Zachary Wallis, McGill University
Matthew Sáenz, DP '21
Varun Sikand, BF '22
Jared Brunner, PM '22
Margaret Hedeman, BF '22
Calvin Chai-Onn, TD '23
On August 15th, 1947, the United Kingdom granted full self-government to India and Pakistan in conformity with the Indian Independence Act. Buried in the Act, among stipulations for Partition and military matters lies Clause 7(2), which states that upon assent, the “Royal Style and Titles of the words "Indiae Imperator" and the words "Emperor of India"” would no longer be used.[i] It had only been seventy-one years since Queen Victoria accepted Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s offer to become Empress of India, and seventy years since she was crowned as such. The title of Empress or Emperor of India is peculiar; it had no direct antecedent, as no English or British monarch had ever held the title of Emperor or Empress. But in South Asia, it was the East India Company[ii] who had laid the groundwork for Victoria to become Empress of India.
This paper deals with the East India Company’s sovereignty, the very thing which would transfer to the British government in 1858.[iii] The East India Company had unique power and authority, as it defied traditional conceptions of Westphalian sovereignty—the modern European construction of sovereignty in which a government possesses the exclusive right to wield absolute force and exercise political authority within the borders of its territory without interference from other states. Instead, the East India Company drew on three sources of authority: the Crown, which granted and renewed its charters, the Mughal Empire,[iv] which held its administrative titles, and itself. This tripartite sovereignty left the East India Company with the legal powers and diplomatic autonomy to go beyond their commercial mandate and become a territorial political force in South Asia.
In this light, the East India Company’s[v] composite sovereignty underwent constant change during its two-hundred-seventy-four-year existence. Beginning as a mere corporation, it was borne from the financial motivations of English merchants wishing to involve themselves in Indian Ocean trade. During its existence, however, the East India Company became a political power in its own right, subjugating the Indian subcontinent by 1818 through a combination of diplomacy and, in more recent years, military force. Though the creation of Company Rule over India took 218 years, the British Parliament had already discharged them of their actual sovereign powers, having done so in 1773 with Lord North’s Regulating Act.[vi]
Part I: Historiographical Concerns
This paper begins at the intersection of two historiographical traditions: East India Company Studies and Mughal Studies.[vii] The two traditions are inescapably intertwined in any discussion of the East India Company’s sovereignty, as the EIC operated within the Mughal Empire’s jurisdiction, and economically and politically orbited from its genesis. This relationship was a consistent part of the EIC’s political history, going all the way up to the First War of Independence with Emperor Bahadur Shah II’s (r. 1837-1857) deposition and exile. There is, however, a tendency towards provincializing the Mughals in traditional historical narratives, insofar as first-hand European accounts and even some academic literature exclude, in differing ways, autochthonous South Asian history and/or actors. Especially in older literature, the Mughals are often a static afterthought, something that simply existed before the Company, only to fade away before the EIC’s ascendancy.
Moreover, this paper challenges an anachronistic element within Company Studies: periodization. Traditional Company Studies divides the EIC’s history into two stages, referred to as the ‘trading’ and ‘imperial’ eras. These two eras are framed as almost completely independent of each other. The ‘trading’ era lasted from the Company’s creation until the 1757 Battle of Plassey and the 1765 Treaty of Allahabad, “in which the Mughal Emperor formally acknowledged British dominance in the region by granting the Company the diwani, or ‘right’ to collect the revenues of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa.”[viii] Many commentators have depicted this period in Company history as commercial and apolitical. The ‘imperial’ era followed the ‘trading’ era, lasting until the First War of Independence in 1858, and it has been framed as being non-commercial and political. It is imperative to note, however, how this periodization perpetuates a Eurocentric view of South Asian history. By basing any periodization solely around the East India Company’s own history, South Asia, as a subject with its own history, is necessarily reduced to a paradigmatic afterthought. In reality, this is not the case, as the Company and the Mughals coexisted in South Asia from the EIC’s inception until the First War of Independence. Eschewing this Eurocentric periodization is thus necessary in any analysis of the Company.
This periodization presents an issue when analyzing a subject which involves both eras. The East India Company’s sovereignty did experience a great deal of change between 1756 and 1766, but the idea that an overnight transition from ‘trading’ to ‘empire’ occurred is categorically false. Thus, this paper presents a selective but holistic investigation into the Company’s sovereignty, consciously reworking traditional periodization. I make use of Sanjay Subrahmanyam’s temporal schema, with the period before the Battle of Plassey defined as the ‘Age of Contained Conflict,’ where Europeans had little terrestrial military power, and thus existed firmly in the Mughal’s orbit.[ix] Using this framework, the constraints on the Company’s actions become apparent, as their dependency on cooperation with the Mughal Empire becomes clear. The period following the Battle of Plassey and the Treaty of Allahabad consumes only a short part of this study, for it did not take long for the British government to establish a Governor-General in Calcutta, establishing oversight over the Company’s actions. In any case, the period between 1765 and 1773 was marked by the newfound political, economic, and social reality the Company found itself in, grappling with how to best “defend, govern, and exploit [its] vast empire.”[x]
During this entire period, however, the Company’s relationship with South Asian actors, analyzed through the former’s sovereignty, was more interactive than many histories may suggest. Early modern South Asia was neither despotic nor constitutional; the area possessed its own modalities, dominated in many ways by the Mughals and their patrimonial-bureaucratic political culture. In fact, prior to the 1740s, the Company’s role was that of an insignificant South Asian actor, which has been exaggerated in Eurocentric historiography.[xi] The decision to trace the Company’s sovereignty is not to see history from the modern point-of-view, where the EIC became the preeminent South Asian political and military power, but instead to reflect on how the EIC inserted itself as an English, and later British, corporation, into foreign power structures. Subrahmanyam’s periodization is valuable because it accepts a priori the Company’s political and military insignificance for the majority of the narrative herein, creating a gap where the EIC, as a subject, is not defined by Plassey and the Raj, but rather by its historical actions and related processes.
Part II: Genesis, 1600-1621
The East India Company was a joint-stock corporation founded on December 31st, 1600, after Queen Elizabeth I of England granted a charter to a group of merchants, establishing ‘The Governor and Company of Merchants of London, Trading into the East-Indies.’[xii] In a survey of the EIC’s history, Philip Lawson identifies two parts of the original charter, which both distinguished the Company from other English trading concerns, such as the Muscovy or Levant Companies, and vested the new corporation with a unique mandate vis-à-vis other East India firms. [xiii] First, the charter restricted Company activities to trade and profit, forbidding it from engaging in conquest or colonization. In comparison to the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or Dutch East India Company, which was founded in 1602, the EIC was compelled by its charter to avoid conflict. In practice, the Company inconsistently obeyed this restriction, engaging in limited violence with the Dutch and Portuguese while often using diplomacy, as when the Company acquired the land that would later become Madras.[xiv] Second, and most importantly, Elizabeth I’s charter granted the Company’s merchants the exclusive right to trade in the Indian Ocean for a fifteen-year period. This right would be renewed in subsequent charters, and it would allow the Company the right to prosecute ‘interlopers,’ those who independently engaged in Asian trade. The monopoly over Indian Ocean trade granted the Company its own exclusive territorial jurisdiction and sphere of influence, making the EIC the ‘supreme power’ over English commerce in the area.
