East India Company

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  • Intro

    Imagine an England without tea in china cups, without pepper, chintz or chutney. The fact that these Asian products play such a central role in our culture is, to a large extent, thanks to the impact of the East India Company. 

     

    Asia used to be known as 'The East Indies'. In the 1600s, pepper, spices, medicinal drugs, aromatic woods, perfumes and silks were rare commodities in Europe, and therefore extremely valuable. Trading these goods could make you very wealthy. Like the Dutch, the English wanted a key role in the spice trade. In 1600, ‘The Company of Merchants of London trading into the East Indies’ was given ‘royal approval’ by a charter from Queen Elizabeth I. 218 subscribers raised £68,373 – a huge amount of money at a time when a skilled carpenter was earning about 7 pence a day. The Company was granted a monopoly on all English trade east of the Cape of Good Hope. 

     

    Displayed here is an open letter, known as a 'letter patent' by William III and Mary II, prescribing regulations for the conduct of business of the East India Company. This document of 1693 would therefore have been of immense importance to the Company, as it confirms its privileges, as well as regulating its activities. The richness of the decoration may well be an indication of the significance attached to it.

     

    The East India Company (as the company became known) would monopolise trade from India for over 200 years, and it came to rule large swathes of India, exercising huge military power.

     

    Shelfmark: IOR A/1/48

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