European Traders in India ( Image from
European Traders in India ( Image from

Culturally advancing the 15th century Europe had witnessed the emergence of Renaissance i.e. an era of scientific excellence and artistic development. New methods of efficient agriculture and incredible architecture were designed; new scientific researches and geographical discoveries like America, Brazil etc. were made and the art of ship-making and navigation was modified. The discovery of these new lands, continents and countries was not only the product of Renaissance but also a result of the search of the new trading sea route to Eastern countries.

Since Arabs had monopolized the commonly used Red Trade Sea Routes by asserting their supremacy over Egypt and Persia; and they recruited Arab-Muslim intermediaries for collecting taxes from European traders via the Mediterranean Sea, the crucial sea-navigating countries-Spain and Portugal strived hard to discover a new trade sea route to East. In this persistent process, they made an incredible contribution to ship making and navigation and discovered new geographical lands.

Eventually, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama discovered the new trade sea route to East via Cape of Good Hope in 1498 and simplified trading activities with East. By early 17th century, British and Dutch had also made their presence on Indian mainland and lately but yet, French also sailed to Eastern countries.

The present article attempts to analyze the interaction of European traders on the Indian subcontinent and their inter-political and profession relations with each other.

Portuguese in India:

Vasco da Gama ( Image: National Maritime Museum)
Vasco da Gama ( Image: National Maritime Museum

Under the guidance of a Gujarati pilot Abdul Majid, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama reached Calicut in East via Cape of Good Hope in 1498. The regional ruler Zamorin gracefully welcomed him and it was during his three-month stay in East Indies, he observed massive probabilities of profitable trade in Eastern countries. During his return, he carried with him some pepper and merchandise that made him earn around 60% profit in Europe and eventually he planned to trade in East.

Meanwhile, Pedro Alvarez Cabral another Portuguese and the discoverer of Brazil reached India and established his factory in 1500. Enraged locals furiously attacked on the factory but they were brutally killed by Pedro and later, he ascertained his factories at Cochin and Cannonnore and signed advantageous treaties with regional rulers. By 1502, Vasco da Gama re-arrived India and set up a factory at Cannonnore against Zamorin’s consent. Calicut, Cochin and Cannonnore became active Portuguese trading centres of the company. By 1505, the King of Portugal started to recruit Governors-General in India for securing their commercial interests. The important ones are enlisted below:

1.      Francisco De Almeida: Appointed to expand and consolidate Portuguese trading interests in India and to annihilate the Arab-Muslim supremacy by seizing Aden, Ormuz and Malacca, Francisco De Almeida was the first Portuguese Governor-General in India. He successfully strengthened his stronghold over the Arabian Sea by launching Blue Water Policy and ascertained its business monopoly on the sea. He was credited for establishing Portuguese hegemony in India after Battle of Diu, 1509.

2.      Alfonso De Albuquerque: Considered as the real founder of Portuguese power in India, Alfonso De Albuquerque strategically established its control over Malacca, Malabar and Ormuz coasts and solidified its commercial power. During his tenure, he introduced the Permit System and Cartaz System in India and abolished Sati practice in its territories. For securing Portuguese commercial monopoly in East Indies, he prosecuted Muslims and encouraged Portuguese men to marry Indian ladies.

3.      Nino da Cunha: After assuming his Governor-ship in 1529, Nino da Cunha shifted its capital from Cochin to Goa [acquired by Albuquerque from Sultan of Bijapur in 1510.] He established Portuguese influence on Bassein and Bombay after Treaty of Bassein 1534 signed between him and Bahadur Shah of Gujarat against Mughal Emperor Humayun.

Dutch in India:

By late 16th century, Dutch Cornelis de Houtman had also reached Sumatra and Bantam in East [1596] and by 1602; State General of Netherland connected numerous companies and consolidated a large company called Verehgidge Oost Indische Compagnie for trading and business in East for 21 years. The prime objective of Dutch was to take revenge on Spain for colonizing them and to monopolize the trade with East Indies. They founded their first factory in Masulipatnam in Andhra Pradesh in 1605 and first fort called Fort of Galleria in Pulicat in 1610.

British in India:

European Traders in India (Image:
European Traders in India (Image:

In 1600, ‘The Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies‘, commonly called British East India Company received a royal charter or exclusive license from the Empress of England, Queen Elizabeth-I that certified its monopoly on trade with Eastern countries from the Cape of Good Hope to Straits of Magellan for 15 years (it was later extended in 1609 without any specified time-limit).

Though this license empowered this foreign company to buy goods at lower prices from the East and sell it at higher prices in Europe, it could not prohibit other European traders like Dutch and Portuguese to enter Eastern markets. The prices of pepper, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon increased in Indian markets due to its tremendous demand amongst European traders and the profit margins of the company lessened hugely. The heightened competition in Eastern markets led to the culmination of intense professional conflicts between European traders. Eventually, these trading groups fabricated malpractices like- blocking sea-routes and sinking the rivalships etc. to secure their market. 

In 1608, Captain William Hawkins reached Surat in his ship Hector and granted permission from Mughal Emperor Jahangir in 1609 to extend its business in different parts of India. The English demand infuriated the overtly-competitive Portuguese who vehemently resisted against it and the mission of erecting English factories in India failed. But Jahangir was profoundly impressed with Hawkins and therefore, he assigned him as man Sardar at the salary of Rs. 30,000. 

Expanding its trading activities in the south-east coast of India near Andhra Pradesh, the first English factory was built in Masulipatnam in 1611 [The factory was temporary] with the approval of  Golkonda Bahmini ruler. The English factory started progressing in certain confined territories of India but it couldn’t flourish throughout the nation.

