An improvised empire

Imperial ambitions and local realities in Danish-East India trade (1620-1650)

Kaarle Wirta


This chapter explores 17th-century Danish empire building in Asia. The Danish empire had its first overseas settlement in Tranquebar (Tharangampadi) on the Coromandel Coast of India. The first Danish-East India Company (henceforth: DEIC), which was run and headquartered in Dansborg in Tranquebar, remained Danish until it was sold to the British Empire in 1845.2 In this chapter, I argue that the management of an empire far away from the Danish centre (Copenhagen) involved a process of constant interaction, bargaining, and negotiation.3 This process was to a large extent based on the capacity, motivation, and agency of the employees of the company at the fringes of the empire, rather than on the centralised boardroom meetings held in Copenhagen.4

State building outside the borders of the state

In the 17th century, Danish-East Asian trade had an unsettled relationship with state building and empire. Early modern Denmark is not usually perceived of as an empire, although its conglomerate structure resembled its more famous European counterparts.5 However, the idea of Denmark as an empire has recently gained momentum among Danish historians.6 Here, ‘empire’ refers to the ambitions and motives of the Danish monarch outside the immediate borders of Denmark proper. After all, in the 17th century, Denmark had acquired provinces in Northern Germany (the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein), and the country was in a union with Norway (including its overseas possessions), which granted the kingdom access to the Arctic Sea. The kingdom also colonised Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and Greenland (although only later in 1814).7 Throughout the early modern period, the Danish kingdom had clear ambitions to build an overseas empire both in Asia and the Atlantic.8

Jane Burbank, Fredrick Cooper, and Kenneth Pomeranz have all stated that, empire is a slippery and difficult category to encapsulate in a one-for-all definition. For Burbank and Cooper, ‘Empires are large political units, expansionist or with a memory of power extended over space, polities that maintain distinction and hierarchy as they incorporate new people.’9 This chapter follows Kenneth Pomeranz’s recent definition of empire as ‘a polity in which leaders of one society also rule directly or indirectly over at least one other society, using instruments different from (though not always more authoritarian than) those used to rule at home.’10 Here, empire building is about expanding political authority and territory outside the state borders of Denmark under one sovereign. My approach is functional, and it offers a way of understanding the process of empire building that identifies Danish state building in the 17th century.

How to build an empire in the 17th century

The origins of the Danish expansion in Asia were connected to the general European overseas expansion. During the previous century, the European states had increasingly started to explore the possibilities of various overseas territories. The Europeans were initially motivated by the desire to reduce the costs of importing Asian goods to Europe. The old land-based route was controlled by several intermediaries, and Europeans sought to find a direct access to Asian markets across the sea. The profitable trade in spices, silk, gold, textiles, and tea provided a remarkable impetus for European aspirations to access the markets of these products. The European royal monopolies, such as the Spanish and Portuguese, were the early European actors who managed to carve out a niche in the Asian trading system, but their position became challenged once the northern European chartered companies - especially the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, hereafter the VOC) -entered the scene.11 In the 17th century, the VOC grew to become an early modern conglomerate company, and it dominated European trade in Asia. The VOC, which received its charter from the States General of the Dutch Republic, was a successful extension of the Dutch maritime empire. It had a number of governmental rights in Asia, such as the right to wage war, mint coins, negotiate treaties, and establish settlements. The company developed several institutional innovations in Europe, and it was a forerunner for transnational business organisations. It provided opportunities for Dutchmen to extensively participate in Asian trade and offered employment to numerous European and non-European people. The company was administered by directors, who were responsible for maintaining the business and taking care of the import and export of goods. It was a state-backed commercial company that served as a model for English and Danish companies, among others.12

The acceleration of Danish ambitions in Asia was connected to the country’s empire building orchestrated by Christian IV. Paul Lockhart argues that throughout the reign of Christian IV, Danish foreign policy was aggressive. The political expansion in the Baltic and overseas, in addition to the

