"British Empire" from Credo Reference
Overseas territories ruled by Britain from the 16th to the 20th century. Historians distinguish two empires. The first, based mainly on commercial ventures (such as sugar and tobacco plantations), missionary activities and slave trading, resulted in the creation of British colonies in the Caribbean and North America in the 17th century. This 'First Empire' was curtailed by the loss of 13 US colonies, at the end of the American Revolution (1775-81). The 'Second Empire' was created in the 19th century, with Queen Victoria its empress. The East India Company acquired a larger trading empire as a result of the Napoleonic Wars. Colonialism increased dramatically from the 1820s. British expansion was predominantly in the Far East, Australia (initially with the penal colonies), Africa and India. As a result of the Indian Mutiny (1857), the British government assumed direct responsibility for the administration of India. In the "scramble" for Africa, imperialists such as Cecil Rhodes were thwarted in their desire to create a continent-wide empire by the South African Wars. By 1914 the empire comprised c.25% of the Earth's land surface and population. Virtually all the constituent members gained independence in the period after World War 2. Most subsequently became members of the Commonwealth.