Early Company business in the Indian Ocean centered around a series of factories, or warehouses, located at regular stopping points. Resident factors administered factories and engaged in semi-autonomous diplomacy with local actors, guided by commands from London but decisively influenced by local developments, a situation necessitated by the long communicatory delays between Britain and South and East Asia. The 1621 Lawes or Standing Orders of the East India Company lists two factories, at Bantam and Surat, which were the “principall Factories,” upon which all other factories depended.[xv] Whereas Bantam was responsible for administering the valuable spice trade from modern-day Southeast Asia, Surat was charged with northwest Indian Ocean commerce. Both were administrative centers and exercised limited sovereignty over other Company factories with regard to bureaucratic and commercial matters. Among the specific factories or marketplaces dependent upon Surat’s governance was the “Court of the great Mogull.”[xvi]
Establishing trading privileges at Surat had been no easy task, as Mughal domination of the northern subcontinent meant that most of the ports were under their suzerainty. The Company had to convince the Court to grant them trading privileges in the form of a farman. Mughal historian John Richards defined a farman as “a formal, written, edict issued by the Mughal Emperor under his personal seal,” which was essential if the East India Company were to trade in Mughal ports.[xvii] The Company, in order to secure a farman, adopted the tactic of promoting a direct relationship between the English Crown and the Emperor. In 1608, King James I (r.1603-1625) sent William Hawkins as an ambassador to the Court of Jahangir (r. 1605-1627) to secure approval for the establishment of permanent Company factories in Mughal territory. This embassy failed and ultimately returned empty-handed due to a strong Portuguese presence at the Mughal Court.
The Company, in response to the failure of the first English embassy, changed its tactics, employing a policy roughly equal to gunboat diplomacy. In both 1613 and 1615, Company ships defeated Portuguese naval forces downstream from Surat. The Mughal Court, which lacked a navy of its own and used the sea power of its clients to police trade, accepted the Portuguese defeat and acknowledged the English as a new Indian Ocean naval power. To that end, in 1617, the Mughal Emperor granted a farman to the EIC, allowing its merchants to establish factories within the Mughal Empire’s territories. In obtaining the farman, the Company violated its charter and demonstrated its autonomy from the English Crown, using force to secure concessions and become entangled in Mughal politics.
At this point, the Company was still in its corporate and sovereign infancy, with its powers firmly rooted in its charter. In 1607, the Crown declared that the Company could expect a “perpetual succession,” hinting at what Philip Stern terms “corporate immortality.”[xviii] Though an unrealistic proposition in hindsight, this “perpetual succession” marked the beginning of a move away from the Crown’s influence, as the EIC was confident that their charter, which granted them a monopoly over English Indian Ocean trade, would be renewed in perpetuity. Though this eternal inviolability did not occur, the Company began to build its own institutions with confidence. These institutions, outlined for instance in the Lawes or Standing Orders, detailed complex commercial practices and an inchoate politico-commercial bureaucracy, founded jointly upon the Court of Committees, the executive leadership council based in London, and the factory system.[xix]
During the Company’s first twenty years, it also established a relationship with the Mughals, as trading in South Asia would be made much easier with the Empire’s sanction.
The Mughal Empire and its institutions present a non-European form of sovereignty, distinct from the English Crown. During the reign of James I, the King and his ministers were England’s ultimate sovereign power, with James’ relationship with the House of Commons of England proving fraught. In contrast, Stephen Blake frames Mughal sovereignty in Weberian terms, describing it as a ‘patrimonial-bureaucratic empire.’[xx] Though the nature of Mughal sovereignty substantially changed over the course of its existence, Blake outlines a basic theoretical structure, using the Ain-i-Akbarias his textual guide. Blake’s Mughal sovereignty possesses greater historicity towards the beginning of the Empire’s existence, especially during the reign of Akbar I (r. 1556-1605), during which the Ain-i-Akbari was written. The use of Blake’s structure is not meant to immerse an Oriental framework on Mughal history, positing it as a congealed unity. Instead, it bridges a gap between the earlier and later Mughal by pointing out continuities in bureaucratic and administrative structures.
The Mughal Empire’s sovereignty was composed of patrimonial notions of authority and a fluid bureaucracy comprised of extra-patrimonial officials. Patrimonial authority functioned as if the Emperor was at the head of an immensely large household.[xxi] The Emperor exercised military and legal power in an absolute fashion, with his bureaucrats owing obedience to the person, not the office.[xxii] In order to exercise authority, all members of the administration were compensated fairly and incapable of maintaining anti-imperial bases of political power or alliances.[xxiii] Thus, the bureaucracy was founded upon giving temporary appointments to administrators or vassals, such as that of the diwan, which Richards described as a “fiscal or revenue officer.”[xxiv] By rotating appointments and regularly demanding symbolic acts of fealty, Mughal Emperors maintained the personal loyalty of their administrators and vassals who depended on the sovereign for their position. This system was not sustainable, and it eventually contributed to the collapse of Mughal power, as later Emperors often could not and/or did not rotate their subjects between positions. Thus, for much of the Mughal Empire’s existence, this system of sovereignty, where patrimonial leadership mixed with a complex and dynamic bureaucracy, organized the state’s governance.
Blake’s theorization, however, should not be wholly accepted. Sovereignty is a European concept which finds “no direct coeval or parallel in Mughal intellectual culture, where no equivalent term merited similar theoretical discussion.”[xxv] Thus, there is a certain level of Eurocentricity, and therefore anachronism and reductionism, which comes with the use of the word. In the context of this paper, nevertheless, the word ‘sovereignty’ is not utilized in an application of the European concept to the Mughal context but rather as a term reduced to its invocation of ‘supreme power or authority,’ a concept present in South Asian intellectual discourses.[xxvi] The reading of Blake presented above does not infer a European-style sovereignty, but, to borrow Abhishek Kaicker’s description, rather a “discourse.”[xxvii]Power and authority, removed from the specificities of the Mughal bureaucratic and administrative system, were attributed by intellectuals to the ruler, who possessed “the divine endorsement to rule” and “the supreme power to ensure the greatest virtue of justice.”[xxviii]
In reality, the Mughal Emperor’s authority drew from his ability to command the respect of his subjects, which was, in turn, ideationally supported by his ability to maintain peace and justice. Following this logic, authority wrought stability. For instance, to flip C. A. Bayly’s logic, “corporate groups” and “social classes,” who played key roles in the “commercialization” and “decentralization” of South Asia during the 18th century, shifted their loyalties to the British upon the Mughal Emperor’s increasing inability to maintain the stability central to their pursuits.[xxix] This stability, connected to authority, also applied to finance, as it was the main factor in ensuring the elite’s claim to power, which affected patronage and the ability to dispense valuable offices to their subjects. The EIC functioned here as a facilitator of foreign trade. They were an outsider, but their commercial outlook allowed them, like the other European trading companies, to obtain grants and titles from the Mughal Court.
