By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. With the passage of the British North America Act, 1867 by the British Parliament, the Province of Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were formed into Canada, a confederation enjoying full self-government with the exception of international relations. [236] The passage of the British Nationality Act 1981, which reclassified the remaining Crown colonies as "British Dependent Territories" (renamed British Overseas Territories in 2002)[237][238] meant that, aside from a scattering of islands and outposts, the process of decolonisation that had begun after the Second World War was largely complete. [123] In the process the Voortrekkers clashed repeatedly with the British, who had their own agenda with regard to colonial expansion in South Africa and to the various native African polities, including those of the Sotho and the Zulu nations. [163] Iraq, a British mandate since 1920, also gained membership of the League in its own right after achieving independence from Britain in 1932. Later, under direct British rule, commissions were set up after each famine to investigate the causes and implement new policies, which took until the early 1900s to have an effect. After independence, many former British colonies joined the Commonwealth of Nations, a free association of independent states. Millions left the British Isles, with the founding settler populations of the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand coming mainly from Britain and Ireland. [266][267] The British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council still serves as the highest court of appeal for several former colonies in the Caribbean and Pacific. [150], The changing world order that the war had brought about, in particular the growth of the United States and Japan as naval powers, and the rise of independence movements in India and Ireland, caused a major reassessment of British imperial policy. Both claimed in 1908; territories formed in 1962 (British Antarctic Territory) and 1985 (South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands). Nearly all these early settlements arose from the enterprise of particular companies and magnates rather than from any effort on the part of the English crown. [15] To seek new markets and sources of raw materials, the British government under Benjamin Disraeli initiated a period of imperial expansion in Egypt, South Africa and elsewhere. Answered by Professor Linda Colley, Princeton University. In its heyday, the British Empire was huge. [230] The British Virgin Islands,[231] Cayman Islands and Montserrat also opted to retain ties with Britain,[232] while Guyana achieved independence in 1966. This agreement was not divulged to the Sharif of Mecca, who the British had been encouraging to launch an Arab revolt against their Ottoman rulers, giving the impression that Britain was supporting the creation of an independent Arab state. Anyone wishing to take up arms in this debate must be aware of the 2 questions regarding this big question. A joint force of British and Egyptian troops defeated the Mahdist Army in 1896, and rebuffed an attempted French invasion at Fashoda in 1898. [223] Macmillan wished to avoid the same kind of colonial war that France was fighting in Algeria, and under his premiership decolonisation proceeded rapidly. Cabot led another voyage to the Americas the following year but nothing was ever heard of his ships again. The Province of Carolina was founded in 1663. [7] In 1562, the English Crown encouraged the privateers John Hawkins and Francis Drake to engage in slave-raiding attacks against Spanish and Portuguese ships off the coast of West Africa[23] with the aim of breaking into the Atlantic slave trade. Gilbert did not survive the return journey to England, and was succeeded by his half-brother, Walter Raleigh, who was granted his own patent by Elizabeth in 1584. Enslaved persons on a West Indian plantation being freed following passage of the Slavery Abolition Act (1833)., HistoryWorld - History of The British Empire, Our Migration Story - A Home for the Ayahs: From India to Britain and Back Again, Our Migration Story - Industrials & Imperial Migrations - The Lascars: Britain's Colonial Sailors, British Empire - Student Encyclopedia (Ages 11 and up), James Andrew Broun Ramsay, Marquess of Dalhousie. [222], Macmillan gave a speech in Cape Town, South Africa in February 1960 where he spoke of "the wind of change blowing through this continent". Navigate parenthood with the help of the Raising Curious Learners podcast. Burma, which had been administered as part of the British Raj, and Sri Lanka gained their independence the following year in 1948. With support from the British abolitionist movement, Parliament enacted the Slave Trade Act in 1807, which abolished the slave trade in the empire. [169] This declaration was given legal substance under the 1931 Statute of Westminster. Some of the largest nations on Earth were part of the Empire: Canada , Australia , the United States , India , Pakistan, Burma, Sudan, Egypt , and South Africa just to name some of the big ones. Bermuda was settled and claimed by England as a result of the 1609 