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Despite reaching its peak of influence at the beginning of the 20th century, this empire originated at the end of the 1400s. ...
WatchMojo explores the rise and fall of this one-time world empire.
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The Rise and Fall Of the British Empire
Despite reaching its peak of influence at the beginning of the 20th century, the British empires origins reach back to the end of the 1400’s. Hi, I'm Rebecca Brayton and welcome to watchmojo.com. And today, we’ll be exploring the rise dominance and fall of this one time world empire.
Following Portugal and Spain’s lead in overseas exploration, King Henry VII of England begun to commission voyages across the Atlantic. Several unsuccessful attempts were made to create colonies along the North American coast under Queen Elizabeth 1st. It was in the early 17th century that under the rule of King James 1st of England, the British Empire truly took a leap forward. The first permanent settlement in the America’s under English rule was James Town founded in 1607. And the decades that followed progressively more popped up along the coast and throughout the Caribbean. A series of wars with friends in the Netherlands throughout the 17th and 18th centuries eventually left Britain as the dominant colonial power. This empire was tested however late in the 18th century. 13 of its North American colonies broke free from Britain through the American war of independence creating the United States of America. Despite this seemingly crushing blow, the British Empire pushed forward and shifted its focus toward Asia, the Pacific and Africa growing larger than ever. After being challenged by an eventually defeating Napoleons friend’s in 1815, Britain was left with no major rivals. From this point until 1914, Britain would add 400 million people to their empire along with 17% of the world’s total land area during what was referred to as their imperial century. The growth of Germany as a military and economic power forced Britain to form alliances with old enemies such as friends in Russia and a lead up to the First World War. In the short term, Britain benefited by receiving even more territory through the Treaty of Versailles. However the economic implications of the war spelled trouble for the empire in the long term. 1922 marked the height of the British Empire when they held sway over one quarter of the world’s population. However, World War II would leave Britain virtually bankrupt. With anti-colonization sentiments high, the dismantling of this once dominant world empire begun while many colonies declared their independence in the decades that followed, many considered the hand over of Hong Kong to China in 1997 as the end of the empire for Britain. Despite this, the British influencer is still felt the world over.
In addition to the 14 territories over which the United Kingdom still retains sovereignty, the empire also caused large migrations of people. Across the world, many ex-colonies still used the Britsih parliamentary system as the basis for their now independent governments. The British Empire was also responsible for creating some of the world’s most popular sports including soccer and golf. Arguably, the British Empire’s largest mark on the world was the English language. The proliferation of the language increased with the spread of their rule and today it is the mother tongue of roughly 400 million people worldwide.