Penn Press logo
The Loss of the

Launched in 1609 as the greatest English merchant vessel of its era, the Trades Increase and nearly all who sailed it perished three years later on the far side of the world. This is the engrossing account of the ship's tragic expedition and global capitalism at its hour of emergence.

The Loss of the "Trades Increase"
An Early Modern Maritime Catastrophe

Richmond Barbour

2021 | 352 pages | Cloth $39.95
American History
View main book page

Table of Contents


A Note on the Title

Abbreviations of Major Primary Sources

Introduction. The Charter Generation of the London East India Company

Chapter 1. The Construction and Launch of the Trades Increase, 1609

Chapter 2. From England to Arabia Felix

Chapter 3. Captivity in Yemen

Chapter 4. To India and Back Again

Chapter 5. Corporate Strife in the Red Sea

Chapter 6. The Final Transit

Chapter 7. Catastrophe in Bantam

Chapter 8. Controversy over the East Indian Trade, 1615





Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]

The Charter Generation of the London East India Company
Established in 1602, the London East India Company's first residence or "factory" overseas—a home, warehouse, and sales outlet for "factors," mercantile agents posted abroad—was located in a great port city on Java's northwest tip: Bantam. This was a place where Englishmen went to die. Located along a wide shallow bay some fifty miles west of Jakarta, the city occupied a swampy region abundant in waterborne diseases, like dysentery, malaria, cholera, and typhoid, to which Northern Europeans lacked immunity. Plague was endemic there as well. The longevity of an Englishman in Bantam was often less than one year. Their ships, mobile incubators of disease, suffered from worms and other marine parasites that bored through wooden hulls. Copper sheathing had not yet been devised, and wood-destroying organisms thrived in tropical waters. The hull of an English ship that survived the passage to Bantam in the early seventeenth century was likely to have become dangerously porous, requiring extensive repairs before the surviving mariners, and their Chinese, Javan, and Indian shipmates hired on the spot to replace the dead, could hope to sail homeward with the pepper, cloves, silks, China dishes, and other exotica that drew London's investors to the East Indies.

In late December 1612, almost three years to the day after its public launch at Deptford, the greatest English merchant vessel of the Jacobean age anchored in the bay of Bantam. Named by an optimistic King James I, the massive Trades Increase was the flagship of the East India Company's Sixth Voyage (1610-13), the costliest of the Company's opening decade: an expedition whose bold ambitions tested, with tragic force, the limits of the founding generation. Arriving at Bantam, the ship's interim commander Nicholas Downton felt a strange queasiness: "We were encountered with most noisome smells." Early modern Europeans credited miasmic theories of contagion—foul smells spread disease—and Downton found Bantam's stench ominous: it would be "hard and doubtful for any newcomers to continue their health" in such a place, he surmised. He had sound cause for concern. Three years constituted an inordinately long passage from England to Java. Numerous crewmen had died at sea or deserted in India, others suffered from scurvy and other afflictions, many having contracted wasting fevers during their recent stay in Sumatra. The great ship itself was compromised not only by the expected damage from marine parasites but more acutely from repeated groundings, a hazard of its unusually deep draft. The most alarming such incident, striking a rock off Sumatra, had required their return to Tiku for urgent repairs of dubious integrity. The mariners recognized that neither the vessel nor its crew would reach England in this condition.