For instance, after defeating the nawab, or local administrator of Bengal, in a short conflict, Company administrator Job Charnock established a settlement on the Hughli River in 1690.[xxx] Despite Charnock’s death in 1693, the Company later acquired the title of zamindar over the settlement, or the right to exercise direct control over the peasantry of a certain areas.[xxxi] Although these accorded rights and responsibilities may seem inauspicious, the three towns, Sutanuti, Govindpur, and Kalikata, which later conglomerated to form Calcutta, eventually became the headquarters of the Company’s Indian operations and a major component of the EIC’s enterprise.[xxxii]
The title of zamindar and its related legitimacy was located within Mughal sovereignty. It was downstream from the cascading structure of power, directly descendant from the Mughal Emperor. The Company was not zamindar of Sutanuti, Govindpur, and Kalikata independently of the Mughal Empire; rather, the title was part of an existent patrimonial-bureaucratic structure of power. The rights and responsibilities of being zamindar were only valid in relation to Mughal sovereignty and authority at-large, and thus the title itself placed the Company into the Empire’s bureaucracy, while still remaining attached to the English Crown via its charter.
Part III: Ascendancy, 1621–1719
Between 1621, when the Lawes or Standing Orders was published, and 1688, the Company expanded its own sovereign jurisdiction, separate from the Crown, which made it unique among other contemporary English colonial endeavors. Stern writes:
Bombay and St. Helena were the only seventeenth-century Company settlements chartered by the English Crown; the rest would find their foundations in Asian, not English, grants and treaties. Furthermore, unlike many Atlantic proprietors, the Company owed its corporate existence not to its colonial patents but rather an antecedent charter; any colonial grants had to be read in the context of the other rights and responsibilities embodied in a series of royal patents to the Company.[xxxiii]
Moreover, P.J. Marshall describes the Company’s expansion in India as ‘sub-imperialism,’ writing about how “the growth of territorial empire in India was neither planned nor directed from Britain. Ignorance about Indian conditions and slowness of communications meant that no effective control could be exercised from home. The role of the British in India was determined by men in India.”[xxxiv] Both Stern and Marshall describe, as such, the Company’s autochthonous sovereignty as largely independent from the Crown and driven by diplomacy conducted by local administrators in India. This mode of governance and administration was a hallmark of the period following the Company’s founding, as it began to foster its own independent sources of power and authority in South Asia.
Administratively, the EIC began actively building an independent judicial system for its early territories. Gerald Auniger, Bombay’s second governor, replaced the island’s existing Portuguese legal code with a Company equivalent between 1670 and 1672, and established a court system to cover both civil and criminal cases.[xxxv] Thereafter, George Wilcox was dispatched from London to Bombay to be appointed chief judge. He believed that laws should be “as neare as possible, according to the Custome and constitution of England,” but only in the absence of existing Company or local law.[xxxvi] This jurisprudence gave priority to both Company and local South Asian law. The development of Company jurisprudence points to a desire to provide government services for its subjects, long predating the state-building narrative integral to the ‘imperial’ era’s periodization.
Likewise, the Company also asserted its sovereign political jurisdiction both in London and in South Asia. The Restoration monarchs, Charles II (r. 1660-1685) and James II (r. 1685-1688), both endorsed the EIC, viewing the Company as a “means to secure wealth and independence” by way of an aggressive commercial policy.[xxxvii] Charles II reaffirmed the Company’s commercial monopoly for the “whole and intire of the said East-Indies, and all places where any Trade is to be held from the Cape of Bona Speranza to the Streights of Magellan.”[xxxviii] This monopolistic approach was also apparent in the Company’s diplomacy, as, for instance, in 1682, whereupon the arrival in London of two ambassadors from the Javanese Sultanate of Banten, Sir Josiah Child, the Governor of the EIC, instructed the duo that all negotiations would be conducted with the Company. Child’s reasoning cited that the Crown had invested the Company with “all Affaires in that nature.”[xxxix] During the Restoration era, the monarchs protected the Company’s charter, renewing it regularly, and giving the Company room to build administrative and diplomatic structures imperative for the development of its sovereignty.
The Glorious Revolution brought unprecedented change for the Company’s sovereignty. Nineteenth-century Company historiographer John Bruce posited the Glorious Revolution marked the beginning of a process whereby Parliament slowly eroded the EIC’s sovereignty, thus paving the way for the 1858 Government of India Act.[xl] Although Bruce’s approaches the subject from a teleological standpoint, opposition to the Company in England began, with the elite denouncing the EIC’s ‘tyranny’ and calling for less restrictive membership regulations. One 1690 treatise in favor of a new joint-stock corporation charged the EIC with being “cultivated, cherished and influenced by the Hand of Tyranny and Arbitrary Power, watered with the Tears, Groans, and Estates of the Subjects of England, and hath grown up to an unbounded Despotick Power.”[xli]
Labeling the Company as a tyrant implied the elite posited EIC’s sovereignty as arising from their monopoly over English Indian Ocean trade. Explicit recognition of the Company’s commercial sovereignty implicitly legitimized its existence, despite the negative characterization. In the eyes of the Company’s opposition, the Company’s sovereignty was absolute and despotic. Detractors desired to rigidly define the Company’s subordinate position to the English Crown, thus giving them the power to affect the English Indian Ocean commerce, while criticizing the “despotic” EIC regime. In practice, administrative and diplomatic consolidation in the Company’s South Asian holdings supported this exclusive jurisdiction. Though EIC’s detractors portrayed the Company’s sovereignty negatively, its sovereignty nonetheless existed.
Increasing opposition to the Company’s perceived tyranny resulted in a political conflict which almost led to its demise. In 1694, the House of Commons passed a resolution proclaiming that all Englishmen “have equal right to trade to the East Indies, unless prohibited by act of Parliament.”[xlii] Parliament sought to eradicate the Company’s monopoly, which was the foundation of its sovereignty, and establish jurisdiction over its operations. This tactic worked, as in 1695, the Company and an upstart corporation founded by interlopers applied for a Parliamentary charter, which, in effect, became a bidding war. The new corporation promised a £2,000,000 loan, which led Parliament, in light of an ongoing war with France, to charter it in 1698, with the Company receiving only a guarantee that the government would respect a clause in its charter giving it three-years notice before dissolution.[xliii] The Company, desperate to protect its own interests, went onto the attack, buying a plurality of the new corporation’s shares and lobbying Parliament for a variety of charter-related guarantees. By 1701, the struggle between the two corporations in Parliament resulted in an agreement which would see them eventually united in 1709 under Godolphin’s Award.