An improvised empire 201 many wars against Sweden regarding Maris Dominum Baltici, serves to illustrate that the ambitions were indeed imperial.13 In the Swedish context, Michael Roberts arrived at similar conclusions.14 For Christian IV, building an empire meant becoming recognised by the other European sovereigns. Of primary importance was the control of Baltic rolls, especially the Sound toll, which was directly linked to supremacy in the Baltic region. According to Mar Jonsson, Danish expansion into the North Atlantic was also part of the same imperial vision. Jonsson shows that Danish success in the establishment of a dominant position in the North Atlantic whaling trade gave Christian IV enough confidence to plan and initiate ventures into Asia.15

In 1616, Christian IV issued a charter for the DEIC. The charter gave the company privileges in terms of trade with Asia. The charter was explicit on how trade in Asia was to operate and how the company was to be administrated overseas. For example, the company officials were responsible for trade and were expected to act only for the benefit of the company and no one else. In the case of hostilities with other powers, the company was not only allowed to defend itself, but also to attack if necessary. The hierarchy was clear: Only investors who had invested 4000 riksdalers were to be considered as directors, and such individuals had considerable power to administer trade. If a director died, the Board of Directors appointed a new director. The charter was also explicit that changes to the charter could take place if the company’s administrators severely violated the interests of the kingdom.16 Here, the charter of the DEIC is considered more as an experiment and a part of the process of empire building. Already from the mid-17th century, the charters were more elaborate and included far greater detail and precision.17 Such charters were central for empire building at least in theory, but as will be discussed later, the practices of the empire were another matter.18 The outcome of the first DEIC was not as successful as later Danish-Asian trade would become, and the company was dissolved in 1650. However, between 1618 and 1650, the DEIC was the pioneer of Danish imperial ambitions overseas.19

In Denmark, the relationship between public power (the state) and business profits (the company) was curious. The Danish state had little to say regarding East Asian trade, as it was in theory structured through a private company; however, the company eventually became controlled by the Danish king, Christian IV (1577-1648). According to Ole Feldbæk, the aim of Christian IV and his successors was to strengthen the state through various commercial means. Company trade could be taxed, and the toll revenues were just one part of how the companies were involved in state building.20 Eventually, the king became the largest shareholder in the company and all the activities and agreements made locally were a royal prerogative.21 Most of the investors were private, albeit heavily pressured by the king to invest. The company received its privileges from the king, but in the 17th century, it was not governed by the state. This was in contrast with the general development in Denmark at the time; the central governmentbecame more institutionalised domestically, but the development of overseas trade took a different trajectory.

The king benefitted from his patronage of the company and exercised strong personal power. However, the company operated under the Danish flag, its headquarters was in Copenhagen, and the pioneer voyage was conducted by admirals of the Danish navy. In Asia, the established trading posts in India were not colonies, but rather fortified trading stations that the company held against rents and concessions from the local Indian rulers. Thus, the DEIC was a curious mix of private and public.

To rescue an empire in Asia

In the 17th century, European trade in Asia was not about dominance but adaption. The intra-Asian trade web was established and in full motion far ahead of the arrival of Europeans. The Europeans tapped into a system that was not only full of potential, but also of challenges. It took time for the Europeans to adjust themselves to the trade patterns and rhythms, and they were relatively new and few in the Asian trading system. The Indian Ocean trading system, however, came increasingly under pressure especially because of Portuguese and Dutch expansion, and neither the Portuguese nor the Dutch welcomed other Europeans when it came to sharing the profits of expansion. The rivalry between both Europeans and local trading networks easily escalated into conflict. Despite the tensions between the Europeans, the DEIC had managed to integrate itself into the Asian trade network in the 1620s. However, it was not considered a real competitor to the Dutch or Portuguese.22

