Establishment and expansion of British Empire

Establishment and Expansion of British Rule

Commercial contacts between India and Europeans were very old via the land route but there were various factors of Land-based routes like multiple taxations, theft, conflicts with tribes/kingdoms etc. which led to ease of discovering new trade route directly to India. Therefore in 1494, Columbus of Spain started for India in search of a Sea Route and discovered America instead. In 1498, Vasco da Gama of Portugal discovered a new sea route from Europe to India. He reached Calicut by sailing around Africa via the Cape of Good Hope. This was the first arrival of European in India by Sea route

Arrival of European Trading Company

  • Fall of Constantinople in 1453 to Turks forced Europeans to search the direct sea roots to reach India because India was the supplier of spices & pepper which were fundamental European necessities.
  • Traditionally, the Indian goods like spices & pepper were carried through sea root/land root to Constantinople where these goods were exchanged between Europeans and the Asian merchants.
    • The Arabs were dominating Indian external trade being practiced through sea routes since 1st Century A.D.
    • Multanis were dominant group involved in land trade.
  • In 1453, Constantinople was captured by Turks; they started demanding very high prices from European merchants because Turks and Europeans were having hostile relation. They fought for century with each other before Turk could come victorious. This obstruction of traditional trade made life in Euro-difficult because life in Euro unthinkable without spices & pepper.
  • Struggle for survival forced European to search for direct sea routes to reach India.
  • In 1487, Bartolomeu Dias reached southern tip of Africa named by him a cape of great storms. It was later renamed as Cape of Good Hope. He had to return from this point because as ration/supply got exhausted & many of his co-navigator lost their life.
  • Christopher Columbus tried to reach India by taking different direction but ended up in America for some year believed that land that Columbus reached was other side of Asia.
  • Amerigo was the 1st who explain that it was separate land mass.
  • Vasco da Gama followed the route Bartolomeu Dias & reached Calicut successfully in 1498. He carried pepper from India & made profit of 60 times even after deducting all expense of journey.
  • Success of Vasco da Gama inspired Portuguese merchant to form trading company & this company reached India in 1500 C.
  • Cochin was the early Portuguese headquarter.
  • In 1510, Portuguese captured Goa from Vijapar & here after it became headquarter.
  • Portuguese maintained complete monopoly over external trade for almost 100 year tight help of cartage system.
  • Dutch was 2nd European company in 1600.
  • In Dec 1600, the English trading company was farmed it reached in India in 1608 & established 1st factory at Surat.
  • In 1611, 1st English factory in South was setup at Masulipattnam.
  • In 1639, company got site of Madras from Raja Chandragiri, gradually it became main English center in south.
  • In 1651, 1st English factory in Bengal was established at Hugli in 1698, company purchased Jamindari returns of Sutanuti, Calicut & Govindpur. These villages were merged to create Calcutta & Fort William was built here.
  • Company received Bombay from British crown in 1668; Bombay was originally a Portuguese territory. It was given to British prince Charles in dowry by brink of Portugal in 1661. The same was transferred to East India Company in 1668 at annual rent of 10 pounds. Bombay became main headquarter of English in west.
  • Danes (Denmark) reached India in 1616.
  • French company was last to arrive in India in 1664. It was only Government Company among all European company reached in India.

Europeans Companies in India


Years Events
1498 Portuguese
1600 English East India Company
1602 Dutch East India Company
1616 Danish East India Company
1664 French East India Company