The political struggle in the 1690s and early 1700s cannot be understated with respect to the Company’s relationship to the English state. Parliament’s new responsibilities for the management of Indian Ocean trade forced the Company to practice greater cooperation with the English, and later British state, as a means to protect their charter. Godolphin’s Award and its prior political build-up provided precedence that allowed Parliament oversight over the new United Company’s affairs and limited the Company’s charter to eighteen years, ensuring periodic review of its clauses. Moreover, Stern notes that “Godolphin’s Award permanently grafted the Company’s capital stock into the national debt,” thus making it, as MP and Company lobbyist Charles Davenant predicted, part of the British state.[xliv] Symbolically, the United Company’s new motto signified this altered relationship, with “auspicio regis et senatus angliae” signifying a submissive relationship to the Crown and to Parliament, and, most importantly, one that gave prerogative to the state.[xlv]
Davenant’s proposition that the Company was part of the English state is correct, insofar as Parliament’s influence grew vis-à-vis the EIC’s jurisdiction and sovereignty. This, however, was not without an active response on behalf of the EIC, as the new United Company prospered. Their acquisition of the zamindari motivated the construction of Fort William, finished in 1706, to provide for then-nascent Calcutta’s defence. From the eighteenth century’s onset, Bengal increasingly became the hub for Company commerce, aided by the acquisition of a new, widely respected, powerful farman. John Surman was dispatched by the Company in 1714 with the aim of receiving a farman from the Court of Farrukhsiyar (r. 1713-1719), and securing specific requests including: trading concessions, greater security for British goods, immunity from the demands of other Mughal vassals and tributaries regarding Calcutta, perpetual zamindari rights over the area surrounding Calcutta, and the right to legal jurisdiction over any Mughal subject who broke Company law within their jurisdiction in Bengal.[xlvi] The list of demands exemplifies the Company’s attempt to consolidate its commercial and political sovereignty, especially in Bengal. After a three-year wait and at high financial cost, Surman eventually received three farmans from Farrukhsiyar, “giving the Company the right to trade free of customs duty in Bengal, Gujarat … and the Deccan (including the Carnatic).”[xlvii] The farmans, in addition to duty free trade, also replaced customs payment obligations with a fixed annual payment, a condition quite beneficial to the EIC’s commercial objectives.
With the creation of the United Company and Surman’s acquisition of Farrukhsiyar’s farman, the EIC’s sovereignty evolved into its tripartite form. Its evolution took over 100 years, and was not yet fully developed, with mid-eighteenth-century conflicts making the Company a South Asian territorial power. Despite this, the modalities of the Company’s tripartite sovereignty assumed form by the 1720s. The Company’s disputes with the English government resulted in a renewed charter, which confirmed the EIC’s monopolistic jurisdiction over Indian Ocean trade. This grant gave the Company jurisdiction over British[xlviii] persons throughout the Indian Ocean world. Company-Mughal relations also stabilized, with the latter entering a period of decline and the Company’s acquisition of Farrukhsiyar’s charter, which expanded their commercial and political privileges throughout South Asia and, most importantly, in Bengal. The Company’s own autochthonous sovereignty lay within the administration of their holdings, particularly in Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta. The Company’s autochthonous administrative practices, including the use of EIC in the Presidencies and the collection of taxes from white and non-white residents in Calcutta, made the corporation the undisputable sovereign controller of its territories, though its control was inextricably linked to the British Crown and the Mughal Empire.
Part IV: Qua Sovereign, 1719-1765
In 1719, Emperor Farrukhsiyar was deposed and executed, bringing to completion a slow, thirty-year erosion of Mughal imperial power, and, consequently, the empire’s ability to influence the Indian Ocean trade .[xlix] After Auraungzeb’s (r.1658-1707) death, the Mughal bureaucracy lost much of its ability to govern its territories, as four wars of succession fragmented the Empire. The system of revolving appointments to administrative offices ended, allowing individual Mughal officeholders to consolidate power and essentially become independent rulers. In Bengal, for instance, nawab Murshid Quli Khan (r.1717-1727) consolidated a number of important offices and reformed the tax collection system, thus creating a de facto sovereign state, albeit one that paid homage to the Mughal Emperor. [l] For the Company, the Mughal Empire’s decentralization, coupled with the rise of the Marathas in western India, initiated confrontation with local rulers, who were, at this time, generally intransigent to the EIC’s goals of commercial domination and the consolidation of local power.[li] Murshid Quli Khan’s death brought with it growing conflict between an ascendant Company, buoyed by commercial strength and increasingly integrated into Bengal’s economy, and the local nawabs.[lii]Tension between the Company in Bengal and local nawabs eventually erupted into conflict, with Robert Clive’s forces eventually winning on behalf of EIC domination over northeastern South Asia by 1765, partly due to his victory at the decisive 1757 Battle of Plassey, as well as Hector Munro’s at Buxar in 1764.
The Company also experienced a changing relationship with the British government during this time period. The EIC became an integral part of the British state’s financial apparatus, operating as a moneylender in exchange for the maintenance of its commercial monopoly. Liquidity for these loans and occasional gifts came from short-term, fixed interest bonds floated by the EIC, which brought City of London merchants into the Company’s financial networks.[liii]The EIC’s relationship with the British government was thus stable throughout the first half of the eighteenth century, owing to, as Lucy Sutherland describes, the Company’s need for Parliament to renew its charter and Parliament’s need for Company aid in public finance.[liv] The Company’s ability to direct its own actions in Britain, however, was increasingly restrained, as the increasingly one-sided relationship with Parliament made masking the latter’s control over EIC jurisdiction impossible.
Between 1717 and the Carnatic Wars (1746-1763), the Company enjoyed autonomy in South Asia. Supported by favourable trading conditions, a stable relationship with the British government, and a relatively strong financial and military position in an increasingly chaotic Indian subcontinent, the EIC possessed its own independent sovereignty, albeit one established upon shaky foundations. The Company was sovereign over its South Asian holdings, structured since the turn of the eighteenth century into three Presidencies – Bengal, Madras, and Bombay – which became the geographic centers of British commerce and expansion. Its relationship with the dying Mughal state only helped to legitimize its position commercially and especially politically, as, by virtue of its farman, the Company’s administrative and trade practices were further legitimized.[lv]
This period of relative stability and unprecedented Company sovereignty, which lasted from 1717, when Surman received the farmans from Farrukhsiyar, ended with the beginning of the Carnatic Wars in 1746. These conflicts, which pitted the EIC against their French counterpart, the Compagnie française pour le commerce des Indes orientales, were “a seventeen-year struggle […] to exclude the other from trading in India by obtaining a preponderant exclusive influence in three major Indian governments in the east of the subcontinent – in the Carnatic, the Deccan and Bengal.”[lvi] Ultimately, the Carnatic Wars resulted in the destruction of French power in South Asia, leaving the EIC as the only East India Company with the ability to wield considerable terrestrial military power. Towards the end of the Anglo-French conflicts, however, the nawab of Bengal, Siraj ud-Daulah (r.1756-1757), seized Calcutta and Fort William, prompting a British response, which ultimately culminated in the Battle of Plassey and the nawab’s replacement with Mir Jafar (r.1757-1760; 1764-1765). Another spasm of conflict, known as the Bengal War, which lasted from 1759 to 1764 and was contested by the British and a coalition of Indian forces, including those of the weak Mughal Emperor, ended in a decisive Company victory. The 1765 Treaty of Allahabad, which concluded the Bengal War, saw the Company made diwan of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa by the defeated Emperor Shah Alam II (r.1760-1788); moreover, the Company also became the suzerain over nawab Muhammad Ali Khan Wallajah (r. 1749-1795) of the Carnatic.[lvii]
The Treaty of Allahabad consigned to the Company a new set of sovereign responsibilities. The Treaty of Allahabad made the Company a territorial imperial power, rather than merely a commercial one. This new sovereignty was borne not out of necessity but rather out of an ‘unpremeditated’ response to challenges posed by the rise of a French rival, the decline of central Mughal power, and a short-sighted interpretation of Company goals.[lviii] Importantly, the London-based Directorate and the Company’s South Asian leadership had different perceptions of the Company sovereign interest. For the Directorate, a traditional policy of defence, especially against incursions that threatened the Company’s commercial position, had been in place for much of the EIC’s history. In a written defense of its wars, the Company cited that they had entered the war “merely in Support of Mahmud Ally, and in Defence of their commercial Rights, Security to those, and a reasonable Indemnification for their Losses.”[lix] Conversely, Clive’s aggressive interpretation of the Company’s sovereign interest was not antithetical in the greater context of the EIC’s history. The Company had long been pursuing a belligerent diplomatic program in pursuit of commercial and political grants in South Asia. In this light, Clive’s actions and the Company’s growing political responsibilities in India after 1765 hint at continuity, instead of change, in their sovereign policy. For 165 years, the Company’s South Asian policy showed striking continuity; their politics were almost entirely independent from the British government and they largely did as they pleased, including with respect to warfare.