The aim of the DEIC was to build continuity, but survival became the reality. The company had a promising start. At first, with the concession of the local ruler, the Nayak of Tanjore, the main Danish trading station was built: Fort Dansborg. The company managed to establish several support nodes around the Indian Ocean, and at times, trade was brisk. During the first 20 years of the company’s existence, the DEIC managed to send roughly 20 ships to Asia.23 Slowly, however, issues in Europe hit the company’s trade in Asia hard. As soon as the company entered the Asian trading world in the 1620s, Denmark was drawn into the Thirty Years’ War. The war kept the burghers of Copenhagen at bay, as the motivation to invest in expensive enterprises such as Asian trade remained modest. There were also issues with the poor markets for Asian goods in Denmark. In addition, Danish shipbuilding concentrated on supporting the Danish navy, and there were few ships that could be deployed for Asian trade. In short, Christian IV had his hands tied with the war in Europe, which resulted in a reduced focus on international trade, especially overseas. 24

Nevertheless, it would be unfair to say that the king left the DEIC completely to its own devices, as his ambitions remained apparent. He kept investing money in the company and slowly fuelled the coffers of the

An improvised empire 203 company until he became the single largest shareholder. This would not have been possible without the revenue from the Sound toll, which was the king’s private income, not state income. The king kept the company alive by fuelling it with capital. This move was a double-edged sword. It was not enough that the contracts with the local rulers had a royal prerogative; soon the company became more of the king’s private company than a joint-stock company. Additionally, the division of responsibilities and the weight of the administration were divided. On the one hand, there was the company’s interest in profiting from trade, and on the other, there was the symbolic prestige of the king. This division was not necessarily beneficial for the empire.25

On top of the conflict of interests between the king and the company, it was difficult to know in whose interests the administrators of the company were working. Eventually, this channelled through the operations on site. At times, it was difficult to know whether the officials served the interests of the king, the company, or, as was often the case, their own private interests. Matters deteriorated when the officials in India realised that the political issues in Europe slowed the prospect of intercontinental voyages. The company needed ships to be sent to Asia both for importing and exporting goods. The goods were needed in the intra-Asian trade and the issue with delivery created problems on site. Ultimately, this meant that while the company was expected to sustain and uphold continuity in Asia, it had to undertake this task with limited - if any - assistance from the imperial core. This was of course not the planned mode of trade, but because of the situation in Europe, the empire had to improvise. Thus, the aim of surviving is unsurprising.26

Towards the end of the 1630s, it was evident that the company was on the verge of collapsing. Poor local management and a lack of support from home had steered the business in a devastating direction. In a final desperate attempt to secure the company’s future, an official was sent to investigate what could be done. In 1639, the company sent one of their main directors, Willem Level (1593-1654) to Asia.27 Although officially a part of the company, Level was actually appointed as a director by Christian IV. As the principal investor in the company, the king had overruled the initial charter and appointed Leyel as his own representative among the Board of Directors. Leyel was experienced in Asian trade, and the king considered Leyel to have the most up-to-date and reliable knowledge on how to improve Danish trade in Asia.28

Leyel remained in charge in Asia between 1643 and 1648. Upon arrival, Leyel’s priority was to investigate whether his predecessor, Barent Pessart, had misused the company’s resources. Based on Leyel’s reports, this was indeed the case, and Pessart was replaced.29 In his reports, Leyel noted that he maintained strict order among his peers and even punished and sentenced unruly colleagues. He went to great lengths to demonstrate his authority and capacity for trade. For example, through coercive means, hewanted to attract local Indian trading ships to visit Tranquebar instead of visiting competing European ports. Leyel also organised favourable trading and living conditions for the local merchants in Tranquebar.30

Leyel nonetheless faced many challenges within the DEIC. He often reported on the immoral behaviour of his peers and condemned heavy alcohol consumption. According to Leyel, the poor conduct of his peers had also caused friction with local society, which Leyel considered important. Despite Level’s attempts, it is important to keep in mind the limited opportunities for improvement, as the scale of the DEIC remained small. In 1644, Leyel reported that the company was only 17 European men strong, of whom fewer than 10 were Danes. By contrast, the company had at least 70 men stationed at fort Dansborg in 1623. The limited number of officials indicates the small scale of its trade, but at the same time it demonstrates why only a few people could actually have a say in the Danish overseas empire.31