The East India Company's other custom-built ship of 1609, a smaller vessel christened the Peppercorn by the Prince of Wales at the same Deptford ceremony—Lieutenant General Downton's usual command—made the passage. Duly outfitted for the journey, it sailed from Bantam for London with rich cargo in February 1613. Two weeks later, the fleet's third ship, the small Darling, departed for the Moluccas in quest of cloves, mace, and other spices more lucrative than Bantam's abundant pepper, a commodity that already glutted England. Remaining with his flagship, the fleet's commanding general Sir Henry Middleton beached it to clean and resheathe the hull. The repairs, however, surpassed the reach of his dwindling crew and the Chinese laborers hired to replace them. Workers died in large numbers at the contagious site. Lacking a drydock in which to perform the repairs, the process required them to roll the ship by the keel over onto its side, with ballast strategically arranged inside and on deck, while pulling at ropes and pulleys tied to the masts. They managed to treat one side of the hull. But in the struggle to roll it over to the other side, the mainmast broke. The vessel was too broad of beam for this indispensable repair: too big not to fail. Sick at heart, before succumbing in May 1613 to the disease and despair that wiped out his crew, Middleton watched his once-glorious vessel, a proud platform for cross-cultural performances of English dignity throughout the East Indies, rot in the mud. The hulk became a repeated target of arson by persons unknown—Javan agents, survivors speculated, presumably to prevent the construction of an English fort from the timbers. The charred ruin was eventually burned to the waterline. Thus, outward bound on its sole voyage, the Trades Increase, together with most of its crew, perished wretchedly on the far side of the world. In the meantime, Downton sailed home with handsome earnings for the shareholders in London. The loss of the great ship and its crew ignited rancorous controversy there. But the Company's magnates defended their interests determinedly. Their fleets sailed on.

The full story of this expedition has not been told before. Earlier generations of archivists and editors, comprehending British imperialism as a force for moral and economic improvement in the world, sifted the past for intimations of empire, and they marginalized this epic failure. "Looking back," John Darwin observes, "we can see that, as long as empires remained the great fact of the present, and the likely shape of the future, they cast a large shadow over how the past was conceived" (Darwin, 33). The prolific Sir George Birdwood (1832-1917), Sir Clements Markham (1830-1916), and Sir William Foster (1863-1951), major East India Company archivists, evidently viewed the Sixth Voyage as a regrettable episode, a valiant sacrifice on the high road of imperial achievement. They summarized it but did not dwell on it, concentrating their editorial energies on more heartening accounts of English voyaging. When publishing Sixth Voyage journals, they produced abstracts, redactions, and tellingly selective editions. The Company's first and greatest editor-publisher, Samuel Purchas (bap. 1577, d. 1626), was an avowed friend, apologist, and beneficiary of the East India Company. He has long been notorious for his cuts. To juxtapose the redactions he published with their surviving sources, as I do in this study, discloses editorial decisions generally compatible with his agenda as a foundational promoter of English expansionism.

Reading back from an era of British hegemony, finding teleological momentum in initiatives that could well have eventuated otherwise, the editors of the great majority of printed East India Company papers downplayed and effaced dysfunctions that haunted and ultimately unraveled the British Empire—incapacities and breakdowns like those Linda Colley anatomizes in Captives. Offering a postmortem of a forgotten piece of late seventeenth-century history, she observes, for example, that the failure of England's colony at Tangiers, "reveals . . . stresses and vulnerabilities that proved persistent" in British imperialism (Colley, 33). Consulting original manuscripts where possible, The Loss of the "Trades Increase" redirects Colley's framing of imperial history onto corporate history, to a catastrophic yet still profitable venture pivotal to the onset of global capitalism. The sun has set on the British Empire—yet not on the financial empires of London, New York, Tokyo, and other global centers of banking and investment. Joint-stock corporations, which formerly quickened the emergence of nation-based imperialism, continue to evolve. Warping the political discourses of the nations that license them, they now propel transnational economies whose exponential payoffs to elites derive from human and environmental degradations of an unsustainable planetary magnitude.

A ruling premise of this book is that the story it tells—a microhistory of catastrophic loss producing selective, intensely controversial gain—matters at least as much now as it did in 1615, when vituperative debates erupted over the demise of the Trades Increase. To examine the Sixth Voyage and the controversies it engendered, I submit, exposes the genealogical origins of powers, methods, incentives, structures of exploitation, and vulnerabilities integral to the corporate economies and attendant discourses that continue to build, and to destabilize, our material and financial worlds. The conflicts inherent in the East India Company from the outset—between national and corporate interests, executive and common shareholders, shareholders and wage earners, personal and corporate enrichment, plunder and ongoing trade, short-term profits and institutional sustainability—have perpetuated and elaborated themselves, igniting recurrent volatility in global markets. The work of the Company's founding generation remains pertinent not only because it established preconditions for a lengthy interval of British imperial dominion but more importantly now, because it expressed and propagated, in a stark and sometimes brutal manner, global appetites, cultural and material logistics, methods of governance, conflicts of interest, patterns of exploitation, and vulnerabilities that persist in profit-seeking multinational corporations.

