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Title: British politics, imperial ideology, and East India Company reform, 1773-1784
Author: Gilding, Ben Joseph
ISNI:       0000 0004 9347 7915
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2020
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This dissertation analyses the various factors behind the British East India Company’s metamorphosis from a mercantile corporation into a semi-privatised imperial agency in the crucial period between Lord North’s Regulating Act in 1773 and Pitt’s India Act of 1784. To untangle these factors, this dissertation engages with three core themes. Firstly, it posits a reciprocal constitutional and legal relationship between the East India Company and the British state, situating the Company as a central but destabilising force in domestic constitutional crises, while also arguing that domestic political factors fundamentally shaped the structure and development of the early British Raj. Secondly, building on the work of David Armitage and P.J. Marshall on imperial ideology, this dissertation examines contemporary thought and ideas on the concept of ‘empire’ and how the acquisition of territory in South Asia by a mercantile corporation profoundly challenged the prevailing normative conceptions that the British Empire was ‘Protestant, commercial, maritime and free.’ By drawing upon a wide range of sources including pamphlets, newspapers, handbills, speeches, and private correspondence this work exposes the diversity of contemporary views towards the newly-acquired ‘empire in the East’ and examines how they crystallised into movements for imperial reform. The third theme of this dissertation focuses on the effect of ‘distance’ on the governance of the East India Company and examines the ways in which reforms were influenced by this central factor as it intersected with notions of sovereignty and jurisdiction in the metropole. By utilising the attempts to remove Warren Hastings from the post of Governor General of Bengal as a case study, this chapter seeks to highlight London’s position as a discursive centre of the empire. It therefore engages with debates on the structure of empires, including the metropole/periphery divide, and the usefulness of network analogies. Analysing these political, constitutional, and ideological factors in East India Company reform throws into sharp relief the connections between British political and constitutional developments in this period and the unprecedented expansion of the Empire into far-flung and diverse locales.
Supervisor: Morieux, Renaud Sponsor: Cambridge Trust ; SSHRC
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: East India Company ; political history ; British history ; empire ; imperial history ; British politics ; constitutional history ; corporations ; corporate sovereignty ; eighteenth century ; ideas ; ideology ; distance ; communications ; India ; Britain ; London ; Calcutta ; colonialism ; imperialism ; subjecthood ; merchants ; jurisdiction ; legal history ; metropole