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British and Dutch Chartered Companies

Tony Webster

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online May 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0099
British and Dutch Chartered Companies

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  • History of the Americas
  • European History
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  • Regional and National History

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Chartered companies were commercial organizations that enjoyed special privileges granted by the state, usually encapsulated in a royal charter. Most were created by merchants in Europe between the 16th and 19th centuries, in England, Scotland, the Dutch Republic, Spain, Portugal, France, and elsewhere. Most chartered companies were formed by investors seeking to exploit commercial opportunities in a particular branch of trade, frequently with a specific part of the world. This latter phenomenon reflected the growth of European commerce with Africa, the Americas, and Asia from the 16th century onward, and many chartered companies specialized in trade and other economic activities in these parts of the world. In many cases, the close relationships between the companies and the states that granted their charters reflected prevailing intellectual notions in the period from the 16th through 18th centuries about the nature of economic activity and state power. In essence, these postulated that global wealth and resources were finite and that the power of states depended upon their ability to control as much of the world’s trade and resources as possible. These ideas are summarized by the term “mercantilism,” and company charters created in this period were frequently intended to help state acquisition and control over trade and resources at the expense of rival powers. In general, monopolies over particular branches of commerce (such as the English East India Company’s monopoly of trade with India and Asia) were granted, and consequently chartered companies became organs of imperial expansion and control. This feature of chartered companies outlasted the era of mercantilism, with later chartered companies, such as the British South Africa Company of the late 19th century, being created with a specific remit for the promotion of imperial interests. Leading investors and managers of chartered companies acquired considerable political influence with the states that granted the charters. In some instances this arose because of the importance of the chartered company in supplying loan finance to governments (e.g., the English East India Company in the 17th and early 18th centuries), in others because of the importance of the company in facilitating the extraction of essential resources or revenues from overseas colonies. Thus chartered companies were political and imperial entities as well as commercial organizations.

Article.  8324 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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