At its height, the British Empire encompassed nearly a quarter of the land mass of the globe, and held sway over almost a quarter of the world’s population. It was the largest empire in history. Its economic might made Great Britain the world’s economic powerhouse, but it had rivals in Asia, Africa, North America, and the Indian subcontinent. It was through the might of the empire that Great Britain survived the World Wars of the first half of the twentieth century… but at a cost. Which made the empire no longer sustainable, and by the end of that century, Great Britain’s influence as a global superpower was gone. Here are 40 historical facts about the empire that it once was and the influence on global affairs it once presented.
1. It was born through privateering and piracy against Spain.
The British Empire was born before the United Kingdom of England and Scotland was formed – with the raiding of Spanish treasure ships from the New World, and the attacks on slave ships off the coast of Africa. Spain was the world’s dominant power, with both Portugal and Spain establishing colonies and trading stations in the Americas and along the African coasts. Throughout the 16th century English ships raided Spanish possessions, often in acts which were clearly piracy, though thinly veiled as privateering. They were protected by letters of marque from the English throne. Late in the sixteenth century, the English established their first colony in the New World, Roanoke, but it did not survive.