To study the origins of these globe-bestriding bodies is to understand them as contingent and responsive organizations, not as preordained and constant powers, and to discern possible points of leverage upon them. Though possessed of legal personhood, practical immortality, and the wealth of nations, these commercial entities coexist with other public institutions and corporate groups capable of challenging them. It is worth noting that Queen Elizabeth I's 1600 charter assumed that a joint-stock body like the East India Company cultivated its monopolistic privileges solely at the Crown's pleasure. In its projection of power overseas, of course, the East India Company moved beyond the orbit of the territorial state that sanctioned it and came to exercise internally the supervisory, disciplinary, and political functions of an independent state or commonwealth. Nevertheless, at home, it remained answerable to the monarch, Parliament, public opinion, and the vicissitudes of ready capital. To recognize that, from the outset, tensions and ambiguities of jurisdiction vexed relations between the nascent English nation-state, whose emergent powers were porous and inchoate in the early modern period, and London's globally ambitious trading companies, casts important light on the evolving struggles between corporate and civic authority, neocolonial ideologies and genuine public interest, across the world today.

The Queen's Charter

Late in her reign, when Queen Elizabeth I granted the London East India Company its charter, the new joint-stock body was an unlikely candidate for imperial dominion in Asia. That the Company managed to outlive its founders is an achievement worth interrogating. The English were emulous latecomers to the Indian Ocean, and their fleets were small. While their determination to enter the eastern trade was firm, their plans remained flexible, opportunistic, and abrogable. After nearly a hundred years of sporadic attempts toward eastern waters, London's merchants finally bestirred themselves to create their own East India Company at the return of a Dutch fleet from the Indian Ocean by the Cape of Good Hope, the route Vasco da Gama pioneered for Portugal (1497-99). Seeking direct access to the silks and spices enriching their European rivals, for several decades the English tried and failed to reach Cathay (northeast China), their ultimate target, by the frozen seas to the northeast and northwest. England's first joint-stock company, the Russia Company, came together in 1553 in pursuit of that dream. London's merchants did not abandon the search for a northern passage to claim for England. But in 1598, a major book exposing Portuguese decadence in India, The Voyage of John Huyghen van Linschoten to the East Indies, appeared in English. The next year, the Dutch fleet's return galvanized London's mercantile elite, whose privateering-enriched maritime industry dominated those of Britain's other port cities. Perhaps the southern seas were open after all. If so, London's magnates wanted maximal shares of the action.

A meeting of principal merchants on 25 September 1599 reported, "The Dutchmen prepare for a new voyage, and to that end have bought diverse ships here in England." Alarmed that English bottoms would earn Dutch profits, and "stirred up with no less affection to advance the trade of their native country than the Dutch merchants were to benefit their Commonwealth," they petitioned the queen and Privy Council to grant them exclusive English rights to trade in the seas to the east of the Cape Good Hope (Stevens, 8). Peace negotiations with Spain gave the Crown pause. But on 31 December 1600, declaring that their efforts should serve "as well for the honor of this our realm of England, as for the increase of our navigation and advancement of trade of merchandise," Elizabeth consented. Her somewhat strained formula attached national honor not only to maritime expansion but also to commercial endeavors deemed ignoble in Aristotelian ethics and some elite circles. The formula was strategic: to frame international traders, not as self-interested, shape-shifting entrepreneurs but as English patriots, reminded the merchants of the fealties attendant on the Crown's grant of exclusive privileges. She named them, "the Governor and Merchants of London trading into the East Indies, one body corporate and politic in deed and in name really and fully" (Birdwood, 167). The signatories became "one body" possessed of rights and responsibilities within England and across the seas. The document acknowledged and integrated the powers of both the monarch and the designated coalition of her subjects. Merchants, mariners, and materiel performed the work of the Company; the queen's epistolary act, constituting them as a legal entity, summoned them to collective action. Her charter antedated the initial voyage by some fourteen months.

