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In history, the term protectorate has two different meanings. In its earliest inception, which has been adopted by modern international law, it is an autonomous territory that is protected diplomatically or militarily against third parties by a stronger state or entity. In exchange for this, the protectorate usually accepts specified obligations, which may vary greatly, depending on the real nature of their relationship. However, it retains formal sovereignty, and remains a state under international law. A territory subject to this type of arrangement is also known as a protected state.


Amical protection

In amical protection, the terms are often very favorable for the protectorate. The political interest of the protector is frequently moral (a matter of accepted moral obligation, prestige, ideology, internal popularity, dynastic, historical or ethno-cultural ties, etc.) or countering a rival or enemy power (e.g., preventing the rival from obtaining or maintaining control of areas of strategic importance). This may involve a very weak protectorate surrendering control of its external relations; this, however, may not constitute any real sacrifice, as the protectorate may not have been able to have similar use of them without the protector's strength.

Amical protection was frequently extended by the great powers to other Christian (generally European) states and to smaller states that had no significant importance[ambiguous]. In the post-1815 period, non-Christian states (such as China's Qing dynasty) also provided amical protection towards other much weaker states.

Colonial protection of the International Law

Conditions are generally much less generous for areas of colonial protection. The protectorate was often reduced to a de facto condition similar to a colony, but using the pre-existing native state as an agent of indirect rule. Occasionally, a protectorate was established by or exercised by the other form of indirect rule: a chartered company, which becomes a de facto state in its European home state (but geographically overseas), allowed to be an independent country which has its own foreign policy and generally its own armed forces.

In fact, protectorates were declared despite not being duly entered into by the traditional states supposedly being protected, or only by a party of dubious authority in those states. Colonial protectors frequently decided to reshuffle several protectorates into a new, artificial unit without consulting the protectorates, a logic disrespectful of the theoretical duty of a protector to help maintain its protectorates' status and integrity. The Berlin agreement of February 26, 1885 allowed the colonial powers to establish protectorates in Black Africa (the last region to be divided among them) by diplomatic notification, even without actual possession on the ground. A similar case is the formal use of such terms as colony and protectorate for an amalgamation, convenient only for the colonizer or protector, of adjacent territories over which it held (de facto) sway by protective or "raw" colonial logic.

Foreign relations

In practice, a protectorate often has direct foreign relations only with the protecting power, so other states must deal with it by approaching the protector. Similarly, the protectorate rarely takes military action on its own, but relies on the protector for its defence. This is distinct from annexation, in that the protector has no formal power to control the internal affairs of the protectorate.

Protectorates differ from League of Nations Mandates and their successors, United Nations Trust Territories, whose administration is supervised, in varying degrees, by the international community. A protectorate formally enters into the protection through a bilateral agreement with the protector, while international mandates are stewarded by the world community-representing body, with or without a de facto administering power.


During the East African Campaign of World War I, the north-west part of German East Africa, Ruanda-Urundi, was invaded by Belgian and Congolese troops in 1916 and was still occupied by them at the end of the war in 1918. As part of the Treaty of Versailles the major part of German East Africa was handed over to British control but Ruanda-Urundi, twice the size of Belgium but only about 2% of the size of the Congo, was confirmed as a Belgian protectorate by a League of Nations Mandate in 1924, later renewed as a United Nations Trust Territory. The territory was granted independence in 1962 as the separate countries of Rwanda and Burundi, bringing the Belgian colonial empire to an end.

British and Commonwealth protectorates

A protectorate, in the British Empire, is a territory which is not formally annexed but in which, by treaty, grant or other lawful means, the Crown has power and jurisdiction.[1]

A protectorate differs from a "protected state". A protected state is a territory under a ruler which enjoys Her Britannic Majesty's protection, over whose foreign affairs she exercises control, but in respect of whose internal affairs she does not exercise jurisdiction.[1]

When the British took over Cephalonia in 1809, they proclaimed, "We present ourselves to you, Inhabitants of Cephalonia, not as invaders, with views of conquest, but as allies who hold forth to you the advantages of British protection." When the British continued to occupy the Ionian Islands after the Napoleonic wars, they did not formally annex the islands, but described them as a protectorate. The islands were constituted by the Treaty of Paris in 1815 as the independent United States of the Ionian Islands under British protection. Similarly, Malta was a British protectorate between the capitulation of the French in 1800 and the Treaty of Paris of 1814.

Other British protectorates followed. In 1894, Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone's government officially announced that Uganda was to become a British Protectorate, where Muslim and Christian strife had attracted international attention. The British administration installed carefully selected local kings under a program of indirect rule through the local oligarchy, creating a network of British-controlled civil service. Most British protectorates were overseen by a Commissioner or a High Commissioner, rather than a Governor.

