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Present-day countries in the British Empire 1600-2000

In the century between Napoleon's defeat and the outbreak of the First World War (known as the "Pax Britannica"), the British Empire grew to become the largest and most powerful empire in the world. At its peak in the 1910s and 1920s, it encompassed almost one quarter of both the world's population and its land surface, and was known as "the empire on which the sun never sets". The empire's influence could be felt across the globe, as Britain could use it's position to affect trade and economies in all areas of the world, including many regions that were not part of the formal empire (for example, Britain was able to affect trading policy in China for over a century, due to it's control of Hong Kong and the neighboring colonies of India and Burma). Some historians argue that because of it's economic, military, political and cultural influence, nineteenth century Britain was the closest thing to a hegemonic superpower that the world ever had, and possibly ever will have.

"Rule Britannia"

Due to the technological and logistical restrictions of the past, we will never know the exact borders of the British Empire each year, nor the full extent of it's power. However, by using historical sources in conjunction with modern political borders, we can gain new perspectives and insights on just how large and influential the British Empire actually was. If we transpose a map of all former British colonies, dominions, mandates, protectorates and territories, as well as secure territories of the East India Trading Company (EIC) (who acted as the precursor to the British Empire) onto a current map of the world, we can see that Britain had a significant presence in at least 94 present-day countries (approximately 48 percent). This included large territories such as Australia, the Indian subcontinent, most of North America and roughly one third of the African continent, as well as a strategic network of small enclaves (such as Gibraltar and Hong Kong) and islands around the globe that helped Britain to maintain and protect its trade routes.

The sun sets...

Although the data in this this graph does not show the annual population or size of the British Empire, it does give some context to how Britain has impacted and controlled the development of the world over the past four centuries. From 1600 until 1920, Britain's Empire expanded from a small colony in Newfoundland, a failing conquest in Ireland, and early ventures by the EIC in India, to Britain having some level of formal control in almost half of all present-day countries. The English language is an official language in all inhabited continents, its political and bureaucratic systems are used all over the globe, and empirical expansion helped Christianity to become the most practiced major religion worldwide. In the second half of the twentieth century, imperial and colonial empires were eventually replaced by global enterprises. The United States and Soviet Union emerged from the Second World War as the new global superpowers, and the independence movements in longstanding colonies, particularly Britain, France and Portugal, gradually succeeded. The British Empire finally ended in 1997 when it seceded control of Hong Kong to China, after more than 150 years in charge. Today, the United Kingdom consists of four constituent countries, and it is responsible for three crown dependencies and fourteen overseas territories, although the legacy of the British Empire can still be seen, and it's impact will be felt for centuries to come.

Number of present-day countries* that held part of the British Empire, in each year from 1600 to 2000

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Release date

November 2019


United Kingdom

Survey time period

1600 to 2000

Supplementary notes

* Including the United Kingdom, which has been counted as one country. This data does not include British overseas territories, or current overseas territories of other nations.

There are some brief occupations and failed colonies that have not been included in this data, for example, the invasions of the River Plate (Argentina and Uruguay) in 1806-7, and the annexation of Corsica (France) in 1814, as Britain did not establish control of the areas. Similarly, there were some regions where Britain's colonies would overlap with modern countries, however these have not been included. For example, on the Arabian Peninsula parts of Britain's Yemeni or Omani territories would technically be in modern day Saudi Arabia, however Saudi Arabia has not been included in this data.
In contrast, Britain's control of New Caledonia (Panama (not South Pacific)) in 1698, and of Minorca (Spain) in the 18th century, have been included as they were established colonies that enabled trade and/or influence in their respective regions. Britain's administrations of Germany and Austria in the 1940s have also been included due to the political influence they afforded Britain.

Release date is date of extraction.

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