seminar: Dr John Shovlin (New York) “No more victories! No more conquests!” The French and British East India Companies’ search for an entente, 1752–1788
A joint event with the Global History and Culture Centre.
Presentation, discussion, refreshments. All are welcome.
“No more victories! No more conquests!”
The French and British East India Companies’ search for an entente, 1752–1788
Between the mid-1750s and the 1780s, the French and British East India companies recurrently sought an entente to reduce conflict between them in India, to preserve access to key commercial resources there, and to disentangle trade competition in Asia from the Franco-British geopolitical rivalry. In the 1750s, the companies bargained for nearly two years to end proxy wars that embroiled them in the Carnatic, to share access to the areas they controlled, and to make common cause against Indian powers. They pressed their governments to establish a vast neutralized zone in which the European trade to Asia could be carried on free from European conflicts. These negotiations foundered when the Seven Years War (1756–1763) broke out in North America. But officials returned to the idea in the early 1770s when the French colonial ministry proposed an agreement to establish a permanent peace in India between the French and British nations. Again, no agreement was reached. However, in 1785 a newly established French Indies Company and its nominal British rival negotiated a cartel for the East India Company to supply Bengal goods to the French market. Versailles blocked the deal, but the governments subsequently signed a convention to guarantee French merchants readier access to territories controlled by the British company. Common themes arose repeatedly in these negotiations: officials and company directors imagined a Franco-British concert in India; they aspired to disentangle the Asian world of trade from European geopolitical competition; they talked of establishing “free trade,” and affirmed the superiority of commerce to conquest. This paper will explore the factors that drove this search for an accommodation between the companies and their governments, consider its significance for our understanding of interimperial relations in the eighteenth century, and ask how it illuminates the dynamics of a capitalism embedded in a system of competing commercial states.