European Visitors To The Mughal Court In 17th Century India

1932 words - 8 pages

Thomas Roe, an English courtier, and François Bernier, a French physician offer contrasting accounts of their experiences in the Mughal court of 17th Century India stemming from their differing reasons for traveling to the Subcontinent. A merchant by trade, Sir Thomas Roe is dispatched to India by King James and the East India Company with the express intent of forging an amicable relationship between Britain and India in order to facilitate British trade within India. François Bernier, on the other hand, decides to take up residence in India for a given period of time. Each reflects upon certain practices of the Mughal Empire impacting the economy, but while Roe played the role of an ...view middle of the document...

Ostensibly, Sir Roe is oblivious to the wealth being in sole possession of a select few. If Roe is indeed aware, it seems to be of no concern to him as he neither comments on the plight of the common man nor the impoverished state of the land beyond the confines of the palace walls. On the contrary, his interest lies in importing the treasures of the East to fatten England’s treasury as thereby his own pockets. The attitudes expressed here seem to be an early antecedent to Britain’s burgeoning imperialistic attitude towards India.
Aside from edifying the general public about the Mughal durbar, Roe’s account served two primary purposes. First, his detailed observations of the highly ritualized operations of the court provided the East India Company insight as to how business is conducted within Emperor Jahangir’s durbar. This in turn would enable the Company to devise a scheme to appeal to the sentiments of the emperor, enabling them a stronghold over trade with India and a possible exemption from the repeated paying of hefty customs charges imposed at multiple checkpoints within the Mughal empire. In fact, Roe’s mission was to obtain firman from the emperor protecting British interests at an English factory in Surat, Gujarat. (Mannan)
Second, Roe’s travelogue and correspondences serve to paint himself in as favorable a light as possible. As Roe did not have the privilege of being the firstborn son, he would likely receive but a paltry token of inheritance from his family estate, as was customary of the time. Thus, he was the sole determinant of his of his financial security and would have to work hard to continue enjoying all the benefits of life as an English noble. Aggrandizing his importance within the Mughal court would likely increase the probability of a speedy ascension through the ranks of the English nobility, ensuring his financial security as well as bolstering his prestige.
It is entirely plausible that Roe depicted himself with more authority and rank than he actually held, considering the vast number of noblemen and sojourners from far and wide that conducted business in the Mughal imperial court. Nevertheless, Roe stresses his finesse in diplomatic dealings, which allegedly endeared him to Jahangir rather quickly and states “the King…appointed me a place aboue all other men, which I after thought fit to maintaine.” (Ghosh, p.42) He notes how he is singled out by the emperor and invited to join the select few “great men and strangers of quality” (Ghosh, 41) who are permitted to entry into the emporer’s inner sanctum after gaining the monarch’s trust and confidence. Similarly, he proclaims the Emporer “dismissed me with more favour and outward grace…than euer was shown to any Ambassador either of the Turke or Persian, or other whatsoeuer.” (Ghosh, p.41)
Bernier also has his eye on the government’s capital, but in a very different sense. Unlike Roe he is not concerned with assessing the contents of the...

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