French East India Company

The French East India Company (French: Compagnie française pour le commerce des Indes orientales) was a commercial Imperial enterprise, founded in 1664 to compete with the English (later British) and Dutch East India companies in the East Indies.

Planned by Jean-Baptiste Colbert, it was chartered by King Louis XIV for the purpose of trading in the Eastern Hemisphere. It resulted from the fusion of three earlier companies, the 1660 Compagnie de Chine, the Compagnie d'Orient and Compagnie de Madagascar. The first Director General for the Company was François de la Faye, who was adjoined by two Directors belonging to the two most successful trading organizations at that time: François Caron, who had spent 30 years working for the Dutch East India Company, including more than 20 years in Japan,[1] and Marcara Avanchintz, an Armenian trader from Isfahan, Persia.[2]

French East India Company
Public company
FateDissolved and activities absorbed by the French Crown in 1769; reconstituted 1785, bankrupt 1794
Colonial India
Imperial entities of India
Dutch India1605–1825
Danish India1620–1869
French India1668–1954

Portuguese India
Casa da Índia1434–1833
Portuguese East India Company1628–1633

British India
East India Company1612–1757
Company rule in India1757–1858
British Raj1858–1947
British rule in Burma1824–1948
Princely states1721–1949
Partition of India

Drapeau du régiment de la Compagnie des Indes en 1756
Regiment's flag of East India company.


French king Henry IV authorized the first Compagnie des Indes Orientales, granting the firm a 15-year monopoly of the Indies trade.[3] This precursor to Colbert's later Compagnie des Indes Orientales, however, was not a joint-stock corporation, and was funded by the Crown.

The initial capital of the revamped Compagnie des Indes Orientales was 15 million livres, divided into shares of 1000 livres apiece. Louis XIV funded the first 3 million livres of investment, against which losses in the first 10 years were to be charged.[3] The initial stock offering quickly sold out, as courtiers of Louis XIV recognized that it was in their interests to support the King's overseas initiative. The Compagnie des Indes Orientales was granted a 50-year monopoly on French trade in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, a region stretching from the Cape of Good Hope to the Straits of Magellan.[3] The French monarch also granted the Company a concession in perpetuity for the island of Madagascar, as well as any other territories it could conquer.

The Company failed to found a successful colony on Madagascar, but was able to establish ports on the nearby islands of Bourbon and Île-de-France (today's Réunion and Mauritius). By 1719, it had established itself in India, but the firm was near bankruptcy. In the same year the Compagnie des Indes Orientales was combined under the direction of John Law with other French trading companies to form the Compagnie Perpétuelle des Indes. The reorganized corporation resumed its operating independence in 1723.

With the decline of the Mughal Empire, the French decided to intervene in Indian political affairs to protect their interests, notably by forging alliances with local rulers in south India. From 1741 the French under Joseph François Dupleix pursued an aggressive policy against both the Indians and the British until they ultimately were defeated by Robert Clive. Several Indian trading ports, including Pondichéry and Chandernagore, remained under French control until 1954.

French East Indies Cannon de 4 bronze 1755 Douai 84mm 237cm 545kg iron ball 2kg
French East India Company cannon ("Canon de 4"). Bronze, 1755, Douai. Caliber: 84mm, length: 237cm, weight: 545kg, ammunition: 2kg iron balls.

The Company was not able to maintain itself financially, and it was abolished in 1769, about 20 years before the French Revolution. King Louis XVI issued a 1769 edict that required the Company to transfer to the state all its properties, assets and rights, which were valued at 30 million livres. The King agreed to pay all of the Company's debts and obligations, though holders of Company stock and notes received only an estimated 15 percent of the face value of their investments by the end of corporate liquidation in 1790.[3]

The company was reconstituted in 1785[4] and issued 40,000 shares of stock priced at 1,000 livres apiece.[3] It was given monopoly on all trade with countries beyond the Cape of Good Hope[4] for an agreed period of seven years.[3] The agreement, however, did not anticipate the French Revolution, and on 3 April 1790 the monopoly was abolished by an act of the new French Assembly which enthusiastically declared that the lucrative Far Eastern trade would henceforth be "thrown open to all Frenchmen".[4] The company, accustomed neither to competition nor official disfavor, fell into steady decline and was finally liquidated in 1794.[3]

Map gallery

Bellin Indoustan 1770

Carte de L'Indoustan. Bellin, 1770.

