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1.3.9 The British Empire

Although called 'British', the Empire was dominated by England. The credit for the first ever usage of the words "British Empire" is usually given to Doctor John Dee, Queen Elizabeth I's astrologer, alchemist, and mathematician.

The map above shows all the territories that were at one time part of the Empire.

The British Empire, in the early decades of the 20th century, ruled over a popu­lation of 400-500 million people - then roughly a quarter of the world's popula­tion - and covered nearly 30 million square kilometres, roughly 40 % of the world's land area.

The British Empire came together over 300 years through a succession of phas­es of expansion by trade, settlement, or conquest, interspersed with intervals of pa­cific commercial and diplomatic activity. Its territories were scattered across every continent and ocean, and it was described with some truth as "the empire on which the sun never sets". Arguably, its peak was reached in the 1890s and 1900s. The in­dependence of the USA was the only major hiccup in its growth.

The Empire facilitated the spread of British technology, commerce, language, and government around much of the globe. Imperial dominance contributed to Britain's extraordinary economic growth, and greatly strengthened its voice in world affairs. Even as Britain extended its imperial reach overseas, it continued to develop and broaden democratic institutions at the homeland.

From the perspective of the colonies, the record of the British Empire is mixed. The colonies received from Britain the English language, an administrative and le­gal framework on the British model, and technological and economic development. During decolonialisation, Britain sought to pass parliamentary democracy and the rule of law to its colonies, with varying degrees of success. Almost all former British colonies have since chosen to join the Commonwealth of Nations, the association which replaced the Empire.

The Victorian Era was at the height of the Industrial Revolution, a period of great social, economic, and technological change in the United Kingdom.

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Victoria (Alexandrina Victoria) (1819 -1901) was a Queen, reigning from 20 June 1837 until her death sixty-three years later. As well as being queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, she was also the first monarch to use the title Empress of India.

Victoria was the last monarch of the House of Hanover; her successor belonged to the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

Victoria at the time of her coronation right


In 1851, the first World Fair, known as the Great Exhibition of 1851, was held. Organised by Prince Albert, the exhibition was officially opened by the Queen on 1 May 1851. Despite the commercial fears of many, it proved an incredible success, with its profits being used to endow the South Kensington Museum (later renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum).

The United Kingdom was involved in the Crimean War in 1854, on the side of the Ottoman Empire and against Russia. Immediately before the entry of the United Kingdom, rumours that the Queen and Prince Albert preferred the Russian side, whose Royal family were close relatives, diminished the popularity of the royal couple. Nonetheless, Victoria publicly encouraged unequivocal support for the troops.

During Victoria's last years, the United Kingdom was involved in the two Boer Wars, which received the enthusiastic support of the Queen. These wars resulted in the victory of the British over the Dutch settlers in Southern Africa, the liquidation of the two independent republics they had founded and the incorporation of the territories into the Britsh Empire. During the later war with Germany, the Royal family changed its surname in 1917 to Windsor (after the town and castle) to mini­mise embarassment.

In 1906, Britain was the undisputed world's richest and most powerful nation.