shipwreck of the Virginia Company's flagship, and in 1615 was turned over to the newly formed Somers Isles Company. Spain also ceded the rights to the lucrative asiento (permission to sell African slaves in Spanish America) to Britain. Kenyan independence was preceded by the eight-year Mau Mau uprising, in which tens of thousands of suspected rebels were interned by the colonial government in detention camps. Canadian settlements in Alberta, Manitoba, and British Columbia extended British influence to the Pacific, while further British conquests in India brought in the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh and the Central Provinces, East Bengal, and Assam. In the 16th century Britain began to establish overseas colonies. [144], Britain's fears of war with Germany were realised in 1914 with the outbreak of the First World War. It began in 1931, when the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa formed the British Commonwealth of Nations. In India, the East India Company was confronted by the French Compagnie des Indes, but Robert Clive’s military victories against the French and the rulers of Bengal in the 1750s provided the British with a massive accession of territory and ensured their future supremacy in India. Although no longer able to pass any laws that would apply as Australian Commonwealth law, the British Parliament retained the power to legislate for the individual Australian States. The British Mandate for Palestine officially terminated at midnight on 15 May 1948 as the State of Israel declared independence and the 1948 Arab-Israeli War broke out, during which the territory of the former Mandate was partitioned between Israel and the surrounding Arab states. Britain acquired the Cape of Good Hope (now in South Africa) in 1806, and the South African interior was opened up by Boer and British pioneers under British control. The loss of Britain’s 13 American colonies in 1776–83 was compensated by new settlements in Australia from 1788 and by the spectacular growth of Upper Canada (now Ontario) after the emigration of loyalists from what had become the United States. [58], The 18th century saw the newly united Great Britain rise to be the world's dominant colonial power, with France becoming its main rival on the imperial stage. Envious of the great wealth these empires generated,[6] England, France, and the Netherlands began to establish colonies and trade networks of their own in the Americas and Asia. [226] In Rhodesia, the 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence by the white minority resulted in a civil war that lasted until the Lancaster House Agreement of 1979, which set the terms for recognised independence in 1980, as the new nation of Zimbabwe. Hostilities ceased after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 when the Dutch William of Orange ascended the English throne, bringing peace between the Netherlands and England. Timeline of British diplomatic history § 1815–1860, History of the United Kingdom during the First World War, special administrative region of the People's Republic of China, driving on the left hand side of the road, Territorial evolution of the British Empire, History of the foreign relations of the United Kingdom, Historical flags of the British Empire and the overseas territories, "Expansion and Contraction Patterns of Large Polities: Context for Russia", "The World Factbook – Central Intelligence Agency", New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage, "Why was Slavery finally abolished in the British Empire? Joint Anglo-French financial control over Egypt ended in outright British occupation in 1882. The Irish Republican Army simultaneously began a guerrilla war against the British administration. This was formalised in negotiations following the Second Anglo-Dutch War, in exchange for Suriname. Although granted legislative independence by the Statute of Westminster 1931, vestigial constitutional links had remained in place. Eventually the Boers established two republics which had a longer lifespan: the South African Republic or Transvaal Republic (1852–1877; 1881–1902) and the Orange Free State (1854–1902). The empire was huge, it lasted a long time and it brought tremendous changes to many parts of the world. [98] Facing further opposition from abolitionists, the apprenticeship system was abolished in 1838. Barbados achieved independence in 1966 and the remainder of the eastern Caribbean islands, including the Bahamas, in the 1970s and 1980s,[229] but Anguilla and the Turks and Caicos Islands opted to revert to British rule after they had already started on the path to independence. What exactly was the British empire? At Lord Verney’s Claydon House in Buckinghamshire,a talented wood-carver named Luke Lightfoot created a fanciful Chinese Room in the 1760s, elaborately covered in scrolls, towers, screens, bell… [12] Alongside the formal control that Britain exerted over its colonies, its dominance of much of world trade meant that it effectively controlled the economies of many regions, such as Asia and Latin America. Their priorities changed to maintaining an extensive zone of British influence[189] and ensuring that stable, non-Communist governments