This timeline covers the main points of British (and English) foreign policy from 1485 to the early 21st century.
- 1860–1870: The British government gives moral and diplomatic support to the "Risorgimento" (Unification of Italy creation of the modern Italian state against considerable international opposition. The famed hero of unification, Giuseppe Garibaldi was widely celebrated in Britain.
- 1861: Britain, Spain and France land forces in Mexico to demand repayment. Britain and Spain withdraw but France escalates and takes control of Mexico.
- 1861–65: Neutrality in American Civil War, although Prime Minister Palmerston favours the Confederacy and is tempted to recognise the Confederacy, which would lead to war with US.
- 1861: War scare over Trent Affair resolved when US releases Confederate diplomats seized from a British ship.
- 1864: Britain avoids involvement in the War between Denmark on the one side and Prussia and Austria regarding the Schleswig-Holstein question.
- 1865: Anglo-Moroccan Accords signed by John Drummond-Hay helps preserve Moroccan independence during the Scramble for Africa but reduces the sultanate's customs and royal trade monopolies.
- 1867: British North America Act, 1867, creates Canada, a federation with internal self-government; foreign and defence matters handled by London. The long-term goal is for Canada to pay for its own defence.
- 1868 to 1881: Gladstone formulates a moralistic policy regarding Afghanistan.
- 1871: Taking advantage of France's distress, Russia abrogates the 1856 Treaty of Paris and remilitarises the Black Sea. The action is approved at the London Convention of 1871. Revival of rivalry with Russia in the Near East.
- 1871: Treaty of Washington with the United States, sets up arbitration that settles the Alabama Claims in 1872 in US favour.
- 1871: The unification of Germany following its defeat of France leads the government to expand the Army, and put Edward Cardwell in charge of modernizing the forces.
- 1873: The Imperial College of Engineering opens in Tokyo with Henry Dyer as principal; Japan studies and copies British technology and business methods
- 1874–1880. The Conservative government of Benjamin Disraeli scored a number of achievements. In 1875 came the purchase of the controlling shares in the Suez Canal company. By negotiations, Russia gave up substantial gains in the Balkans and a foothold in the Mediterranean. Britain gains control of Cyprus from the Ottomans as a naval base covering the Eastern Mediterranean. In exchange, Britain guaranteed the Asiatic territories of the Ottoman Empire. Britain did not do well in conflicts in Afghanistan and South Africa.
- 1875–1900: Britain joins in the Scramble for Africa with major gains in East Africa, South Africa, and West Africa, and keeps "temporary" control of Egypt. 
- 1875–1898: Tensions with France were high over African colonies. At the Fashoda Incident in 1898 fighting was possible, but France retreated and tensions ended.
- 1875: The British government purchases the Suez Canal shares from the almost bankrupt khedive of Egypt, Isma'il Pasha. French investors own the majority of shares.
- 1875–78: Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli works during the Near East crisis to diminish rival Russian interests in the Ottoman Empire. He gained what he wanted at the Congress of Berlin (1878), but did not find a solution to the Eastern Question in the Balkans.
- 1876: Bulgarian Horrors causes outrage in Britain. Gladstone stages nationwide speaking tour attacking Disraeli government for its support of the Turks.
- 1877–78: Russian-Turkish War ends in a Russian victory. The Treaty of San Stefano is widely seen as an unacceptable increase in Russian power in the Balkans.
- 1878: Widespread "jingoism" celebrates sending a British fleet into Turkish waters to counter the advance of Russia.
- 1878: Treaty of Berlin gives Britain possession of Cyprus. Britain leases Cyprus from Turkey in order to block possible Russian expansion. In 1914 Britain annexed Cyprus and made it a crown colony in 1927. Disraeli boasts that he secured "Peace with honour" as well as Cyprus.
- 1879: Egypt goes bankrupt. Loss of Egyptian financial independence to a consortium of European bankers. Evelyn Baring sent to reorganise the Egyptian government in order that Egypt could pay off its debts.
- 1879: Anglo-Zulu War. British forward policy in South Africa aiming at complete control of the country as Britain wishes to maintain control over the alternative Cape route in case the Suez Canal should not be available.
- 1880: Foreign policy is a major issue in the British general election, helping Liberals under Gladstone to defeat Disraeli's Conservative Party by a landslide.
- 1880–81: First Boer War; Britain defeated by the South African Republic of the Afrikaners
- 1880s: Gladstone calls for a "Concert of Europe" – a peaceful European order that overcomes traditional rivalries by emphasising co-operation over conflict, mutual trust over suspicion. He proposes that the rule of law should supplant the reign of force and begger-thy-neighbor policies. However, he was outmaneuvered by Bismarck's system of "realpolitik" using manipulated alliances and antagonisms.
