ken macmillan on benevolent conquest and the ideology of english expansion


Ken MacMillan, ‘Benign and Benevolent Conquest?: The Ideology of Elizabethan Atlantic Expansion Revisited’, Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 9, 1 (2011).

This essay revisits the language of conquest in metropolitan writings advocating Elizabethan Atlantic expansion. It argues that contrary to the belligerent connotations scholars usually attach to the word conquest, in Elizabethan England it was a term used in a benign and benevolent manner that fit within humanist goals for a noble, peaceful, and long-term relationship with both the people and land of America. By the early seventeenth century, however, this idea of benign conquest was overshadowed by factors such as the example of Spanish conquest in the New World, which tainted the English benign usage, and the transition from theory in the Elizabethan age to practice under the early Stuarts, which showed that the American natives were not willing to accept English presence on the benevolent terms anticipated by English humanists. Another factor that led to the decline in the language of benign conquest was the formulation of the “conquest doctrine” in the law of nations, which gave the term an exclusively belligerent connotation. Owing to these various factors, by the time the permanent English empire in America was established, the idea of benign conquest no longer had a place in domestic, colonial, or supranational discourse.

Keywords:Elizabethan Atlantic expansion, conquest doctrine, benign conquest, Ken MacMillan, Humphrey Gilbert, Walter Ralegh, Richard Hakluyt, Alberico Gentili, English colonialism

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