were established in former colonies. [99] The British government compensated slave-owners. The British Empire no longer exists. [249] The handover ceremony in 1997 marked for many,[17] including Charles, Prince of Wales, who was in attendance, "the end of Empire". [164] In Palestine, Britain was presented with the problem of mediating between the Arabs and increasing numbers of Jews. In 1983, the British Nationality Act 1981 renamed the existing Crown Colonies as "British Dependent Territories",[note 1] and in 2002 they were renamed the British Overseas Territories. [107], The East India Company drove the expansion of the British Empire in Asia. [165] This led to increasing conflict with the Arab population, who openly revolted in 1936. Britain returned Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, and Réunion to France, and Java and Suriname to the Netherlands, while gaining control of Ceylon (1795–1815) and Heligoland. [44] In 1620, Plymouth was founded as a haven for Puritan religious separatists, later known as the Pilgrims. [233], British territories in the Pacific acquired independence in the 1970s beginning with Fiji in 1970 and ending with Vanuatu in 1980. In 1982, the last legal link between Canada and Britain was severed by the Canada Act 1982, which was passed by the British parliament, formally patriating the Canadian Constitution. Pitcairn Islands include Oeno, Ducie, Henderson and Pitcairn islands. The Suez Crisis confirmed Britain's decline as a global power, and the transfer of Hong Kong to China in 1997 marked for many the end of the British Empire. [241] The British Parliament also had the power to pass laws extending to Canada at Canadian request. On 16 January 1968, a few weeks after the devaluation of the pound, Prime Minister Harold Wilson and his Defence Secretary Denis Healey announced that British troops would be withdrawn from major military bases East of Suez, which included the ones in the Middle East, and primarily from Malaysia and Singapore by the end of 1971, instead of 1975 as earlier planned. The British Empire brought profound changes to the world—but in the decades since its rapid decline after World War II it has become a kind of a historical joke, sometimes in poor taste. When the Kingdom of Great Britain was formed in 1707 by the union of the Kingdom of Scotland with the Kingdom of England, the latter country's colonial possessions passed to the new state. Continue Reading. Ireland had been united with Britain into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland with the Act of Union 1800 after the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and had suffered a severe famine between 1845 and 1852. [30] That year, Gilbert sailed for the Caribbean with the intention of engaging in piracy and establishing a colony in North America, but the expedition was aborted before it had crossed the Atlantic. As the British Empire began to fall, it was replaced by what is today called The Commonwealth (or The Commonwealth of Nations) – an organisation that countries can choose to join, or leave. [21] In the meantime, the 1533 Statute in Restraint of Appeals had declared "that this realm of England is an Empire". India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka became members of the Commonwealth, while Burma chose not to join. For a while it appeared that another war would be inevitable, but the two countries reached an agreement on their respective spheres of influence in the region in 1878 and on all outstanding matters in 1907 with the signing of the Anglo-Russian Entente. [65] The British and French struggles in India became but one theatre of the global Seven Years' War (1756–1763) involving France, Britain, and the other major European powers. This wording was ambiguous as to whether it referred to European countries invaded by Germany and Italy, or the peoples colonised by European nations, and would later be interpreted differently by the British, Americans, and nationalist movements. The situation was complicated further by the increasing Cold War rivalry of the United States and the Soviet Union. The policy of granting or recognizing significant degrees of self-government by dependencies, which was favoured by the far-flung nature of … [39] To ensure that the increasingly healthy profits of this trade remained in English hands, Parliament decreed in 1651 that only English ships would be able to ply their trade in English colonies. [51] For the slave traders, the trade was extremely profitable, and became a major economic mainstay for such western British cities as Bristol, Glasgow and Liverpool, which formed the third corner of the triangular trade with Africa and the Americas. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand became self-governing dominions.