The Portuguese


Years Events
1498 AD Vasco da Gama landed in Calicut.
1503 AD The Portuguese had established their first fort in Cochin in India.
1505 AD Francisco de Almeida was appointed Viceroy of India, on the condition that he would set up four forts on the south western Indian coast: at Anjediva Island, Cannanore, Cochin and Quilon
1509 AD Almeida becomes the first Portuguese to set sail in Bombay. He also brought down a decisive defeat on a joint fleet of the Mamluk Burji (Sultanate of Egypt), the Ottoman Empire, the Zamorin of Calicut and the Sultan of Gujarat, with the naval support from the Republic of Venice and the Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovnik).
1510 AD Afonso de Albuquerque was appointed as the Viceroy of India.
1511 AD Portuguese conquered the City of Malacca Island.
1515 AD Portuguese conquered the Harmuz located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. The death of Viceroy Albuquerque.
1526 AD Portuguese took possession of Mangalore under the viceroyship of Lopo Vaz de Sampaio.
1530 AD Portuguese made Goa as the capital city of its Indian state.
1535 AD The Portuguese took control over Diu.
1559 AD The Portuguese took control over Daman.
1566 AD Treaty between the Portuguese and the Turks
1596 AD Dutch defeated Portuguese and carried out them from Southeast Asia.
1612 AD After defeating the Portuguese in Surat, the British established their factory.
1641 AD The Dutch took the Malacca fort from the Portuguese.
1659 AD Sri Lanka went out of the hands of Portuguese
1663 AD Dutch devoured the Portuguese decisively after capturing all the fort of Malabar.

Arrival of Portuguese in India

It was the Portuguese who first discovered a direct sea route to India. Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama arrived at Calicut an important sea port located on the South-West India on May 20, 1498 AD. King Zamorin, the local rule received him and bestowed on him certain privileges. After staying in India for a period of three months Vasco da Gama returned with a rich cargo which he sold in the European market at an exorbitant price- 60 times the cost of his voyage.

But soon Vasco da Gama came back to India for the second time in 1501 AD. He set up a trading factory at Cannanore. With establishment of trade links, Calicut, Cannanore and Cochin emerged the significant Portuguese centers in India. Arab traders became jealous of the rise and success of the Portuguese and hence caused enmity bred between the Portuguese and the local king Zamorin. The hostilities grew and led to full- fledged military face- off between them. King Zamorin was defeated by the Portuguese. With the victory over Zamorin, the military superiority of the Portuguese was established.

Rise of Portuguese Power in India

In 1505 AD, Francisco de Almeida was appointed as the first Portuguese governor in India. His policy being centric to controlling the Indian Ocean was known as the Blue Water Policy. Alfonso de Albuquerque who replaced Almeida as the governor in 1509 AD, and captured Goa from the Sultan of Bijapur in 1510 AD is considered the real founder of the Portuguese power in India. Goa subsequently became the headquarters of the Portuguese settlements in India.

Portuguese hold over the coastal areas and superiority in naval power helped them significantly. By the end of the 16th century, the Portuguese captured not only Goa, Daman, Diu, and Salsette but also a vast stretches along the Indian coast.

Decline of Portuguese Power

But the Portuguese rise in Indian had a short life as the new rival trading communities from Europe posed a big challenge to them. Struggle among various rival trading blocs ensued in which Portuguese had to give way to the more powerful and enterprising competitors gradually rendering them an atrophied entity.

Major Reasons of Decline of Portuguese Power

Among the many reasons for the decline of Portuguese power in India include Portugal being too small a country to maintain the huge burden of a trading colony located in a far off land, their image as notorious   sea pirates created enmity in the minds of   the native rulers and last but not the least Portuguese rigid religious policy made them the unpopular among the Muslims as well as Hindus of India. Besides the arrival of the Dutch and the British in India finally became nemesis of the Portuguese. Ironically, the Portuguese, who first arrived in India, were the last to withdraw from here in 1961 AD when the Government of India recaptured Goa, Daman and Diu from them.

Cartage System

  • Cartage refers to permit or pass, this system was developed by Portuguese to maintain their monopoly over Indian external trade begin practiced through sea. First Cartage was issued in 1502.
  • Portuguese enjoyed naval supremacy by using their superior naval power. Portuguese could seize any ship to regulate the ships involved in Indian extension trade & to ensure the Portuguese monopoly over sea trade Cartage system development.
  • This system required non-Portuguese ships to visit parts controlled by Portuguese purchase permit by paying fee before venturing into sea.
    • If any ship entered into water without purchasing Cartage, it was seized & goods were confiscated.
  • The Portuguese was so powerful on sea that even Mughal ship had to purchase Cartage from them.
  • Cartage clearly mentioned that ship was not carrying spices, pepper, horses & salt petre (potassium nitrate). These items only traded by Portuguese.
  • Cartage System remained effective till early decade of 17th Century when Portuguese monopoly shattered by Dutch, English & other European company.

