The Company

The East India Company is a modern, dynamic commercial enterprise with a wealth of experience and contacts, and associates throughout the world. Founded by the Royal Charter of Queen Elizabeth the First in 1600, The East India Company was once the single most powerful economic force that the world has ever seen.

Based in London, its influence reached out to all continents, and the consequences of its actions, both great and small, are the very fabric of history itself -- the Company, for example, created British India, caused the Boston Tea Party, founded Hong Kong and Singapore, employed Captain Kidd to combat piracy, established tea in India, held Napoleon captive, and made the fortune of Elihu Yale. Its flag inspired the Stars and Stripes, its shipyards provided the model for St. Petersburg, its administration still forms the basis of Indian bureaucracy, and its corporate structure was the earliest example of a joint stock company. It introduced tea to the British, woollens to Japan, chinzes to America, spices to the West Indies, opium to China, porcelain to Russia, and polo to India. It had its own armies, navies, currencies, and territories as diverse as the tiny Spice Island, Pulo Run -- later exchanged for Manhattan -- to the Jewel in the Crown, India itself.

Foundation of the Empire

The intentions of the 218 Knights and merchants of the City of London who formed the East India Company, and those of Queen Elizabeth I who granted its Royal Charter on December 31st 1600, were rarely matched by the outcome. The venture failed to achieve its stated objectives -- it made little impression on the Dutch control of the spice trade and could not establish a lasting outpost in the East Indies in the early years -- and yet succeeded beyond measure in establishing military dominance and a political empire for Britain in the East.

Company or Colonial Government?

The tension between the straightforward commercial aims of the Court of Directors in London, who simply desired that the Company should be able to trade profitably and peacefully, and the opportunist vision of the officers sent to implement its policies, continued through until well into the nineteenth century, and even Clive\'s astonishing military achievements met with a chorus of disapproval from his superiors at home. But time and geographical distance made the attempts of the Directors to direct in reality well-nigh impossible, and ultimately it lay in the hands of its officers to make what they could of the prevailing situation in the field. That they did with a vengeance, so successfully that by 1834, whilst nominally still a company with shareholders and directors in the ordinary way, in fact the East India Company had ceased to be trading company at all, and was instead authorised ruler of the vast Indian subcontinent and numerous other possessions.

A Barbarian Nation

To understand how this transformation had taken place is to look into the changing role on the international stage of Britain itself. The history of the East India Company and that of its native country are in this respect inseparable. Up until the late Elizabethan age the English were regarded by the then-dominant European powers of Spain and France as an uncultured, barbarian nation snapping at the heels of its more civilised neighbours. The activities of Drake, for all the vaunted status of his defeat of the Spanish Armada, were in reality those of a licensed pirate, and unlike the Dutch, Britain lacked a coordinated maritime trading strategy.

It was to fill this gap that the East India Company was formed, but it was too late to make any serious impression on the Dutch stranglehold on the lucrative spice trade from the East Indies, and the Company was reduced to picking up scraps of trade, either by piracy or dealing with intermediaries. The one tiny nutmeg-producing island held by the Company in the King\'s name in the Spice Islands became a source of such pride to James I that he styled himself King of England, Scotland, Ireland, France ... and Puloroon. The massacre of Company factors by the Dutch at Amboyna in 1623 put paid to such vain territorial ambitions, and the Company was forced to live at the devotion of wind and seas.

Encroaching on Trade Links

Perhaps this semi-piratical role appealed to some