[16]. Many countries around the world now have multi-cultural populations. [18] Similarly, the Australia Act 1986 (effective 3 March 1986) severed the constitutional link between Britain and the Australian states, while New Zealand's Constitution Act 1986 (effective 1 January 1987) reformed the constitution of New Zealand to sever its constitutional link with Britain. [41], England's first permanent settlement in the Americas was founded in 1607 in Jamestown, led by Captain John Smith and managed by the Virginia Company. [112] The rebellion took six months to suppress, with heavy loss of life on both sides. Over 2.5 million men served in the armies of the Dominions, as well as many thousands of volunteers from the Crown colonies. In return, Egypt was assisted in joining the League of Nations. [68], The loss of such a large portion of British America, at the time Britain's most populous overseas possession, is seen by some historians as the event defining the transition between the "first" and "second" empires,[69] in which Britain shifted its attention away from the Americas to Asia, the Pacific and later Africa. With textiles becoming the larger trade, by 1720, in terms of sales, the British company had overtaken the Dutch. [121], The Dutch East India Company had founded the Cape Colony on the southern tip of Africa in 1652 as a way station for its ships travelling to and from its colonies in the East Indies. [92] It was not only Britain's position on the world stage that was at risk: Napoleon threatened to invade Britain itself, just as his armies had overrun many countries of continental Europe. [248] A deal was reached in 1984—under the terms of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, Hong Kong would become a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China, maintaining its way of life for at least 50 years. [110], During the late 18th and early 19th centuries the British Crown began to assume an increasingly large role in the affairs of the Company. [54], During the middle decades of the 18th century, there were several outbreaks of military conflict on the Indian subcontinent, as the English East India Company and its French counterpart, struggled alongside local rulers to fill the vacuum that had been left by the decline of the Mughal Empire. The first is an historical question. [205] Another of Eisenhower's concerns was the possibility of a wider war with the Soviet Union after it threatened to intervene on the Egyptian side. Schaak; in the National Portrait Gallery, London. At its height, it was the largest empire in history, and the world's most powerful superpower for more than a century. The UK's mainland consists of the island of Great Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales) and Northern Ireland. Save over 50% on a BBC History Magazine or BBC History Revealed gift subscription When the Great Exhibition opened in 1851, Britain was the greatest imperial power in history. [145], The British declaration of war on Germany and its allies also committed the colonies and Dominions, which provided invaluable military, financial and material support. [258] The demographics of Britain itself were changed after the Second World War owing to immigration to Britain from its former colonies. Forts and trading posts established by the HBC were frequently the subject of attacks by the French, who had established their own fur trading colony in adjacent New France. Now at peace with its main rival, English attention shifted from preying on other nations' colonial infrastructures to the business of establishing its own overseas colonies. [56] The British Empire was territorially enlarged: from France, Britain gained Newfoundland and Acadia, and from Spain Gibraltar and Menorca. James Wolfe, painting attributed to J.S.C. [104] Victory over Napoleon left Britain without any serious international rival, other than Russia in Central Asia. It has a long history of worldwide exploration and it is known for its historic colonies around the world. In principle, both nations were opposed to European colonialism. [29], In 1578, Elizabeth I granted a patent to Humphrey Gilbert for discovery and overseas exploration. [59], Great Britain, Portugal, the Netherlands, and the Holy Roman Empire continued the War of the Spanish Succession, which lasted until 1714 and was concluded by the Treaty of Utrecht. [61] With the outbreak of the Anglo-Spanish War of Jenkins' Ear in 1739, Spanish privateers attacked British merchant shipping along the Triangle Trade routes. Fighting between the British and French colonies in North America was endemic in the first half of the 18th century, but the Treaty of Paris of 1763, which ended the Seven Years’ War (known as the French and Indian War in North America), left Britain dominant in Canada. [109] In 1839, the confiscation by the Chinese authorities at Canton of 20,000 chests of opium led Britain to attack China in the First Opium War, and resulted in the seizure by Britain of Hong Kong Island, at that time a minor settlement, and other Treaty Ports including Shanghai. In 1982, Britain's resolve in defending its remaining overseas territories was tested when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, acting on a long-standing claim that dated back to the Spanish Empire. [13][14], British imperial strength was underpinned by the steamship and the telegraph, new technologies invented in the second half of the 19th century, allowing it to control and defend the empire. By 1913, the British Empire held sway over 412 million people, 23% of the world population at the time, Population. In this context, while other