In any case, the EIC had moved away from the hallmarks of both aforementioned periodizations. Regarding the traditional view, the Company had exited its commercial phase, as “Its funding base had been radically changed in 1765 with the acquisition of the diwani and extensive territorial power in Bengal, [which] … had to be protected.”[lx] Thus, there emerged newfound military prerogatives that became central to the Company’s sovereignty; whereas it had derived its profits before the Treaty of Allahabad largely from commerce, it now controlled a relative gold mine in the form of tax collection over a populous and wealthy area. In Subrahmanyam’s view, the EIC, by defeating the Mughals and their confederates in a terrestrial conflict, had progressed past the ‘Age of Contained Conflict.’[lxi] No longer was the Company merely an imperialistic commercial enterprise with a dispersed collection of small South Asian territories; now, the EIC was a genuine terrestrial military and imperial power with a sizeable domain, unconstrained by existential threats to its ability to generate revenue.
Part V: Deletion, 1765-1773
After the 1690s, and through 1765, British politics affected but did not change the Company’s sovereignty in South Asia. The relationship between the Company and Parliament was placed on stable but ultimately precarious grounds, but this did not stop the Company’s from pursuing trade through its South Asian commercial operations or within its holdings. Though the size and scope of Company titles and holdings changed dramatically after 1765, the Company nonetheless possessed Mughal concessions for over a century and had been zamindar of Calcutta since the turn of the eighteenth century.
What changed after 1765 was not the structure of the Company’s sovereignty, which remained the same basic form as before. The tripartite composite sovereignty, consisting of British, Mughal, and autochthonous components, had existed in maturity for over fifty years. Its modalities were adapted to the specific geographic setting, but its integral elements remained grounded in a pattern that gave the Company a great deal of operative freedom, especially in diplomacy and administration. The British government ensured the Company’s monopoly over Indian Ocean trade and its basic jurisdiction, Mughal concessions and titles gave the EIC commercial and political legitimacy within South Asia, and the Company’s own state-building efforts in its holdings prior to Plassey advanced its autochthonous authority.
Instead, the scale of Company sovereignty changed dramatically after 1765. Becoming diwan of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa launched the Company into an administrative position over its own state, the wealthiest area on the subcontinent.[lxii] The 1765 Treaty of Allahabad, which made the EIC diwan, and an associated treaty with the nawab of Oudh that imposed a British garrison and an alliance, gave the Company “over some 20 million people in Bengal together with access to a revenue of about £3 million, and it took British influence nearly up to Delhi.”[lxiii] Moreover, the British paid the nawab of the Carnatic an annual payment for the defense of his territory, thus ensuring their effective dominion over his territory. With these various obligations, the Company secured for itself a fief stretching from the Ganges Delta to north-central India, as well as a client state in subcontinent’s southeast.
Though the EIC’s London leadership often professed following the Treaty of Allahabad that “the Company’s priorities remained commercial rather than territorial or political,” with more territory and greater financial obligations came added responsibilities for administration.[lxiv] These responsibilities lay almost entirely under the jurisdiction of those in India; London, owing largely to the sheer distance between Britain and South Asia, “had little knowledge of local conditions, no precedents to guide them, and no administrative blueprint to apply to their empire.”[lxv] Thus, the task fell largely to Robert Clive, with the prerogative of creating a system by which the EIC could exploit their new source of revenue, as collecting tax and rent required a bureaucratic system capable of doing so.[lxvi] In other words, Mughal office priorities, such as the diwan now held by the Company, rapidly outstripped commercial prerogatives, which necessitated a restructuring of the EIC’s South Asian administration and bureaucracy. With this in mind, Clive established a ‘dual system,’ where the Company assigned to itself a largely supervisory role, while maintaining the existing South Asian administrative and bureaucratic structures. Relative to the Company’s sovereignty, this new revenue source required the construction of a means of exploitation, which, in practice, meant the continuation of local governance. The only real change in this regard was that the East India Company, rather than a nawab, reaped the benefits, bolstering, for a short time, the Company’s own autochthonous sovereignty.
The Company’s tripartite sovereignty, however, came under new and decisive threats. As H. V. Bowen writes, “the acquisition of a territorial empire in India administered a powerful external shock to the East India Company in Britain.”[lxvii] Wild speculation on the Company’s stock, wrought by the potential growth associated with the conquest of a new territories, and conflicts over the East India Company’s management begot massive institutional change that resulted, by 1773, in the end of the EIC’s sovereignty.
Following the conquest of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa, Parliament had allowed the Company to retain its sovereignty over its new territories in exchange for an annual tribute of £400,000. A new financial motive arose for greater Parliament oversight and control over the East India Company, however—a situation compounded by a government facing monetary issues resultant from the Seven Years War (1756-1763).[lxviii] Seeking a greater share of Company profits from South Asia, Parliament launched its first inquiry into the EIC’s affairs in 1767, which, in Philip Lawson’s view, “foreshadowed much of the ground covered in the important parliamentary investigations of the next two decades.”[lxix] The relative failure of the 1767 inquiry, the inability of the Company to reform itself to better manage own affairs, and the financial prerogatives of the British state all boiled over in 1773 with Lord North’s Regulating Act, which affected both the Directorate and the EIC’s South Asian governance.[lxx]
The Regulating Act introduced the office of Governor-General, who would be responsible for overseeing all three Presidencies, and a Supreme Court; its effect on the Company’s sovereignty was devastating. Not only did it open the way for a string of subsequent India Acts and charter revisions, which further limited the Company’s autonomy, but it also marked the end of the sovereign East India Company. Parliament used its powers to enforce strict oversight over EIC operations and to absolve the Company of some of its administrative responsibilities. Simply, the Company no longer possessed supreme power or authority over its holdings or its administrations, thus losing its sovereignty as defined at the onset of this paper. William Pitt’s India Act of 1784 followed shortly after, following an abortive motion by Lord North to begin the Company’s dissolution, and a bill, proposed by the Fox-North coalition, which would have subordinated EIC administration to the British government and completely overhauled its constitution.[lxxi] The 1784 India Act was similar to the Fox-North bill, except that it stayed away from charter reform, focusing instead on keeping the Company intact while instituting further political and diplomatic oversight, both in London and in South Asia. The result was that the Company was now a subject of the British government, having entirely lost its autonomy.[lxxii]
Part VI: Conclusion
In the end, the Company’s sovereignty was destroyed as a result of the expansion of its scope. The Treaty of Allahabad put the Company into an unprecedented administrative and political position, one that was in open contradiction with its charter as a mercantile corporation and in direct opposition with Parliament’s fiscal concerns. Parliament, using its prerogative assumed during the creation of the United Company, decisively solved this contradiction by absolving the Company from its autochthonous administrative sovereignty and from the authority associated with its Mughal offices.
