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

By Philip J. Stern | Go to book overview

7
“Auspicio Regis et Senatus Angliae
Crisis and Response in Britain after 1688

On 28 May 1690, the ship Benjamin arrived in Bombay harbor bearing news. It appeared that the apparently pernicious and improbable rumors VOC officials had been circulating around India for some months—that King James II had been deposed and that the Dutch William of Orange and his wife, Mary, James’s daughter, now occupied the English, Scottish, and Irish thrones—were in fact true.1 On the surface, the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688–89 should have effected a sea change in the East India Company’s affairs in Asia, bringing as it did both the end of a half-century of conflict in Europe with the Company’s biggest European rival, the Dutch, and the start of a decade and in some ways a century of war with its newest rising competitor, the French. Were these simply national ventures, one would at the very least have expected détente between the English and Dutch companies and perhaps even a revival of projects, floated time and again from the 1610s to the 1680s, to “unite their power to our wealth.”2

However, Company policy in Asia had never mapped neatly onto English foreign policy. While the 1690s brought war between the Dutch and French to Asia, for the English it seemed mainly to mean great shortages of its own shipping and soldiers from Europe.3 The language of Anglo-Dutch Protestant brotherhood now had new purchase, but in Asia it seemed much less a New Testament Christian universalism than an Old Testament sibling rivalry. If a sermon preached in the wake of the Amboina massacre likened the English Company to Joseph betrayed and sold into slavery by his Protestant brothers, John Gayer now recalled a different sort of fraternal jealousy.4 The VOC, he complained, “retaine their old Edomitish principles and rejoice to have Jacob laid so low as never to Rise again.”5 For their part, the Dutch did not seem to change tack; they even allegedly explained the revolution to some in Asia as a conquest, having made the king of England a vassal of the Netherlands and thus the

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