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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: May 2020

1 - ‘A Boddy without a Head’

from Part I - Weakness and Adaptation

Summary

This chapter depicts the failure of the English nation state to launch and sustain overseas enterprises in Asia in the early seventeenth century. It reveals that the East India Company was conceived as a mercantilist strategy of monopoly and force by the crown to acquire new markets and sources of wealth beyond the Cape of Good Hope. But a combination of fiscal–military weakness, unrealistic policies fostered on it by the state and a general economic and constitutional crises which engulfed England by the mid-century, all combined to undermine the Company’s attempt to establish itself at Bantam, Japan and on the Coromandel Coast in India. The result was the abandonment by Company servants on the spot in Asia of metropolitan policies in favour of realising their own local private interests of trade, power and transcultural immersion. As the Company teetered on the verge of collapse in England, it left a vacuum of authority and leadership within its factories in Asia, allowing Company servants to seize new opportunities to empower themselves and appropriate Company policies to suit their own interests. As investment, shipping and specie stopped flowing from Europe, Company servants insinuated themselves into pre-existing Asian networks of commerce and influence.

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