Origins of the Empire
The British Empire actually began in the 1490s in competition with other world powers such as Spain and Portugal. Their first attempt at expansion ended in the claiming of Canada despite its intent to find a trade route to China. Into the 1600s many British people found it more lucrative to raid Spanish territory than to settle colonies of their own. The principal exemption from this rule was Raleigh, who twice attempted to make a colony on Roanoke Island, and his attempts were abandoned completely by 1590 when a ship went to visit the colony and found no trace of its existence. The next and infinitely more successful attempts at colonizing in the Americas came in 1606.
On December 31st, 1600 Queen Elizabeth I grants a charter to the East India Trading Company. The company quickly becomes profitable despite early clashes with the Dutch leading to violence. These clashes actually made the company more profitable in the long run by forcing it to focus almost exclusively in India itself. The main British headquarters in the east and west respectively became Madras and Bombay. The city of Calcutta was also established as one of the major British footholds on the Indian subcontinent.
The colonies in America benefited Britain in several ways. First it allowed them to harvest the natural resources of the virgin land in order to reap military and economic gains. Secondly it gave them a place to move religious dissenters, convicted criminals, second sons, and other undesirables. Unfortunately the British pushed the 13 American colonies too far and eventually they rebelled. The newly formed United States still remained valuable to the British, as Britain dominated their economy and trade for many years to come.
After the American War of Independence British Imperialism saw a revival. This revival was in some sense an attempt to make up for the loss of the lucrative colonies in America. It was this push that drove the British Empire until its collapse and it is arguably what allowed Britain to maintain its status as an international superpower instead of sinking into a decline that would be the death of the great isles.
Gascoigne., Bamber. "History of the British Empire." HistoryWorld - History and Timelines. Accessed May 04,