The Dutch East India Company

The people of Holland (present Netherlands) are called the Dutch. Next to the Portuguese, the Dutch set their feet in India. Historically the Dutch have been experts in sea trade. In 1602, the United East India Company of the Netherlands was formed and given permission by the Dutch government to trade in the East Indies including India.

Rise of the Dutch

The Dutch founded their first factory in Masulipattnam in Andhra Pradesh in 1605. Subsequently they also established trading centers in various parts of India. Dutch Suratte and Dutch Bengal were established in 1616 AD and 1627 AD respectively. The Dutch conquered Ceylon from the Portuguese in 1656 AD. They also took the Portuguese forts on the Malabar Coast in 1671 AD. The Dutch gradually became a potent force capturing Nagapatam near Madras (Chennai) from the Portuguese thereby establishing their foothold in South India. In economic terms, they earned huge profit through business monopolizing in black pepper and spices. The major Indian commodities traded by the Dutch were cotton, indigo, silk, rice and opium.

Dutch Coinage

The Dutch, during their stay in India, tried their hands on the minting of coinages. As their trade flourished they established mints at Cochin, Masulipattam, Nagapatam Pondicherry and Pulicat. Even more, Gold pagoda with an image of Lord Venkateswara, (god Vishnu) was issued at Pulicat mint. The coins issued by the Dutch were all modeled on the local coinages.

Decline of Dutch Power

Dutch presence on the Indian subcontinent lasted from 1605 AD to 1825 AD. The rise of the British power in the Eastern trade posed serious challenge to the commercial interest of the Dutch leading to  bloody warfare between them in which British were the clear winners owing to huge resources at their disposal. The brutal killing of some English traders by the Dutch in Amboyna in 1623 further aggravated the situation. The British one after another captured Dutch strongholds.

Rout of Dutch power in Malabar region

Amidst the saga of Dutch -Anglo -rivalry Travancore king Marthanda Varma gave a fatal blow to the Dutch East India Company in the battle of Colachel in 1741 AD leading to complete rout of Dutch power in Malabar region.

Treaties and Compromise with the British

Although the Anglo-Dutch Treaty was signed in 1814 AD which facilitated restoration of Dutch Coromandel and Dutch Bengal to Dutch rule but they again were returned to British regime as per the clause and the provisions of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 AD which made it binding on the Dutch to ensure all transfers of property and establishments till March 1, 1825 AD. By the middle of 1825 AD, therefore, the Dutch had forfeited their all trading posts in India.

In the ensuing compromise the obvious happened. Both the parties came to a compromise in 1667 AD by which the British, on the basis of give and take formula, agreed to completely withdraw from Indonesia for the Dutch who, in return, retired from India to trade in Indonesia.


Danish East India Company








Danish Colonial Possessions in India

Danish India was the name given to the colonies of Denmark (Denmark–Norway before 1814) in India, forming part of the Danish colonial empire.  Denmark held colonial possessions in India for 225 years. The Danish colonies in India included the towns of Tranquebar (Tamil Nadu) and Serampore (West Bengal) and the Nicobar Islands.

Establishment of Danish Trade Monopoly

It was the Dutch adventurer Marcelis de Boshouwer who provided the impetus for Danish involvement in the Indian sub-continent. He wanted military assistance against the Portuguese with a promise of monopoly on all trades to the assisting party. His appeal convinced Christian IV, the King of Denmark-Norway who subsequently issued a charter in 1616 granting the Danish East India Company a monopoly on trade between Denmark and Asia for twelve years.

Danish Chartered Companies

There were two Danish chartered companies. The first company -Danish East India Company -operated between 1616 AD and 1650 AD. Danish East India Company along with Swedish East India Company imported more tea than the British East India Company and smuggled most of it into England, where it sold at a huge profit. The company was dissolved in 1650 AD. The second company existed between 1670 AD and 1729 AD, and in 1730 AD it was re-founded as the Asiatic Company. It was granted a 40-year monopoly by a royal license on all Danish trade east of the Cape of Good Hope in 1732 AD. Till 1750 AD, 27 ships from India were sent, with 22 of them survived the journey to Copenhagen. But the company lost its monopoly in 1772 AD.

