on the Rand, in Boer territory, the British were sure to want a part of it.

And once imperial Germany appeared to take sides with the Boers, there was bound to be big trouble.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Joss Ackland, Jack Davenport and Rupert Degas

71The End Of The Second Boer War20060522

As well as the famous names, such as Baden Powell, Mafeking, and Ladysmith, Britain's first khaki war brought concentration camps - British ones - and all but unacknowledged Black soldiers fighting for the British.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Jemma Redgrave, Ben Onwukwe, Joss Ackland, Rupert Degas and Anna Massey

72Death Of The Queen Empress20060523

The 20th century was brand new, and the Boer War was still going on when Victoria died.

It seemed like the end of an era - and it was.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Jack Davenport, Joss Ackland and Rupert Degas

73The Most Hated Nation Of The World20060524

With a new king on the throne, the nature and the future of the Empire were being questioned more pertinently than ever before.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Joss Ackland, Rupert Degas and Jack Davenport

74Lord Curzon, Tibet And Younghusband.20060525

In Britain at the end of the 19th century, Tibet was seen as remote and not particularly important.

Lord Curzon, the viceroy of India, had other ideas.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Joss Ackland, Jack Davenport and Rupert Degas

75Lord Curzon - Duty And The Durbar20060526

George Nathaniel, Lord Curzon, the viceroy of India, had strong views on his role there, including large public demonstrations of his importance.

But there were those in India who felt that he was missing the point.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Joss Ackland, Jack Davenport and Saeed Jaffrey

76Lord Curzon - Goodbye To All That20060529

Of all the Viceroys of India, George Nathaniel Curzon was the most viceregal, and arguably one of the most intelligent, well-informed and best intentioned.

But the end of his period of office was not as he would have wished.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Saeed Jaffrey and Joss Ackland

77A Greater Britain20060530

As America, Germany and Japan were growing as global powers, Britain needed to find a new approach to running its Empire.

Narrator Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Saeed Jaffrey and Jack Davenport

78Imperial Preferences20060531

The Empire had been founded on trade, and at the turn of the 20th century maintaining commercial success between its members continued to matter more than anything.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Charlie Higson, Jack Davenport and Saeed Jaffrey

79Defending The Empire20060601

As the Empire grew, so did the cost of protecting it, and so did the difficulty of organising that protection.

No other nation had a problem as big as this.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Charlie Higson, Jack Davenport and Rupert Degas

80The Last Imperial Reign20060602

With the celebrations of the coronation of King George V in 1911, the British Empire was embarking on what would turn out to be its final phase.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Ben Onwukwe, Jemma Redgrave, Saeed Jaffrey, Jack Davenport, Charlie Higson and Joss Ackland

81Irish Home Rule And The Road To War20060605

As Britain approached August 1914, young Winston Churchill made an impassioned speech in Belfast, and the future of the Empire looked uncertain.

Watching it all was Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Charlie Higson and Rupert Degas

82The Empire And The First World War20060606

As the world went to war, Britain depended on its empire more than ever, and more than is generally acknowledged to this day.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Charlie Higson and Rupert Degas

83The Amritsar Massacre20060607

Only a few months after the end of the Great War, Britain was responsible for one of the worst outrages in the whole of its imperial history.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Charlie Higson, Rupert Degas, Saeed Jaffrey and Vincent Ebrahim

84Defending The Empire20060608

Modern Iraq was created by the victorious European powers after the Great War, and the seeds were sown of problems that would continue to haunt the world.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Rupert Degas and Charlie Higson.

85High Street Durbars20060609

The aftermath of the First World War led to the further expansion of the British Empire, and imperial enthusiasm was being drummed up in communities all over Britain, for the same centuries-old motive - trade.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Rupert Degas and Charlie Higson.

86India - Dominion Or Not Dominion20060612

By the 1920s, with Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, and the Irish Free State having achieved independent dominion status, the need to resolve the future of India became more and more urgent.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Charlie Higson, Rupert Degas Vincent Ebrahim and Saeed Jaffrey

87Gandhi Or Jinnah20060613

The First World War changed the political climate all over the world, and especially in India, where the sheer size of the country and marked religious differences meant that the movement towards independence had to resolve huge and complex problems.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Charlie Higson, Vincent Ebrahim and Saeed Jaffrey

88The Empire And The Second World War20060614

The Australian prime minister, Robert Menzies, was just one of the leaders from around the Empire who gave their wholehearted and vital support to the mother country: 'This is our fight just as much as it is yours'.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Charlie Higson, Clive James, Ben Onwukwe and Vincent Ebrahim

89India - Independence20060615

Midnight, August 14th, 1947, and with the independence of India along with the creation of Pakistan, the British Empire was effectively at an end.

Long live the Commonwealth.

But in the event, the transition in India was very far from peaceful.

It was not the kind of conclusion anyone would have wished for.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Charlie Higson, Saeed Jaffrey, Vincent Ebrahim and Rupert Degas

90 LASTWhat Happened Next?20060616

Britain was the only power ever to have given up its empire voluntarily.

One of the great symbols of the end of empire is now seen to have been Harold Macmillan's 'wind of change' speech in South Africa in 1960, but some less well known aspects of that speech could almost have been written hundreds of years earlier, when the possibilities of empire were just beginning to be recognised.

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

Readings by Joss Ackland and Anna Massey