During its heyday, the British empire was the largest in the world. It had such a profound effect that its legacy is still alive in some form or another today. It had under its control numerous territories ranging from vast segments on continents to small islands. However, even the mightiest fall. Let’s study what was the reason behind the downfall of this powerful empire.
How Did the Empire Form?
In the 16th century, the British began forming colonies in the Americas. By the 18th century the British expansion had gained real momentum. The East India Company set up trading posts which facilitated British expansion, primarily in Asia, and the British further expanded their territory in India with the use of over 260,000 military personnel.
How Vast the Empire Was?
By 1913, the largest empire to have ever existed was the British Empire. It had under its control roughly one-fourth of the planet’s land and with that it oversaw about 23% of the globe’s population. This included regions in Asia, Africa, Australia, and North America. Due to its vast spread, it came to be known as “the empire on which the sun never sets.” While some praise the rule of the British for the economic developments it brought to the regions it controlled, others criticized it for massacres and using concentration camps.
Why Did the Empire Collapse?
Some suggest that the Empire’s downfall can be a direct consequence of the Second World War. Some of the campaigns, it ran in Africa, Asia, and Europe, bankrupted the system and consequently the economic independence of the empire was compromised.
The growing unrest among the colonies fueled the fall further. Soon, the British Empire began to seem overstretched. The colonial unrest led to quick diplomatic (and in some cases even violent) fall of Britain’s empire. The empire lost its key hold when India gained independence in 1947 following a nonviolent civil-disobedience campaign led by Mahatma Gandhi. Soon after it was a domino effect that led to the downfall for the British Empire.
A little less than a year later, a violent campaign was launched by communist guerrillas in order to end British rule in Malaya. Ghana was the first African colony that gained independence from British rule in 1957. Advancements happened in the Middle East as well, and soon over 20 British territories won their freedom by 1967. Finally, in 1997, the handover of Hong Kong to People’s Republic of China marked the “End of the Empire.”
The Current Picture
There is still British rule in some parts of the world, most of it minor. There are 14 Overseas Territories under the sovereignty of Britain. Most of the former colonies of the British Empire are now part of the Commonwealth of Nations, which is a political association of 53 equal member states. Sixteen of these members form the Commonwealth Realm in which Queen Elizabeth II is the head of the state. These include Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and the United Kingdom.
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