Following a venerable tradition of classical, medieval, and early modern corporate theory, the queen endorsed a decisive precondition for the development of corporate power as we have come to know it today: she granted this potentially immortal joint-stock body the legal status of a person. In popular confirmation of the concept, common usage dubbed the corporation, when "he" ruled India, "John Company." Thus Sir William Foster elaborated the conceit: "As a young man just commencing business, he was content with a few rooms in Philpot Lane for his offices; . . . growing prosperous, he rented for a time one of the finest residences in the City (Crosby House)," and so forth (Foster, John Company, v). Twin legacies of enormous consequence took impetus from the 1600 charter: nation-based imperialism—"the honor of this our realm of England"—and the capital growth of multinational corporations possessed of the legal rights of persons.

Though the phrasing was venerable, the charter heralded a corporation unlike most others in Elizabethan England. Durable affiliation, not the pursuit of market shares and returns on capital, traditionally justified corporate recognition. The East India Company became a leading prototype of the multinational corporation dominant in our imaginations today: the private, for-profit, growth-oriented body of joint-stock investors. Yet, at their inception in Tudor England, joint-stock consortia like the Russia Company, the East India Company, and Shakespeare's playing company represented something new. Protocapitalistic institutions informed by transoceanic appetites, they emerged amid an abundance of corporate structures, theorized since antiquity, that textured the social order. Thus Henry Turner describes the great variety of "corporations aggregate" in sixteenth-century England: "They were educational, ecclesiastical, charitable, political, and commercial, and they ranged in size from the universal church, extending across territories and indeed across time, to the angels in heaven . . . to the kingdom, or the community of the realm; to Parliament; to English corporate towns; to the two universities of Oxford and Cambridge; to the new joint-stock companies devoted to trade and exploration; and down to individual parish churches, chantries, and hospitals." As Turner suggests, an informed critique of the joint-stock corporation must "defamiliarize" that institution, not suppose its current ascendancy to be a "teleological inevitability" (Commonwealth, 28).

The Joint-Stock Corporate Body

A compelling appeal of joint stock was its tolerance for catastrophe. Together, shareholders mounted expeditions beyond the reach of the solitary investor. East India Company profits derived from the return of sufficient cargoes, not particular ships or personnel. The Company's traffic fused risks incommensurate in existential gravity and potential reward. Each investor wagered an affordable sum on the prospect of high returns, each (noninvesting) mariner wagered his life on fixed wages; the latter was far likelier to lose his life than the former his or her investment. By insulating shareholders from financial ruin, joint stocks turned shipwreck into a cost of doing business. Further, incorporation lent the communal body longevity independent of the life spans of its members and employees.

Queen Elizabeth named the East India Company's 229 signatories "one body corporate and politic in deed and in name really and fully, for us, our heirs and successors" (Birdwood, 167). Her language—from the Latin corpus politicum et corporatum, communitas perpetua—as Philip J. Stern notes, derived from classical Rome. In Roman law, a "body corporate" is "a group . . . treated by the law as an individual or unity having rights or liabilities distinct from those of the persons . . . composing it" (Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, [1971]). As Stern explains, "All corporations shared a common purpose: to bind a multitude of people together into a legal singularity, an artificial person that could maintain common rights, police community standards and behavior, and administer over and on behalf of the collectivity" (Stern, Company-State, 7). An entity more durable (perpetua) than its constituents, the "body corporate and politic" announced in the queen's charter held the right to own property, defend its interests, discipline fractious personnel, and conduct business like any other person (Birdwood, 167). Elizabeth's language described the members as persons with individual rights before the law and collectively as an uber-person with the same, like others of "our liege people of England" (Birdwood, 168): subjects and agents of judicial process.

