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

By Philip J. Stern | Go to book overview

2
“A Sort of Republic for the
Management of Trade”
The Jurisdiction of a Company-State

Although much about the East India Company’s efforts to establish colonial government resembled the contemporary Atlantic world, the Company was also quite unique among other English overseas and colonial experiences. Bombay and St. Helena were the only seventeenth-century Company settlements chartered by the English Crown; the rest would find their foundations in Asian, not English, grants and treaties. Furthermore, unlike many Atlantic proprietors, the Company owed its corporate existence not to its colonial patents but rather an antecedent charter; any colonial grants had to be read in the context of the other rights and responsibilities embodied in a series of royal patents to the Company. Thus, while the grant for Bombay legally situated it “as of the manor of East Greenwich,” the island was actually identified as “lying and being within the Limits of Our said Charter.” The patents for St. Helena similarly noted that they followed from the Company’s general prerogative “to erect such Colonies, and make such Plantations … within the Limits and Bounds of Trade, granted unto The said Governor and Company.”1

The Company possessed general charters and patents as a corporation, which were indeed far more expansive than all but perhaps the very earliest Atlantic proprietorships, encompassing the world “beyond the Cape of Bona Esperanza, to the Streights of Magellan.” Even this hemispheric charge, however, was rendered powerfully ambiguous by the Company’s pursuit of particular grants for plantation and fortification, especially when they fell beyond those “limits and bounds.” For example, soliciting for a new charter at the Restoration, the Company maintained that its recent acquisitions of Guinea Company trading rights and a fortification in Africa should justify relocating the western point of

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