European settlements in India 1501-1739

French and other European settlements in India.

French India 1741-1754

Acme of French influence 1741-1754.

Liquidation scandal

Even as the company was headed consciously toward extinction, it became embroiled in its most infamous scandal. The Committee of Public Safety had banned all joint-stock companies on 24 August 1793, and specifically seized the assets and papers of the East India Company.[5] While its liquidation proceedings were being set up, directors of the company bribed various senior state officials to allow the company to carry out its own liquidation, rather than be supervised by the government.[5] When this became known the following year, the resulting scandal led to the execution of key Montagnard deputies like Fabre d'Eglantine and Joseph Delaunay, among others.[5] The infighting sparked by the episode also brought down Georges Danton[6] and can be said to have led to the downfall of the Montagnards as a whole.[5]


French issued copper coin cast in Pondicherry for internal Indian trade

French-issued copper coin, cast in Pondichéry for internal Indian trade.

French issued gold Pagoda for Southern India trade cast in Pondicherry 1705 1780

French-issued "Gold Pagoda" for Southern India trade, cast in Pondichéry 1705-1780.

French issued rupee in the name of Mohammed Sha 1719 1758 for Northern India trade cast in Pondicherry

French-issued rupee in the name of Mohammed Shah (1719-1748) for Northern India trade, cast in Pondichéry.

See also

Pondicherry Dupliex
Monument to Joseph François Dupleix in Pondicherry.


  1. ^ Caron lived in Japan from 1619 to 1641. A Collector's Guide to Books on Japan in English By Jozef Rogala, p.31 [1]
  2. ^ McCabe, p.104
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Shakespeare, Howard (2001). "The Compagnie des Indes". Archived from the original on 2007-12-25. Retrieved 2008-03-06.
  4. ^ a b c Soboul, p.192.
  5. ^ a b c d Soboul, pp.360–363.
  6. ^ Doyle, pp. 273–274.

Further reading

  • Ames, Glenn J. (1996). Colbert, Mercantilism, and the French Quest for Asian Trade. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press. ISBN 0-87580-207-9.
  • Boucher, P. (1985). The Shaping of the French Colonial Empire: A Bio-Bibliography of the Careers of Richelieu, Fouquet and Colbert. New York: Garland.
  • Doyle, William (1990). The Oxford History of the French Revolution (2 ed.). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-925298-5.
  • Greenwald, Erin M. (2016). Marc-Antoine Caillot and the Company of the Indies in Louisiana: Trade in the French Atlantic World. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 9780807162859
  • Lokke, C. L. (1932). France and the Colonial Question: A Study of Contemporary French Public Opinion, 1763-1801. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Malleson, G. B. (1893). History of the French in India. London: W.H. Allen & Co.
  • Sen, S. P. (1958). The French in India, 1763-1816. Calcutta: Firma K.L. Mukhopadhyay. ASIN B000HINRSC.
  • Sen, S. P. (1947). The French in India: First Establishment and Struggle. Calcutta: University of Calcutta Press.
  • Soboul, Albert (1975). The French Revolution 1787–1799. New York: Vintage. ISBN 0-394-71220-X. Retrieved 2011-01-01.
  • Subramanian, Lakshmi, ed. (1999). French East India Company and the Trade of the Indian Ocean: A Collection of Essays by Indrani Chatterjee. Delhi: Munshiram Publishers.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  • McAbe, Ina Baghdiantz (2008). Orientalism in early Modern France. Berg. ISBN 978-1-84520-374-0. Retrieved 2011-01-01.
  • Wellington, Donald C. French East India companies: A historical account and record of trade (Hamilton Books, 2006).

