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The British Empire was a global power that contained territories owned by the United Kingdom. The empire was the largest empire in history, and at its peak controlled 23% of the world's surface. More than 458 million people were brought under the control of the British Empire. It was known as the largest colonial empire in history. (Some people think the Mongol Empire was larger). Today, most of its members are in the Commonwealth of Nations. The most famous part of the British Empire was the East India Trading Company, which started out as a small business before becoming a very large trading company which many people depended on. Britain was the most powerful country in the world at this time.
In 1588, the forces of Elizabeth I defeated the Spanish Armada, the most powerful navy in the world, and began its way to an ultimate global empire. In the 17th century, it started making colonies in North America and India, leading to its conflicts and total victory over its rivals after Spain's defeat: The Netherlands and France. After the Anglo-Dutch War and Seven Years' War, Britain occupied almost all the Dutch and French territories in the New World and Asia. Although the American colonies gained independence in 1776, it didn't seem to influence the empire. By 1919, after Britain's victory in World War I, it came to its most prosperous period. People in the 19th century said that "the sun never sets on the British Empire". But after World War II, Britain's global empire collapsed.
The British Empire was seen as a "role model" for other nations, most notably Germany. Germany had a bad habit of starting wars in Europe, in part because they wanted an Empire like the one that Britain had established. The people of the UK and Germany are like cousins, and Germany wanted to be successful like Britain.
The British Empire began to decline after World War II, when Britain decided to give back colonies, known as decolonization. Britain decided to give back nations because her work was done. The British had taken all the available resources from each country, the spread of Christianity was complete and the English language was all over the world. Also, many of the persons the Empire had ruled over wanted to be in charge of their own country rather than being led by the British from London.
One of the last parts of the British Empire that was alive was Hong Kong, which was given back to China in 1997. Britain retained its title as a 'Superpower' in 1982 with the Falkland's War, a War against Argentina over the possession of the Falkland Islands.
There are currently 14 remaining overseas territories under UK sovereignty.