Debating Natural Law in the Banda Islands: A Case Study in Anglo–Dutch Imperial Competition in the East Indies, 1609–1621

History of European Ideas 42 (4):459-501 (2016)
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Abstract

SUMMARYThis article examines Anglo–Dutch rivalry in the Banda Islands in the period from 1609 to 1621, with a particular focus on the process of claiming initiated by the Dutch East India Company and English East India Company. Historians have paid little attention to the precise legal justifications employed by these organisations, and how they affected the outcome of events. For both companies, treaties with Asian rulers and peoples were essential in staking out claims to trade and territory. Because so many different parties were involved, individual documents had to serve multiple purposes, both on the ground in the East Indies and at the negotiating tables back in Europe. Whenever a VOC or EIC official presented a treaty to a Bandanese leader, he had to recognise local power structures in the Spice Islands, but also needed to consider his European competitors in the area, his superiors in Batavia or Bantam, and the company directors back in Amsterdam or London. Consequently, the safest and most reliable course of action was to make as many arguments as possible, piling them on top of one another. The result was an inherently messy process of claiming, yet one that was also clearly intelligible to most parties involved, including Asian rulers and peoples. A constantly changing legal suite extended to freedom of trade and navigation, contracts and alliances with native peoples, just war, conquest, actual possession, and the surrender of native sovereignty to European authorities.

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