The East India Company was the most successful joint-stock company formed in the Elizabethan period. The Governor and Company of Merchants Trading into the East Indies received its charter from the queen on 31 December 1600. Given a trade monopoly that extended from East Africa across India to the East Indies, the East India Company intended to challenge Dutch-Portuguese dominance of the rich East Indian spice trade. The company’s first trading voyage sailed in February 1601 and returned in the autumn of 1603. A second expedition, during which the noted Elizabethan navigator and explorer John Davis met his death, left England in 1604 and returned two years later. Despite the high costs of the long voyages, the first two expeditions proved immensely profitable, and the company’s future and English trade with India were firmly established.
After 1607, the company sent annual expeditions to India. The work of Sir Thomas Rowe, who, as company emissary to the Mogul emperor between 1615 and 1619, won trade privileges for the company in India, and the Dutch massacre of English merchants at Amboina in the East Indies in 1623 focused English East Asian trade in India. The company thereafter established a series of factories (trading posts) in the Bay of Bengal and in 1640 acquired the site of the modern Indian city of Madras. After 1660, the company obtained charters that gave it rights in India to acquire territory, conclude alliances, make war and peace, raise troops, and coin money. In 1667, the company acquired the site of Bombay (now Mumbai), and in 1690, it founded Calcutta.
In the eighteenth century, the company extended its territorial control throughout India and developed a triangular trade that sent Indian goods (including opium) to China for tea that was sold in England. The tea shipments that sparked the Boston Tea Party in 1773 were East India Company cargoes sent directly to the American colonies to help the company out of financial difficulties. The company lost its trade monopoly in India in 1813 and thereafter functioned solely as an administrative bureaucracy. The British Crown assumed full sovereignty over India in 1858 after the company’s Indian army mutinied in 1857.
See also Regulated Company
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