At the end of the 15th century, a new epoch began in the history of British Commerce.
The voyages of the discovery of Columbus and Vasco da Gama had removed the centre of gravity of the commercial world from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.
Henry VII displayed great interest in the promotion of foreign trade.
Henry VII perceived that if England was to take her place in the new Europe, the energies should be directed towards the discovery of a new route to India.
Both Henry VII and his son Henry VIII were eager to share in the trade with the Indies.
The merchants of England jealous of the prospects of their Dutch rivals began preparations for a commercial voyage to the East.
A group of English merchants formed the East India Company in 1599.
On December 31 1600 the East India Company was granted a royal charter and the exclusive right to trade in the East by Queen Elizabeth I.
The immediate aim of the company was the acquisition of the spices and pepper of the Eastern Archipelago.
The East India Company made its first voyage to Indonesia in 1601.
In 1608, Captain Hawkins, the representative of the Company, was granted permission by Jahangir to open a factory in Surat. Later, Hawkins was driven out from Agra by the Mughals at the instigation of the Portuguese.
The English were quick to realize that their future in India would be uncertain if the Portuguese continued to exert their influence on the Mughal Court.
The English consolidated their position in India by defeating the Portuguese in two naval encounters in 1612 and 1614.
The English East India Company was now granted permission to open factories in Surat, Ahmedabad and Broach.
In 1615, Sir Thomas Roe arrived at Jahangir’s court as an ambassador of King James I. Roe received an Imperial Farman to trade and establish factories anywhere in Mughal India.
By 1619, the English were able to establish their trading depots in Surat, Agra, Ahmedabad, Broach, Masulipatam and a few other places.
In 1622, the English captured Ormuz from the Portuguese with the help of the King of Iran. The capture of Ormuz weakened the trade and strength of the Portuguese port at Diu. Afterwards, the Portuguese were completely driven out of the Gulf of Cambay.
The hostilities between the Portuguese and the English ended in 1630.
English factories were started at Hariharpur and Balasore in 1633.
In 1639Francis Day obtained the lease of Madras from Raja of Chandragiri and build a fortified factory known as Fort St. George or Madras.
Madras was the first piece of territory acquired by the English in India.
In September 1641, Fort St.George in Madras superseded Masulipatnam as the Company’s headquarters on the Coromandel Coast.
In 1661, the Portuguese gave Bombay as a part of a dowry to their Princess, Catherine of Braganza on her marriage with Charles II. But Charles II failed to realize the importance of Bombay and granted it to East India Company in 1668 for the trifling sum of ten pounds a year.
After hostilities spread over several years (1686-90) with the Mughals, the English had to withdraw to Madras.
After a peace made with the Mughals authorities in 1690, the English returned to Bengal.
In 1690, Job Charnock established a factory in Sutanati. Thus was laid “the foundation of the future capital of British India”.
In 1698, the Company acquired Sutanati, Kalikata and Govindpur at an annual rent of Rs 290. These three villages grew as a city of Calcutta. In 1700, the English also built a fort around its factory in Calcutta. The Fort was named Fort William to honour King William III of England.
In 1717 an embassy led by John Surman secured Royal Farman from Mughal Emperor Farrukhsiyar. This Farman is also called the Magna Carta of the British rule in India as it gave large concessions to the company.