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British colonies

A Crown colony, also known in the 17th century as royal colony and since 2002 known as British Overseas Territories, was a type of colonial administration of the overseas territories of the British Empire.

Crown, or royal, colonies were ruled by a governor appointed by the monarch. By the middle of the 19th century, the sovereign appointed royal governors on the advice of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Under the name of "royal colony", the first of what would later become known as Crown colonies was the English Colony of Virginia in the present-day United States, after the Crown, in 1624, revoked the royal charter it had granted to the Virginia Company, taking over direct administration.

Until the mid-19th century, the term "Crown colony" was primarily used to refer to those colonies that had been acquired through wars, such as Trinidad and Tobago and British Guiana, but after that time it was more broadly applied to any colony other than the Presidencies and provinces of British India and the colonies of settlement, such as The Canadas, Newfoundland, British Columbia, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia, and New Zealand, later to become the Dominions.

The term continued to be used until 1981, when the British Nationality Act 1981 reclassified the remaining British colonies as "British Dependent Territories". By this time, the term "Crown colony" referred specifically to those colonies ruled directly by a Governor appointed by the Monarch (as was the case in Hong Kong before the 1997 handover to the People's Republic of China), with or without the assistance of some form of council appointed by the Governor. The term was not used to apply to those colonies which were substantially autonomous, usually described as "self-governed colonies" (at that time, primarily Bermuda, which had become a Crown Colony, according to an older definition of the term, when the Crown revoked the Royal Charter it had given to the Somers Isles Company, successor to the Virginia Company, in 1684. This meant that the Crown, from then onwards, appointed the Governor of Bermuda, previously appointed by the Company. Bermuda had already been internally self-governed for sixty-four years, however, and by the Twentieth Century the definition of "Crown Colony" had narrowed to include only those territories without internal self-government. The House of Assembly of Bermuda had existed continuously since its first session in 1620, including through the Commonwealth of England, when for some years the Mother Country itself had no parliament. From 2002, all remaining British colonies, whether Crown Colonies or self-governed, have been known as British Overseas Territories.


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