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the trade of merchandise by sea in and by such ways and passages already found out or which hereafter shall be found out and discovered ... into and from the East Indies, in the countries and parts of Asia and Africa, and into and from all the islands, ports, havens, cities, creeks, towns, and places of Asia and Africa, and America, or any of them, beyond the Cape of Bona Esperanza to the Streights of Magellan.'
During these fifteen years the Company might assemble themselves in any convenient place, 'within our dominions or elsewhere,' and there 'hold court' for the Company and the affairs thereof, and, being so assembled, might make, ordain, and constitute such and so many reasonable laws, constitutions, orders, and ordinances, as to them or the greater part of them being then and there present, shall seem necessary and convenient for the good government of the same Company, and of all factors, masters, mariners, and other officers, employed or to be employed in any of their voyages, and for the better advancement and continuance of the said trade and traffick.' They might also impose such pains, punishments, and penalties by imprisonment of body, or by fines and amerciaments, as might seem necessary or convenient for observation of these laws and ordinances. But their laws and punishments were to be reasonable, and not contrary or repugnant to the laws, statutes, or customs of the English realm.
The charter was to last for fifteen years, subject to a power of determination on two years' warning, if the trade did not appear to be profitable to the realm. If otherwise, it might be renewed for a further term of fifteen years.
The Company's right of trading, during the term and within the limits of the charter, was to be exclusive, but they might grant licences to trade. Unauthorized traders were to be liable to forfeiture of their goods, ships, and tackle, and to“ imprisonment and such other punishment as to us, our heirs and successors, for so high a contempt, shall seem meet and convenient.'
The Company might admit into their body all such apprentices of any member of the Company, and all such servants or factors of the Company, and all such other 'as to the majority present at a court might be thought fit. If any member, having promised to contribute towards an adventure of the Company, failed to pay his contribution, he might be removed,
disenfranchised, and displaced. Points of The points of constitutional interest in the charter of constitutional in- Elizabeth are the constitution of the Company, its privileges, terest in charter-of and its legislative powers. Elizabeth.
The twenty-four committees to whom, with the governor, Constitution of is entrusted the direction of the Company's business, Company individuals, not bodies, and are the predecessors of the later
directors. Their assembly is in subsequent charters called the court of committees, as distinguished from the court general or general court, which answers to the general meeting of modern companies.
The most noticeable difference between the charter and modern instruments of association of a similar character is the absence of any reference to the capital of the Company and the corresponding qualification and voting powers of members. It appears from the charter that the adventurers had undertaken to contribute towards the first voyage certain sums of money, which were 'set down and written in a book for that purpose,' and failure to pay their contributions to the treasurer within a specified date was to involve removal and disenfranchisement' of the defaulters. But the charter does not specify the amount of the several contributions ?, and for all that appears to the contrary each adventurer was to be equally eligible to the office of committee, and to have equal voting power in the general court. The explanation is that the Company belonged at the outset to the simpler and looser form of association to which the City Companies then belonged, and still belong, and which used to be known by the name of
The total amount subscribed in September, 1599, was £30,133, and there were loi subscribers.
* regulated companies.' The members of such a company were subject to certain common regulations, and were entitled to certain common privileges, but each of them traded on his own separate capital, and there was no joint stock. The trading privileges of the East India Company were reserved to the members, their sons at twenty-one, and their apprentices, factors, and servants. The normal mode of admission to full membership of the Company was through the avenue of apprenticeship or service. But there was power to admit others,' doubtless on the terms of their offering suitable contributions to the adventure of the Company.