Serampore Mission Press

It is worth -mentioning that Serampore Mission Press – a historical landmark-was established at Serampore by the Danish missionaries in 1799 AD.  Between 1801 AD and 1832 AD the Serampore Mission Press printed 212,000 copies of books in 40 different languages.

End of Danish colonies in India

During the Napoleonic Wars (1803 AD–1815 AD) the British invaded Danish shipping, and devastated the Danish East India Company’s India trade and ultimately captured Danish colonies, making them part of British India. The last Danish colonial post Serampore was ceded to Britain by Denmark in 1845 AD.

The French East India Company







The French were the last of the European powers to enter the eastern trade. The French East India Company was established in 1664. In 1668 the first French factory was established in Surat. The French established their second factory at Masulipattnam in 1669. The French obtained Pondicherry in 1673 and they built Chandranagore in 1690-92. There was rivalry between the French and the British and the Dutch for major share in the eastern trade.

Further the hostile relations between these powers in Europe also led to war in India. There was hostility between the French and the Dutch in India in 1690 and again in 1721. The French and the British companies clashed in India between 1742 and 1766. The French hopes of establishing their political powers came to an end in 18th century. In the beginning the French had their headquarters at Surat but later they shifted it to Pondicherry. The supreme body of the French was known as “Superior Council of the Indies”. It was headed by a Director General and he was placed in charge of the French affairs in India. The superior council consisted of a Governor and five members.

The French East India Company was a state controlled organization and from 1723, it was almost wholly controlled by the French government. The Directors now have become its representatives. The Directors have no powers for all practical purposes. After 1730 the French East India Company had became the national East India Company.

After 1789, the French East India trade was thrown open to individuals. In a way it is the French who initiated the strategy of interfering in internal affairs of the Indian states to obtain political mileage and showed the way to the British. While the French failed in their strategy, it is the British who were successful. Besides the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British, and the French, the Danes entered India as traders in 1616 and obtained Trancquabar port from the Nayaks of Tanjore in 1620 and built a fort there. Though they started factories at Masulipatnam, port Novo, and Serampur, their success in trading business was short-lived as their sources were scanty. They sold their factories to the British and left India finally in 1845.

The British East India Company







Arrival of the British and the establishment of British East India Company was the outcome of the Portuguese traders who earn enormous profit by selling their merchandise in India. Being motivated by the successful business stories of the Portuguese a group of English merchants -‘Merchant Adventurers’ formed a company- the East India Company in 1599 AD. The Company received a royal charter from Queen Elizabeth I on December 31, 1600 AD authorizing it to trade in the East. Queen was herself a share holder in the East India Company.

Expansion in West and the South

Subsequently in 1608 AD, the East India Company sent Captain William Hawkins to the court of the Mughal emperor Jahangir to secure royal patronage. He succeeded in getting royal permit for the Company to establish its factories at various places on the Western coast of India. Then in 1615 AD, Sir Thomas Roe was sent by Emperor James I of England to Jahangir’s court, with a plea for more concession for the Company. Roe was very diplomatic and thus successfully secured a royal charter giving the Company freedom to trade in the whole of the Mughal territory. In the ensuing years the East India Company further expanded its base and flourished though it also faced challenges from the Portuguese, the Dutch and the French. The decisive moment came in 1662 AD, when Charles II of England married a Portuguese princess Katherine, and received the island of Bombay as dowry which he immediately gave to the East India Company in 1668 AD for 10 pounds per year. The Company on the West coast shifted its business headquarters from Surat to Bombay (Mumbai). In 1639 AD, the East India Company obtained the lease of the city of Madras from the local king where it built Fort St. George to protect its factory. Later Madras was made the South Indian headquarters of the Company.

Expansion in the East

After establishing its factories in south and west India, the company started to focus on east India particularly Bengal a significant province Mughal empire. The governor of Bengal Sujauddaula in 1651 AD, allowed the English Company to carry out its trade activities in Bengal. A factory in Hugli was established and three villages – Sutanati, Govindapur and Kolkata- were purchased in 1698 AD by the Company to build a factory over there. Subsequently Fort William was raised in order to provide protection around the factory. The present day Kolkata grew and developed on this very site.

