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The English Charter of Queen Elizabeth I

The English  Charter of Queen Elizabeth I

Charter of Queen Elizabeth I Francis Drake’s voyage around the world in 1580 and the English victory over the Spanish Armada in 1588 generated a new sense of enterprise in the British, encouraging sailors to venture out to the East. As the knowledge grew of the high profits earned by the Portuguese in Eastern trade, English traders too wanted a share. So in 1599, a group of English merchants calling themselves the ‘Merchant Adventurers’ formed a company. On December 31, 1600, Queen Elizabeth I issued a charter with rights of exclusive trading to the company named the ‘Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading into the East Indies’. Initially, a monopoly of fifteen years was granted, which in May 1609 was extended indefinitely by a fresh charter. As the Dutch were already concentrating more on the East
Indies, the English turned to India in search of textiles and other commodities of trade.

Note :- This post will be available in Hindi soon

Progress of the English Company – Queen Elizabeth I

Foothold in West and South

Captain Hawkins arrived in the court of Jahangir in April 1609 itself. But the mission to establish a factory at Surat didn’t succeed due to opposition from the Portuguese, and Hawkins left Agra in November 1611. In 1611, the English had started trading at Masulipatnam on the south-eastern coast of India and later established a factory there in 1616. It was in 1612 that Captain Thomas Best defeated the Portuguese in the sea off Surat; an impressed Jahangir granted permission to the English in early 1613 to establish a factory at Surat under Thomas Aldworth. In 1615, Sir Thomas Roe came as an accredited ambassador of James I to the court of Jahangir, staying on there till February 1619. Though he was unsuccessful in concluding a commercial treaty with the Mughal emperor, he was able to secure a number of privileges, including permission to set up factories at Agra, Ahmedabad and Broach.

The English company did not have a smooth progress. It had to contend with the Portuguese and the Dutch in the beginning. But the changing situation helped them and turned things in their favour. Bombay had been gifted to King Charles II by the King of Portugal as dowry when Charles married the Portuguese princess Catherine in 1662. Bombay was given over to the East India Company on an annual payment of ten pounds only in 1668. Later Bombay was made the headquarters by shifting the seat of the Western Presidency from Surat to Bombay in 1687. So there was tacit peace between the English and the Portuguese now. There was also an Anglo-Dutch compromise as mentioned earlier by which the Dutch agreed not to interfere with the English company’s trade in India. Thus the English were rid of two arch-rivals in India.

The English company’s position was improved by the ‘Golden Farman’ issued to them by the Sultan of Golconda in 1632. On a payment of 500 pagodas a year, they earned the privilege of trading freely in the ports of Golconda. A member of the Masulipatnam council, the British merchant Francis Day in 1639 received from the ruler of Chandragiri permission to build a fortified factory at Madras which later became the Fort St. George and replaced Masulipatnam as the headquarters of the English settlements in south India. Thereafter, the English extended their trading activities to the east and started factories at Hariharpur in the Mahanadi delta and at Balasore (in Odisha) in 1633.

Foothold in Bengal

Bengal was then a large and rich province in India, advanced in trade and commerce. Commercial and political control over Bengal naturally appeared an attractive proposition to the profit-seeking English merchants. Bengal was also an important province of the Mughal empire.

Shah Shuja, the subahdar (or governor) of Bengal in 1651, allowed the English to trade in Bengal in return for an annual payment of Rs 3,000, in lieu of all duties. Factories in Bengal were started at Hooghly (1651) and other places like Kasimbazar, Patna and Rajmahal. Nevertheless, despite the privileges of the farmans, the Company’s business was now and then obstructed by customs officers in the local
checkposts who asked for payment of tolls.

In pursuance of its changed policy, the Company wanted to have a fortified settlement at Hooghly so that force could be used if necessary. William Hedges, the first agent and governor of the Company in Bengal, appealed to Shaista Khan, the Mughal governor of Bengal in August 1682, for redressal of the grievance. As nothing came out of the appeal, hostilities broke out between the English and the Mughals. Four years
later, Hooghly was sacked by the imperial Mughals in October 1686.

The English retaliated by capturing the imperial forts at Thana (modern Garden Reach), raiding Hijli in east Midnapur and storming the Mughal fortifications at Balasore. However, the English were forced to leave Hooghly and were sent to an unhealthy location at the mouth of the River Ganga.

After the Mughal raid on Hooghly, Job Charnock, a company agent, started negotiations with the Mughals so as to return to a place called Sutanuti. Charnock signed a treat with the Mughals in February 1690, and returned to Sutanuti in August 1690. Thus, an English factory was established on February 10, 1691, the day an imperial farman was issued permitting the English to “continue contentedly their trade in Bengal” on payment of Rs 3,000 a year in lieu of all dues.

A zamindar in Bardhaman district, Sobha Singh, rebelled, subsequently giving the English the pretext they were looking for, to fortify their settlement at Sutanuti in 1696. In 1698, the English succeeded in getting the permission to buy the zamindari of the three villages of Sutanuti, Gobindapur and Kalikata (Kalighat) from their owners on payment of Rs 1,200. The fortified settlement was named Fort William in
the year 1700 when it also became the seat of the eastern presidency (Calcutta) with Sir Charles Eyre as its first president.

Farrukhsiyar’s Farmans

  • In 1715, an English mission led by John Surman to the court of the Mughal emperor Farrukhsiyar secured three famous farmans, giving the Company many valuable privileges in Bengal, Gujarat and Hyderabad. The farmans thus obtained were regarded the Magna Carta of the Company. Their important terms were—
  • In Bengal, the Company’s imports and exports were exempted from additional customs duties excepting the annual payment of 3,000 rupees as settled earlier.
  • The Company was permitted to issue dastaks (passes) for the transportation of such goods. The Company was permitted to rent more lands around Calcutta.
  • In Hyderabad, the Company retained its existing privilege of freedom from duties in trade and had to pay the prevailing rent only for Madras.
  • In Surat, for an annual payment of 10,000 rupees, the East India Company was exempted from the levy of all duties.
    It was decreed that the coins of the Company minted at Bombay were to have currency throughout the Mughal empire.

Apparently, the English East India Company managed to earn a number of trading concessions in Bengal from the Mughal authority by means of flattery and diplomacy. But the English had to vanquish the French before they

Formative Years of the East India Company

could be rid of competitors and establish their complete sway over India.

Merging of Two English Companies

After the English revolution of 1688, the Whigs, with their enhanced influence, opposed the monopoly of the East India Company. Thus a rival company was formed which deputed Sir William Norris as its ambassador to the court of Aurangzeb (January 1701-April 1702) to gain trading privileges for itself. The new company, however, proved a failure. Under pressure from the Crown and the Parliament, the two
companies were amalgamated in 1708 under the title of ‘United Company of Merchants of England Trading to the East Indies’. This was the East India Company—from 1708 to 1873—which was to establish British political power in India.

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Vishal Singh

Vishal Singh

“Hi, I am Vishal Singh. I completed my Graduations in Physics in 2020 at VKSU, Arrah. Now I'm Preparing For Civil Service Exams. I'm Interested Physics as well as History, Polity, Geography, Technology & Science.

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