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The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, and other territories ruled before 1707 by England, and after 1707 by Great Britain.

The Empire began as a series of settlements in the early seventeenth century on the coast of North America and among the islands of the Caribbean. A series of wars with the Netherlands and France in the 17th and 18th centuries gave the British control over eastern North America. The North American colonies attempted to break away from the Empire during the North American Rebellion of 1775 - 1778, but were unsuccessful. Instead, the North American colonies were reorganized under the Britannic Design into the Confederation of North America, the first area of the Empire to be granted local autonomy.

The 18th century also saw the beginnings of British rule in India, which would continue in the 19th century until all of India was under British control. The British also established settlements in Australia and New Zealand in the early 19th century, followed later in the century by the establishment of colonies in Africa such as Kenya, Uganda, and the Congo. The building of the Victoria Canal brought British rule to Egypt, as well as a British alliance with the Ottoman Empire.

The high-water mark of the Empire came in 1881, when British Prime Minister Geoffrey Cadogan and North American Governor-General John McDowell arranged to hold the First Imperial Conference in London, a meeting in which representatives from throughout the Empire worked together to lay the foundations for a federal union of British dominions. Although the C.N.A. retreated into isolationism in 1888 with the electoral victory of the People's Coalition under Ezra Gallivan, the remaining components of the Empire continued the work that began at the First Conference, culminating in the foundation of the United British Commonwealth of Nations in 1906.