The first record of Mauritius comes from Arab and Malay sailors as early as the tenth century. The Portuguese sailors first visited it in 1505, and established a visiting base leaving the island uninhabited. Three ships of the eight Dutch Second Fleet that were sent to the Spice Islands were blown off course during a cyclone and landed on the island in 1598, naming it in honour of Prince Maurice of Nassau, the Stadtholder of the Netherlands. In 1638, the Dutch established the first permanent settlement. Because of tough climatic conditions including cyclones and the deterioration of the settlement, the Dutch abandoned the island some decades later. The French who controlled the neighbouring Bourbon island (now Réunion) moved in to seize Mauritius in 1715 and later named it Ile de France (Isle of France). The French got the economy well underway with a flourishing sugar production industry.

One of the great initiator of this economic leap was St-Malo born governor François Mahé de Labourdonnais. The French however harboured the outlawed "corsairs" (mercenary pirates) who regulalry sunk gold, precious stones, silk and spice laiden British vessels on their way to Britain from India. The British set to gain military control of the island. Despite winning the famous Battle of Grand Port, Napoleon's only naval win over the British, the French were defeated by the British in the north of the island, at Cap Malheureux (Hapless Cape) three months later, and thus lost possession to the British in 1810. The latter reverted the island to its former name.

In 1965, the United Kingdom split the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius to create the British Indian Ocean Territory in order to use the strategic islands for defence purposes in co-operation with the United States. Although the Government of Mauritius agreed to the move at the time,[citation needed] subsequent administrations have laid claim to the islands stating that the divestment was illegal under international law - a claim recognised by the United Nations.