The search for the wealth and prosperity of India led to the accidental discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus in 1492. However, it was also near the end of the 15th century that Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gamabecame the first European to re-establish direct trade links with India since Roman times, by being the first to arrive by circumnavigating Africa. Having arrived in Calicut, which by then was one of the major trading ports of the eastern world, he obtained permission to trade in the city from Saamoothiri Rajah.
Trading rivalries brought other European powers to India. The Dutch, English, French and Danes established trading posts in India in the early 17th century. As the Mughal Empire disintegrated in the early 18th century and then theMaratha Empire became weakened after the third battle of Panipat, the relatively weak and unstable Indian states which emerged were increasingly open to manipulation by the Europeans through dependent "friendly" Indian rulers.
In the later 18th century the British and French entered into intense struggles for dominance through proxy Indian rulers and also by direct military intervention. The defeat of the redoubtable Indian ruler Tipu Sultan in 1799 marginalized French influence. This was followed by a rapid expansion of British power through the greater part of the subcontinent in the early 19th century. By the middle of the century, the British had already gained direct or indirect control over almost all of India. British India contained the most populous and valuable provinces of theBritish Empire and thus became known as "the jewel in the British crown".