The Company-State: Corporate Sovereignty and the Early Modern Foundations of the British Empire in India

By Philip J. Stern | Go to book overview

3
“A Politie of Civill and Military Power”
Diplomacy, War, and Expansion

Just a few years following East India Company v. Sandys, the Court of Committees seemed more convinced than ever that it was the Company’s role “to defend or offend or enlarge the English Dominion and unite the Strength of our Nation under one intire & absolute command subject to us as we are and ever shall be most dutifull to our owne Soveraigne.”1 This was easier said than done. As the judges handed down their decision in the case, the Company had only three functioning plantations, each of which was experiencing remarkable growing pains, from food shortages to outright rebellion. Mortality was high, garrisons unruly, settlers uncooperative. Most of its factories remained vulnerable to local politics in India, Indonesia, and Persia, where diplomacy was frustrating and exceedingly expensive. Other Europeans, particularly the Portuguese and the Dutch but increasingly the French and the Danes, did not make matters easier. And, of course, there were still interlopers.

The 1680s proved to be a crucial moment in the creation of the Company’s regime abroad as it faced and responded to unprecedented challenges with an aggressive policy oriented toward protecting the Company’s jurisdiction, reputation, and rights in both Europe and Asia. Its efforts were clearly aided by an increasingly close alliance with an expansive English monarchy but were inspired most directly by the affronts that arose from its Asian, European, and English rivals to its newly aggressive posture. Out of these trials emerged a new commitment to protecting that system as well as new projects for diplomacy, expansion, settlement, and even war. While not entirely successful, the results—some short term, others slower in the making—reflected a deepening and increasingly forward commitment within the Company to the protection and expansion of its government in Asia.

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