The British East India Company

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The British East India Company was an English and later (from 1707) British joint-stock company formed for pursuing trade with the East Indies but which ended up trading mainly with the Indian subcontinent. The East India Company traded mainly in cotton, silk, indigo dye, salt, saltpetre, tea and opium. Shares of the company were owned by wealthy merchants and aristocrats. The government owned no shares and had only indirect control. The Company eventually came to rule large areas of India with its own private army, exercising military power and assuming administrative functions. Company rule in India effectively began in 1757 after the Battle of Plassey and lasted until 1858 when, following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Government of India Act 1858 led to the British Crown assuming direct control of India in the new British Raj. The Company was dissolved in 1874 as a result of the East India Stock Dividend Redemption Act passed one year earlier, as the Government of India Act had by then rendered it powerless and out of date. Its functions had been fully absorbed into official government machinery in the British Raj and its private army had been nationalised by the British Crown. In the modern era, its history is strongly associated with corporate abuse, colonialism, exploitation, and monopoly power.

Sir James Lancaster commanded the first East India Company voyage in 1601 Initially, the Company struggled in the spice trade due to the competition from the already well established Dutch East India Company. The Company opened a factory in Bantam on the first voyage and imports of pepper from Java were an important part of the Company's trade for twenty years. The factory in Bantam was closed in 1683. During this time ships belonging to the company arriving in India docked at Surat, which was established as a trade transit point in 1608. In the next two years, the Company built its first factory in south India in the town of Machilipatnam on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal. The high profits reported by the Company after landing in India initially prompted King James I to grant subsidiary licenses to other trading companies in England.

The Red Dragon fought the Portuguese at the Battle of Swally in 1612, and made several voyages to the East Indies. English traders frequently engaged in hostilities with their Dutch and Portuguese counterparts in the Indian Ocean. The Company achieved a major victory over the Portuguese in the Battle of Swally in 1612. The Company decided to explore the feasibility of gaining a territorial foothold in mainland India, with official sanction of both countries, and requested that the Crown launch a diplomatic mission.

Jahangir investing a courtier with a robe of honour watched by Sir Thomas Roe, English ambassador to the court of Jahangir at Agra from 1615-18, and others In 1612, Sir Thomas Roe was instructed by James I to visit the Mughal Emperor Nuruddin Salim Jahangir to arrange for a commercial treaty which would give the Company exclusive rights to reside and build factories in Surat and other areas. In return, the Company offered to provide the Emperor with goods and rarities from the European market. This mission was highly successful as Jahangir sent a letter to James through Sir Thomas Roe.

View of East India House
In 1634, the Mughal emperor extended his hospitality to the English traders to the region of Bengal, and in 1717 completely waived customs duties for the trade. The company's mainstay businesses were by then in cotton, silk, indigo dye, saltpetre and tea. The Company's bright future, however, was rudely braked by the signing of the Treaty of Münster in 1648, which freed the Netherlands from Spanish control allowing it to turn its full attention to expanding its trade both in home and distant waters and enter a period recognized as Holland's 'Golden Age'. Mughal convoy piracy incident of 1695

In September 1695, Captain Henry Every, an...
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