European powers such as France and Portugal,[190] waged costly and unsuccessful wars to keep their empires intact, Britain generally adopted a policy of peaceful disengagement from its colonies. [8] The period of relative peace in Europe and the world (1815–1914) during which the British Empire became the global hegemon was later described as Pax Britannica ("British Peace"). In 1770 James Cook charted the eastern coast of Australia while on a scientific voyage, claimed the continent for Britain, and named it New South Wales. [156] The Anglo-Irish War ended in 1921 with a stalemate and the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, creating the Irish Free State, a Dominion within the British Empire, with effective internal independence but still constitutionally linked with the British Crown. [191], The pro-decolonisation Labour government, elected at the 1945 general election and led by Clement Attlee, moved quickly to tackle the most pressing issue facing the empire: Indian independence. In accordance with the mercantilist philosophy of the time, the colonies were regarded as a source of necessary raw materials for England and were granted monopolies for their products, such as tobacco and sugar, in the British market. Today the Commonwealth includes former elements of the British Empire in a free association of sovereign states. The largest in history at its height, there is little left of the British Empire today. Maritime expansion, driven by commercial ambitions and by competition with France, accelerated in the 17th century and resulted in the establishment of settlements in North America and the West Indies. [53] Although England eclipsed the Netherlands as a colonial power, in the short term the Netherlands' more advanced financial system[54] and the three Anglo-Dutch Wars of the 17th century left it with a stronger position in Asia. The response of Anthony Eden, who had succeeded Churchill as Prime Minister, was to collude with France to engineer an Israeli attack on Egypt that would give Britain and France an excuse to intervene militarily and retake the canal. [166] Britain's request for military assistance from the Dominions at the outbreak of the Chanak Crisis the previous year had been turned down by Canada and South Africa, and Canada had refused to be bound by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. [88] This treaty is considered to be New Zealand's founding document,[89] but differing interpretations of the Maori and English versions of the text[90] have meant that it continues to be a source of dispute. Overseas colonies were attacked and occupied, including those of the Netherlands, which was annexed by Napoleon in 1810. In 1983, the British Nationality Act 1981 renamed the existing Crown Colonies as "British Dependent Territories", and in 2002 they were renamed the British Overseas Territories. [76], Tensions between Britain and the United States escalated again during the Napoleonic Wars, as Britain tried to cut off American trade with France and boarded American ships to impress men into the Royal Navy. This trade, illegal since it was outlawed by the Qing dynasty in 1729, helped reverse the trade imbalances resulting from the British imports of tea, which saw large outflows of silver from Britain to China. [202] Sudan was granted independence on 1 January 1956. The problem today is not that our national feelings about the British empire are too positive or too negative, but that we know too little of the actual history to make a sound judgment. There, they competed for trade supremacy with Portugal and with each other. Canadians viewed the Battle of Vimy Ridge in a similar light. [35], The Caribbean initially provided England's most important and lucrative colonies,[36] but not before several attempts at colonisation failed. [170] Newfoundland reverted to colonial status in 1933, suffering from financial difficulties during the Great Depression. It was immediately followed by the outbreak of a civil war between the Arabs and Jews of Palestine, and British forces withdrew amid the fighting. It grew to become the largest empire that the world has ever seen, at its height ruling over a quarter of the world’s population. [225], Britain's remaining colonies in Africa, except for self-governing Southern Rhodesia, were all granted independence by 1968. Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, had argued that colonies were redundant, and that free trade should replace the old mercantilist policies that had characterised the first period of colonial expansion, dating back to the protectionism of Spain and Portugal. [199] The Malayan Emergency, as it was called, began in 1948 and lasted until 1960, but by 1957, Britain felt confident enough to grant independence to the Federation of Malaya within the Commonwealth. Britain formally acquired the colony, and its large Afrikaner (or Boer) population in 1806, having occupied it in 1795 to prevent its falling into French hands during the Flanders Campaign. Or acknowledge this Arabs and increasing numbers of Jews the convention of on! The Dutch island of Jamaica from the crown colonies establish colonies in and... 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