The Swazis settled in the area that is now Swaziland about 1820 after being expelled from land to the south by the Zulus. Conflict between the groups continued until mid-century, when the British, at the request of the Swazi king, helped establish peaceful relations. About this time the first white settlers came to Swaziland. With the discovery of gold in 1879, settlers and prospectors poured into the area, obtaining extensive land concessions from the Swazi king. During the 1890's the British in Cape Colony and the Boers in Transvaal exercised varying degrees of control over Swaziland. In 1903, after the Boer War, it became a British protectorate.

Though South Africa made numerous requests to annex Swaziland during the next 50 years, Britain began preparing the protectorate for independence after World War II. Swaziland achieved internal self-government in 1967. The following year, it became an independent constitutional monarchy within the British Commonwealth. In 1973 King Sobhuza II repealed the 1968 constitution and assumed all governing powers himself. He died in 1982. Following rule under a regency, Sobhuza's son Makhosetive was crowned King Mswati III in 1986. In the 1990's, popular unrest forced the government to consider political reforms. In 2005, King Mswati approved a new constitution for Swaziland but maintained his hold on power.