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India was famous for spices which were in high demand among Europeans.

The three prominent trade routes till the 15th century were

  1. through central Asia
  2. through red sea and then through Egypt and Europe via Mediterranean sea
  3. through the Persian Gulf by sea and then through Iraq and turkey and again by sea through Venice and Genoa.

The Turkish lands were captured by Ottomans and the trade routes were affected. The renaissance had led to the quest for discovery of newer routes through the sea to India. Finally, Vasco da Gama found the sea route to India via Cape of Good Hope and reached here in 1498 at Calicut (Kappad) in Kerala.


The opening of trade routes to India and America were hailed as very important. The American islands were rich in precious minerals and soon they became consumers of European manufactured goods. The Atlantic became a zone of high trade activity. The Portuguese to were the first to enter into Africa and they became the pioneers of the slave trade. The slaves were bought for manufactured European goods and sold in West Indies and American lands for sugar and cotton which were exchanged for manufactured goods in Europe. This triangular trade was dominated by Portuguese along with the eastern trade with India.

Though the Portuguese were ruthless and religious intolerant they lost their monopoly in the later part of 16th century to the English, Dutch and French. The English due to their naval power and industrial revolution became the superpower of the world and had colonies in Africa, America and East Asia. The English though initially weak were by the end of the 16thcentury dominant in naval powers.


The English East India Company was established on 31 December 1600 as per the Royal Charter issued by the Queen of England, Elizabeth I. The Company had sent Captain Hawkins to the court of the Mughal Emperor, Jahangir in 1608 to secure permission to establish a “factory” (storehouse of goods) at Surat. It was turned down initially. Though initially, they were well received but due to Portuguese influence, they were expelled. The British realised that Portuguese influence had to be reduced in order to convince the Mughals. In the naval battle the Portuguese were defeated and so the Mughal emperor thought that in order to counter the supremacy of Portuguese in the sea, friendship with the English is important. In 1613, Jahangir issued the firman permitting the East India Company to establish its first trading post at Surat

Thomas roe wasn’t satisfied with this and bargained for more concessions. The British also started harassing hajj pilgrims and Indian merchants taking advantage of its naval power. The English set up business centres at Agra, Ahmedabad and Broach. Slowly the English East India Company succeeded in expanding its area of trade throughout the Mughal territory.
The south India was more favourable to them as no strong government existed there but it had to face competition from the French. The French east India Company was government controlled but had caught up with the English company in terms of trade and had factories in Bengal and Pondicherry. The Anglo-French conflicts in the south and east lasted for a period of 20 years and ended with English supremacy. The French now lived under English protection in India. They were permitted to keep Pondicherry with condition that no fortification be allowed.

The first factory in the south was opened in Masullipatinam and then in madras. The raja gave them permission to fortify the madras factory and the Englishman Francis day built the fort George in 1639. 

The Portuguese were angered by this and in the naval battles, the English won. Hostilities were ended by giving the island of Bombay to British for marrying a Portuguese princess in 1662. Soon the Portuguese lost all their Indian possession to English, Marathas and Dutch except Daman Diu and Goa.

The Company obtained Bombay on lease from their King, Charles II for a rent of 10 pounds per annum in 1668. The English now moved their sights on the east coast and opened factories in Orissa and Hugli. By the year 1690, Job Charnock, the agent of the East India Company purchased three villages namely, Sutanuti, Govindpur and Kalikatta, which, in course of time, grew into the city of Calcutta. It was fortified by Job Charnock, who named it Fort William after the English King, William III. But due to strong Nawabs in Bengal, the east India Company was merely a zamindar.

The factories and trading centres which the English established all along the sea-coast of India were grouped under three presidencies namely Bombay, Madras and Calcutta.

The conflict between Dutch and English too was intense but resulted in a stalemate. The English couldn’t remove the Dutch from their stronghold in Indonesia and the spice trade. But Dutch too couldn’t match the English might in India. Finally English decided to leave the Indonesian trade and focus on India only. And similarly the Dutch too left the Indian trade except for a few factories in the east coast. These too were lost to the English by 1795.

Arrival of Portuguese in India: It was the Portuguese who rst 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 signicant 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 clash 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 rst 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 Portuguese power in India include Portugal being too small a country to maintain the huge burden of a trading colony located in a far 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 India, were the last to withdraw from here in 1961 AD when the Government of India recaptured Goa, Daman and Diu from them.

Arrival of the Dutch: 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.The Dutch were first to start a joint stock company to trade with India .

Rise of the Dutch: The Dutch founded their first factory in Masaulipatam in Andhra Pradesh in 1605. Subsequently they also established trading centres 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 prot 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 modelled 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 Britishers 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 Britishers 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 Britishers, 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 Colonial Possessions in India :Denmark held colonial possessions in India for 225 years. The Danish colonies in India included the towns of Tranquebar(Tamil Nadu)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.