French East India Company

From the humble beginnings in trade, the English and the French Companies were inevitably drawn to the politics of India. When the Mughal central authority weakened, the viceroy of the Deccan proved to be incapable to protect the trade interests of the European Companies. Subsequently the European came to a firm conclusion that in order to protect their interests, they must be prepared to unsheathe their swords occasionally. Steeped in the ideology of Mercantilism, the English and the French Companies looked for a huge profit. To secure this it was necessary to eliminate all competition and get monopoly rights. The French and English have always been on the opposite side of every conflict in most of the European wars of the 18th century. With the outbreak of Austrian War of Succession and the Seven Years War, India became one of the theatres of these conflicts. Thus for any party to win, it became necessary to gain control over the land of India. The conclusion changed the entire political scenario which echoed throughout Indian history.

Of the five great European maritime powers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, France was the fourth to enter into the race for commercial communication with India. The fifth power, Spain, never attempted the contest, and Portugal, Holland, and England had reaped considerable benefits from their enterprise before the attention of the French people had been sufficiently attracted to the trade. Nevertheless, though the French were the last to enter upon the venture, their natural genius asserted itself in a manner that speedily brought them on a level with the most securely planted of their European rivals.

On June 1, 1604, a Company was established under the French King's letters patent, granting it an exclusive trade for fifteen years. But, though the services of Gerard Leroy, a Flemish navigator, who had already made several voyages to the Indies in the employ of the Dutch, were engaged, disputes amongst the proprietors, and the paucity of funds, hindered the action of the Company. Seven years later the project was renewed under Louis XIII., but owing to the same causes, nothing was undertaken during a period of four years. But in 1615, two merchants of Rouen, dismayed with the inactivity of the Company, petitioned the King for the transfer to them of the privileges accorded to it, expressing at the same time their readiness to fit out ships that very year. This petition was opposed by the Company. The King, however, after hearing the arguments on both sides, decided in favor of a coalition. The expedition gained neither profit nor loss. For upwards of twenty years after this, the Company affected nothing.

Under Cardinal Richelieu, a powerful minister, a new Company was formed called ‘La Compagnie des Indies’. They began to make serious preparations to justify their right to the title. Their first ship had scarcely started on its expedition when Cardinal Richelieu died. This event, however, did not affect the expedition at all. The first French vessel equipped by the French India Company reached Madagascar in the summer of 1642. Here they failed to find a successful colony.

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