The British Empire is the largest (14.1 million square miles) and most populous (532 million people) empire in history. It is the reason why English is one of the world's most important languages, why 1/3 of the world drives on the left, and why much of the world uses the parliamentary system. Another testament to its power is the fact that one of its former colonies, the United States of America, is the current hyperpower.
In addition to colonizing the British Isles and North America (discussed in part one), Britain colonized islands in the South Atlantic, the South Pacific, and the Mediterranean (for the purpose of Royal Navy bases). Britain also colonized Australia as a penal colony. A joint-stock company, the British East India Company, also controlled India from 1600 to 1857, when power was transferred to the British crown as a result of the Sepoy rebellion. Significant territorial gains were also made in Africa after the Berlin Conference of 1884 during the Scramble for Africa time period. However, all of these possessions became independent one-by-one after WWII, with the exception of a few overseas territories. Most of the former colonies still have ties to Britain through the Commonwealth of Nations.
For more information, read:http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/womanshour/2003_34_thu_01.shtml
The Penguin Book of Historic Speeches by Brian MacArthur
The Dictionary of Battles by David Chandler
The Guinness Book of Military Blunders by Geoffrey Regan
The Oxford Book of Military Anecdotes by Max Hastings
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