- 1881: Pretoria Convention ends war with the Transvaal and Orange Free State. Henceforward, the Boer republics are independent with a vague British claim of suzerainty. Source of much future tension as the Boer republics see themselves as completely independent states while Britain does not.
- 1882: Uprising in Egypt led by Ahmed Orabi against the foreign control of the government. British take control of Egypt after a war (although it remains nominally part of Ottoman Empire).
- 1883: United Kingdom–Korea Treaty of 1883 is signed.
- 1883–1907: Lord Cromer rules Egypt as consul general
- 1885: The Panjdeh incident causes a war scare with Russia.
- 1885–1902: Historians agree that Lord Salisbury as foreign minister and prime minister was a strong and effective leader in foreign affairs. He had a superb grasp of the issues, and proved:
- a patient, pragmatic practitioner, with a keen understanding of Britain's historic interests....He oversaw the partition of Africa, the emergence of Germany and the United States as imperial powers, and the transfer of British attention from the Dardanelles to Suez without provoking a serious confrontation of the great powers.
- 1886: Witwatersrand Gold Rush. Gold is discovered in the Transvaal. The new wealth of the South African Republic threatens to undermine the assumptions behind the Pretoria convention as it was felt that the two Boer republics were too small and weak to threaten British rule over the Cape Colony and Natal, and thus British control over the Cape route to India. Now with gold being mined in the Witwatersrand, the South African Republic uses its new wealth to go on an arms-buying spree in Europe, which potentially could threaten the British position in South Africa. Renewed British push to bring all of southern Africa under its control.
- 1887: To protect the Suez Canal and the sea lanes to India and Asia, Prime Minister Salisbury signs the Mediterranean Agreements (March and December 1887) with Italy and Austria. This aligns Britain indirectly with Germany and the Triple Alliance.
- 1889: Salisbury increases he dominance of the Royal navy through the Naval Defence Act 1889, with an extra £20 million for ten new battleships, thirty-eight new cruisers, eighteen new torpedo boats and four new fast gunboats.
- 1890–1896: Britain suffers a series of diplomatic reverses, including the abandonment of the Congo treaty with Belgium; the French conquest of Madagascar; the collaboration of France, Russia and Germany in the Far East; the Venezuela crisis with United States; the Armenian massacres in the Ottoman Empire; the emerging alliance between France and Russia; and the debacle of the Jameson Raid; debates focus on Britain's lack of allies.
- 1890–1902: Salisbury promotes a policy of Splendid isolation with no formal allies.
- 1890: The South African Republic passes a law that disenfranchised most of the uitlanders as foreign, mostly British workers in the Transvaal's gold fields are known. The uitlander issue becomes a major source of strain and tension in the following decade.
- 1890: Heligoland–Zanzibar Treaty with Germany. Britain gains the German colony of Zanzibar while giving up a small strategic island off the German coast, and agrees on boundaries in Africa.
President Cleveland twists the tail of the British Lion regarding Venezuela—a policy hailed by Irish Catholics in the United States; cartoon in Puck by J.S. Pughe, 1895
- 1895: Venezuela Crisis. Border dispute with Venezuela causes major Anglo-American crisis when the United States intervenes to take Venezuela's side. It was resolved through arbitration and was last crisis that threatened war with the United States.
- 1894–96: Britain puts pressure on Turkey to stop its mistreatment of Christians. A series of escalating atrocities against the Armenians living in Turkey causes public outrage in Britain. All efforts to coordinate sanctions or punishments with the other Powers fail, and the Armenians get no help.
- 1895–96: Jameson Raid. Botched attempt at a coup to overthrow President Paul Kruger of the South African Republic, instigated by Cecil Rhodes. The result was to strengthen Afrikaner nationalism and embarrass Britain.
- 1896: January – Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm escalated tensions with his Kruger telegram of January 1896 congratulating President Kruger of the Transvaal for beating off the Jameson raid. German officials in Berlin had managed to stop the Kaiser from proposing a German protectorate over the Transvaal. The telegram backfired, as the British began to see Germany as a major threat and moved to friendlier relationships with France.
The battleship HMS Royal Sovereign, 1896
See the full list at Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
- Earl of Clarendon (1800–70). foreign secretary (1865–66, 1868–1870).
- 1st Earl Granville, (1773–1846) known as Viscount Granville from 1815 to 1833, and as Earl Granville from 1833 to 1836; diplomat
- 2nd Earl Granville, (1815–1891), Liberal statesman and diplomat; known for his pacific stewardship of Britain's external relations, 1870–74 and 1880–85, in co-operation with Prime Minister Gladstone.
- Lord Palmerston, (1784–1865) Whig/Liberal foreign minister or prime minister (1830–1865 with interruptions)
- Lord Salisbury (1830–1903) Conservative foreign minister and/or prime minister (1878–1902 with interruptions)
- Joseph Chamberlain, (1836–1914), Liberal Unionist Secretary of State for the Colonies (1895–1903).