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English chartered companies began to trade with both the Ottoman and the Mughal states in the last decade of the sixteenth century. In India, as recent work has shown, the…
English chartered companies began to trade with both the Ottoman and the Mughal states in the last decade of the sixteenth century. In India, as recent work has shown, the rudiments of an English polity were established very early and eventually metastasized into a sizeable colonial empire. In Turkey, on the other hand, no “company-state” ever took root. This paper endeavors to explain this divergence from the perspective, not of the highly “successful” East India Company, but of the “failed” (and much less well-studied) Levant Company, which, with short interruptions, maintained a monopoly English trade with the Ottoman Empire from 1592 until 1803. The paper offers an account of this divergence that emphasizes the importance of an independent overseas administrative apparatus, something that the EIC had but that the Levant Company lacked. The Levant Company lost control of its overseas administration in the 1630s, when the Crown began to regard the Ottoman Empire as too diplomatically important to leave England’s representation there to “mere merchants.” Thereafter, the company was at a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis rival commercial organizations that, because they had established a territorial base, could control and cheapen production in the colonial sites with which they traded.