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A profound and ground-breaking approach to one of the most important encounters in the history of colonialism: the British arrival in India in the early seventeenth century.
Traditional interpretations of the British Empire’s emerging success and expansion have long overshadowed the deep uncertainty that marked its initial entanglement with India. In Courting India: Renaissance London, Mughal India, and the Origins of Empire, acclaimed historian Nandini Das examines the British arrival in India in the early 17th century with fresh eyes, resulting in a profound and groundbreaking account of one of the most important encounters in the history of colonialism.
When Thomas Roe arrived in India in 1616 as James I’s first ambassador to the Mughal Empire, the English barely had a toehold in the subcontinent. Their understanding of South Asian trade and India was sketchy at best, and, to the Mughals, they were minor players on a very large stage. Roe represented a kingdom that was beset by financial woes and deeply conflicted about its identity as a unified ‘Great Britain’ under the Stuart monarchy. Meanwhile, the court he entered in India was wealthy and cultured, its dominion widely considered to be one of the greatest and richest empires of the world.
In this fascinating history of Roe’s four years in India, Nandini Das offers an insider’s view of Britain in the making, a country whose imperial seeds were just being sown. It is a story of palace intrigue, scandal, lotteries, and wagers that unfold as global trade begins to stretch from Russia to Virginia, from West Africa to the Spice Islands of Indonesia.
A major debut that explores the art, literature, sights and sounds of Elizabethan London and Imperial India, Courting India reveals Thomas Roe’s time in the Mughal Empire to be a turning point in history—and offers a rich and radical challenge to our understanding of Britain and its early empire.
Nandini Das is a professor of Early Modern Literature and Culture at Oxford University, specializing in Renaissance literature and cultural history, with emphasis on cross-cultural encounters between Europe and Asia in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. She is the author of two previous books published in England, the editor of several volumes of essays, and the project director of the “Travel, Transculturality, and Identity in Early Modern England” (TIDE) project, funded by the European Research Council. A BBC New Generation Thinker, she regularly presents television and radio programs in England.
“Striking and original . . . Das’s dual command of Mughal India and the Elizabethan and Jacobean world Roe sprang from makes the pleasures and insights of Courting India unique.” Air Mail
“An engaging anew account. Das is the rare scholar who combines a sensitivity to the literature of Jacobean England with a sympathetic and nuanced understanding of the Mughal empire. Das does not flinch from this difficult history of the spread of European dominance. Yet she remains admirably evenhanded in her appraisal, revealing the subtle change of views and blurring of boundaries in this unpropitious moment of intercultural contact.” The New York Times
“Das offers a close reading of Roe’s journal and fleshes out the character of the man within the context of the sociopolitical forces that shaped him. Das’s book is at its most interesting when it moves beneath the familiar and unearths stories that have been forgotten or suppressed." The Washington Post
"A fascinating glimpse into political life in early 17th-century England and India, which will likely engage both experts and novices alike. Das shines light on this early episode of colonialism by providing an in-depth description of Roe’s mission. Essential for those interested in the history of colonialism, specifically the relationship depicted in this book." Library Journal
"The embassy may have been a failure, but Das’s book about it is a triumph, of writing and scholarship. Courting India is part of a renaissance in writing about the early years of British engagement with India. All bring important new insights into the establishment of British power in India, but it is hard to imagine anyone ever bettering Das’s account of this part of the story." The Financial Times
"A richly textured account of the first Englishman to make meaningful contact with India via the Mughal court in the early 17th century. The author vividly describes Roe’s acceptance at the sumptuous court. Ornately detailed." Kirkus Reviews
"The story of the very earliest years of British activity on the Indian subcontinent, Das's book goes to the heart of the initial, heady meeting of courts and cultures and presents a novel look at the roots of colonialism." The Financial Times, "Books to Read in 2023"
"Nandini Das moves seamlessly between the inner worlds of the courts of seventeenth century England and India and with a mastery of both. This important book brings the earliest days of the British empire vividly to life." Dr. Yasmin Khan, University of Oxford
“A sparkling gem of a book. Beautifully written and masterfully researched, this has the makings of a classic.” Peter Frankopan, #1 bestselling author of The Silk Roads