Leyel’s strict discipline was not appreciated by everyone. Indeed, in 1648, Leyel was arrested following a mutiny by his peers and sent back to Europe. The mutineers accused Leyel of trading only for his own benefit and to the detriment of the company. It is difficult to exactly verify the claims based on the limited archival sources. There is evidence that Leyel did participate in transactions that might have been only to his benefit, but it is unknown if he was engaging in more organised forms of private trade.32 Indeed, one of the strong motivations for men like Leyel to make an overseas career was private gain. The companies had difficulties in paying wages, and the lack of proper surveillance over the company’s trade seduced men into private trade. This was especially tempting for someone who was responsible for the trade and the accounts of the company.

In the DEIC, as in most trading companies, the interests of the local agents and the company often conflicted. After all, the men were cut off from all support from home, and possibly the only way to gain something was to make sure that they do not return empty handed once they returned to Europe. This was not unique to the Danes; it was actually the case with all Europeans in Asia.33 Many European officials made themselves rich during their career in Asia. The authorities in Europe knew about private trade, and they even accepted it at some level. It was simply a way to maintain the attractiveness of employment in companies that faced great risk and uncertainty. Eventually, the European business in Asia was based on maintaining a balance between private and public interests.34

This is in line with the perspective of Dorum, Hallenberg, and Katajala, who show that, ‘Agents of the state might have very different ways to influence according to the local setting. And local agent may use the structures of the state to forward their own interest.’35 Actually, the interests of the state and the agent might have also overlapped, resulting in a win-win situation. The activities of Leyel and others imply that as long as the state/ empire did not lose out because of the interests of the agent, there was not

An improvised empire 205 necessarily a conflict. However, the mutineers accused Leyel of stealing from the company, but this charge might equally be a matter of rhetoric. It is equally possible that Leyel did not allow the others to participate in private trading, thus hindering their profits. Indeed, the tension might have been solely local.36

Influencing the empire locally

While in charge of the DEIC in Asia, Leyel influenced the Danish empire through three levels of agency. First, Leyel represented Danish imperial authority in Asia. Second, the responsibility for information distribution gave him a means of influence. Third, as the commander, he interacted with the different interest groups in the intra-Asian trading circuits, and in this way he was the negotiator of the empire.

From the moment Leyel took over command in Asia, the empire was represented primarily by him. Leyel carried to Asia a collection of different documents that gave him the right to act on behalf the king. Based on these documents, it was obvious that Leyel was not only representing the company, but especially the empire. After all, it was the king and not the company who authorised the instructions for the voyage. The instructions consisted of 93 regulations and orders, including the responsibilities and tasks for Leyel and other officials.37 Of primary importance was the command to remain loyal to the kingdom, which was done by swearing an oath publicly before departure. During the voyage and while in Asia, the highest authority was the commander. The commander punished those who did not obey the instructions. Personnel were not allowed to engage in any activities that would harm Danish trade. In principle, the commander acted like a ruling authority. Thus, taking into consideration the scale of Danish operations in Asia, it is no wonder that Leyel was indeed the embodiment of Danish imperial authority in Asia.

Leyel’s authority covered delegating tasks and supervising the interests of the empire. As commander, he was responsible for giving orders and instructing the rest of the personnel. Leyel was also responsible for the infrastructure of the company, both in terms of the fleet and the trading stations. Leyel had the authority to issue sea letters and give further instructions on trade.38 Ships with a Danish sea letter confirmed to other powers that the ships were sailing under a lawful Danish commission. The sea letters included information such as who was on board and the itinerary of the voyage. The sea letters issued by Leyel thus demonstrated legal authority.

