Running the World: English Rulers

Elizabeth 1 (1558-1603)

Portrait of Elizabeth I from Elstrakes Baooke of Kings 1618.
Elizabeth I (1558-1603)

Elizabeth I (1558-1603)

This was a time of great social and cultural change in England. There were rich new developments in literature, sciences, medicine and the arts.

England was sending increasing numbers of ships to voyage overseas into unknown areas. Sea captains like Drake and Hawkins took every opportunity to capture the ships of other countries, especially those of Spain and Portugal. These men may have been seen as pirates or profiteers, depending which side you were on. The Queen did little to stop them.

So when the idea of a company trading with the East was first put to Elizabeth I she hesitated. She knew what her seamen were like and thought they might attack traders from other countries, especially the Portuguese and Dutch who were England's main rivals. But, on 31 December 1600 she gave a charter to The Company of Merchants in the City of London, granting them a monopoly of all English trade in Asia and the Pacific. This meant that no other English company or people were allowed to trade in that area.

When the first voyage of the East India Company embarked in 1601, it took with it a letter written by Elizabeth to the Sumatran Sultan Alauddin Shah.

James I of England (1603-1625) and VI of Scotland (1567-1625)

Portrait of King James VI (Scotland) and I (England)
Detail of a portrait of King James

Detail of a portrait of King James

New styles of architecture were introduced in James I's reign, the Queen's House in Greenwich being an example. Unfortunately the Globe burnt down in 1613, but the theatre had become established by then.

When James came to the English throne, he was already James VI of Scotland. He needed money, and the Company seemed at times to be a good money-making venture. At other times it stood in his way. In 1603 James acquired large stocks of pepper. When the Company brought back tons of pepper from its first voyage, he tried to stop them selling it, so that he could make money on his own stock first.

In 1609 he launched one of the Company's ships. In that year he also gave the Company a new and better charter. He continued to take a lively interest in the Company for the rest of his reign. In return he received 'loans' which were never repaid.

It was during his reign that the Company's relations with India's Mughal emperors began, starting with an approach to Akbar.

Charles I (1625-1649)

Detail of a portrait of Charles I (1625-49)
Charles I (1625-49)

Charles I (1625-49)

The Company provided Charles I with a useful income. Charles I needed this money to help him fight the Civil War - the Crown was at war with Parliament, and eventually lost (Charles was beheaded and replaced by Oliver Cromwell). In a good year he could get as much as  20,000 in customs duties through the Company's trade. He could also obtain 'loans' for granting favours to the Company - one of these in 1641 was for ?60,000.

This didn't mean he was always a friend to the Company. He granted a charter to one ship, the Roebuck, allowing it to continue piracy near India. The Indians, seeing an English ship attack their cargo ships, wrongly imprisoned Company servants in Surat. To get them released, Charles had to write an apology to the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahangir.

Charles II's reign brought in a change from the drabness of the time of Cromwell. Once again fashion became important as did the theatre. More impressive buildings were built.

Charles II (1660-1685)

Detail of a portrait of Prince Charles 1651.
Detail of a portrait of Prince Charles 1651.

Detail of a portrait of Prince Charles 1651.

Soon after coming to the throne, Charles II gave the Company a new charter. The charter allowed the Company to fortify and colonize its factories, sending people, stores and ammunition. This meant they could build up their factories in India, which laid the basis for the future rule of India by the British. In 1662 Charles II signed the Treaty of Breda in which the spice island of Run was exchanged for the island of Manhattan. It was during the reign of Charles II that tea started becoming popular.

When Charles I was beheaded a period called the Commonwealth, when there was no king or queen but a Protector, started.

Oliver Cromwell (1649-1659)

Detail of a portrait of Oliver Cromwell, Lord protector of The Realm (1649-59)
Oliver Cromwell (1649-59)

Oliver Cromwell (1649-59)

Life changed greatly during Cromwell's rule. The leading Puritans simplified much of English culture, believing that many aspects of existing culture went against the teachings of the Bible. As they dressed in plain clothes they did not have the need for expensive fabrics such as silk. This led to a decline in the Persian silk trade. It was during Cromwell's reign that 'coho seeds' (coffee) were introduced into England's, and the first coffee house opened.