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English East India Company

British trading company that became the ruler of a colony

flag of the East India Company

The English East India Company was founded at the end of the 16th century in order to compete with the Dutch East India Company, which had obtained a practical monopoly of the trade with the Spice Islands. It was incorporated by royal charter, signed on December 31, 1600, by Queen Elizabeth, under the title The Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies. The charter confirmed the sole right of trading with all countries lying beyond the Cape of Good Hope or the Straits of Magellan upon the company for a term of 15 years. King James I renewed the charter in 1609, with the proviso that it could be revoked with three years' notice if trade proved unprofitable to the realm. In 1612, company forces defeated the Portuguese in India and secured trading concessions from the Mogul Empire. The company's position in India was further secured during the reign of King Charles II, who granted it the right to acquire territory, coin money, command fortresses and troops, form alliances, make war and peace, and exercise both civil and criminal jurisdiction.

To protect itself, the company made agreements with the rulers of India during the 1600's and carried on trade without trying to acquire territory. But in the early 1700's, the Mogul Empire, which had ruled India and given it political unity for about 200 years, began to break up. Many regional states emerged, and fighting often broke out among them. The English and French East India companies tried to improve their positions in India by intervening in Indian politics and taking sides in local disputes. In the 1740's and 1750's the French tried to win control of India, but the British, under Robert Clive, and with financing from the English East India Company, stopped them. French influence in India ended in the early 1800's, when the French were at war in Europe, and British influence spread quickly.

The East India Company ruled India until the Sepoy Rebellion, a revolt led by Indian troops, broke out in 1857. British troops defeated the rebels in 1858. The British government subsequently purchased control of India from the East India Company, which went out of existence in 1873.


Encyclopędia Britannica Chicago: Encyclopędia Britannica, Inc., 1957

See Also

Dutch East India Company
Queen Elizabeth
King James I
King Charles II
Sepoy Rebellion

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This page was last updated on December 31, 2018.