Accompanying the letters, Leyel wrote instruction letters in which the tasks of the company were delegated. For example, in October 1645, Leyel wrote instructions to the personnel at the headquarters. He was to depart on a voyage to Java and Makassar, and in the meanwhile, he appointed one of the company’s merchants, Poul Nielssen, as the acting governor in his absence. In the instructions, it was underlined that Nielsen was responsiblenot only for the fort itself, but also for protecting the adjacent village and its population, as well as supervising trade. Nielsen was also responsible for maintaining order among the company officials and soldiers.39

As the commander in Asia, Leyel both delegated tasks and actively participated in the voyages. He undertook several voyages in the Indian Ocean, visited the Danish trading stations, and participated in actual trade. He was after all experienced in those waters and was familiar with the region.40

The second level of local agency was manifested through communication. As the commander, Leyel was in charge of communication with the directors in Europe. Already in the instructions for the voyage, it was stated that they had the responsibility for keeping the books in good order and reporting on how the trade was administered. Level’s four long reports to the Board of Directors attest to this. In these reports, he not only went to great lengths to explain the status of trade but also dealt with the issues Pessart had created and explained how the business should be developed. The reports sent to Copenhagen also included Leyel’s material requests for the company. They included more European personnel, ships, and other supplies, among other things.41

Leyel also wrote reports to the king, indicating the connection between Christian IV and Leyel. In the report to the king, he emphasised diplomatic agreements with European states. Leyel requested that the king negotiate treaties with the Portuguese, Dutch, and Spanish in order to improve the position of Danes in Asia. In these requests, Leyel explained how diplomatic treaties would assist the Danish traders to operate in Indian Ocean trade unhindered. Leyel was especially interested in accessing trade routes east of Java, especially Makassar (Celebs) and even Manila (Philippines).42 In short, Leyel was influencing the politics of empire through his correspondence.

The third manifestation of his local agency was the local connections he upheld. As the commander of the DEIC, he was responsible for maintaining trade and political relations with the competing European empires and especially with the local rulers and merchant networks. The connections he had with the competing European empires highlighted two important features: The connections with the VOC, and the connections with the Portuguese empire.

Regarding the VOC, Leyel had an ambivalent approach. In his reports, he acknowledged the growing strength of the VOC, and this dominance worried him. Leyel was suspicious of the VOC and even accused it of trying to harm their trade, which would not be surprising, taking into consideration the VOC’s growth. At the same time, however, Leyel ordered his acting governor to allow VOC ships to collect goods from Tranquebar to be re-exported. Leyel also negotiated with the VOC headquarters in Batavia and hired personnel from the VOC while returning from an annual voyage.43

The relationship with the Portuguese was central to Leyel, and it offered a cross-imperial outlook. In Asia, the Portuguese empire was divided into two different parts. On the one hand, there was the official royal monopoly,

An improvised empire 207 the Estado da India, which operated west of Cape Comorin and was headquartered in Goa under the supervision of the Viceroy. On the other, the empire also stretched east of Cape Comorin, where a so-called shadow empire existed. It was based on several groups of agents with connections to the royal monopoly, but they had either left the Estado or were only remotely connected to it, for example, through kinship. This part of the empire consisted of hybrid societies in which it is all but clear how elaborate the connection was with the Estado.44 Nonetheless, this second group were mainly active in private trade and cooperated closely with the Danes. These hybrid societies were well-established merchant communities on the Coromandel Coast, and they had extensive trade networks and access to products that the Europeans desired.

