The East India Company

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The East India Company

Though throughout the seventeenth century trade with various parts of Europe, in th traditional channels, was still probably the most important and valuable part of English trade, it attracted less attention than that with the East and the Plantations. The East India Company had been founded on December 31st, 1600, and was destined to have an illustrious history.

From the first it differed from most of the other companies in being not a regulated company - that is, a glorified form of gild - but a "joint-stock ", whose members did not trade on their own account, but only shared in its dividends.

At first, indeed, a separate joint-stock was subscribed for each voyage, being gradually extended to cover several voyages, and made permanent in 1657.

From the beginning, too, the Company eschewed buccaneering practices and devoted itself to trade.

Its early years were decidedly chequered; fights with the Portuguese and Dutch were frequent, and it was finally obliged to abandon the attempt to trade with the East Indian islands and concentrate on the mainland.

However, its difficulties were largely overcome with the political approximation of England with Holland and Portugal.

Catherine of Braganza brought Bombay as part of her dowry, and it was given to the Company to administer.

By the end of the century the Company was well established with depots at Surat and Madras; and the French East India Company troubled it politically rather than economically.

The struggles of Clive and Dupleix belong to political history.

At home, too, the Company had to meet with opposition.

It was suspected of draining the country of silver, though it argued that the value of the goods it brought in and re-exported more than counterbalanced this.

The Levant Company, which was interested in the overland route to India, managed for a time to have the East India Company compelled to export a certain amount of woollen cloth; but this plan recoiled disastrously upon its promoters, as the East India Company, unable to sell the goods in India, began to compete with the Levant Company in the Persian market. Towards the end of the century the woollen manufacturers succeeded in securing the complete prohibition of the use of Oriental silks and Indian printed calicoes. But in spite of these troubles, the Company grew and prospered, though contemporaries greatly exaggerated the importance of its trade. The eighteenth century, not the seventeenth century, is the age of the "nabobs ", of great fortunes made in the East.

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Trade in the Seventeenth Century

The earlier chartered companies failed, on the whole, to bring about any great increase in trade; partly because of their own restrictiveness, more perhaps because they operated in fields which allowed little room for expansion. The Baltic trade, for instance, suffered decline in the seventeenth century owing to war and Dutch competition; and with it the Eastland Company and the Merchant Adventurers lost their old predominance.

On the other hand trade with Spain and Portugal, and indirectly with their colonies, grew in importance, especially after the Restoration and the marriage of Charles... see: Trade in the Seventeenth Century

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