Royal Farman by Emperor Faruksiyar

It was Mughal Emperor Faruksiyar which in 1717 AD, issued royal Farman (charter) granting the company important trading facilities in Bengal which included the permission of export and import British goods in Bengal without paying taxes. Under the Farman the company was authorized to issue Dastaks (passes) for the transportation of goods.

The Company after establishing firmly on the front of commerce and trade started dreaming of becoming a ruling power in gradual manner.

Factors Responsible for the British to Emerge as Ruling Power in India

The major reasons that helped the British to be established as ruling power during next two hundred years in India can be- inter alia -described as-the loss of central authority in India  after the decline of the Mughal empire with the death of  Aurangzeb in 1707 AD and the prevailing  political disunity among the Indian rulers, for instance, they often sought assistance from  the British for their own security, which gave a golden opportunity to the foreigners to increasingly meddle in their internal affairs and take advantage of their weaknesses

Conflicts among the European Powers

Major European Powers in India: The Portuguese, the Dutch, the British and the French were the four major European powers who arrived in India to establish their trade links and subsequently held colonial possessions. Major well as minor conflicts among them often took place from time to time for commercial and political supremacy but in the end it were the British who proved themselves most powerful after thrashing the other three and remained in India for more than 200 years as ruling power. The Portuguese, who were the first to come to India, set up their factories and colonial posts here and faced stiff competition from the Dutch but the Dutch proved weak before them as they could not withstand the stiff competition of the Portuguese and the British and thus retired from India.

Main Rivals: Ever since the British came to India they faced challenges from the Europeans powers like the Dutch, the Portuguese and the French. The Portuguese and the Dutch were not serious and potent rivals to the British. The only strong rival of the British were the French who were also the last Europeans to come to India. The British efforts to establish a complete monopoly over trade and commerce in India again and again brought them into conflict with the French. Consequently three long battles were fought between these two European powers during a period of 20 years (1744 AD-1763 AD) with the aim of capturing commercial as well as territorial control. The final decisive battle was fought on 22 January, 1763 AD at Wandiwash.

Carnatic Wars: It was the succession disputes in both the Carnatic and Hyderabad  that  opened the gates for Europeans- the British and the French-  to play the roles of middlemen  and thus in order to grind their axe  both European powers  had  a golden opportunity for  intervention in support of various rival Indian claimants. At first the French, under Dupleix who was a governor of Pondicherry emerged victorious both in the Carnatic and in Hyderabad. The French were rewarded with Northern Sarkars by their claimant to throne which the French officer Bussy controlled for seven years. However the French success turned out to be short lived. They were checked by British forces under Robert Clive in 1751 AD. Robert Clive changed the course of the war. The French claimant was defeated the next year. The French had to sign the treaty of Tirucirapally with the British. In the next Seven Years’ War (1756 AD– 1763 AD)-third Carnatic War-both the French and British Armies renewed their rivalry. The war began when French General Count De Lally invaded Madras but was defeated by the British General Sir Eyre Coote. The British captured Pondicherry (1761 AD) and Count De Lally was forced to surrender Karaikal and Jinji to them. Hence, the French lost third Carnatic War at Wandiwash (1760 AD) and subsequently signed treaty of Paris with the British in Europe.

Establishment of British Supremacy

The victory in Carnatic war prepared the ground for the British to establish their supremacy in India and the French dream of an Indian empire disappeared for ever. With the victory of Wandiwash the British East India Company had no European rival left in India.The British became the master of this great country. Besides having skilled leaders like Sir Eyre Coote, Major Stringer Lawrence, Robert Clive on their side the British was also a strong naval power which was a decisive factor with them to become credible rulers of India.

Beginning of Struggle for Political Supremacy in India

  • Portuguese captured-territories along vast Goa, Daman & Diu. But they couldn’t venture into the land to spread their political dominance.
  • At that time Mughal empire was very powerful.
  • Portuguese failed to win support of locals, their attitude towards Indians marked by extension racial hat rate.
  • Portuguese lacked resources to finance long series of politico-military conflict in India.
  • Dutch didn’t focus on India because their main attention was Indonesia.
  • Dense were more interested in missionary activities, they didn’t pay much attention to politico-military matter.
  • England-French company fought three Carnatic Wars to establish their supremacy in India.
  • Initially French enjoyed upper hand but gradually the English became more powerful in India & they could successfully counter the French challenge to establish English political dominance in India.

