The East India Company (EIC), also known as the Honourable East India Company and informally as John Company was an English and later British joint-stock company,〔The Dutch East India Company was the first to issue public stock.〕 formed to pursue trade with the East Indies, but which ended up trading mainly with the Indian subcontinent and Qing China.
Originally chartered as the "Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading into the East Indies", the company rose to account for half of the world's trade, particularly trade in basic commodities that included cotton, silk, indigo dye, salt, saltpetre, tea and opium. The company also ruled the beginnings of the British Empire in India.〔(【引用サイトリンク】title=Books associated with Trading Places - the East India Company and Asia 1600–1834, an Exhibition. )〕
The company received a Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth on 31December 1600,〔''(The Register of Letters &c. of the Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading into the East Indies, 1600–1619 )''. On page three, a letter written by Elizabeth I on 23 January 1601 ("Witnes or selfe at Westminster the xxiiijth of Ianuarie in the xliijth yeare of or Reigne.") states, "Haue been pleased to giue lysence vnto or said Subjects to proceed in the said voiadgs, & for the better inabling them to establish a trade into & from the said East Indies Haue by or tres Pattents vnder or great seale of England beareing date at Westminster the last daie of december last past incorporated or said Subjecte by the name of the Gournor & Companie of the merchaunts of London trading into the East Indies, & in the same tres Pattents haue geven them the sole trade of theast Indies for the terme of XVteen yeares ..."〕 making it the oldest among several similarly formed European East India Companies. Wealthy merchants and aristocrats owned the Company's shares. The government owned no shares and had only indirect control.
The company eventually came to rule large areas of India with its own private armies, exercising military power and assuming administrative functions.〔This is the argument of Robins (2006).〕 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 form of the new British Raj.
Despite frequent government intervention, the company had recurring problems with its finances. 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 vestigial, powerless, and obsolete. The official government machinery of British India had assumed its governmental functions and absorbed its armies.
Soon after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, London merchants presented a petition to Queen Elizabeth I for permission to sail to the Indian Ocean. The permission was granted, and despite the defeat of the English Armada in 1589, on 10April 1591 three ships sailed from Torbay around the Cape of Good Hope to the Arabian Sea on one of the earliest English overseas Indian expeditions. One of them, the ''Edward Bonventure'', then sailed around Cape Comorin and on to the Malay Peninsula and subsequently returned to England in 1594.〔
In 1596, three more ships sailed east; however, these were all lost at sea.〔 Three years later, on 22 September 1599, another group of merchants met and stated their intention "to venture in the pretended voyage to the East Indies (the which it may please the Lord to prosper), and the sums that they will adventure", committing £30,133.〔http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=68624〕 Two days later, on 24September, "the Adventurers" reconvened and resolved to apply to the Queen for support of the project.〔
Although their first attempt had not been completely successful, they nonetheless sought the Queen's unofficial approval to continue, bought ships for their venture and increased their capital to £68,373. The Adventurers convened again a year later.〔
This time they succeeded, and on 31 December 1600, the Queen granted a Royal Charter to "George, Earl of Cumberland, and 215 Knights, Aldermen, and Burgesses" under the name, ''Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading with the East Indies''. For a period of fifteen years the charter awarded the newly formed company a monopoly on trade with all countries east of the Cape of Good Hope and west of the Straits of Magellan.〔 Sir James Lancaster commanded the first East India Company voyage in 1601 and returned in 1603.〔http://thinkingpast.com/seldenmapatlas/eicvoyage1.htm〕 and in March 1604 Sir Henry Middleton commanded the second voyage. General William Keeling, a captain during the second voyage, led the third voyage from 1607 to 1610.〔http://thinkingpast.com/seldenmapatlas/eicvoyage3.htm〕
Initially, the company struggled in the spice trade because of 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 licences to other trading companies in England. But in 1609 he renewed the charter given to the company for an indefinite period, including a clause which specified that the charter would cease to be in force if the trade turned unprofitable for three consecutive years.
The company was led by one governor and 24 directors, who made up the Court of Directors. They, in turn, reported to the Court of Proprietors which appointed them. Ten committees reported to the Court of Directors.
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