East India Company, the name given to a number of companies set up in the 17th and 18th centuries by various European countries to trade with the East Indies, India, and China. The name usually refers to the English company that was chartered by Queen Elizabeth I in 1600. This company is important because it established British rule in India.

The British East India CompanyThe British East India Company established British rule in India.

The full name of the first English company was The Governor and Company of Merchants of London, trading with the East Indies. It was given a monopoly of trade with all islands and places between the Cape of Good Hope and the Straits of Magellan. The first voyages were profitable, but the company came into conflict with the Dutch East India Company. After 1623 the English turned their attention from the East Indies to India.

The English company built up large trading posts in India. Various acts of Parliament renewed its charter, in return for which the company made large loans to the government. The company was given authority to acquire territory, coin money, maintain forts and armies, make treaties, and administer justice. Through treaties and wars, the company became the ruler of much of India.

A French company became the rival of the British in India. During the Seven Years' War in Europe (175663), the two companies engaged in war in India. The British won under the leadership of Robert Clive. In 1784 Parliament set up a board of control to supervise the company's rule of India. In 1813 Parliament abolished the company's monopoly of Indian trade. After the Indian Mutiny (1857), the British East India Company was deprived of its political authority. It was dissolved in 1858.