E13: The Role of Great Britain

The British set up their own East India Company to rival the Dutch, but for a long time were unable to equal the Dutch dominance over the Spice Trade based in what was the de facto Dutch East Indies. Britain turned its focus towards India and began to develop new markets. She established centres of influence in Basra at the head of the Persian Gulf, Bombay and Calcutta, but most significantly gained permission to trade extensively between India and China through Canton. The victory over France and her allies in the Seven Years War gave Britain a strong advantage in the Far East, despite losing the American War of Independence. Though she lost the fledgling United States of America, she managed to retain control of parts of what would become Canada. But Britain's supreme strength was in India where she became dominant. London became a more important centre of trade and finance than Amsterdam. The British trade pattern began with shipments of cotton and textiles between the three centres of Europe, India and China, but later changed to tea and opium. By the latter part of the 19th century, Britain was sending twice as many ships to China as to all other countries put together. The Industrial Revolution was at its height and, supported by naval dominance, Britain with the world's largest and most powerful navy controlled or exercised major influence over almost a quarter of the planet.