When applied to a joint-stock body, the fiction of artificial personhood becomes distinctively empowering. The designation equips the collective to exploit clear ontological differences between groups and actual persons so as to advantage both the corporation and its constituents. Pooled investments fund bold initiatives while insulating each shareholder from financial devastation. Legal personhood arguably shields members from personal accountability for corporate losses or malfeasance. Moreover, the corporation's answerability to ethical and legal standards geared to individuals remains itself negotiable. As Turner observes, Pope Innocent IV, for one, argued that, since the universitas or corporation was an abstraction, "it had neither mind nor soul; therefore it could not sin and could never be excommunicated. Nor could [it] be imprisoned or subject to capital punishment, since it had no body. These formulas, along with Innocent's declaration that 'it is impossible for a corporation to commit a crime' . . . have become infamous in the context of today's debates over corporate personhood" (Commonwealth, 19). We will address the ethical burdens of the nascent East India Company, a concern implicit to this study, head-on in the closing chapter.

The doctrine of "one body corporate and politic" recalls the medieval concept of the king's two bodies: the body natural, which grows old and dies, and the body politic, an abstraction of state that endures. The present occupant of a perpetual seat, "the monarch herself," notes Stern, was "a form of corporation"—or, as Turner puts it, "a corporation with only one member." A royally announced legal fiction, the corporation was potentially immortal—until, that is, the charter lapsed, as the queen's was set to do in 1615. On 31 May 1609, endorsing the endeavors of a consortium and then constructing a great new flagship, King James I extended it indefinitely, naming the East India Company "a body, politic and corporate, forever, with perpetual succession."

The king's charter recognized a company that had weathered major setbacks over the nine years since its inception. Directors and shareholders in London welcomed their renewed privileges in a spirit of heightened resolve. Having learned of numerous lucrative commodities and regions of access, yet troubled by reports of breakdowns of discipline at sea and in factories abroad, and vexed by the private trade of supposedly loyal corporate agents, they now understood their endeavor in the transoceanic trade to be political as well as financial and logistical: maximal profits required optimal governance of personnel. How best to manage the conduct of fleets and the commerce of factories remained enigmatic challenges. Much of that government, they recognized, depended on writing: corporate oversight and retention of discourse. The East India Company articulated its collective, regionally dispersed power through material networks of epistolary exchange. The paperwork of the nascent East India Company—royal charters and commissions, executive commissions, minutes of shareholder meetings, bonds of good faith, letters to and from agents abroad, voyage journals, cargo manifests, letters and grants from foreign rulers, books of account, and so forth—was integral to its identity and conduct as a corporation. The Company came to know itself on paper. The surviving manuscripts of its internal discourse, and the texts from the corporate archive that found their way into print, articulated ideological commitments that compel our critical attention.

The Founders

An informing premise of this book is that the Sixth Voyage and its attendant discourses constitute an especially rewarding focus for generation-based study. The venture epitomized the work of the East India Company's founders. The Company's governor throughout the opening two decades was the prolific Sir Thomas Smythe (1558-1625), a merchant magnate whose contacts, commitments, and organizational skills markedly advanced London's global traffic (fig. 1). Succeeding his well-connected father in Parliament and as customer of London, under Elizabeth, Smythe also served as auditor, alderman, and sheriff of the city. A freeman of the Skinners' Company and Haberdashers' Company, he joined the Merchant Adventurers Company by 1600 and took leading roles in several of London's trading companies. He governed the Muscovy, Levant, and Northwest Passage Companies; was instrumental in the founding of the Virginia Company (1606), serving as its treasurer until 1619; and he also governed its offshoot, the Somers Island Company (1615-21, 1623-25). Elected the first governor of the East India Company, he persisted in that office until 1621, with two hiatuses: 1601-3 and 1605-7. The first was occasioned by his suspected involvement in the Earl of Essex's failed coup. Although cleared of the charge, he remained in disgrace in the Tower of London for the balance of Elizabeth's reign. King James by contrast admired Smythe, knighted him in 1603, and in 1605 made him England's ambassador to Russia: the second gap in his East India Company governorship. Basil Morgan describes Smythe as a "merchant-prince" who provided the vital link between the Jacobean government and the mercantile community. "For thirty years he was overseer of virtually all the trade that passed through the port of London."