Factors responsible for English Victory/French defeat in Anglo French struggle for supremacy in India


Anglo-French Conflict (in India)
  • Anglo-French rivalry was worldwide, it was not limited to India, as and when the English & French used to fight in Europe. The Englishmen & Frenchmen all over the world used to start participating in it. The Anglo-French conflict in India in India was the expression of same.
  • During the initial phase, French enjoyed upper hand in their struggle against English but gradually the English gained an edge over the French & emerged victorious.
  • Success of English company & defeat of French was not an accident but in reality it was outcome of combined effect of a number of politico-admin.
  • Difference in nature of two companies played an important role in the success of English against French.
  • English company was private entity. Its officers could take decision on the spot as per need of circumstance.
  • On the other hand, French company was government department. Its every important decision was taking in Paris. The decision makers were completely disconnected with circumstances prevailing on ground of India. Because of this, French company couldn’t stand against English in long run.
  • The difference in nature of government in Britain & France also contributed to English company.
  • A liberal & progressive monarchical regime in Britain in the mid of 18th The glorious revolution of 1688 had resulted in replacement of despotic monarchy based on the concept of divine returns of king by a constitutional monarchy.
  • On other hand, a despotic monarchical regime was present in France. French government was not accountable to anybody & because of this it didn’t take much interest in progress of people.
  • The British government provided crucial support to English company on many occasions on other hand, French government failed to provide any such support. Instead French government was bringing to extract as much as from its company.
  • French pre-occupation in continental matters also contributed to the defeat of French against English in struggle for supremacy in India.
  • French government involved in continuous wars & battle in Europe & because of this it could not pay attention to development going on India.
  • Superior leadership of English company also contributed to its success against French.
  • Duplex was one of the ability Europeans to put their feel on Indian soil. He was a fine leader without any doubt but he lacked team spirit.
  • Other French commander also failed to support each other when it required most.
  • On the other hand, English company was lucky to have services of number of capable leaders as Clive, Eyre cot, Hector Monroe. They fought as team as result of this English company emerged victorious.
  • Naval supremacy enjoyed by Britain also contributed to success in Anglo-French rivalry.
  • Because of Naval supremacy English could get extension support as & when it required on the on hand. On other hand, English could deny such support to French whenever situation demanded so.
  • English conquest of Bengal was most decisive factor responsible for success of English company against French.
  • Resources of Bengal transformed the English company into an invisible force.
  • The outcome of short war was decided by quality of leadership & strength of arm but outcome of long drawn out conflict is always decided by strength of resources.
  • Once English conquered Bengal, they had huge resources at their disposal, these resources turned the table against French forever in Anglo-French rivalry.
  • Pondicherry was deficient in resources & duplex made a plunder by concerting all its energy in Madras, that’s why it’s commented that duplex made cardinal blunder by the king for the key of India in Madras, Clive sought & found it in Bengal.
  • History of 18th Century in India was the age of great transformation while Mughal Empire got disintegrated during 18th Century a number of other forces emerged on scene in various parts of India. These developments had triggered a very complex power struggle involving various forces at different levels. This struggle facilitated British Indian Empire both directly as well as indirectly.
  • One dimensions of this complex struggle involved central authority & regional power.
  • Taking advantage of weakness of Mughal Empire, Mughal provinces like Awadh, Bengal & Hyderabad transformed themselves into powerful autonomous state.

At time of center were becoming weak regional forces gaining immense strength.

  • Other regional forces like Marathas & Mysore were also trying to strengthen themselves.
  • Indian regional forces were also involved in a serious conflict with each other.
  • Mysore, Marathas & Hyderabad were involved struggle for supremacy in Deccan,
  • Nadir Shah, Ruler of Persia invaded India in 1759.
    • Mughal defeated in battle of Karnal & he plundered Delhi where he left the Mughal Empire, lost his prestige completely.
  • Ahmad Shah Abdali (Afghanistan) involved India seven times during 1748-61. At one time it was appearing as if the Marathas would succeed in replacing Mughal Empire. But their defeat in 3rd battle of Panipat soiled faith of Maratha Empire.

A situation of vacuum development in India.