Britain's economic ascendancy in a European context

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In 1815, Britain was the leading economy of Europe. The Industrial Revolution was two generations old, the breakthrough technologies in cotton, iron and steam were blossoming into large industries, more and more production was mechanised, urbanisation was far advanced, the railway was in sight. Britain's economic ascendancy was at hand. It had not always been so. In 1500, Britain was a peripheral economy far from the economic core of Europe, which was still the Mediterranean. Most of the British population lived in the countryside, and most depended on agriculture. Productivity and incomes were low. Much of the rest of Europe was similarly backward. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Dutch Republic pulled ahead and became the economic wonder of the age. British advance was slower but steady. By the seventeenth century, British incomes pushed past those of its chief continental rivals - France and the Habsburg Empire. By the eighteenth century, Britain extended its lead and overtook the Dutch. The Industrial Revolution was the capstone to this advance. This book documents Britain's ascent in its many dimensions and examines the causal factors at work. These were both economic and political. Britain's economic progress cannot be separated from the establishment of her military hegemony. We begin by charting the dimensions of Britain's emergence as the leading economy. Economic structure Economic backwardness and advance show up dramatically in economic structure. Table 1.1 divides the population of the leading economies of Europe into three groups: agricultural, urban and rural non-agricultural.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationExceptionalism and Industrialisation
Subtitle of host publicationBritain and its European Rivals, 1688-1815
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9780511523830
ISBN (Print)9780521793049
StatePublished - Jan 1 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


Dive into the research topics of 'Britain's economic ascendancy in a European context'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this