Throughout his governorship, Smythe's home on Philpot Lane below Fenchurch Street, four blocks west of Tower Hill, was the London headquarters of the East India Company. It was a busy establishment. Mariners and merchants crowded the halls to seek employment or back pay—and, with husbands at sea, wives and widows their long-postponed compensation. Meetings of the General Court, the full body of investors, took place in Smythe's great hall, where an Inuit canoe hung, a reminder of the governor's global interests and the Company's perpetual hope of a northwest passage to Asia. The Company's twenty-four "committees" (shareholder-directors) and other officers convened there. In 1607, by Foster's reckoning, there were just three regular officers, all overworked: a secretary, a bookkeeper, and a beadle. By 1608, there was also a solicitor, a cashier, and a husband or steward. The Court Book minutes also note a treasurer, the charter member Thomas Farrington, as of 1607. There was a strong room for valuables. The Company's archive, where papers accumulated relentlessly, was at Smythe's house as well.

Salient among the persons named in the original charter were the magnates of two interlinked initiatives: the Levant trade and anti-Spanish privateering. To protect and expand their interests in the import of goods from Asia, London's Levant Company merchants recruited subscribers into the larger East India Company. Edward Osborne and Richard Staper, the Turkey Company's founders and first two governors, involved themselves in the new corporation, as did Smythe, then governor of the Levant Company. Much of the capital behind the new organization came from an attendant industry of great tactical and geographic flexibility: privateering, or state-sanctioned piracy. In principle, the Levant Company favored a peaceful Mediterranean trade, yet its members regularly committed their vessels to voyages of plunder elsewhere, and other Englishmen pillaged traffic in the Mediterranean in any case. Their predations increased late in Elizabeth's reign. Both economies were fueled by the war against Spain, which drove England's former traders there to seek markets in the Mediterranean and reparations in the Atlantic and beyond, where they seized the rich cargoes denied them in Spain and the New World. Private initiative, operating with the Crown's connivance and sometimes investment, complemented Queen Elizabeth's relatively feeble navy.

The heady fusion of patriotism, Protestantism, and profit invigorated England's maritime industry and enriched many founders of the East India Company. Alderman John Watts, a Levant Company member and, writes Kenneth Andrews, "perhaps the greatest privateering promoter of his time," became the governor of the East India Company in 1601, when Smythe was in the Tower (Andrews, Privateering, 104, 108, 217; Stevens, 166). The distinguished Middleton family applied capital and skills earned in privateering to the Company: Sir Thomas Middleton, an original subscriber, was a prominent grocer, privateer, and subsequent lord mayor; his brother Robert became a governing member of the new company; and their cousins John, Henry, and David took commands on several voyages. Other charter members included the great privateer George Clifford, the Earl of Cumberland, and several of his merchant backers: Sir John Hart, Alderman Paul Banning, Thomas Cordell, Alderman Leonard Holliday, and William Garraway, whose privateer the Ascension entered the Company's service (Andrews, 76-97; Stevens, 10-14). One of Cumberland's trusted captains, wounded in the capture of a Portuguese carrack in 1593, was Nicholas Downton. The Company's first flagship, renamed the Red Dragon when purchased from him, was Cumberland's greatest privateer, originally christened the Malice Scourge by Queen Elizabeth in 1595 at Deptford (Spence, 177).

In its sources of capital, joint-stock organization, and tactics at sea, under Elizabeth the Company openly perpetuated the aggressive tactics of the post-Armada years. Privateering expeditions, while often departing in fleets, were typically ad hoc ventures that preyed on shipping and coastal towns by opportunity. Owners, mariners, and other parties at risk negotiated percentages of the take, sometimes just before an engagement, like James Lancaster in 1594, securing Dutch and French collaboration in an assault on the Portuguese settlement of Pernambuco in Brazil—an expedition funded by Watts, Banning, and "others of worship in the city of London." Each venture pursued near-term profits. The windfall opportunism of Elizabethan privateering is epitomized in Sir Francis Drake's circumnavigation, 1577-80: the voyage exploited the unrepeatable occasion to take Spanish ships along the west coast of South America by absolute surprise. Departing with a ballast of sand and rocks, the Golden Hinde returned with precious metals in that service. The fantastic profits, shared by the Crown, inspired and funded a marked expansion of the business model. Privateering became a major, if often ill-directed, component of Elizabeth's strategy of low-budget war against Spain; and Drake's circumnavigation made bold strategic claims for England. But, for the mariners and their backers, each expedition was a more tactical challenge: one dangerous, with luck lucrative, voyage at a time.

