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How did the British empire begin?

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In December 1663 a Welshman Henry Morgan sailed 500 miles across the Caribbean to mount a spectacular raid on a Spanish outpost called Gran Grenada, to the north of Nicaragua.

The aim was simple: to find and steal Spanish gold - or any other movable property.

When Morgan and his men got to Gran Grenada, as the Governor of Jamaica reported in a despatch to London:
'[They] fired a volley, overturned eighteen great guns ... took the serjeant-major's house wherein were all their arms and ammunition, secured in the great Church 300 of the best men prisoners ... plundered for 16 hours, discharged the prisoners, sunk all the boats and so came away'.

It was the beginning of one of the 17th century's most extraordinary smash-and-grab sprees.

This was how the British Empire began: in a maelstrom of seaborne violence and theft. It was not conceived by selfconscious imperialists, aiming to establish English rule over foreign lands, or colonists hoping to build a new life overseas. Morgan and his fellow 'buccaneers' were thieves, trying to steal the proceeds of someone else's Empire.


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