The British Empire began in 1578 when Queen Elizabeth I started founding colonies in the Caribbean and North America. It expanded in the following centuries involving frequent fighting with European rivals Holland, France, Portugal and Spain over territory in Asia, Africa and the Americas. The loss of the colonies in North America after the American War of Independence was significant, but the zenith of the empire was only reached much later at the end of the 19th Century with Queen Victoria, when the Empire very nearly covered one quarter of the land in the world.
During the 20th century the effects of World War I and World War II on the United Kingdom led to a decline of empire, with the independence of most of its colonies in the decades thereafter. After a failed military intervention to hold onto the strategic Suez canal in Egypt in 1956, many regarded Britain to be no longer a global power. The formal handover of its last significant possession, Hong Kong, back to China in 1997 was seen as "the end of the Empire".
Today the empire is now reduced to many small islands and lands as 'British Overseas Territories'. It retains a cultural connection to many of its former colonies through the large Commonwealth of Nations, and some countries such as Australia, Canada and others keep a constitutional connection by having the English monarch, Queen Elizabeth II as their formal head of state.
Articles about the Empire
There are many articles that cover different aspects of the British Empire:
- United Kingdom — the country that built and ran the empire
- Colonial India and the British Raj — the story of India's time as the largest part of the empire
- Victoria — many places today bear the name of Queen Victoria, who reigned at the peak of the British Empire
- Industrial Britain — the industrial growth of the country during time of empire
- Around the World in Eighty Days - famous story by Jules Verne, detailing a journey through the empire and the rest of the world
- On the trail of Kipling's Kim - an itinerary through the places described in the famous novel set on the British Raj
- United States
- Braddock Expedition — A battle between Britain & France before American independence
- Early United States history — how the United States became a nation and declared independence from the British Empire
- From Plymouth to Hampton Roads is an itinerary of East coast towns that featured in the early British colonies and later in the War of Independence.
British Overseas Territories
Although the term 'British Empire' is rarely used today, some destinations do remain in the form of 'overseas territories'. They are typically self-governing and do not belong to the European Union. The majority are islands.
- British Virgin Islands
- Falkland Islands
- Turks and Caicos Islands
- Cayman Islands
- Pitcairn Islands
- Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
The following are a list of former colonial countries that choose to be part of the British Commonwealth, with or without the British monarch as the head of state:
- New Zealand
- South Africa
- Sri Lanka
- Cricket - is a game played by almost all countries of the commonwealth
- Rugby football - a sport that originated in England and is today played in many nations of the former British Empire, although other countries (such as Argentina, France, Italy and Japan) have also enthusiastically taken it up as well
- Association Football was invented in England and was in part spread through merchants, missionaries, teachers and expatriates throughout the entire world.