Subsequently, the British East India Company wanted to diminish the impact of Portuguese and Dutch opponents and therefore, it resorted to anti-Portuguese war in Surat called Battle of Swally in 1612. The English official Captain Thomas Best who reached the coast of Surat in his ship Red Dragon in November 1612 triumphed over Portuguese. Fascinated with Best’s courage and military skills, Jahangir issued the royal edict to the company in early 1613 for validating the establishment of the permanent English factory at Surat under Thomas Aldworth.

The sole objective of evolving company during the early seventeenth century was to maximize its profits and to diminish the competition. Keeping this in mind, the marketing groups constantly persuaded the royal rulers of Eastern countries for granting business concessions so to ascertain their trading stronghold on the Indian mainland. In 1615, Sir Thomas Roe, an English ambassador of King James-I reached the lavish court of Mughal emperor Jahangir seeking for such commercial concessions and privileges. Through his pragmatic rhetoric, he succeeded in winning Jahangir’s trust that he eventually permitted him to solidify English factories at Agra, Ahmadabad and Broach. 


Persuading the Vijayanagara ruler, the British East India Company got hold of Madras in 1939 where St. George Fort was constructed. It acted as an important headquarter on the Coromandal coast. The emerging trading company by 1647 had 23 factories widely-spread throughout India and trading posts in Surat (1619) and Madras (1639) under his direct control. 

( For Foundation of British Empire in India, click on the link:

French in India:

In 1664, French monarch Louis XIV granted Colbert Compagnie des Indes Orientales’ a 50-years trade monopoly in Indian and Pacific Oceans and perpetual access and concessions on Madagascar. Consequently, Francois Caron and Mercara reached India in 1667 and the former laid the foundation of first French factory at Surat and latter at Masulipatnam in 1669. With the permission of Shaista Khan, French established its township at Chandernagore in Calcutta.

Afterwards in 1673, Francois Martin was also permitted to fortify a settlement at Pondicherry {1674} by Sher Khan Lodi, Governor of Valikondapuram. Prospering French East India Company was the main traditional rival of British now with whom it resorted to direct military confrontation i.e. popularly called Anglo-Carnatic War [1740-63].  

European Territories in India (Image: Maps etc)
European Territories in India (Image: Maps etc)

Anglo-Carnatic Wars: The Wars that decided the colonial masters of India

Fought between the traditional European rivals -English and French, Anglo-Carnatic Wars were the extension of Austrian War of Succession in Europe for protecting their commercial interests but in a simplistic sense, these were the wars justifying the imperial colonial masters of India.

First Anglo-Carnatic War (1740-1748):

The First-Anglo-Carnatic War was the product of intensified rivalries between English and French where the former provoked the latter by seizing its ships. In retaliation, France under Admiral La Bourdonnias established its control over Madras in 1746 and this war began.

  • The First Anglo-Carnatic War was climaxed into TREATY OF AX-LA-CHAPELLE in 1748 under which French got hold of its territories in North-America and English re-ascertained its control over Madras.
  • The diplomacy of French Governor of Pondicherry, Duplex was reflected in Battle of St. Thome 1746 under which he broke the promise of giving Madras to Nawab of Carnatic i.e. Anwar-ud-din Khan and registered their victory against them.

Second Anglo-Carnatic War (1749-54):

It happened due to controversies which surrounded the accession in the kingdoms of Hyderabad and Carnatic. The European rivals supported the opposite factions to take advantage of the political situation to establish their supremacy in India. Duplex, the French Governor supported Muzaffar Jung for the throne of Hyderabad and Chanda Sahib for Nawabship of Carnatic but British supported Nasir Jung and Anwar-ud-din.

  • In 1749, Chanda Sahib defeated and killed Anwar-ud-din in the Battle of Ambur. On the other hand, in another battle, Muzaffar Jung was defeated by Nasir Jung. However, after the death of Nasir Jung in 1750, Muzaffar Jung became the Subedar of Deccan and acquired the throne of Hyderabad. In 1751, Clive laid siege of Arcot which is regarded as the first major political and diplomatic victory of Clive.
  • The French called Dupliex in 1754 and sent Godeheu in his place who signed the TREATY OF PONDICHERRY with British which ended the war.

Third-Anglo-Carnatic Wars (1758-1763):

In Europe, when Austria wanted to recover Silesia in 1756, the Second Years War [1756-63] started that put British and French once again on opposite sides.

  • During this war, the French army under Count de Lally captured the English forts of St David and Vizianagram and these actions enraged Britishers who furiously responded and Sir Eyre Coote decisively defeated the French at the Battle of Wandiwash {Tamil Nadu} in 1760. After Wandiwash, the French capital of Pondicherry fell to the British in 1761.
  • The war concluded with the signing of the TREATY OF PARIS in 1763, which returned Chandernagore and Pondichéry to France, and allowed the French to have “factories” (trading posts) in India but forbade French traders from administering them.

From the arrival of European traders on Indian land to the struggle for colonialization of India, it was clear that there was a horrendous battle for stabilization of political power in India after 1700s but since Dutch and Portuguese European traders were more involved in the propagation of Christianity, they couldn’t manage to colonize India powerfully and later on, their efforts proved worthless. After their decline, Britishers and French were the strong powers who were functioning for making India their colony and exploit its resources whenever required but French company was more feudalist and the decision taken by them was too slow that led to their bitter downfall during Anglo-Carnatic war and thereby, their wars clarified Britain as the colonial masters of India. 


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