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In Britain, political attitudes favoured free trade and laissez-faire policies and a gradual widening of the voting franchise.
During the 19th Century, Britain's population increased at a dramatic rate, accompanied by rapid urbanisation, which caused significant social and economic stresses.
In the Second World War, Britain's colonies in Southeast Asia were occupied by Japan.
Despite the final victory of Britain and its allies, the damage to British prestige helped to accelerate the decline of the empire.
At the peak of its power, the phrase "the empire on which the sun never sets" was often used to describe the British Empire, because its expanse around the globe meant that the sun was always shining on at least one of its territories.
During the Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal and Spain pioneered European exploration of the globe, and in the process established large overseas empires.
As a result, its political, legal, linguistic and cultural legacy is widespread.The British Empire expanded to include most of India, large parts of Africa and many other territories throughout the world.Alongside the formal control that Britain exerted over its own colonies, its dominance of much of world trade meant that it effectively controlled the economies of many regions, such as Asia and Latin America.The conflict placed enormous strain on the military, financial and manpower resources of Britain.Although the British Empire achieved its largest territorial extent immediately after World War I, Britain was no longer the world's pre-eminent industrial or military power.
The United Kingdom is now one of 16 Commonwealth nations, a grouping known informally as the Commonwealth realms, that share a monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.