East India Company

East India Company
, East India Companies
   English, French, and Dutch chartered trading companies, in each case dating to the seventeenth century. In the case of the Netherlands, the Vereenigde Oostindische Compaagnie (VOC) was chartered in 1602 to govern and extend Dutch colonial holdings in India, Java, and Sumatra, and by 1650 its wealth and naval reach made the Netherlands a world power and the world’s foremost trading nation. The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, however, were devastating to the Netherlands as well as to Dutch overseas possessions, so that by 1815 many of the VOC’s holdings had been lost and the company was nationalized and reemerged as the Dutch Colonial Office.
   The French Compagnie des Indes Orientales was established in 1664. It was active in India, as well as in Mauritius and Bourbon in the Indian Ocean until French defeats in the War of Austrian Succession, 1740–1748, and the Seven Years’ War, 1756–1763.
   The English East India Company, by far the most durable and successful of the three, was chartered by Elizabeth I in 1600. Initially in competition with Portuguese, Dutch, and French ventures, the company nonetheless secured a foothold on the Indian subcontinent in 1619 and never let go. In 1657, it was reconstituted as a joint stock company and developed a capacity for surviving intact the violent changes of English politics in the eighteenth century. Between 1740 and 1793, it also vied with its French rival for advantage in India until the wars of the late eighteenth century shunted circumstance decidedly in its favor. The company then profited again during the Napoleonic Wars by the virtual elimination of its Dutch rival and the acquisition of formerly Dutch possessions.
   Nicknamed the John Company, the British East India company often operated as a state unto itself - raising troops, fighting wars, and bribing local officials - until by mid-nineteenth century, the company controlled roughly two-thirds of India. Its considerable independence made it a routine item of political controversy in Britain, so that successive acts of Parliament and charter renewals were used to limit its financial and administrative autonomy until the Indian Mutiny of 1857 prompted the British government to terminate the company. The passage of the India Act in 1858 brought India under the direct control of the British Crown.
   See also <>; <>; <>.
    Furber, Holden. John Company at Work. New York: Octagon Books, 1948;
    Glamann, Kristof. Dutch-Asiatic Trade. Copenhagen: Danish Science Press, 1958;
    Lawson, Philip. The East India Company: A History. New York: Longman, 1993;
    Philips, C. H. The East India Company. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1961;
    Wesseling, H. L. The European Colonial Empires, 1815-1919. London: Longman, 2004.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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