A protectorate was a poorly defined institution or form of governance, suggesting in generic terms a form of international guardianship by a Great Power over a weak state or a territory. The declaration of overseas protectorates by imperial powers in the late nineteenth century was a response to the fact that the acquisition of new colonial territories - itself in part a product of colonial competition among the Great Powers - proceeded at a pace faster than the establishment of colonial administration. A ruler who placed his territory under the protection of a Great Power retained his sovereignty over domestic affairs yet surrendered his authority over foreign affairs to the Great Power in return for its military protection. Depending on the importance of a protectorate, however, it was not unusual for the degree of administrative intrusion into its domestic affairs to increase to the extent that life for the population was hardly distinguishable from that in a full colony. In colonial projects as in war, protectorates were often deemed appropriate in the case of territorial and tribal entities thought to be too politically immature or vulnerable to be covered by international law. The device could be applied to a smaller European entity, as in the case of British protection of the Ionian Islands in 1809 during the Napoleonic Wars, or extended to large overseas territory, such as France’s declaration of a protectorate over Morocco in 1912. In each case the stronger power sought for strategic expedience to establish a military presence in the protected territory without assuming the full burden of colonial rule. During the Scramble for Africa this meant that, for example, that British Somaliland on the Horn of Africa became a British protectorate in 1884, while neighboring French Somaliland was given the same status in 1884–1885. With the new French protectorate poised at the narrows between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, Britain made the island of Socotra, at the mouth of the Gulf of Aden, a protectorate in 1886 and added a protectorate in Hadramaut on the north shore of the Gulf in 1888.
   See also <>; <>.
    Pakenham, Thomas. The Scramble for Africa. New York: Random House, 1991;
    Wesseling, H. L. The European Colonial Empires, 1815–1919. London: Pearson Education, 2004;
    Wilson, Henry S. The Imperial Experience in Subsaharan Africa. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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