The wording was sufficiently ambiguous

Saturday, March 4th, 2023

The royal charter the East India Company received, William Dalrymple’s explains (in The Anarchy), was more expansive than they expected:

As well as freedom from all customs duties for their first six voyages, it gave them a British monopoly for fifteen years over ‘trade to the East Indies’, a vaguely defined area that was soon taken to encompass all trade and traffic between the Cape of Good Hope and the Strait of Magellan, as well as granting semi-sovereign privileges to rule territories and raise armies.

The wording was sufficiently ambiguous to allow future generations of EIC officials to use it to claim jurisdiction over all English subjects in Asia, mint money, raise fortifications, make laws, wage war, conduct an independent foreign policy, hold courts, issue punishment, imprison English subjects and plant English settlements.


  1. Jim says:

    On the one hand, the East India Company, it must be admitted, had something that neither its detractors nor its copycats have been able replicate: style. The East India Company, that is to say, was extremely rad. These are the facts, and they are undeniable.

    On the other hand…

  2. Albion says:

    I don’t know if Mr Dalrymple covers this point, but it was possible for the East India Company to pretty much do what they wanted, given how long it took then for mail and even replacements for officials to arrive. Even if some EIC figure wrote to London from an outpost in China to ask permission to do something, it would be ages before the ‘no’ came back and even then, who was going to come out and check whatever it was had, or hadn’t, been done?

    As the EIC were heavily into making their business work, maybe this lack of fast communication was a feature, not a bug. Sometimes you just have to get on with things; as is often said, it is easier to say ‘sorry’ later than get permission beforehand.

  3. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Buckminster Fuller (yes, that guy) made a similar observation about the English Navy back in the days of colonial expansion and sail. When the fastest way to send a message was to turn the ship around and sail back to London for instructions, naval captains had to be very carefully trained so that every English captain would do the right English thing in any situation without further instruction from the Admiralty in distant London.

    Hence the “playing fields of Eton” and such-like homogenizing features of Upper Class English life.

  4. VXXC says:

    This is how we’ll colonize Space – self improvement [greed]. If it saves the species it’s worth it.

    Every inch of the Northern Hemisphere is defended directly or indirectly by nuclear weapons, overwhelmingly directly. US UK FR RU CN PAK NORK IN are all nuclear powers. Japan can and will be and so will South Korea soon enough. The Southern Hemisphere has Israel [undeclared], Brazil [very quietly], and probably Saudi as well. Nuclear weapons are sovereignty and the rest is nonsense, as Ukraine just proved.

    Space and the Space East India company is the only safe direction to push, especially for the most relentless Imperialists The United States of America.

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