External links

Battle of Adyar

The Battle of Adyar (also the Battle of Adyar River or the Battle of St. Thome (Thom)) or

Battle of Mailapur took place on 24 October 1746. The battle was between the French East India Company men and Nawab of Arcot forces over the St. George Fort, which was held by the French. It was part of the First Carnatic War between the English and the French.

Battle of Arnee

The Battle of Arnee (or Battle of Arni) took place at Arni, India on 3 December 1751 during the Second Carnatic War. A British-led force under the command of Robert Clive defeated and routed a much larger Franco-Indian force under the command of Raza Sahib. The French troops were guarding a convoy of treasure. Clive took up a position in swampy ground, crossed by a causeway in which the convoy was forced to pass. The French were thrown into disorder and forced to retreat, but night saved them from total destruction. The treasure, however, was captured.

Battle of Chingleput

The Battle of Chingleput was a short siege in early 1752, during the Second Carnatic War. About 700 British East India Company recruits and sepoys under the command of Robert Clive captured the fortress of Chingleput, near Madras, defended by a French East India Company garrison of about 40 Europeans and 500 troops.

Battle of Golden Rock

The Battle of Golden Rock was fought between forces of the British and French East India Companies on 26 June 1753, during the Second Carnatic War. French troops, assisted by Mysorean troops led by Hyder Ali, assaulted a British outpost near Trichinopoly, drawing the main British force defending Trichinopoly. The British, commanded by Stringer Lawrence, were victorious.

Battle of Seringham

The Battle of Seringham was fought on the island of Srirangam between 1,000 troops of the British East India Company commanded by Stringer Lawrence and a confederacy of French East India Company troops and Chanda Sahib.

Battle of Wandiwash

The Battle of Wandiwash was a decisive battle in India during the Seven Years' War. The Count de Lally's army, burdened by a lack of naval support and funds, attempted to regain the fort at Vandavasi, now in Tamil Nadu. He was attacked by Sir Eyre Coote's forces and decisively defeated. The French general Marquis de Bussy-Castelnau and the French were then restricted to Pondichéry, where they surrendered on 16 January 1761. Wandiwash is the Anglicised pronunciation of Vandavasi.This was the Third Carnatic War fought between the French and the British. Having made substantial gains in Bengal and Hyderabad, the British, after collecting huge amount of revenue, were fully equipped to face the French in Wandiwash, whom they defeated.

According to the 19th century book Annals of the Wars of the Eighteenth Century by Author Eduard Cust, the French Army consisted of 300 European Cavalry, 2,250 European infantry, 1,300 sepoys (soldiers), 3,000 Mahrattas and 16 pieces of artillery while the English deployed about 80 European Horses, 250 Native horses, 1,900 European Infantry, 2,100 sepoys and 26 pieces of artillery. The Battle of Wandiwash involved capture of Chetpattu (Chetpet), Tirunomalai (Thiruvannaamalai), Tindivanam and Perumukkal.

Carnatic Wars

The Carnatic Wars (also spelled Karnatic Wars) were a series of military conflicts in the middle of the 18th century in India. The conflicts involved numerous nominally independent rulers and their vassals, struggles for succession and territory, and included a diplomatic and military struggle between the French East India Company and the British East India Company. They were mainly fought on the territories in India which were dominated by the Nizam of Hyderabad up to the Godavari delta. As a result of these military contests, the British East India Company established its dominance among the European trading companies within India. The French company was pushed to a corner and was confined primarily to Pondichéry. The East India Company's dominance eventually led to control by the British Company over most of India and eventually to the establishment of the British Raj.

In the 18th century, the coastal Carnatic region was a dependency of Hyderabad. Three Carnatic Wars were fought between 1746 and 1763.

France–Myanmar relations

France-Burma relations refers to interstate relations of Burma and France. Relations began in the early 18th century, as the French East India Company was attempting to extend its influence into Southeast Asia. France became involved upon the building of a shipyard in 1729 in the city of Syriam. The 1740 revolt of the Mon against Burmese rule however forced the French to depart in 1742. They were able to return to Siam in 1751 when the Mon requested French assistance against the Burmese. A French envoy, Sieur de Bruno was sent to evaluate the situation and help in the defense against the Burmese. French warships were sent to support the Mon rebellion, but in vain. In 1756, the Burmese under Alaungpaya vanquished the Mon. Many French were captured and incorporated into the Burmese Army as an elite gunner corps, under Chevalier Milard. In 1769, official contacts resume when a trade treaty was signed between king Hsinbyushin and the French East India Company.