British law makes a distinction between a protectorate and protected state. Constitutionally the two are of similar status where Britain provides controlled defence and external relations. However, a protectorate has an internal government established, while a protected state establishes a form of local internal self-government based on the already existing one.

Persons connected with former British protectorates, protected states, mandated or trust territories may remain British Protected Persons if they did not acquire the nationality of the country at independence.

The last British protectorate proper was the Solomon Islands, which gained independence in 1978; the last British protected state was Brunei, which gained full independence in 1984.

Other cases include:


  • Barbados (1627–1652) (as a proprietary colony under both William Courteen, followed by James Hay I.)
  • Mosquito Coast (1655–1860) (over Central America's Miskito Indian nation)

Arab World

  • Aden Protectorates in Yemen (1873–1967)
  • Sultanate of Egypt (1914–1922)
  • Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (1899–1956; condominium with Egypt)
  • British Residency of the Persian Gulf (1822–1971)
    • Bahrain (1880–1971)
    • Kuwait (1899–1961)
    • Qatar (1916–1971)
    • Trucial States, precursor of the UAE (1892–1971)
  • British Somaliland (1887–1960)

South and South East Asia

  • Bhutan (1910–1947)
  • British North Borneo (1888–1946)
  • Brunei (1888–1984)
  • Federation of Malaya (1948–1957)
    • Federated Malay States (1895–1946)
      • Negeri Sembilan (1888–1895)
        • Sungai Ujong (1873–1888)
        • Jelebu (1886–1895)
      • Pahang (1888–1895)
      • Perak (1874–1895)
      • Selangor (1875–1895)
    • Unfederated Malay States (1904/09-1946)
      • Johor (1904–1946)
      • Kedah (1909–1946)
      • Kelantan (1909–1946)
      • Perlis (1909–1946)
      • Terengganu (1909–1946)
  • Indian Princely States (to 1947)
  • Maldives (1887–1965)
  • Sikkim (1910–1975)
  • Sarawak (1888–1946)

Sub-Saharan Africa

Asterisks denote protectorates which were governed from a colony of the same name.

  • Basutoland (1884-1966)
  • Bechuanaland Protectorate (1884–1966)
  • British East Africa Protectorate (1895–1920)
  • Gambia Protectorate* (1894–1965)
  • Kenya Protectorate* (1920–1963)
  • Barotseland Protectorate (1900-1964)
  • Northern Rhodesia (1924–1964)
  • Northern Territories of the Gold Coast (1902–1957)
  • Nyasaland Protectorate (1893–1964) - known as British Central Africa until 1907
  • Northern Nigeria Protectorate
  • Eastern Nigeria Protectorate
  • Western Nigeria Protectorate
  • Sierra Leone Protectorate* (1896–1961)
  • Swaziland (1902–1968)
  • Uganda Protectorate (1894–1962)
  • Walvis Bay protectorate (1878–1884)
  • Zanzibar (1890–1963)


  • British Solomon Islands (1893–1978)
  • Cook Islands (1888–1901)
  • Gilbert and Ellice Islands (1892–1916)
  • Niue (1900–1901)
  • Tokelau (1877–1916)
  • Tonga (1900–1970)


Qing Dynasty provided several amical or colonial protection to:

  • Khanate of Kokand (1774–1798)
  • Gorkha Kingdom (1793–1816, by 1816 Gorkha became a protectorate of Britain) (Fuk'anggan)
  • Nguyễn Dynasty (1803–1885, by 1885 Vietnam became a French colony)
  • Ryūkyū Kingdom (1644–1879, in 1876 the Ryūkyū Kingdom ceased all diplomatic relation with Qing China and in 1879 was abolished by Japan)


  • Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten (all are presently separate constituent countries, formerly part of the Netherlands Antilles)
  • Various sultanates in the Dutch East Indies (present Indonesia)

French protectorates

  • Saar (1947–1956), not colonial or amical, but a former part of Germany that would by referendum return to it, in fact a re-edition of a former League of Nations mandate. Most French protectorates were colonial:


  • Present India: Arkat (Arcot/Carnatic) was 1692–1750 a French protectorate until 1763 independence recognized under British protectorate
  • French Indochina until 1953/54:
    • Cambodia 11 August 1863
    • Annam and Tonkin 6 June 1884
    • Laos 3 October 1893

