Soon after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, London merchants presented a petition to Queen Elizabeth I for permission to sail to the Indian Ocean. The permission was granted and on 10 April 1591 three ships sailed from Torbay England around the Cape of Good Hope to the Arabian Sea and was one the earliest of the English overseas Indian expeditions. One of them, the Edward Bonventure, then sailed around Cape Comorin and on to the Malay Peninsula and subsequently returned to England in 1594. In 1596, three more ships sailed east; however, these were all lost at sea. Two years later, on 24 September 1598, another group of merchants having raised 30,133 in capital, met in London to form a corporation. Although their first attempt was not completely successful, they nonetheless sought the Queen’s unofficial approval, bought ships for their venture, increased their capital to 68,373, and convened again a year later.
The East India Company (EIC), originally chartered as the Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading into the East Indies, and often called the Honourable East India Company, was an English and later (from 1707) British joint-stock company and megacorporation formed for pursuing trade with the East Indies but which ended up trading mainly with the Indian subcontinent, North-west frontier province and Balochistan.
The East India Company traded mainly in cotton, silk, indigo dye, salt, saltpetre, tea and opium. The Company was granted a Royal Charter by Queen Elizabeth in 1600, making it the oldest among several similarly formed European East India Companies. Shares of the company were owned by wealthy merchants and aristocrats. The government owned no shares and had only indirect control. The Company eventually came to rule large areas of India with its own private armies, exercising military power and assuming administrative functions. On 31 December 1600, the Queen granted a Royal Charter to “George, Earl of Cumberland, and 215 Knights, Aldermen, and Burgesses” under the name, Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading with the East Indies. For a period of fifteen years the charter awarded the newly formed company a monopoly on trade with all countries east of the Cape of Good Hope and west of the Straits of Magellan. Sir James Lancaster commanded the first East India Company voyage in 1601 and in March 1604 Sir Henry Middleton commanded the second voyage.