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

By Philip J. Stern | Go to book overview

9
“A Sword in One Hand & Money
in the Other”
Old Patterns, New Rivals

In 1707 the ninety-three-year-old Aurangzeb died, bringing his half-century reign to an end and setting in motion a process by which “the Mogols Kingdom,” as Nathaniel Higginson had predicted a decade earlier, would be “Cantell’d out into severall Sovereignties.”1 The so-called successor states that seemed to emerge in the eighteenth century had, of course, been there all along, but now the overlapping networks of fragmented and layered forms of local and regional political power South Asia were increasingly laid bare. It was a situation for which the East India Company, as a corporate and hybrid body politic adept at drawing on various sources of legitimacy to buttress its own power and authority, was wellsuited. Many of the Company’s objectives, to protect and expand that authority, remained the same. The early eighteenth-century Company was still preoccupied with obtaining its long-desired “comprehensive”farman and continued to battle familiar enemies.

Yet while the categories in which Company leadership understood the world remained stable, their content shifted with context. Thus, the Company continued to expand its pirate-fighting regime, but it was now reoriented from battling Anglo-American to Asian and Arabian maritime power. The interloper remained a universal enemy, but his definition expanded from English subjects to British subjects; increasingly and subtly, it came to include to upstart rivals from elsewhere as well. As the Company became more implicated in the geopolitical strategies of the emerging global British Empire, the French replaced the waning Dutch and Portuguese as the Company’s biggest European threat. Finally, changing political context in India and growing Company maritime power allowed for the Company to overcome some of its longstanding adversaries,

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