James Turner Johnson, in his 2014 work Sovereignty: Moral and Historical Perspectives, mistakes the sovereign commercial-political relationship between Europeans and non-Europeans, and, in the process, shows the value of analyzing the Company’s tripartite sovereignty. He notes that “[European] Trading relations with other parts of the world began in the form of an organized reciprocity, but this changed to hegemonic relations first in the conquest, settlement, and fortification of centers designed to support trade and exploration […].”[lxxiii] The Company’s sovereignty cannot be grounded in either organized reciprocity or hegemonic relations. Drawing on sovereignty from its charter, Mughal concessions and farmans, and its own administrative and diplomatic practices, the Company independently asserted itself in South Asia through sovereign adaptation, always armed with the goal of expanding their revenue and, eventually, seizing territory. This atypical process defies Johnson’s typification of European sovereignty in an imperial context. The Company was neither a political equal of the Mughal Empire or a hegemon-in-waiting; it was defined by its flexible, tripartite sovereignty, adapted to ever-changing political circumstances.
Although the Company retained de jure administrative control over India after 1773, it lost its sovereignty. As mentioned at the onset, the Company’s sovereign was never Westphalian, insofar as it never administrated territory independent of the grants of either Britain or the Mughal Empire. Its role as a corporation went beyond its original charter, developing into a politico-territorial state. Outside of its charter, its farmans, and its holdings, it was little else beyond a collection of capital, merchants, and employees, and, when Queen Victoria became Empress of India, she was doing so as the successor of the Company; she was a sovereign whose powers were administered by Britain’s Parliament, with her role in India confirmed by a patchwork of treaties and holdings descendant from the Mughal Empire and the East India Company.
Documents & Laws:
An Act for Establishing Certain Regulations for the Better Management of the Affairs of the East India Company, as well in India as in Europe, 1773, 13 Geo. 3, c. 63.
Charles II, King of England, and England and Wales. Sovereign. A proclamation for the restraining all his majesties subjects but the East- India Company, to trade to the East-Indies. London, 1681. The Making of the Modern World, http://tinyurl. galegroup.com/tinyurl/9PUTc9. Accessed 7 Mar. 2019.
Child, Josiah, et al. A discourse concerning trade, and that in particular of the East-Indies, wherein several weighty propositions are fully discussed, and the state of the
East-India Company is faithfully stated. London, 1689. The Making of the Modern World, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/9PT5A1. Accessed 7 Mar. 2019.
Davenant, Charles. An essay on the East-India-trade. By the author of The essay upon wayes and means. London, 1696. The Making of the Modern World, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/9VhD67. Accessed 17 Mar. 2019.
East India Company. The Conduct of the East-India Company, with respect to their wars, &c. London, 1767. The Making of the Modern World, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/9R4oo7. Accessed 10 Mar. 2019. Indian Independence Act, 1947, 10 & 11 Geo. 6, c. 30.
Reasons humbly offered against grafting or splicing, and for dissolving this present East-India Company, or, joint-stock: and erecting and establishing a new national joint-stock or company. More extensive and universal, on a better constitution of settlement. London, 1690. The Making of the Modern World, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/9QAyP7. Accessed 8 Mar. 2019.
The Governor and Company of Merchants of London, Trading into the East-Indies. Lawes or Standing Orders, Made and Ordeyned by the Governor and Company of Marchants of London Trading to the East-Indyes, For the Better Governing of the Affaires and Actions of Said Company Heere in England Residing. London, 1621. The Making of the Modern World, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/9EB832. Accessed 23 Feb. 2019.
Alam, Muzaffar. “A Muslim State in a Non-Muslim Context.” Essay. In Mirror for the Muslim Prince, edited by Mehzrad Boroujerdi, 160–89. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2013.
Ali, M. Athar. “The Mughal Polity—A Critique of Revisionist Approaches.” Modem Asian Studies 27, no. 4 (1993): 699–710.
Ali, M. Athar. "Towards an Interpretation of the Mughal Empire." In The State in India, 1000- 1700, edited by Hermann Kulke, 263-77. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Askari, Syed Hasan. “Mughal Naval Weakness and Aurangzeb's Attitude Towards the Traders and Pirates on the Western Coast.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 24 (1961): 162–70.
Bayly, C. A. Indian Society and the Making of the British Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
Bayly, C. A. Rulers, Townsmen and Bazaars: North Indian Society in the Age of British Expansion, 1770-1870. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Blake, Stephen P. "The Patrimonial-Bureaucratic Empire of the Mughals." The Journal of Asian Studies 39, no. 1 (November 1979): 77-94.
Bowen, H. V. The Business of Empire: The East India Company and Imperial Britain, 1756-1833. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Bryant, G. J. The Emergence of British Power in India, 1600-1784: A Grand Strategic Interpretation. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 2013.
Bryant, G.J. "Pacification in the Early British Raj, 1755–85." The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 14, no. 1 (1985): 3-19.
Chakrabarty, Dipesh. "Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History: Who Speaks for "Indian" Pasts?" Representations 37, no. Special Issue: Imperial Fantasies and Postcolonial Histories (Winter 1992): 1-26.
Fisher, Michael H. “Diplomacy in India, 1526–1858.” Essay. In Britain's Oceanic Empire: Atlantic and Indian Ocean Worlds, c. 1550-1850, edited by H. V. Bowen, Elizabeth Mancke, and John G. Reid, 249–81. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
Horwitz, Henry. "The East India Trade, the Politicians, and the Constitution: 1689-
1702." Journal of British Studies 17, no. 2 (Spring 1978): 1-18.
Johnson, James Turner. Sovereignty: Moral and Historical Perspectives. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2014.
Kaicker, Abhishek. The King and the People: Sovereignty and Popular Politics in Mughal Delhi. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020.
Keith, Arthur Berriedale. A Constitutional History of India, 1600-1935. Abingdon: Routledge, 2018.
Lawson, Philip. The East India Company: A History. New York, NY: Longman, 1993.
Lawson, Philip. “Parliament and the First East India Inquiry, 1767.” Parliamentary History 1, no. 1 (1982): 99–114.