When an association of this kind had obtained valuable concessions and privileges, its natural tendency was to become an extremely close corporation, and to shut its doors to outsiders except on prohibitory terms, and the efforts of those who suffered from the monopoly thus created were directed towards reduction of these terms. Thus by a statute of 1497 the powerful Merchant Adventurers trading with Flanders had been required to reduce to 10 marks (£6 133. 4d.) the fine payable on admission to their body. By similar enactments in the seventeenth century the Russia Company and Levant Company were compelled to grant privileges of membership on such easy terms as to render them of merely nominal value, and thus to entitle the companies to what, according to Adam Smith, is the highest eulogium which can be justly bestowed on a regulated company, that of being merely useless. The charter of Elizabeth contains nothing specific as to the terms on which admission to the privileges of the Company might be obtained by an outsider. It had not yet been ascertained how far those privileges would be valuable to members of the Company, and oppressive to its rivals. The chief privilege of the Company was the exclusive right Privileges
of Comof trading between geographical limits which were practically
pany. the Cape of Good Hope on the one hand and the Straits of Magellan on the other, and which afterwards became widely famous as the limits of the Company's charter. The only
restriction imposed on the right of trading within this vast and indefinite area was that the Company were not to 'undertake or address any trade into any country, port, island, haven, city, creek, towns, or places being already in the lawful and actual possession of any such Christian Prince or State as at this present or at any time hereafter shall be in league or amity with us, our heirs and successors, and which doth not or will not accept of such trade.' Subject to this restriction the trade of the older continent was allotted to the adventurers with the same lavish grandeur as that with which the Pope had granted rights of sovereignty over the new continent, and with which in our own day the continent of Africa has been parcelled out among rival chartered companies. The limits of the English charter of 1600 were identical with the limits of the Dutch charter of 1602, and the two charters may be regarded as the Protestant counterclaims to the monopoly claimed under Pope Alexander's Bull. During the first few years of their existence the two Companies carried on their undertakings in co-operation with each other, but they soon began to quarrel, and in 1611 we find the London merchants praying for protection against their Dutch competitors. Projects for amalgamation of the English and Dutch Companies fell through, and during the greater part of the seventeenth century Holland was the most formidable rival and opponent of English trade in the East.
• By virtue of our Prerogative Royal, which we will not in that behalf have argued or brought in question,' the Queen straitly charges and commands her subjects not to infringe the privileges granted by her to the Company, upon pain of forfeitures and other penalties. Nearly a century was to elapse before the Parliament of 1693 formally declared the exercise of this unquestionable prerogative to be illegal as transcending the powers of the Crown. But neither at the beginning nor at the end of the seventeenth century was any doubt entertained as to the expediency, as apart from the constitutionality, of granting a trade monopoly of this description. Such monopolies were in strict accordance with the ideas, and were justified by the circumstances, of the time.
In the seventeenth century the conditions under which private trade is now carried on with the East did not exist. Beyond certain narrow territorial limits international law did not run, diplomatic relations had no existence 1. Outside those limits force alone ruled, and trade competition meant war. At the present day territories are annexed for the sake of developing and securing trade. The annexations of the sixteenth century were annexations, not of territory, but of trading grounds. The pressure was the same, the objects were the same, the methods were different. For the successful prosecution of Eastern trade it was necessary to have an association powerful enough to negotiate with native princes, to enforce discipline among its agents and servants, and to drive off European rivals with the strong hand. No Western State could afford to support more than one such association without dissipating its strength. The independent trader, or interloper, was, through his weakness, at the mercy of the foreigner, and, through his irresponsibility, a source of danger to his countrymen. It was because the trade monopoly of the East India Company had outlived the conditions out of which it arose that its extinction in the nineteenth century. was greeted with general and just approval.
The powers of making laws and ordinances granted by the Legislacharter of Elizabeth did not differ in their general provisions powers of
tive from, and were evidently modelled on, the powers of making Company. by-laws commonly exercised by ordinary municipal and commercial corporations. No copies of any laws made under the early charters are known to exist. They would doubtless have consisted mainly of regulations for the guidance of the Company's factors and apprentices. Unless supplemented by judicial and punitive powers, the early legislative powers of
· The state of things in European waters was not much better. See the description of piracy in the Mediterranean in the seventeenth century in Masson, Histoire du Commerce Français dans le Levant, chap. ii.