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British East India Company

Coat of ArmsThe Coat of Arms of the British East India Company, with their slogan "Auspicio Regis Et Senatus Anglia," Latin for "By the authority of the King and Parliament of England."
The British East India Company was a privately owned company which was established to create profitable trade with countries in the region of Asia called the "East Indies". Granted a Royal Charter by Queen Elizabeth in 1600, it became one of the most powerful mercantile organizations in the world by maintaining a monopoly on the importation of exotic goods (notably cotton, tea, and silk) from India into Britain. It also maintained a standing military, which was used in many cases to consolidate and enforce local authority in Indian territories. Official Company rule of India, or raj, began in 1757, and was in full swing during the Romantic period, only coming to a close in 1858 following a bloody uprising and revolution.

During the Romantic period, two "Charter Acts" regarding the Company were passed. The first, enacted in 1793, renewed the Company's charter for another 20 years, and essentially made very few changes to the established roles of the Company and its officers. By 1813, however, political upheavals, particularly in the case of Warren Hastings, had made the Company's brutal methods a contested topic. Another twenty year renewal of the Company's charter passed, but the act asserted the British crown's absolute sovereignty over Company controlled territories, revoked the Company's monopoly over trade with India, and, perhaps most interestingly, opened Indian territories to missionaries.

In addition to establishing political and economic aspects of imperial power, the East India Company's influence on British society was great. The availability of new and exciting products from foreign lands was very significant in the evolution of British identity, clearly evidenced by the well-known custom of "tea-time". The fascination that many Romantic literary figures had with the "Orient" was undoubtedly due in some part to the East India Company's dealings.

Jody Dunville

Select Bibliography

Wild, Antony. The East India Company: Trade and Conquest from 1600. New York: HarperCollins, 2000. Print.