Portal:British Empire

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British Empire


British Empire, 1897

The British Empire was the largest empire in history, and for a substantial time was the foremost global power. It was a product of the European age of discovery, which began with the maritime explorations of the 15th century, that sparked the era of the European colonial empires.

By 1921, the British Empire held sway over a population of about 458 million people, approximately one-quarter of the world's population. It covered about 36.6 million km² (14.2 million square miles), about a quarter of Earth's total land area. As a result, its legacy is widespread: in legal and governmental systems, economic practice, militarily, educational systems, sports (such as cricket, rugby, golf and football), traffic practices (such as driving on the left), and in the global spread of the English language. At the peak of its power, it was often said that "the sun never sets on the British Empire" because its span across the globe ensured that the sun was always shining on at least one of its numerous colonies or subject nations.

During the five decades following World War II, most of the territories of the Empire became independent. Many went on to join the Commonwealth of Nations, a free association of independent states.

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The Duke of Marlborough Signing the Despatch at Blenheim.

British Raj or British India, officially the British Indian Empire, and internationally and contemporaneously, India, was the term used synonymously for the region, the rule, and the period, from 1858 to 1947, of the British Empire on the Indian subcontinent. The region included areas directly administered by the United Kingdom (contemporaneously, "British India") as well as the princely states ruled by individuals under the paramountcy of the British Crown. The princely states, which had all entered into treaty arrangements with the British Crown, were allowed a degree of local autonomy in exchange for accepting protection and complete representation in international affairs by Great Britain. The British Indian Empire included the regions of present-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and, in addition, at various times, Aden (from 1858 to 1937), Lower Burma (from 1858 to 1937), Upper Burma (from 1886 to 1937), British Somaliland (briefly from 1884 to 1898), and Singapore (briefly from 1858 to 1867). British India had some ties with British possessions in the Middle East; the Indian rupee served as the currency in many parts of that region. What is now Iraq was, immediately after World War I, administered by the India Office of the British government. (more...)

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Punch Rhodes Colossus.png
Credit: Edward Linley Sambourne

The Rhodes Colossus, an iconic editorial cartoon of the Scramble for Africa period, depicting British colonialist Cecil John Rhodes as a giant standing over the continent.

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Edward Prince of Wales during his visit to Canada in 1919.jpg

Edward VIII (23 June 1894 – 28 May 1972) was King of Great Britain, Ireland, the British Dominions beyond the Seas, and Emperor of India from the death of his father, George V (1910–36), on 20 January 1936, until his abdication on 11 December 1936. He was the second monarch of the House of Windsor, his father having changed the name of the royal house from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1917.

Only months into his reign, Edward forced a constitutional crisis by proposing marriage to the American divorcée Wallis Simpson. Although legally Edward could have married Mrs. Simpson and remained king, his various prime ministers opposed the marriage, arguing that the people would never accept her as queen. Edward knew that the ministry of British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin would resign if the marriage went ahead; this could have dragged the King into a general election thus ruining irreparably his status as a politically neutral constitutional monarch. Rather than give up Mrs. Simpson, Edward chose to abdicate. He is one of the shortest-reigning monarchs in British history, and was never crowned. (more...)

Evolution of the British Empire


British Empire evolution3.gif

This Map of the world animates the Empire's rise and fall.



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British Empire and Commonwealth of Nations



Current territory  ·   Former territory

* now a Commonwealth realm  ·   now a member of the Commonwealth of Nations
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