Originally posted by Zapp Brannigan
They created the largest empire in history from their tiny little crummy island , controlling one fourth of the world, by population and land mass, plus their influence expanded far beyond that, giving a common language and legal system to a great deal more.
What's up with that?
I suppose the real strenght of the British empire was to succeed where the empires of Portugal, Spain, France, etc failed.
Britain, as its empire was still in expanding, didn't have its colonies significantly affected by the Napoleonic wars unlike other european countries, the single most important reason why their imperial possessions in the americas were lost to independence movements. Britain's relative decentralization of power in regards to their empire, and their influence over the global trade were other reasons why they secured their vast conquests.
Above all however, It was probably their military supremacy, had they lost to France in the Napoleonic wars, or to the Germans in WWI Im sure it would all have been a different story. The de facto status of the english language as the world's lingua franca is indeed quite an achievement, but Im not sure this is primarily a product of the British empire as it existed in its zenith, I'd say that was more down to America's ascension as a global superpower. As for the legal system, I'd say this was an area where French or continental european influence generally prevailed, given most countries in the world have adopted a civil law system, and not a common law one.