Format Hardcover
Publication Date 04/04/23
ISBN 9781639363223
Trim Size / Pages 6 x 9 in / 400

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Courting India

Seventeenth-Century England, Mughal India, and the Origins of Empire

Nandini Das

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.

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Endorsements & 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." Financial Times, "Books to Read in 2023"
"What a joy to find the first official Indo-British encounter receiving the scholarly attention and enthralling treatment it deserves . . . A modern masterpiece, delightful, enlightening and faultless." —John Keay
"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
"Courting India is a tour de force of detailed archival research and riveting storytelling. Its main character, King James I's first ambassador to India Thomas Roe, emerges here in all his historical as well as individual complexity - a low-budget, over-dressed herald of the juggernaut that the East India Company would become, and a bit-part actor in a transnational theatre of state he couldn't begin to fathom." —Professor Jonathan Gil Harris, author of Masala Shakespeare
"Startlingly eye-opening. . . . If we want to to truly understand the impact and legacy of the British Empire on our modern world, we have to start where it all began." —Pragya Agarwal, author of Sway
"Jacobean London and Mughal India come face to face through the eyes of Thomas Roe. A figure previously marginalised, in Nandini Das's layered exploration, Roe finds a new life. And with him, we encounter rich pictures of imperial Britain being formed. A fine achievement and a great read." —Professor Ruby Lal, author of Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan
"This well researched and written volume is a work of authority and quality. It is essential reading for the understanding of Britain's early encounter with India.” —Ian Talbot, Emeritus Professor in the History of Modern South Asia at the University of Southampton
"Courting India, by Nandini Das, is a brilliant and insightful study of Thomas Roe's embassy at the Mughal court. It serves as a rich repository of cultural memories from the beginnings of the colonial encounter - memories that have continuing resonance and relevance in our own era as we grapple with the aftermath of empire. Das offers a compelling account in which deft archival research navigates through English intellectual, literary and political worlds as they interconnected with the Mughal empire." —Jyotsna G. Singh, Professor, Department of English, Michigan State University
"This lucid and imaginatively written book tells us a great deal about the hesitant early days of the first British Empire, as a traditionally inward-looking island nation sought to engage with the wider world. Professor Nandini Das captures the mixture of excitement, prejudice, anxiety, misunderstanding and mutual interest that characterised an encounter that did so much to shape the contours of the modern world.” —Andrew Hadfield, Professor of English at the University of Sussex
“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