What Does The Sun Never Sets On The British Empire Mean?

Britain had an extremely vast empire during the heyday of colonialism.
Britain had an extremely vast empire during the heyday of colonialism.

The saying “The Empire on which the sun never sets” has been used to explain the vastness of the British Empire. Between the 18th and 20th century, the British Empire acquired more territories making it the largest empire in history. The Empire had establishments in Africa, Asia, Europe, America, and numerous Islands across the globe. Historians established that roughly 25% of the earth landmass was in control of the British. The region was so extensive that at any one time there was daylight in one of the territories.

Who came up with the phrase?

The phrase was first made by Fray Francisco de Ugalde, Spanish, to King Charles 1. The phrase was later used when Britain acquired other territories. In 1852, Alexander Campbell used the phrase to express the dominion of Britain and America.

How big was the British Empire?

The British Empire was made up of colonies, protectorates, dominions, and mandates administered by the United Kingdom. By 1913, the Empire had more than 412 million people. This was almost a quarter of the global population. The total area covered was estimated to be 13.7 million square miles.

Formation of the Empire

The foundation to conquer the world was laid between 1497 and 1583. In 1496, the king of England Henry VII commissioned the first explorers. Led by John Cabot, the explorers began the journey in 1497 with the mandate to discover a shorter route to Asia through the North Atlantic Ocean. Queen Elizabeth 1 encouraged exploration leading to conquering more lands and acquiring treasures from the new world.

Though Spain and Portugal were the first to conduct global explorations through voyages, Great Britain overtook them as buccaneers and forcefully proceeded from the established overseas posts. The British soldiers were more organized and attacked trade forts and posts of the other Europeans.

The notable conquers occurred between 1583 and 1783. This was during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and the heir James VI when Britain took over North America and some Caribbean islands. In 1651, the parliament passed a law that stated that only English ships would be allowed to trade in the English colonies. The decree ensured that trade routes were under their control.

Expansion of the Empire

The empire experienced rapid expansion between 1815 and 1915. More than 10 million square miles and about 400 million people were added. This period also saw the conquering of Napoleon who was the main challenger. Britain was also unrivaled in the sea and became the first nation to experience industrial revolution hence dominated world trade. The steamship as well as the telegraph technology made Britain to become a world-leading superpower.

Challenges Faced by the Empire

The constant war in the sea and on land as well as a rivalry with Spain, Portugal, Russia and French weakened the empire. Towards the 20th century, the United States which had now achieved independence from the British began challenging Britain’s economic power. The tension between Britain, Germany, and France led to the First World War in 1914. Despite Britain achieving more territories from the first and Second World War, the financial, military, and manpower was greatly strained. Some countries had started gaining independence making the empire lose on valuable resources. The Cold War in later years weakened Britain.


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