Spices, the East India Company, and the origins of anti-Dutch sentiment in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries



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While England has long been known for its trades in Indian calico cloth and Chinese tea, less attention has been dedicated to its trade in spices during the early modern era. This thesis attempts to address this issue. It argues that Indonesian spices and England’s spice trade had significant impacts on English culture and politics during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It demonstrates that although spices lost their value as exotic luxury goods due to the establishment of a direct Eurasian trading network, they gained significant practical value as culinary and medicinal ingredients amongst ordinary English folks. It examines a variety of printed and manuscript recipe collections to demonstrate how men and women in England gained knowledge about spices and their uses in food and medicine. Moreover, this thesis also demonstrates that England’s quest for a direct Anglo-Indonesian spice trade had direct consequences on the development of the country’s political economy during the seventeenth century and the origins of the English commercial empire in Asia. Surveying a range of primary sources including the Company’s correspondence and court records as well as the rich observations laden in the Calendar of State Papers Venetian, this paper seeks to demonstrate how the quest for spices drove English commercial expansion and embroiled them in conflict with early modern Europe’s commercial hegemon the Dutch Vereenidge Oostindische Compagnie (VOC). It traces the East India Company’s (EIC) roots to the Levant Company and the implications of its rivalry for trade in Southeast Asia with the VOC. It highlights the connection between this commercial rivalry to England’s involvement in the Anglo-Dutch Wars of the later seventeenth century by showing how the legacy of the EIC’s struggle with the VOC became useful anti-Dutch propaganda for the English state. It likewise demonstrates how, during the reign of Charles II (r. 1660-1685), the English spice trade was involved in the change of popular feeling from anti-Dutch to anti-French sentiments. Overall, this paper aims to contribute to the historiographies of the early endeavors of the EIC, the origins of the Anglo-Dutch Wars, and early modern English consumerism.

This thesis won 1st Place in the Texas Tech University Outstanding Thesis and Dissertation Award, Humanities/Fine Arts, 2019.

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Spices, East India Company, Anglo-Dutch Wars