Referring to any of the colonies, territories, mandates, dominions, or protectorates ruled by the United Kingdom, the British Empire was the largest empire in history and the leading global power for over 100 years.
The empire began in the late 16th century with overseas trading posts and colonies established by England. At its height in the mid-19th and early 20th century, the British Empire covered almost 25% of the Earth’s total land mass and controlled nearly a fifth of the world’s population.
The map shows the territories that were at one time or another part of the British Empire. The British Overseas Territories are underlined in red.
After the Second World War in 1945, Britain turned its focus inward, towards development and reconstruction at home. At the same time, many countries ruled by the empire were crying for independence and tired of being ruled from thousands of miles away. The British Empire began decolonization, or pulling out of countries to allow for local rule. From 1945-1965, the number of people under overseas British rule dropped from 700 million to five million.