Published online by Cambridge University Press: 30 July 2009
Six Amsterdam ships set sail from the Texel roadstead in 1602 with a full crew carrying, along with provisions and armaments, the authority of the newly sealed Charter endorsing the sovereign rights of the Dutch East India Company and its first fleet. The States-General, as the highest ruling body of the United Provinces, had granted the charter on March 20, 1602, and, while it did not literally provide ballast to keep the ships from floundering, it did become the legal cornerstone for VOC operations on the coastal fringes of the Indian Ocean. The Dutch East India Company was undoubtedly first, foremost, and forever preoccupied with trade and profit. Nevertheless, its charter contained the legal conditions of possibility for its transformation from trading company to empire by allowing the enactment of laws to maintain order and discipline within the Company's own ships and settlements and by defining the principles for the Company's engagement with foreign powers, including terms of trade, diplomacy, and conquest. Although not anticipated by the States-General in 1602, the Dutch East India Company created in situ and over time, economic, political, social, legal, and administrative networks through which its partial sovereignties coalesced into an imperial web that spanned a large part of the Company's octrooigebied (charter domain) east of the Cape of Good Hope and through the Straits of Magellan.