Marshall, P.J. "The British in Asia: Trade to Domination, 1700-1765." In The Oxford History of the British Empire: The Eighteenth Century, edited by P.J. Marshall, 487-507. Vol. II. The Oxford History of the British Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Richards, John F. The Mughal Empire. Vol. 5. The New Cambridge History of India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Stern, Philip J. “Company, State, and Empire: Governance and Regulatory Frameworks in Asia.”
Essay. In In Britain's Oceanic Empire: Atlantic and Indian Ocean Worlds, c. 1550-1850, edited by H. V. Bowen, Elizabeth Mancke, and John G. Reid, 130–50. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
Stern, Philip J. "History and Historiography of the English East India Company: Past, Present, and Future!" History Compass 7, no. 4 (July 2009): 1146-180.
Stern, Philip J. The Company-State: Corporate Sovereignty and the Early Modern Foundations of the British Empire in India. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Subrahmanyam, Sanjay. Penumbral Visions: Making Polities in Early Modern South India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Sutherland, Lucy S. The East India Company in Eighteenth-Century Politics. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952.
[i] Indian Independence Act, 1947, 10 & 11 Geo. 6, c. 30.
[ii] The East India Company (1600-1874) was an English, and later British, entity, which, at different points in its history, was a joint-stock corporation, “maritime trading company,” and imperial state. Founded by a group of merchants in London and given a royal monopoly over trade from the Indian Ocean, the Company became financially and politically powerful by the beginning of the 18th century. Beginning in the 17th century, the East India Company also owned territory in India, starting with a handful of small coastal enclaves that the Company used to conduct much of its trade. In the middle of the 18th century, a series of wars saw the East India Company conquer large parts of north-eastern South Asia. From there, the Company continued to expand in South Asia, using a sizeable private army and aggressive diplomacy to subjugate the subcontinent by 1818, when it emerged victorious in the Third Anglo-Maratha War (1817-1818). Company administration in South Asia, though, was fraught with scandals and administrative issues, and after the First War of Independence in 1858, the British government absolved the East India Company of its rule. The Company did, for a short time, outlast the loss of its territories, but the British Parliament finally disestablished the corporation in 1874. H. V. Bowen, The Business of Empire: The East India Company and Imperial Britain, 1756-1833 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 7.
[iii] Sovereignty is defined herein as ‘supreme power or authority,’ following the New Oxford American Dictionary.
[iv] The Mughal Empire (1526-1857) was a powerful pre- and early-modern state which dominated most of the Indian subcontinent by the late 17th century. Founded in 1526 by Babur, a Central Asian descendant of Timur, the Mughal Empire, over the course of almost two centuries, conquered much of South Asia. Politically, the Empire was an “intrusive, centralizing system which unified the subcontinent,” which, before its decline, efficiently ruled over tens of millions of diverse subjects. Of important note, terrestrial land was central to the Mughal Empire, with its leadership “governed by an aggressively martial ethos,” until 1689, at which point a thirty-year deterioration of imperial power began. A series of succession wars, beginning with the death of the Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707 and ending in 1720, “broke” “the centralized structure of [the] empire.” The Empire never politically recovered, but it persisted until the British deposed the last Emperor Bahadur Shah II following the First War of Independence in 1857. John F. Richards, The Mughal Empire, vol. 5, The New Cambridge History of India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 1, 282-283, and 291.
[v] The East India Company is referred to in this paper alternatively as the Company or as the EIC.
[vi] An Act for Establishing Certain Regulations for the Better Management of the Affairs of the East India Company, as well in India as in Europe, 1773, 13 Geo. 3, c. 63.
[vii] This paper owes an intellectual debt to Philip Stern’s 2011 book The Company-State: Corporate Sovereignty and the Early Modern Foundations of the British Empire in India. Central to this study, Stern analyzes the independent administrative and sovereign structures created by the EIC prior to the Battle of Plassey, an idea that breaks with traditional Company historiography, which held that the EIC only began colonial state-building in its ‘imperial’ era. Philip J. Stern, The Company-State: Corporate Sovereignty and the Early Modern Foundations of the British Empire in India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).
[viii] Bowen, The Business of Empire, 3.
[ix] Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Penumbral Visions: Making Polities in Early Modern South India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001), 3.
[x] Bowen, The Business of Empire, 5.
[xi] Dipesh Chakrabarty, "Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History: Who Speaks for "Indian" Pasts?" Representations 37, no. Special Issue: Imperial Fantasies and Postcolonial Histories (Winter 1992), 6.
[xii] Stern, The Company-State, 7.
[xiii] Philip Lawson, The East India Company: A History (New York, NY: Longman, 1993), 20.
[xiv] In 1639, the Company acquired the strip of land that would become Madras from the penultimate Emperor of Vijayanagara, Venkata III (r.1632-1642).
[xv] The Governor and Company of Merchants of London, Trading into the East-Indies, Lawes or Standing Orders, Made and Ordeyned by the Governor and Company of Marchants of London Trading to the East-Indyes, For the Better Governing of the Affaires and Actions of Said Company Heere in England Residing (London, 1621), 50.
[xvi] The Governor and Company of Merchants of London, Lawes or Standing Orders.
[xvii] Richards, The Mughal Empire, 299.
[xviii] Quoted in Stern, The Company-State, 10.
[xix] The Governor and Company of Merchants of London, Lawes or Standing Orders.
[xx] Stephen P. Blake, "The Patrimonial-Bureaucratic Empire of the Mughals," The Journal of Asian Studies 39, no. 1 (November 1979).
[xxi] Blake, "The Patrimonial-Bureaucratic Empire of the Mughals," 79.
[xxii] Blake, "The Patrimonial-Bureaucratic Empire of the Mughals," 79.
[xxiii] In theory, by rotating bureaucrats, any individual could not build close enough ties to any specific region to create autonomous power structures that could challenge the Emperor’s authority.
[xxiv] Richards, The Mughal Empire, 299.
[xxv] Abhishek Kaicker, The King and the People: Sovereignty and Popular Politics in Mughal Delhi (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), 7.
[xxvi] As Abhishek Kaicker notes, “the conception of an absolute ruling imperial power is readily discernible in the ethical treatises (akhlāq) produced by [Mughal] courtly intellectuals.” Kaicker, The King and the People, 8.
[xxvii] Kaicker, The King and the People, 8.
[xxviii] Justice, in akhlāq texts, “is defined as social harmony, the coordinated balance of the conflict claims of the diverse interest-groups that may as well adhere to more than one religion in an ideal state.” Kaicker, The King and the People, 8 and Muzaffar Alam, “A Muslim State in a Non-Muslim Context,” in Mirror for the Muslim Prince, ed. Mehzrad Boroujerdi (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2013), 174. There is the further issue presented with the conceptual use of sovereignty that concerns those governed. This paper does not address such concerns, however, as the focus herein lies on a theoretical conception of power and authority, removed in most senses from the subjective experience of those governed.
[xxix] C. A. Bayly, Rulers, Townsmen and Bazaars: North Indian Society in the Age of British Expansion, 1770-1870, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) and M. Athar Ali, “The Mughal Polity—A Critique of Revisionist Approaches,” Modem Asian Studies 27, no. 4 (1993), 704.
