Chapter 3
The Rise of British Power in India

IN SPITE of the aloofness with which the British rulers of India have often been charged, the most important outcome of their rule was that unique fusion of Western and Eastern thought and practice which constitutes modern India. In order to understand the nature and extent of the British element in that amalgam, we must first consider briefly how it came into being.

During the early Middle Ages there was practically no direct contact between Europe and India, since the trade in spices, precious stones, silks and ivory was in the hands of the Semitic races who lived along the three main trade routes through the Middle East. The volume of that trade was considerable and it contributed a great deal not only to the wealth of Venice and the other cities engaged in it, but to the whole economy of Europe. When the advance of the Turks in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries blocked all three trade routes, the loss was severe and it was to be expected that Europe would search diligently for alternative ways of access to the wealth of India.

The lead in that search was taken by Portugal, where the nascent European spirit of exploration and adventure was abundantly manifest in Prince Henry the Navigator, who set himself systematically, over a long period of years, to explore the ocean routes down the west coast of Africa. Portuguese enterprise received a further stimulus from the fact that the Pope, as the accepted authority on international affairs, assigned to Portugal all lands then known, or thereafter to be discovered, in the East. In 1498 Vasco da Gama landed at Calicut on the Malabar coast, and the King of Portugal assumed the magnificent title of 'Lord of the Conquest, Navigation and Commerce of Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia and India'. In the second half of the sixteenth century the Reformation gave the commerciallyminded Protestant nations of Western Europe a good reason

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