The connections Level maintained with the Portuguese covered both sides of the cape. During his rule, Leyel exchanged goods and letters with Viceroy Don Philippe Masceranhas and traded gunpowder with him -among other things - in exchange for goods from Goa. However, far more intensive contact was made with the local Portuguese societies east of the cape. These local societies were important to Leyel, as many of them had settled in the adjacent village of Tranquebar and provided the DEIC with trading goods. Leyel acknowledged the value of these local merchant networks, and even allowed them to build a Catholic church close to fort Dansborg, which was in sharp contrast to the fact that the Danish King Christian IV had fought a war against the Catholics in Europe. Leyel realised that in order to keep the locals satisfied, it was important to meet their needs as well. Leyel also used the services of many Portuguese-speaking merchants onboard the DEIC ships to improve DEIC trade, and in his correspondence he often wrote highly of the local Portuguese merchants. Portuguese was the lingua franca in the Indian Ocean trade and it served as an access point for cross-imperial trade.45

Although the connections with the competing Europeans were important for the DEIC, the connection to the local rulers and merchant networks was by far of the greatest importance. When Leyel became the commander in Asia, he found himself in a difficult position. The key trading station at Masulipatnam had been lost and relationships with the Nayak of Tanjore, private creditors, and the Emperor of Ceylon were in a bad state. The reason behind these issues was the unpaid rents and debts. Pessart had been taking loans from local creditors but was unable to pay them back, and the DEIC was thus excluded from the important trading and credit centre of Masulipatnam.

The situation with the Nayak was equally worrying, and Leyel sent diplomatic envoys with lavish gifts to settle the issues and repair the relationship with the Nayak. Eventually, Leyel succeeded in establishing friendly relations. At the negotiations, Leyel was not present himself but appointed another merchant, Anders Nielsen, as his envoy. Similarly, Leyel aimed to re-establish the lost trade relations with the Emperor of Ceylon. Leyel wanted to establish a permanent trading station with favourable terms regarding thetoll policy for the DEIC. While Leyel sent diplomatic envoys to Ceylon, the plans fell through. Some compensation was paid, and trade relations were reopened but without a permanent position or freedom from tolls.

In all these cases, Leyel used the mechanisms of the local trading systems. He sent expensive gifts, including luxury products, elephants, textiles, alcohol, and probably even slaves.46 From the perspective of the empire, having agents who were able to establish relationships with the local authorities was of paramount importance. This is why the empire needed experienced employees who had access to contacts, information, and knowledge of the local system. The case of Leyel shows that overseas, the established government institutions needed a different sort of agency, which was able to act independently of the usual institutional practices normally placed under governmental control. Ultimately, this meant that Leyel was perhaps distant to the traditional state elite in Denmark, but central to the empire building.

Building an improvised empire: Concluding remarks

The study of Denmark’s imperial ambitions in Asia opens up new perspectives on early modern Nordic state building. Building an overseas empire required special practices that were different from purely domestic affairs. This chapter shows that the overseas representatives of the empire engaged actively not only with their patrons and subordinates at home, but also with several other empire builders, trading companies, and local powers. Danish trade in Asia was essentially detached from the territory of the state, but it was nonetheless underpinned by state power through the projection of claims by the Danish crown in an overseas context.

The rather improvised character of the empire is overlooked in historiography, especially within the nexus of state building.47 For example, Harald Gustafsson has labelled the Nordic states conglomerate states closely connected to the concept of Iberian composite monarchies.43 For Gustafsson, the conglomerate states operated within different sectors, which had different administrative, judicial, and political positions.49 With this in mind, it is somewhat surprising that Gustafsson neglects the overseas branches in the history of Nordic state building.

The introduction of this book has addressed the call for an overseas perspective regarding Nordic state building: ‘However, we do acknowledge the fact that recent research has demonstrated that state building was not exclusively a European project. We are also aware of the fact that transnational or even global connections could have profound effects on local interactions, in a way not appreciated by earlier research.’50 The DEIC provides an important case for state building as it offered the state the means to attract capital and exercise patronage outside the normal government institutions. Although the central government in Copenhagen became more institutionalised in the overseas sector, the distinction between private and

An improvised empire 209 public became increasingly blurred. This poses rhe obvious question of whether Danish overseas trade in Asia was an integral part of Danish state building. I argue that the DEIC offers a novel approach on early modern Danish state building, especially on two fronts.

