Private Enterprise Under the Umbrella of Empire part 1
Patrick Harris -The Honourable East India Company was the British iteration of the several East India Companies which were formed by European powers during the early 17th century. In its earliest form, the company grew out of early English trading ventures with India during the 1590's. It was granted a Royal Charter in 1600 as the Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading with the East Indies. Initially, the company struggled to compete with the well established Dutch East India Company (which, for a short time, was the most valuable company ever. Take that Apple). The main focus was spice trading, hauling cargoes of much sought after pepper to England, which was beset by boring cooking.
The company quickly built outposts in India ("factories") to accommodate for this massive demand, the first being built at Machilipatnam in 1608. The company began to experience a wave of high profits, and after some disagreement, managed to gain an indefinite monopoly on English trade in the region, granted by James I in 1609. The company frequently came into conflict with rival Dutch and Portuguese traders in the area. The company achieved a major naval victory at Swally in 1612, though this battle was more of a standoff. It did, however, impress the Moghul Emperor, who thereafter favoured the English over the Portuguese, effectively ending the monopoly the Portuguese had over trade with India's preeminent nation.
The English obtained the right to build more outposts in Moghul territory, in return for European goods and rarities to be provided to the Emperor. The company benefited greatly from this relationship, and soon had 23 factories established in India. The relationship soon expanded to include the Bengal region and by 1717, customs dues were completely eradicated. The English cooperated with the Dutch to help eclipse the encroaching Portuguese and Spanish trading interests, while the English government at home strengthened the power of the Company.
Following the Restoration, Charles II gave the Company sweeping powers, which effectively made it a vassal state of England. The Company was allowed the right to make war, command and deploy its own troops, as well as make and enforce laws within the territory of India. The Company was not under the direct control of the government, its shares were controlled by the merchants and the aristocracy of London.
The Company sought more power from the Moghul's still, but infighting between company executives undermined the negotiations, and the Moghul emperor attacked and took Bombay in 1689. Later negotiations were able to thaw relations once again.
The company controlled nearly all trade out of India, and many of it's officers returned to England very rich men. This wealth quickly ushered many of these men into Parliament, where a pro Company lobby developed. This lobby was able to push for much legislation which acted to expand the influence of the East India Company.
Though it was independent from the British government, it was not immune to it, and so the company was involved in British wars through association. The Seven Years War is perhaps the most important, where Company forces in India battled the French for domination of the various colonial outposts in the subcontinent. The Governor General of India, Robert Clive, led the company to victory, retaking Fort St. George (Madras) and taking multiple French outposts in the area.
Following this victory, the British looked at the Indian states with hungry eyes. Starting around 1750, the Company began a military build up, going from 3000 soldiers to over 26000 in 1763. These troops were Indians, recruited and trained under European lines, beginning with mainly European officers. They would be referred to as Sepoys.
Robert Clive led the Company troops in several wars, defeating the Nawab of Bengal at the Battle of Plassey. This began the three Anglo-Maratha wars, which culminated in the defeat and dismemberment of the Maratha Empire. Those territories which the Company did not rule itself became fiefdoms of the company, Indian states which were puppets of British private interest.
Stay tuned for Part Two.