A brief history of the British East India Company

Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:East_India_House_by_Thomas_Malton_the_Younger.jpg. Public Domain.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:East_India_House_by_Thomas_Malton_the_Younger.jpg. Public Domain.

The British East India Company was one of the most powerful organizations in the world for over 200 years. It was responsible for the colonization of India and played a huge role in shaping the course of Indian history. In this article, we will take a brief look at the history of the British East India Company, from its humble beginnings to its eventual demise.


The East India Company was founded on the 31st of December 1600, with the goal of establishing trade relations with the East Indies. The company was established by a group of more than 200 English merchants who appealed to Queen Elizabeth I, who was then the queen of England. As a result, the Queen issued the company with a Royal Charter, allowing it to monopolize trade in the Far East.


In 1601, the East India Company built its first trading posts in Bantam and Moluccas. The company then began to expand its operations, eventually establishing a network of trading posts across the Indian subcontinent.

The East India Company and the Mughal Empire

The East India Company's expansion into India was not without its challenges. The most significant challenge came in the form of the Mughal Empire, which was then one of the most powerful empires in the world. 


In 1612, the English king James I sent a request to the Mughal Emperor Nur-ud-din Salim Jahangir, asking for permission for the British East India Company to enter Indian territory. The Mughals were initially reluctant to allow the East India Company to establish itself in India.


The British East India Company sought coveted trading privileges in India in exchange for British pledges to send the Mughal emperor exclusively manufactured products from Europe. Jahangir eventually accepted the conditions of the British proposal.


The British East India Company began operations in 1607, and by 1647 it had established 23 factories in India, including ones in Bengal, Madras, and Bombay. Cotton, silk, dyes, saltpetre, and tea were the main commodities sought by the company at this time.


In 1670, Charles II passed several laws to strengthen the British East India Company's position in India. In general, these statutes permitted the firm to expand into new areas, establish its own currency, and organize an army and build fortresses. The British East India Company's success in the textile industry was due, in part, to factors such as this. As a result, during the 17th and 18th centuries, it became the world leader in textile trade with India.


The British East India Company began to create its own private armies in order to spread throughout India. For example, the European nations in India frequently recruited and employed Indian males into their own military forces, called sepoys. Sepoys were Indian troops who fought for European corporations during the colonial period.

The East India Company and Colonialism

The company quickly grew in power and influence, and by the mid-1700s, it had become one of the most powerful organizations in the world.  On 23 June 1757, the British East India Company routed the Nawab (Muslim rulers) of Bengal and his French allies in the Battle of Plassey. The French also assisted the Nawabs, who had their own economic motivation in the area.


The British East India Company's victory in the Battle of Plassey was crucial for two reasons: it provided the company a foothold in Bengal from which to extend throughout India, and it secured its future. The company then began to expand its territory, eventually colonizing India. 


In 1784, Prime Minister William Pitt issued the 'India Act', which placed the company under the direct control of the British government. The British government and the East India Company established a dual system of control in 1757, dividing duties between them. Important political matters were kept for the parliament, while commercial issues were handed over to the company.


From 1757 until 1858, therefore, the British East India Company ruled India as a sort of colony. Because of this, historians have dubbed it 'Company Rule'. By 1857, the British East India Company had at least 267,000 troops under its command.


The company continued to expand its territories and influence throughout the 1800s. However, its power began to decline in the early 1900s, due to a number of factors including internal corruption and external pressure from other European powers. 


The British East India Company's rule over India came to an end with the Indian Rebellion of 1857. The rebellion was sparked by a number of factors, including the company's high taxes, its mistreatment of Indians, and its policy of favouring Europeans over Indians. The rebellion quickly spread across the country, and it took several years for the British to regain control. 


In 1858, the British government took over control of India from the East India Company, and began ruling it as a colony, and the East India Company was eventually dissolved during the 1870s. This began the period of Indian history known as the British Raj. The British Raj was the period of British rule over India from 1858 until 1947. During this time, the British government controlled India's economy, politics, and society. Indian culture and traditions were also greatly influenced by the British Raj.


The legacy of the British East India Company is a mixed one. On the one hand, it was a powerful force that shaped the history of India and played a significant role in the development of the country. On the other hand, its rule was often harsh and oppressive, and it left a legacy of division and conflict that continues to this day. Nevertheless, the company's impact on India cannot be denied. It was an important part of Indian history, and its legacy can still be seen in India today.