Firstly, the first DEIC was to a large extent a personal project of Christian IV. It was less a business organisation intended for trade only and more a hybrid commercial and political project of imperial power and prestige. Christian IV used the conglomerate model to initiate Danish overseas trade and to participate in the Thirty Years’ War.51

Secondly, this chapter demonstrates the role of local agency, or the approach from below, within the context of empire building. The local agency paved the way for the later success of the Danish overseas empire.52 Nevertheless, I distance myself somewhat from the concept ‘from below.’ This contribution does not argue that men like, Pessart, or Leyel were necessarily representative of a ‘from below’ perspective, but they were also not from the top: They were from somewhere in between. The examples presented in this chapter attest to this argument. Leyel mediated, brokered, and influenced the building of the Danish empire. This is especially clear in a trading empire that was operating on such a small-scale vis-à-vis its European counterparts.

Ultimately, this chapter shows that in the context of Nordic state building, it is worthwhile studying imperial activities and ambitions in non-Eu-ropean environments. Leyel and the other DEIC employees draw attention to empire building as they pushed and pulled in their relationships with those who were higher and lower in the hierarchy of empire. In this way, the local agents possessed the capacity to change and break the hierarchies of authority and power in the Danish empire. As Burbank and Cooper suggest, the agents on site could change the vertical and horizontal connections between the rulers, agents, and subjects of empire.53 Finally, whether it was the local agents, trading companies, rulers, or the state, the purpose was the same, to enhance the power and prestige of the kingdom, the state, and ultimately the empire.54

Primary sources

Rigsarkivet (RA) (Copenhagen)

Danske Kancelli (DK), Willem Leyel archives, B 246 A.


  • 1 I would like to thank Tampere University, Center of Excellence in the History of Society for kindly providing funding for the language editing of this study.
  • 2 About the first DEIC and its trade, see Wirta 2018; Subrahmanyam 1989; Rindom 2000; Olsen 1952; Larsen 1907; Krieger 1998; Glamann 1970; Fihl 2014; Feldbæk 1991; Feldbæk 1980.

These kinds of arguments are familiar in the Atlantic context; see, for example, Daniels & Kennedy 2002.

During my PhD, I started to consider the relationship between the Danish presence in Asia and state building. This chapter is a result of that process.

Lockhart 1992, argues otherwise. Compare with Antunes & Gommans (eds) 2015; Elliot 1992. Overall, the international historiography of Danish empire building has remained overlooked. For example, in the introduction of the edited volume on the theory of Empires, David Armitage neglects the Danish empire altogether. Armitage 1991, introduction.

Pedersen (edit) 2017.

During the century, the kingdom of Denmark was in a union with the kingdom of Norway and the correct way to name the Danish empire would be the Dano-Norwegian Realm or the Oldenburg Monarchy. However, here only the term Danish empire will be used.

For recent research on Danish colonialism, see the five-volume research project, Pedersen et al. 2017. For previous research on Danish colonialism, see Brondsted (ed) 1952, volume 1-2.

Burbank & Cooper 2010, p. 8.

Pomeranz (2007), p. 87

For a general overview of the European entry into Asia, see Burbank 8c Cooper 2010, Chapter 6; Furber 1976, pp. 211-216; Tracy 1993; Prakash 1999.

On English trade in Asia and the VOC in Asia, see, e.g., de Vries 8c van der Woude 1997; Gaastra 2003; Blussé 8c Gaastra 1981; Chaudhuri 1965; Prakash 1998; Raychaudhuri 1962; Steensgaard 1973; Furber 1976.

Lockhart 1992.

Roberts 1979.

Jonsson 2009.

Charter of the DEIC, printed in Feldbtek 1986b, ‘Danske Handelskom-pagnier,’ Section 25.

Feldbtek 1986a, ‘The Danish’, p. 216.

About the companies and charters in general, see Feldba;k, ‘The Danish’; Feldbtek, ‘Danske Handelskompagnier’, pp. 9-19.