Arab World and Madagascar

  • Comoros 21 April 1886 French protectorate (Anjouan) till 25 July 1912 when annexed.
  • Present Djibouti was originally, since 24 June 1884, the Territory of Obock and Protectorate of Tadjoura (Territoires Français d'Obock, Tadjoura, Dankils et Somalis), a French protectorate recognized by Britain on 9 February 1888, renamed on 20 May 1896 as French Somaliland (Côte Française des Somalis).
  • Mauritania on 12 May 1903 French protectorate; within Mauritanian several traditional states:
    • Adrar emirate since 9 January 1909 French protectorate (before Spanish)
    • The Taganit confederation's emirate (founded by Idaw `Ish dynasty), since 1905 under French protectorate.
    • Brakna confederation's emirate
    • Emirate of Trarza: 15 December 1902 placed under French protectorate status.
  • Morocco - most of the sultanate was under French protectorate (30 March 1912 - 2 March 1956) although, in theory, it remained a sovereign state under the Treaty of Fez;[2] this fact was confirmed by the International Court of Justice in 1952.[3]
    • The northern part of Morocco was under Spanish protectorate in the same period.
  • Traditional Madagascar States
    • Kingdom of Imerina under French protectorate, 6 August 1896. French Madagascar colony, 28 February 1897.
  • Tunisia, 12 May 1881 becomes a French protectorate by treaty to 20 March 1956 when terminated.

Sub-Saharan Africa

The legal regime of "protection" was the formal legal structure under which French colonial forces expanded in Africa between the 1830s and 1900. Almost every pre-existing state in the area later covered by French West Africa was placed under protectorate status at some point, although direct rule gradually replaced protectorate agreements. Formal ruling structures, or fictive recreations of them, were largely retained as the lowest level authority figure in the French Cercles, with leaders appointed and removed by French officials.[4]

  • Benin traditional states
    • Independent of Danhome, under French protectorate, from 1889
    • Porto-Novo a French protectorate, 23 February 1863 - 2 January 1865. Cotonou a French Protectorate, 19 May 1868. Porto-Novo French protectorate, 14 April 1882.
  • Central African Republic traditional states:
    • French protectorate over Dar al-Kuti (1912 Sultanate suppressed by the French), 12 December 1897
    • French protectorate over the Sultanate of Bangassou, 1894
  • Burkina Faso was since 20 February 1895 a French protectorate named Upper Volta (Haute-Volta)
  • Chad: Baghirmi state 20 September 1897 a French protectorate
  • Côte d'Ivoire: 10 January 1889 French protectorate of Ivory Coast
  • Guinea: 5 August 1849 French protectorate over coastal region; (Riviéres du Sud).
  • Niger, Sultanate of Damagaram (Zinder), 30 July 1899 under French protectorate over the native rulers, titled Sarkin Damagaram or Sultan
  • Senegal: 4 February 1850 First of several French protectorate treaties with local rulers


  • French Polynesia, mainly the Society Islands (several other were immediately annexed)[5] All eventually got annexed by 1889.
    • Otaheiti (native king styled Ari`i rahi) becomes a French protectorate known as Tahiti, 1842–1880
    • Raiatea and Tahaa (after temporary annexation by Otaheiti; (title Ari`i) a French protectorate, 1880)
    • Mangareva (one of the Gambier Islands; ruler title `Akariki) a French protectorate, 16 January 1844
  • Wallis and Futuna:
    • Wallis declared to be a French protectorate by King of Uvea and Captain Mallet, 4 November 1842. Officially in a treaty becomes a French protectorate, 5 April 1887 until 1917 when it got annexed.
    • Sigave and Alo on the islands of Futuna and Alofi signed a treaty establishing a French protectorate on 16 February 1888 until annexed in 1917.


The German Empire used the word "Schutzgebiet", literally protectorate, for all of its colonies until they were lost during World War I, regardless of the actual level of government control. Cases involving indirect rule included;

  • German New Guinea
  • Marshall Islands
  • Nauru, various officials posted with the Head Chiefs
  • Northern Solomon islands
  • Samoa, formerly Western Samoa
  • Sultanate of Witu, in Kenya
  • German South-West Africa (later Namibia)
  • Togoland
  • Rwanda, a Resident with the native Mwami (king)
  • Urundi, a Resident with the native Mwami (king; 1908 Sultan)

Besides these colonial uses, within Europe Nazi Germany established the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (1939–1945) in the ethnically-Czech regions of Czechoslovakia.


In Europe:

  • Albania, 1917-1920, 1939-1940.
  • Independent State of Croatia, 1941-1943.
  • Monaco under amical Protectorate of the Kingdom of Sardinia 20 November 1815 to 1860.