Soon however, France became embroiled in the French revolution and Napoleonic wars, giving way to overwhelming British influence in Burma. French contacts with Burma, effectively a British colony, would become almost non-existent, while from the second half of the 19th century France would concentrate in the establishment of French Indochina and the conflicts with China leading to the Sino-French war.

French India

French India, formally the Établissements Français dans l'Inde ("French establishments in India"), was a French colony comprising geographically separate enclaves on the Indian subcontinent. The possessions were originally acquired by the French East India Company beginning in the second half of the 17th century, and were de facto incorporated into the Republic of India in 1950 and 1954. The French establishments included Pondichéry, Karikal and Yanaon on the Coromandel Coast, Mahé on the Malabar Coast and Chandernagor in Bengal. French India also included several loges ("lodges", subsidiary trading stations) in other towns, but after 1816, the loges had little commercial importance and the towns to which they were attached came under British administration.

By 1950, the total area measured 510 km2 (200 sq mi), of which 293 km2 (113 sq mi) belonged to the territory of Pondichéry. In 1936, the population of the colony totalled 298,851 inhabitants, of which 63% (187,870) lived in the territory of Pondichéry.

Isle de France (Mauritius)

Isle de France (Île de France in modern French) was the name of the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius and its dependent territories between 1715 and 1810, when the area was under the French East India Company and part of France's empire. Under the French, the island witnessed major changes. The increasing importance of agriculture led to the importation of slaves and the undertaking of vast infrastructural works that transformed Port Louis into a major capital, port, warehousing, and commercial centre.During the Napoleonic wars, Île de France became a base from which the French navy, including squadrons under Rear Admiral Linois or Commodore Jacques Hamelin, and corsairs such as Robert Surcouf, organised raids on British merchant ships. The raids (see Battle of Pulo Aura and Mauritius campaign of 1809–1811) continued until 1810 when the British sent a strong expedition to capture the island. The first British attempt, in August 1810, to attack Grand Port resulted in a French victory, one celebrated on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. A subsequent and much larger attack launched in December of the same year from Rodrigues, which had been captured a year earlier, was successful. The British landed in large numbers in the north of the island and rapidly overpowered the French, who capitulated (see Invasion of Isle de France). In the Treaty of Paris (1814), the French ceded Île de France together with its territories including the Chagos Archipelago, Rodrigues, Seychelles, Agaléga, Tromelin and Cargados Carajos to Great Britain. The island then reverted to its former name, 'Mauritius'.

Jean-Baptiste Charles Bouvet de Lozier

Jean Baptiste Charles Bouvet de Lozier (14 January 1705 – 1786) was a French sailor, explorer, and governor of the Mascarene Islands.

He was orphaned at the age of seven and after having been educated in Paris, he was sent to Saint Malo to study navigation. He became a lieutenant of the French East India Company in 1731. He succeeded in convincing his employer to provide him with two ships and send him on an exploration mission in the South Atlantic. With his ships Aigle and Marie he discovered on 1 January 1739 a tiny island which was named Bouvet Island after him; however, he mislabeled the coordinates for the island, causing it to be lost until it was rediscovered seven decades later in 1808. Shortly afterwards, he had to abandon the expedition because most of his crew had fallen ill; his ship then called at the Cape of Good Hope and returned to France.

Ten years after his expedition, Bouvet de Lozier was appointed governor of the Mascarene Islands twice, once from 1750 to 1752 and a second time from 1757 to 1763.

Jean-François-Marie de Surville

Jean-François-Marie de Surville (18 January 1717 – 8 April 1770) was a French merchant captain with the French East India Company who commanded a voyage of exploration to the South Pacific.

