British East India Company

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East India Company, British

East India Company, British, 1600–1874, company chartered by Queen Elizabeth I for trade with Asia. The original object of the group of merchants involved was to break the Dutch monopoly of the spice trade with the East Indies. However, after 1623, when the English traders at Amboina were massacred by the Dutch, the company admitted defeat in that endeavor and concentrated its activities in India. It had established its first factory at Machilipatnam in 1611, and it gradually acquired unequaled trade privileges from the Mughal emperors.

Although the company was soon reaping large profits from its Indian exports (chiefly textiles), it had to deal with serious difficulties both in England and in India. During the 17th cent. its monopoly of Indian trade was constantly challenged by independent English traders called “interlopers.” In 1698 a rival company was actually chartered, but the conflict was resolved by a merger of the two companies in 1708. By that time the company had established in India the three presidencies of Madras (now Chennai), Bombay (now Mumbai), and Calcutta (now Kolkata). As Mughal power declined, these settlements became subject to increasing harassment by local princes, and the company began to protect itself by intervening more and more in Indian political affairs.

The British company had, moreover, a serious rival in the French East India Company, which under Joseph François Dupleix launched an aggressive policy of expansion. The victories (1751–60) of Robert Clive over the French made the company dominant in India, and by a treaty of 1765 it assumed control of the administration of Bengal. Revenues from Bengal were used for trade and for personal enrichment. To check the exploitative practices of the company and to gain a share of revenues, the British government intervened and passed the Regulating Act (1773), by which a governor-general of Bengal (whose appointment was subject to government approval) was given charge of all the company's possessions in India. Warren Hastings, the first governor-general, laid the administrative foundations for subsequent British consolidation.

By the East India Act of 1784 the government assumed more direct responsibility for British activities in India, setting up a board of control for India. The company continued to control commercial policy and lesser administration, but the British government became increasingly the effective ruler of India. Parliamentary acts of 1813 and 1833 ended the company's trade monopoly. Finally, after the Indian Mutiny of 1857–58 the government assumed direct control, and the East India Company was dissolved.


See studies by B. Willson (1903), H. Furber (1948, repr. 1970), L. Sutherland (1952), B. Gardner (1972), and W. Dalrymple (2019).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

East India Company, British


(1600–1858), a private company formed for trade with the East Indies (India and Southeast Asia) and China. It was gradually transformed into a political organization and a bureaucratic machine used by the British government to exploit and rule captured territories.

From 1623 the British East India Company made India the focus of its operations. The company exported fabrics, yarn, indigo, opium, and saltpeter from India to other Asian countries, as well as to Europe. During the first half of the 17th century trade was conducted primarily through Surat. Later, Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta, all of which were founded by the company, became its principal strongholds. The British East India Company consolidated its influence in India by waging a struggle against its European rivals (the Portuguese, as well as the Dutch and French East India companies) and against local rulers, using bribery, blackmail, and military force. During the wars of the 18th century the French East India Company (founded in 1719 as an outgrowth of the East India and other French trading companies) was vanquished, and the British East India Company won a monopoly over the exploitation of India.

As early as the 17th century the British East India Company had obtained a number of state prerogatives: the right to wage war and conclude peace (1661), to mint coins, to hold field courts-martial, and to have its own army and fleet (1686). After 1757 (the battle of Plassey) the company captured Bengal and a number of other territories.

In the second half of the 18th century the British East India Company’s principal activity became not trade but collecting taxes, as well as administering and plundering captured territories. By 1849 the British East India Company had subordinated all of India, and by 1852 Lower Burma. Its revenues from trade, taxes, and plunder were an important source for the primary accumulation of capital.

The colonial exploitation of India by the British East India Company resulted in the death and impoverishment of millions of Indians, the decline of commercial handicrafts production, the ruin of agriculture, and substantial changes in agrarian relations.

From the 18th century the autonomy of the British East India Company began to provoke dissatisfaction among the rising British industrial bourgeoisie, which claimed the right to a share in the profits to be made from exploiting India. As a result of the adoption by the British Parliament of a number of acts (1773, 1784, 1813, 1833, and 1853) the court of directors of the East India Company was subordinated to a board of control appointed by the crown. The governor-general of the possessions of the British East India Company was to be appointed by the prime minister. The company’s dividend was limited to 10 percent. The British East India Company’s monopoly on trade with India was abolished in 1813, and in 1833 the company was prohibited from engaging in trade. In 1858, as a result of the Indian Popular Uprising of 1857–59, the British East India Company was dissolved. (Shareholders were paid compensation totaling £3 million.) From that time India was directly subordinate to a state secretary (minister) for Indian affairs, as well as to a British viceroy.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. Sock, 2nd ed., vol. 9.
Antonova, K. A. Angliiskoe zavoevanie Indii v XVIII veke. Moscow, 1958.
The Cambridge History of India, vol. 5. Cambridge, 1929.
Mukherjee, R. The Rise and Fall of the East India Company. Berlin, 1958.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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