25 Interesting Historical Facts about The British Empire

The growth of the British Empire was due in large part to the ongoing competition for resources and markets which existed over a period of centuries between England and her Continental rivals, Spain, France, and Holland.

During the reign of Elizabeth I, England set up trading companies in Turkey, Russia, and the East Indies, explored the coast of North America, and established colonies there. In the early seventeenth century those colonies were expanded and the systematic colonization of Ulster in Ireland got underway.

Amazing Facts of The British Empire

The British Empire was known as the “empire on which the sun never sets” and when Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1873, Britain ruled Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of India, South America, and Africa.

1. The Beginning

The 1600s and 1700s were an exciting period for exploration, and the Empire expanded as new lands were discovered. Settlements have been set up by corporations such as the East India Company to become British-controlled colonies. Britain soon had settlements in Virginia, New England, Canada, the West Indies, India, and Africa.

2. England and Scotland

The British Empire was established when England and Scotland were independent kingdoms.

3. The Super Power

The British rule in the East India Trading Company, which has also made England a super-power.

England then started to pave its way to the greatest world empire. In the 17th century, colonies began to be founded in North America and India, leading to the invasion of the Netherlands and France after the Anglo-Dutch War.

4. France and England

Thanks to the rising importance of the British cultures they have gained, the rivalry with France has become much more dramatic. The British Army won the crown of Canada and India – but the British and French colonies in North America began fighting in the first half of the 18th century.

Fortunately for the British, the Treaty of Paris concluded the Seven Years ‘ War in 1763, leaving Britain mostly in control of Canada. The Seven Years ‘ War was a big battle across the world, with combat in the US called the French and Indian Wars.

5. Inspiration for Germany

The British Empire was an inspiration to other nations, especially Germany. Germany has been infamous for starting wars in Europe. This was partly because they wanted an Empire like the one that had been founded by Britain.

6. Fought Against Slavery

Despite having been actively involved in the slave trade for most of its history, the British Empire gradually came to its moral senses and abolished the custom in 1807. However, having possibly understood the utterly atrocious existence of slavery, they went far further than only making it illegal.

7. Most Populated

The British Empire was populated. It was ranked fifth when it came to the most populous empire in the world.

8. Banned Sati System

In India, when a married man died, his widowed wife was supposed to burn on his funeral pyre. Around 1823 and 1828 alone, at least 8,000 people died while practicing ‘sati’ system, and even those estimates are assumed to be a gross underestimation.

In 1829, Lord Bentinck, governor-general of India, banned this activity. Although some considered this to be an affront to Indian religious traditions, many welcomed the ban. There is no doubt now that India is a better place without a widow-burning.

9. Commonwealth Games

The Commonwealth Games started as part of the British Empire in Canada in 1930. Interestingly, its most recent members, Rwanda and Mozambique, have never been part of the Empire.

10. America

The British had to lose their very prominent American colonies. It was primarily the product of the American War of Independence.

11. The Economy

The British Empire was considered to be one of the most economically dominant nations, but it all changed as Germany and America came to power in the 20th century.

12. Complete Control of Africa

By the late 19th century, Britain was the dominant power in Egypt and Sudan, strengthening the empire’s rule overseas. The Royal Niger Company spread its presence to Nigeria and the Gold Coast. The company was a mercantile enterprise based in the Niger River region of West Africa, spreading British control to what is now Nigeria.

13. American War

In fact, during the American Revolution, many British soldiers serving in the colonies brought their wives and children along. Women in the army worked as nurses, washers, and sutlers, or took work to support their families. Approximately 20-25% of the soldiers serving in America had their wives and children with them.

14. Is the British Empire ‘British’

The term ‘British Empire’ was widely used by the Union of Parliaments in 1707. I think there was a theoretical perspective behind the usage of that word, which was that the British Empire was intended to eliminate ethnic divisions within the British Isles, between the Irish, the Scottish, the Welsh, and the English. The theory was that true Britons would be forged out of their imperial role, but 
I believe the opposite happened.

15. Stood Up Alone, Against The Nazis

In less than two months, Germany had conquered mainland Europe and possessed a frightening military capability. Britain stood alone in Europe as the only opposition to Hitler’s Germany and had not chosen to fight rather than to calm down, world history could look quite different. Epitomized by Winston Churchill’s famous speech, it was perhaps the best hour of the British Empire when they refused to surrender to one of the most disruptive and threatening powers in history.

16. British Colonies Are Rich Countries Today

Although it is often argued that the British Empire simply exploited other countries around the world to make itself rich, some statistics show that this is not entirely true. Six of the 10 richest countries in the world — Qatar, Singapore, Kuwait, Brunei, the UAE, Hong Kong, and the USA — were once either British colonies or British protectorates.

17. Cause The End of Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire had been in place for over 600 years and outlived both the Russians and the Hapsburgs, finally coming to an end in the hands of the British Empire during the First World War. The positive thing about the demise of this particular empire was that vast areas of the world had been liberated from colonial control.

18. Still Working

The British Empire still comprises 14 sovereign territories of the United Kingdom called the British Overseas Territories (BOT).

19. British Army

The first British “Standing Army” was set up in 1661. Before that, the army had only been raised when it was needed.

20. Victoria Cross

During the Crimean War, Queen Victorian commissioned the Victoria Cross in 1863. It is the highest distinction to be conferred upon a member of the British Armed Forces and is made of not gold but scrap metal is taken from a Russian cannon seized during the war. Due to its rarity, the medal is a highly sought-after piece, and once it was auctioned for £400,000.

21. During Word War I & II

Whereas the British Empire took over much of the German and American colonies in World War I, Japan conquered much of the British’s South-East Asian colonies in World War II.

22. Brought Democracy

The British Empire took democracy to nations across all continents, including the United States, India, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Pakistan, the United Kingdom itself, and many others. Some critics compare the British Empire to the Nazis, but if Hitler had spread forms of government around the globe, the world would have been a far worse place than it is today.

23. Prestige Was Lost

Britain lost prestige when Japan captured the British Empire’s South-East Asian colonies and remained the same even after Japan was defeated by its allies. This was the time when the British realized it had come to an end. India and Pakistan became independent soon after 1947.

24. A Large Party

The British Empire controlled 23% of the world whilst under Queen Victoria’s rule. Included 458 million people when at the peak of the rule.

25 The End of the British Empire’s Colonism

British Empire ended when it transferred to Hong Kong back to China in 1997.


References: OhFact | SchoolHistory | Listverse | HistoryExtra