These naval and financial reflexes created both opportunities and dilemmas for the nascent East India Company. The London merchants met prolific frustrations in Indian Ocean markets. Many major ports were already occupied by Portuguese or Dutch forces; the English required well-armed ships and some truculence to proceed. English broadcloths and woolens sold poorly in the tropics. The Company's mariners soon learned that to conduct a peaceful trade, their ostensible aim, they needed bullion: they had to carry precious metals out of England to make purchases in the East, and then earn profits by conveying Asian goods to other regional markets, home to England, and back into Europe and the Levant. Theorized and defended in the 1620s by Thomas Mun, such a balance of trade required a long view of capital accumulation and a complex system of coordinated voyages that took decades to construct. But each of the first twelve voyages, 1601-12, was financed separately—like a privateering venture with a spectacularly long list of backers—and investors grew impatient. Mun's thesis, moreover, countered powerful commercial interests—a "multitude, who bitterly exclaim when they see any monies carried out of the realm" (Mun, Treasure, 34)—who measured the nation's prosperity in its domestic bullion and faulted the Company for departing with treasure and returning with perishable frivolities. As Edward Misselden protested, "the money that is traded out of Christendom into" Turkey, Persia, and the East Indies "never returneth again." Given the Company's abundant difficulties at home and abroad, the recourse to immediate, forceful enrichment at sea often proved to be irresistible.

But one-off, improvised, predatory ventures antagonized potential trading partners and, like the system of single-voyage-based investment that recommended such tactics, confounded the implementation of long-range strategies vital to corporate growth. East India Company members differed over the capture of prizes, as they did over much else: wrangling marked their meetings at home and abroad. Some maintained that only manifest strength at sea compelled the respect vital to the penetration of new markets; others believed it counterproductive to offend potential benefactors and clients by thuggish conduct that confirmed England's notoriety as a nation of thieves and pirates. King James's 1604 treaty with Spain (fig. 2) imposed major pressures for reform, yet the London merchants, by inclination and necessity, remained more hawkish than the king. While operating with the blessing of the Crown, the Company maintained an independent executive that advanced its own economic and political ambitions in England and abroad. Many leading members were pious Protestants nostalgic for the days of frank hostility with Hapsburg Europe. The Dutch, a powerful lobby at the Jacobean court, sailed in formidable fleets and were ambivalent about, and eventually hostile toward, English interlopers in the Indian Ocean. Portuguese forces, notwithstanding the 1604 treaty, generally opposed both the English and the Dutch in eastern waters.

The alliance of royal and mercantile ambitions that, under Elizabeth, quickened England's maritime endeavor and precipitated the East India Company yielded to a more anxious collusion of dynastic and commercial interests under King James. The biography of a magnificent ship lost on its initial voyage, this book investigates a critical juncture of that collaboration, as the London merchants sought to reconcile neo-Elizabethan predation with the Crown's commitment to peace. At the same time, troubled by quarrels between their separate voyages and the erosion of corporate profits to the private trade of employees, the directors moved to consolidate their authority and maximize shareholder earnings in London. Driven by the need to profit from joint-stock enterprises of prodigious cost, danger, and scope; unburdened by royally dictated territorial ambitions; and prepared to defend their interests by lethal force, the East India Company plied the oceans as vast anarchic zones of opportunity for the creation and management of wealth. The process required social and material logistics of daring comprehensiveness. A pivotal challenge was to harness the reckless improvisations of privateering—corporate raiding—to the strategic needs of corporate sustainability. The decisive financial innovation was to move beyond the separate funding of each voyage, a system that injected dangerous volatilities into the business, and inaugurate a capital base of ongoing joint stock. The crisis that precipitated this reform took place on the Sixth Voyage: the tragic journey of the Trades Increase.

Penn Press | Site Use and Privacy Policy
Report Accessibility Issues and Get Help | University of Pennsylvania
Copyright © 2021 University of Pennsylvania Press | All rights reserved