The English in South Asia and the Indian Ocean

About the Document
Many European nations (especially Spain and Portugal) began overseas exploration and serious overseas trade during the sixteenth century. Preoccupied mainly by religious issues during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, other nations, such as France and England and (later) the Dutch, followed suit only in the seventeenth century. Relatively poor trade connections in British and French America led these countries increasingly to seek commercial contacts in Asia.

European trade with Asia was nothing new, but it soon took on an unparalleled intensity. Nearly all of the aforementioned nations, except Spain, tried to increase their presence in India as well as in outer areas of the Indian Ocean such as Indonesia.

In 1614, King James I of England sent a diplomat, Sir Thomas Roe, to visit the Mughal emperor, Jahangir, and negotiate a trade treaty. The trade mission was successful, and the emperor wrote a letter, the first document here, to James afterward. A few years later, however, the English found things more difficult as they tried to encroach on Indonesia, already being plied by the Dutch. A French traveler recounts in the second document what happened between the Dutch and the English in 1617.

The Document

Part One: Letter from Jahangir to James I of England

When your majesty shall open this letter let your royal heart be as fresh as a sweet garden. Let all people make reverence at your gate; let your throne be advanced higher; amongst the greatness of the kings of the prophet Jesus, let your Majesty be the greatest, and all monarchies derive their counsel and wisdom from your breast as from a fountain, that the law of the majesty of Jesus may revive and flourish under your protection.

The letter of love and friendship which you sent and the presents, tokens of your good affection toward me, I have received by the hands of your ambassador, Sir Thomas Roe (who well deserveth to be your trusted servant), delivered to me in an acceptable and happy hour; upon which mine eyes were so fixed that I could not easily remove them to any other object, and have accepted them with great joy and delight.

Upon which assurance of your royal love I have given my general command to all the kingdoms and ports of my dominions to receive all the merchants of the English nation as the subjects of my friend; that in what place soever they choose to live, they may have reception and residence to their own content and safety; and what goods soever they desire to sell or buy, they may have free liberty without any restraint; and at what port soever they shall arrive, that neither Portugal nor any other shall dare to molest their quiet; and in what city soever they shall have residence, I have commanded all my governors and captains to give them freedom answerable to their own desires; to sell, buy, and to transport into their country at their pleasure.

For confirmation of our love and friendship, I desire your Majesty to command your merchants to bring in their ships of all sorts of rarities and rich goods fit for my palace; and that you be pleased to send me your royal letters by every opportunity, that I may rejoice in your health and prosperous affairs; that our friendships may be interchanged and eternal.

Your Majesty is learned and quick-sighted as a prophet, and can conceive so much by few words that I need write no more.

The God of heaven give you and us increase of honor.

Part Two: Dutch Hostility toward English Merchants

[The original source refers to the Dutch as "Hollanders," but the more modern "Dutch" has been inserted in its place. A few other words have also been modernized.]

A relation of the Frenchmen which lately arrived into France in a ship of Dieppe out of the East Indies concerning the wrongs and abuses which the Dutch had lately done to the English there (1617):

Two English ships coming to Banda, in course of trade and traffic, the Dutch assaulted with certain of their ships, which English ships in their resistance and defense the said Dutch took, slew seven or eight of their men (whereof one was a chief factor), chained the captain, merchants, and mariners, and put the mariners in their galleys. All the munitions and victuals in the said English ships did the Dutch take out and carried the same ashore, challenged all to be theirs as their proper inheritance, and therefore will be lords of the same.

The Dutch likewise took an English ship going from Bantam (in Dutch Java) to Jakarta, slew some of her men, wounded many more, chained the captain and mariners, and carried away the said ship at the stern of one of their ships into Bantam Road, and there anchored close by the admiral of the English in most despiteful and daring manner, making their vaunts that they were the chief people of all Europe; and to make a show of the same they advanced their own arms and colors, and under them placed the colors of England and France, and then shot at the said English and French colors in most contemptuous and disdainful manner.

At Bantam the English and Dutch had great disputes, insomuch as it was verily thought they would have fought together in the road, for the general of the Dutch had brought thither fourteen great ships, ready to fight, where the English had nine, which they fitted for defense; but they fought not, for the governor of Bantam forbad them to fight in his road, and threatened them that if they did fight contrary to his command he could cut the throats of all their men that he should find upon the land.

The 27th of November the Dutch declared war against all the English at the Mulluccoes, Banda, and Amboyna, threatening to make one and all prize and to put them to the edge of the sword; which proclamation of theirs they fixed upon the doors of their lodgings at Bantam, challenging all to be theirs as their proper inheritance.

Source: James Harvey Robinson, ed., Readings in European History, Vol. 2 (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1906), pp. 333-5.

Former Dutch colony, essentially today's Indonesia.

Analysis Questions

  1. Are English merchants to be protected in any way in Jahangir's territory?
  2. From reading these two selections, why do you think the English gained a firm foothold in India, but failed to do so in Indonesia?
  3. How did the Dutch offend the French?
  4. What prevented fighting between the English and Dutch at Bantam?
  5. What restrictions are being placed on English merchants?

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