July 16, 2024

By Nakshatra Gujrati

The author is a first year law student at National Law University Odisha and is the founder of LAWOGS.

The East India Company
Photo by vectors icon from Pexels

Why so novel?

India faced various incursions from foreigners. But, the incursion by Britishers was novel in itself, because a group of few people who risked their lives came as merchants who formed the east India company. It gradually attained political power and dominance by waging wars.

The company tastes the power.

On 31st December 1600, a charter by Queen Elizabeth granted them a constitution containing the powers and privileges of the company[1]. But it wasn’t the case that just landing on the shores of India would gather them much-coveted treasures and fame. The growth of the company be it as evil incorporation, was due to sociopaths like Clive.

 Initially, the company was granted limited legislative powers. But granting the law-making power to a company was sui generis in the 17th century. The company was not empowered to give harsher punishments and capital punishments.

Due to this, offences like murder weren’t adequately punished and slowly the company realised that due to less harsh laws it wasn’t able to control the servants of the company.

The company invoked a prerogative of the crown. They vested the powers in the commander in chief of the ship to punish for capital offences. This was called law martial.

The first of such commissions was issued by Queen Elizabeth on 24th January to captain Lancaster[2]. But issuing commissions again and again was becoming problematic so James I on 24th February 1623 granted power of issuing commissions to the company[2].

Roe not diplomat, brings trade proposal.

Robert Clive who was responsible for militarization of the east india company
Sir Thomas Roe ( Wikimedia Commons)

To do business in a foreign land, a charter issued in England wasn’t sufficient. Sir Thomas Roe visited Jahangir who granted the company trade rights and ensured speedy justice. Jahangir was curious to know more about England and wanted to civilise the European savages but this plan was dropped[3]. Kazis and governors were authorised to look into disputes of Englishmen. This doesn’t mean that Englishmen weren’t allowed to follow the English rules.

The Farman by Jehangir stated that Englishmen can live with their religion and personal laws without any interference. But in case, if they entered into controversy with the local population the matter will be entertained by local authorities.

The company comes to Surat.

The Surat Factory Source Wikimedia Commons

Surat was a lucrative place because under the Mogul rule Muslim pilgrims sailed to Arabia. It was also a international port and a way to stay connected to England. As Charter of 1600 empowered the company to carry trade in the territory, but only charter wasn’t sufficient.

The company needed infrastructure and hence they established factories, servant quarters and in due course of time the factories became province and ultimately province became an empire.

The power of company is increased.

It was now time to go beyond disciplining the servants of the company.

The charter of 1661 granted company the power to punish the people whether British or not, If they live in company settlements.

The charter of 1600 just aimed to punish the servants of the company. So, it was limited in scope and power. It was on 3rd April 1661; Charles II granted the power to the company.

Ambitious Clive

Sir Robert Clive Source Wikimedia Commons

Born in 1725, Robert Clive came to India in 1744. Clive was appointed as a clerk in the East India Company. He is known for increasing the political and military power of the East India Company. Clive suffered from depression and remained isolated from people. He tried to commit suicide in his childhood too, he was termed as a sociopath by Dalrymple in his book. He was a crude strategist and adopted the method of puppet government based upon French strategy. He was severely criticized for the Bengal famine. He ultimately committed suicide in 1774. This was how the East India Company gradually shifted from trade to military and political organization.

The British government smells something fishy.

When Clive left India, he had amassed enormous wealth and so did other EIC employees.

These incidents raised the brows of the crown. So, they sought to regulate the company by the regulating act of 1773. After the act, the EIC lost its political and economic autonomy and the possessions of the company were controlled by British governor-general [4].

Fate of the company arises.

During the reign of Lord Wellesley company engaged in several wars which were funded from the company’s purse. This led to financial difficulties for the company.

Napoleon Bonaparte issues decrees forbidding British goods, and this leads to a widespread cry in Britain to grant trade rights.

The charter of 1813 ended its monopoly in India but didn’t have an impact on China and its tea. After the Indian mutiny was crushed in 1858, the British government assumed direct control over India, and finally, in 1873 the East India Company was dissolved [4].



According to the Bluebook 20th Edition



[3] William Darlymple, The East India Company: The original corporate raiders, THE GUARDIAN (Oct. 22, 2021, 9:23 PM), https://www.theguardian.com/

[4] History.com Editors, Charter granted to the East India Company, History (Oct 22, 2021, 11:19 PM), https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/charter-granted-to-the-east-india-company

13 thoughts on “The factory that manufactured colonialism: The East India Company

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