British Empire [1588 - 1997]

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : May 31, 2022, 11:18

Commercial expansions drove the 16th century, which propelled the desire to discover new lands and explore more. Like many other countries at the time, England wanted more land overseas that could supply it with valuable raw materials and resources.

British Empire Origin

During the 17th and 18th centuries, England conquered many colonies in North America. It also set up the East India Company in India, which became so powerful that England could control the trade of spices, silk, and tea from India and China. Almost all these early settlements arose due to particular enterprises and magnates and not due to any effort of the English crown. Thus, the formation of the British Empire was an unorganised process.

After growing tired of sending money to Britain, 13 colonies of North America united and waged war against the British to free themselves from their rule in the years 1775-1783. Though by the early 1900s, the British Empire was at the peak of its power.

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History of the British Empire

Let us look at the timeline of the British Empire from as early as 1588 to 1997 -

1588- The British defeated the Spanish Armada and entered the race for overseas trade.

1600- Charter for East India Company was granted, and trading posts in India were established.

1603-07- James I succeeded Elizabeth and laid plans to colonise North America.

1651- The great Navigation Act was passed, which created a closed economy between Britain and its various colonies.

1655- Jamaica's control was taken over from Spain.

1661- James Island became the first permanent British settlement on the African continent.

1670 - There are British American colonies in Virginia, Maryland, Canada, and Barbados.

1757- Bengal comes under the control of Robert Clive.

1759- Britain ends France's power in North America.

1763- Through the Treaty of Paris, France renounced many of the regions controlled by it to Great Britain.

1775-83- Britain recognised the US as an independent nation.

1788- New settlements were gained in Australia.

1807-1833- The slave trade and slavery are abolished.

1840- New Zealand becomes British officially.

1857-59- The British government takes direct control of India, effectively beginning the British Raj. India is now an official British colony.

1884-85- Formation of Indian National Congress to promote freedom from Britain.

1899-1902- South African War occurs, and Great Britain wins the war.

1931- The term British Commonwealth of Nations is applied to all self-governing dependencies that acknowledge British authority.

1947- India gains independence.

1957- The Gold Coast (Ghana) gains independence.

1997- The last significant British colony, Hong Kong, is returned to China.

Why did the British Empire collapse?

Britain stripped many of its colonies of their wealth and shipped it to Britain. Many of the local people in the British colonies faced violent deaths. Many cultural heritages were erased as the Britishers forced their language, culture, and beliefs on the local people. Though slavery always existed, it became more common during the British reign. Slavery made Britain rich as it provided them with free labour.

Because of the above reasons and many other atrocities committed by the British, during the 20th century, the British Empire started to break down. Many colonies began to break free from British control. Due to constant wars for freedom, Britain no longer had the power or the wealth to control its overseas territories.

India won its independence in 1947. From the 1950s to the 1980s, African colonies fought and won their independence. Slowly but surely, the British Empire crumbled.

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FAQs on British Empire

Q1. What marked the end of the First British Empire?

The American War of Independence was fought between 1775-and 1783, which led to the existence of the United States of America. This event marked the end of the first British Empire.

Q2. Why was the phrase "the empire on which the sun never sets" used to describe the British Empire?

At its peak in 1913, the British had around 23% of the world's population and about 24% of the Earth's total land area. Thus, "the empire on which the sun never sets" described the British Empire.

Q3. When did the British Empire first come into existence?

The British Empire first came into existence in the 16th century.

Q4. Does the British Empire still have territories under its control?

The British Empire still has 14 territories under its jurisdiction.