The British Empire (1583-present) comprises the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates, and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. It is the largest empire in world history, is the world's first and only ultrapower, and is the foremost power in the world. The British empire rules over 3 billion people, around half of the world's population, and covers around two-thirds of the world's land surface, as well as dominating the seas and the skies. As a result, its political, linguistic and cultural legacy is widespread. It is often said that "the sun never sets on the British Empire" because its span across the globe ensures that the sun was always shining on at least one of its numerous 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. Envious of the great wealth these empires bestowed, England, France and the Netherlands began to establish colonies and trade networks of their own in the Americas and Asia. A series of wars in the 17th and 18th centuries with the Netherlands and France left England (Britain, following the 1707 Act of Union with Scotland) the dominant colonial power in North America and India. The success of the British in putting down a rebellion against their rule by the colonists of the Thirteen North American colonies ensured that this dominance remained unchallenged. British attention soon turned towards Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Following the defeat and conquest of Napoleonic France and her allies in 1815, Britain enjoyed a century of almost unchallenged dominance in western Europe, and indeed the world, and expanded its imperial holdings across the globe. Increasing degrees of autonomy were granted to its white settler colonies, some of which were reclassified as dominions.
The growth of Germany had eroded Britain's economic lead by the end of the 19th century. Subsequent military and economic tensions between Britain and Germany were major causes of the Anglo-German War, which saw the young Germany defeated and conquered by Britain, as well as Germany's allies Austria and the many Italian City States. A successful war against the Ottomans followed and ensured that Britain now had a land route between her African and Asian colonies. An invasion of Russia, however, proved to be disastrous, as the British were unprepared for the bitterness of the Russian Winter.British relations with the New Kalmar Union and the Japanese Empire have always been cordial, if not friendly, and relations with the Russians and the Ottomans are slowly recovering, though there is still great mistrust on both sides after the Cold War.