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The independence of the Thirteen Colonies in North America in 1783 after the American War of Independence caused Britain to lose some of its oldest and most populous colonies.British attention soon turned towards Asia, Africa, and the Pacific.

Unchallenged at sea, British dominance was later described as Pax Britannica ("British Peace"), a period of relative peace in Europe and the world (1815–1914) during which the British Empire became the global hegemon and adopted the role of global policeman.The British Empire expanded to include India, large parts of Africa and many other territories throughout the world.Alongside the formal control it exerted over its own colonies, British dominance of much of world trade meant that it effectively controlled the economies of many regions, such as Asia and Latin America.Domestically, political attitudes favoured free trade and laissez-faire policies and a gradual widening of the voting franchise.The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom and its predecessor states.It originated with the overseas possessions and trading posts established by England between the late 16th and early 18th centuries.

At its height, it was the largest empire in history and, for over a century, was the foremost global power.

As a result, its political, legal, linguistic and cultural legacy is widespread.

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.

Envious of the great wealth these empires generated, 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 (and then, following union between England and Scotland in 1707, Great Britain) the dominant colonial power in North America and India.