Born in Brittany, France, Surville joined the French East India Company when he was 10 years old, in 1727. He sailed on voyages in Indian and Chinese waters and later joined the French Navy in 1740. He fought in the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years' War, twice becoming a prisoner of war. After his military career ended, he rejoined the French East India Company. In 1769, he commanded an expedition into the Pacific and explored the seas around the Solomon Islands and New Zealand. While seeking help for the crew of his ship, Saint Jean-Baptiste, he drowned off the coast of Peru on 8 April 1770.

Jean Feuilley

Jean Feuilley was a pilot engineer and cartographer who was sent to Réunion by the French East India Company to investigate the possibility of agricultural and marine exploitation. He arrived in the island in 1704 and the following year returned to France. His "Mission à l’île Bourbon du sieur Feuilley en 1704" (published 1705) contains among other things descriptions of now-extinct bird species, like the Réunion kestrel and the Réunion ibis.

Nevers manufactory

The Nevers manufactory (French: "Manufacture de faïence de Nevers") was a French manufacturing centre for faience in the city of Nevers. The first factory was started around 1588 by three Italian brothers, who brought the majolica tradition with them. A porcelain manufactury in Nevers was also mentioned in 1844 by Alexandre Brongniart, but little is known about it.It is at the Nevers manufactory that Chinese-style blue and white wares were produced for the first time in France, with production running between 1650 and 1680. Chinese styles would then be taken up by factories in Normandy, especially following the foundation of the French East India Company in 1664.Various epochs characterize the production of Nevers:

1600–1660: Italian style

1650–1750: Chinese and Japanese style

1630–1700: Persian style

1640–1789: Franco-Nivernais style

1700–1789: Rouen manufactory style

1730–1789: Moustiers style

1770–1789: Meissen style

1789: Decadence


Réunion (French: La Réunion, pronounced [la ʁe.ynjɔ̃] (listen); previously Île Bourbon) is an overseas department and region of France and an island in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar and 175 km (109 mi) southwest of Mauritius. As of January 2019, it had a population of 866,506.The island has been inhabited since the 16th century, when people from France and Madagascar settled there. Slavery was abolished on 20 December 1848 (a date celebrated yearly on the island), after which indentured workers were brought from South India, among other places. The island became an overseas department of France in 1946.

As in France, the official language is French. In addition, the majority of the region's population speaks Réunion Creole.

Administratively, Réunion is one of the overseas departments of France. Like the other four overseas departments, it is also one of the 18 regions of France, with the modified status of overseas region, and an integral part of the republic with the same status as Metropolitan France. Réunion is an outermost region of the European Union and, as an overseas department of France, part of the Eurozone.


A sepoy () was originally the designation given to an Indian infantryman armed with a musket in the armies of the Great Mogul.

In the 18th century the French East India Company and its other European counterparts employed locally recruited soldiers within India, mainly consisting of infantry designated as "sepoys". The largest of these Indian forces, trained along European lines, was that belonging to the British East India Company.The term "sepoy" is still used in the modern Nepalese Army, Indian Army and Pakistan Army, where it is used for the rank of private soldier.

Siege of Arcot

The Siege of Arcot (23 September – 14 November 1751) took place at Arcot, India between forces of the British East India Company led by Robert Clive and forces of Nawab of the Carnatic, Chanda Sahib, assisted by a small number of troops from the French East India Company. It was part of the Second Carnatic War.

Siege of Trichinopoly (1751–52)

The Siege of Trichinopoly (1751–1752) was conducted by Chanda Sahib, who had been recognized as the Nawab of the Carnatic by representatives of the French East India Company, against the fortress town of Trichinopoly, held by Muhammed Ali Khan Wallajah.

USS Bonhomme Richard (1765)

Bonhomme Richard, formerly Duc de Duras, was a warship in the Continental Navy. She was originally an East Indiaman, a merchant ship built in France for the French East India Company in 1765, for service between France and the Orient. She was placed at the disposal of John Paul Jones on 4 February 1779, by King Louis XVI of France as a result of a loan to the United States by French shipping magnate, Jacques-Donatien Le Ray.

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