In the colonial empire:

  • Ethiopia: 2 May 1889 Treaty of Wuchale, in the Italian language version, stated that Ethiopia was to become an Italian protectorate, while the Ethiopian Amharic language version merely stated that the Emperor could, if he so chose, go through Italy to conduct foreign affairs. When the differences in the versions came to light, Emperor Menelik II abrogated first the article in question (XVII), and later the whole treaty. The event culminated in the First Italo-Ethiopian War, in which Ethiopia was victorious and defended her sovereignty in 1896.
  • Libya: on 15 October 1912 Italian protectorate declared over Cirenaica (Cyrenaica) until 17 May 1919.
  • Somalia: 3 August 1889 Benadir Coast Italian protectorate (in the northeast; unoccupied until May 1893), until 16 March 1905 when it changed to Italian Somaliland.
    • Majeerteen Sultanate since 7 April 1889 under Italian protectorate (renewed 7 April 1895), then in 1927 incorporated into the Italian colony.
    • Sultanate of Hobyo since December 1888 under Italian protectorate (renewed 11 April 1895), then in October 1925 incorporated into the Italian colony (known as Obbia).


  • Korean Empire (1905–1910)
  • Thailand (1941-1945)


  • Cabinda (Portuguese Congo) (1885–1974)

Portugal first claimed sovereignty over Cabinda in the February 1885 Treaty of Simulambuco, which gave Cabinda the status of a protectorate of the Portuguese Crown under the request of "the princes and governors of Cabinda".

Through the Treaty of Simulambuco in 1885 between the kings of Portugal and Cabinda's princes, a Portuguese protectorate was decreed, reserving rights to the local princes and independent of Angola.



  • Spanish Morocco protectorate from 27 November 1912 until 2 April 1958 (Northern zone until 7 April 1956, Southern zone (Cape Juby) until 2 April 1958).
  • Mauritania: Adrar emirate since 1886 under Spanish protectorate till 9 January 1909, then a French protectorate.

United Nations

United States

  • Philippine Commonwealth
Under the provisions of the Tydings–McDuffie Act, the territory would become self-governing although its military and foreign affairs would be under the United States. (1934-1946)
  • Compact of Free Association
the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau currently have a similar status (associated state) after their independence.

Contemporary usage by the United States

Some agencies of the United States government, such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency, still use the term protectorate to refer to insular areas of the United States such as Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This was also the case with the Philippines and (it can be argued via the Platt Amendment) Cuba at the end of Spanish colonial rule. However, the agency responsible for the administration of those areas, the Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) within the United States Department of Interior, uses only the term "insular area" rather than protectorate.

Joint protectorates

  • The Adriatic Republic of Ragusa (presently Dubrovnik in Croatian Dalmatia) was a joint Habsburg Austrian - Ottoman Turkish protectorate 20 August 1684 - 24 August 1798 - so exceptionally both a Catholic and a Muslim protector
  • The United States of the Ionian Islands were a federal Septinsular Republic of seven formerly Venetian (see Provveditore) Ionian islands (Corfu, Cephalonia, Zante, Santa Maura, Ithaca, Cerigo and Paxos), officially under joint protectorate of the Allied Christian Powers, de facto a UK amical protectorate from 1815 to 1864.
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina were a joint Austrian and Hungarian protectorate since 1878 which formally still belonged to the Ottoman Empire until 1908 when it was annexed by Austria-Hungary (see Bosnian crisis).

See also

  • British Protected Person
  • Chinese Protectorate
  • Dominion
  • Protector (titles for Heads of State and other individual persons)
  • Suzerainty
  • Tributary (political)
  • Tribute
  • Vassal state


  1. 1.0 1.1 The Statesman's Yearbook 1967-1968
  4. See the classic account on this in Robert Delavignette. Freedom and Authority in French West Africa. London: Oxford University Press, (1950). The more recent statndard studies on French expansion include:
    Robert Aldrich. Greater France: A History of French Overseas Expansion. Palgrave MacMillan (1996) ISBN 0-312-16000-3.
    Alice L. Conklin. A Mission to Civilize: The Republican Idea of Empire in France and West Africa 1895-1930. Stanford: Stanford University Press (1998), ISBN 978-0-8047-2999-4.
    Patrick Manning. Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa, 1880-1995. Cambridge University Press (1998) ISBN 0-521-64255-8.
    Jean Suret-Canale. Afrique Noire: l'Ere Coloniale (Editions Sociales, Paris, 1971); Eng. translation, French Colonialism in Tropical Africa, 1900 1945. (New York, 1971).
  5. C. W. Newbury. Aspects of French Policy in the Pacific, 1853-1906. The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Feb., 1958), pp. 45-56



  • Larousse, Pierre; Paul Augé, Claude Augé (1925). Nouveau Petit Larousse Illustré: Dictionnaire Encyclopédique. Larousse. 

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