[xxx] Stern, The Company-State, 82.
[xxxi] Richards, The Mughal Empire, 303.
[xxxii] Stern, The Company-State, 82.
[xxxiii] Stern, The Company-State, 41
[xxxiv] P.J. Marshall, "The British in Asia: Trade to Domination, 1700-1765," in The Oxford History of the British Empire: The Eighteenth Century, ed. P.J. Marshall, vol. II, The Oxford History of the British Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 498-499.
[xxxv] Stern, The Company-State, 26. The English had acquired Bombay, along with Tangiers, as part of Catherine of Braganza’s dowry when she married King Charles II; Bombay was leased to the East India Company in 1668.
[xxxvi] Quoted in Stern, The Company-State, 27.
[xxxvii] Lawson, The East India Company, 45.
[xxxviii] Charles II, King of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Sovereign. A Proclamation for the Restraining All His Majesties Subjects but the East-India Company, to Trade to the East-Indies, (London, 1681).
[xxxix] Quoted in Stern, The Company-State, 70.
[xl] Stern, The Company-State, 143.
[xli] Reasons humbly offered against grafting or splicing, and for dissolving this present East-India Company, or, joint-stock: and erecting and establishing a new national joint-stock or company. More extensive and universal, on a better constitution of settlement. (London, 1690), 4.
[xlii] Quoted in Henry Horwitz, "The East India Trade, the Politicians, and the Constitution: 1689-1702," Journal of British Studies 17, no. 2 (Spring 1978), 6.
[xliii] Horwitz, "The East India Trade, the Politicians, and the Constitution: 1689-1702," 10-11.
[xliv] Stern, The Company-State, 163 & Charles Davenant. An essay on the East-India-trade. By the author of The essay upon wayes and means.(London, 1696).
[xlv] “Auspicio regis et senatus angliae” translates to ‘By rule of the king and the parliament of England’ (author’s translation). Stern, The Company-State, 163.
[xlvi] Stern, The Company-State, 201-202.
[xlvii] G. J. Bryant, The Emergence of British Power in India, 1600-1784: A Grand Strategic Interpretation (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 2013), 109.
[xlviii] The 1707 Act of Union united England and Scotland to form Great Britain, thus the demonymic transition from English to British.
[xlix] As Richards wrote, “Mughal military power was land-based – not maritime. … [Mughal] Emperors never considered or pursued expansion by sea.” Richards, The Mughal Empire, 283 and 290 and Syed Hasan Askari, “Mughal Naval Weakness and Aurangzeb's Attitude Towards the Traders and Pirates on the Western Coast,” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 24 (1961).
[l] Stern, The Company-State, 204.
[li] Bayly, Rulers, Townsmen and Bazaars.
[lii] Lawson, The East India Company, 69-70.
[liii] Lawson, The East India Company, 75.
[liv] Lucy S. Sutherland, The East India Company in Eighteenth-Century Politics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952), 5.
[lv] Despite the Mughal Empire’s decline, the EIC, in 1765, “formally acknowledged its subjection to Mughal sovereignty,” and this symbolic recognition continued beyond the British government’s absolution of the Company’s own sovereignty. For instance, after the EIC’s capture of Delhi in 1803, at which point the Emperor became a British prisoner, the local resident “ceremoniously submitted nazr to the Mughal” ruler. Thus, working backwards, Mughal sovereignty still held sway in the period preceding 1765; its political legitimacy remained while its political and military capabilities disintegrated. Michael H. Fisher, “Diplomacy in India, 1526–1858,” in Britain's Oceanic Empire: Atlantic and Indian Ocean Worlds, c. 1550-1850, ed. H. V. Bowen, Elizabeth Mancke, and John G. Reid (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 260.
[lvi] Bryant, The Emergence of British Power in India, 1600-1784, 35.
[lvii] Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa comprise much of modern north-eastern South Asia, including Bangladesh and the Indian states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, parts of Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal.
[lviii] Bryant, The Emergence of British Power in India, 1600-1784, 319.
[lix] East India Company. The Conduct of the East-India Company, with respect to their wars, &c. (London, 1767), 38.
[lx] Bryant, The Emergence of British Power in India, 1600-1784, 319.
[lxi] The Company had previously fought the Mughal Empire once before, between 1686 and 1690. The Mughals preemptively attacked the Company at Bombay and successfully lay siege to the town; a peace treaty restoring the status quo was signed shortly thereafter.
[lxii] The specific privileges associated with the diwan title were “rent from land, particular revenue-farming privileges, rights to fines and forfeitures, and rights to customs,” all of which had been asserted and extracted in some way in Company territories for almost a century.” Philip J. Stern, “Company, State, and Empire: Governance and Regulatory Frameworks in Asia,” in In Britain's Oceanic Empire: Atlantic and Indian Ocean Worlds, c. 1550-1850, ed. H. V. Bowen, Elizabeth Mancke, and John G. Reid (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 146.
[lxiii] P.J. Marshall, "The British in Asia: Trade to Domination, 1700-1765,” 492.
[lxiv] Bowen, The Business of Empire, 8.
[lxv] Bowen, The Business of Empire, 195.
[lxvi] Retroactively, however, the Directorate did establish basic principles and rules on which the Company’s South Asian empire would be governed. Their motivation lay in quelling the “corruption, extortion, and misrule that had accompanied territorial expansion between 1757 and 1765,” as well as in forming “an efficient, moderate, rational, and well-ordered regime.” Bowen, The Business of Empire, 197.
[lxvii] Bowen, The Business of Empire, 54.
[lxviii] Philip Lawson, “Parliament and the First East India Inquiry, 1767,” Parliamentary History 1, no. 1 (1982), 100.
[lxix] Lawson, “Parliament and the First East India Inquiry, 1767,” 108.
[lxx] An Act for Establishing Certain Regulations for the Better Management of the Affairs of the East India Company, as well in India as in Europe, 1773, 13 Geo. 3, c. 63.
[lxxi] Arthur Berriedale Keith, A Constitutional History of India, 1600-1935 (Abingdon: Routledge, 2018), 93. Dundas’ Bill, amended by Charles Fox, passed in the Commons but was defeated in the Lords after King George III (r. 1760-1820) declared that any peer who voted for it was his enemy.
[lxxii] Though outside of this study’s temporal scope, Warren Hastings’ impeachment trial deserves some recognition. Having been the first Governor-General established in Bengal following the Regulating Act, Parliament tried Hastings on the charges of corruption and mismanagement in a trial which lasted seven years. If anything, Hastings’ trial is a symbolic representation of Parliament’s control over the its empire in South Asia. No longer was there any ambiguity in authority or Company autonomy; all of the EIC’s affairs were, by this point, directly under the jurisdiction of the British state.
[lxxiii] James Turner Johnson, Sovereignty: Moral and Historical Perspectives (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2014), 120.
Image credit: Painting, portrait of East India Company official, by Dip Chand, opaque watercolour on paper, Murshidabad or Patna, ca. 1760-1764. Held at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Access online here.