As much as I consider myself not English, my language, love of pints and imperfect teeth are the result of the British laying claim to much of the modern world (at some point at least). At its peak, the British empire was the largest in the world (late 1600′s) and a famous saying was happily used among our bullocks burping British brethren, “The Sun Never Sets on the British Empire”.
When our ancestors realized the world wasn’t the shape of a piece of Matzoh, nor the center of the universe, people starting getting greedy. Ships from the smallest of countries began setting out in all directions looking for new land, riches and women to lay claim. The result? Britain, The Netherlands, Belgium, France and Spain calling dibs on anything they landed on.
On my recent trip to Paris, it was clearly evident that a couple hundred years ago that France was rich as shit. The sheer amount of beautiful buildings and city planning/expansion that went on around that time is proof of the money spilling into the country, and the same thing was happening over in London Town.
While many wars and revolts have caused Britain to lose claims over the past few hundred years, it is true that many of these places currently are 1st and 2nd world countries (maybe forget Africa).
My favorite British colonial history is the story of Australia. Colonized in the late 1700′s, Captain Cook set out to Aus to set up a penal colony because of the overcrowding of jails in England. The first one was set up in New South Wales. When the first convicts were sent in 1786 (775 to be exact) not many survived because of a lack of food. It took a couple more fleets until they finally had enough grub and supplies to make a colony and not a death camp, and after a few hundred years, the camp and settlement grew into modern day Sydney.
Most convicts’ families were sent along with them (taking guilty by association to a new level), but after the average sentence of 7 years was served out, most were granted freedom to join the new colony or head back to England (many stayed).
While most British former land claims have become their own independent countries, there are still 14 British overseas territories including the Falkland Islands (don’t ask Argentinians what they think), Gibraltar on the southern tip of Spain (they have wild monkeys there!), and the island of Bermuda (they can have it).