Historical background

The British Empire has its origins in the ‘Age of Exploration’ – or ‘Age of Discovery’ – in the 15th and 16th centuries. This was the time when European powers like Portugal and Spain discovered new territories and started to establish empires. The Portuguese established colonies in Asia and South America where one of its biggest colonies was Brazil. The Spanish created colonies in the Philippines, Africa, and most of South America. The colonisation of the new territories discovered by the explorers was often violent, involving conflicts between the forces of the European powers and the local populations.

Great Britain was inspired by these European powers and started establishing its own colonies and trading posts overseas, in Asia and the Americas. Britain commissioned its own explorers to find new trading routes in the 15t...

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