Feldbtek has studied the Danish overseas convoys during the 18th and 19th centuries; Feldbtek 1969.

Feldbtek, ‘The Danish’, p. 215.

Feldbaek, ‘Danske Handelskompagnier’, pp. 17-19.

Raychaudhuri 1962, p. 113.

Larsen 1907, p. 28.

Rindom 2000; Larsen 1907; Feldbsek 8c Justesen 1980; Wirta 2018, pp. 63-65. Wirta 2018, p. 65; Rindom 2000, p. 108; Willerslev 1944, p. 633.

About these conflicting interests, see Krieger 1998, pp. 207-219. About the issues of the intercontinental voyages, see Feldbtek 1991, pp. 31-33.

Krieger 1998, pp. 207-209; Wirta 2018, Chapter 2. Asta Bredsdorff has written an extensive biography on Leyel and his years as commander; see Bredsdorff 2009.

On the background of the Leyel family, see Hoick 1958. Bredsdorff 2009; Wirta 2018, Chapter 2, p. 65.

From Asia, Willem Leyel sent four extensive reports to the company directors and the king. RA, Rigsarkivet (National archives Copenhagen), Danske Kan-celli (DK), Rentekammerafdelningen, B 246, A, Willum Leyel akiv.

This synopsis is based on the Leyel reports, and Bredsdorff 2006; Wirta 2018. The information here is based on his two first reports, RAC, DK, B 246 A, Leyel to the directors: 22.11.1644 and 12.12.1645; Larsen 1907, p. 24.

Wirta 2018, pp. 95-99.

  • 33 Berg et al. (eds), 'Goods from the East’, 2015a, especially the contributions in part II of the book.
  • 34 Bruijn, Gaastra & Schôffer 1987, Chapters 9-10; Berg et al. 2015b, pp. 123-147; Antunes 2012.
  • 35 Dorum, Hallenberg, and Katajala, Intro, p.13.
  • 36 Wirta 2018, p. 98.
  • 37 RAC, DK, RAC, DK, B 246 A, instructions to the commander on board the ship Christianshavn.
  • 38 Several copies are located in the Leyel archives, RAC, DK, B 246 A; Wirta 2018, p. 79.
  • 39 RA, DK, B 246 A, Leyel to P. Nielsen, 20.10.1645; RA, DK, B 246 A, Leyel to the king of Denmark, 18.10.1645.
  • 40 RAC, DK, B 246 A, Leyel to the directors: 22.11.1644 and 12.12.1645. In addition, Bredsdorff has written about Leyel’s intra-Asian voyages. Breds-dorff 2006, pp. 152-166.
  • 41 RAC, DK, RAC, DK, B 246 A, instructions to the commander on board the ship Christianshavn-, RAC, DK, B 246 A, Leyel to the directors: 22.11.1644 and 12.12.1645.
  • 42 RAC, DK, B 246 A, Report to the king: 12.12.1645.
  • 43 RAC, DK, B 246 A, Leyel to the directors: 22.11.1644, 12.12.1645, and 15.11.1646; Wirta 2018, pp. 104-108.
  • 44 On the Portuguese see, Subrahmanyam 2012; Winius 1983, pp. 83-101. The relationship between the Portuguese and DEIC, Disney 2009; Wirta 2018, pp. 102-104.
  • 45 RA, DK, B 246 A, Leyel to the directors: 22.11.1644.
  • 46 The importance of local connections shines through in most of the documents related to Leyel; Wirta 2018, pp. 99-102.
  • 47 Burbank and Cooper have emphasised the importance of improvising in the structure of empire; Burbank & Cooper 2010, p. 3.
  • 48 Elliot 1992.
  • 49 Gustafsson 1996.
  • 50 Dorum, Hallenberg, and Katajala, Intro, p. 6.
  • 51 Lockhart 1992.
  • 52 In the Danish context, the eighteenth century is usually called the ‘blossoming epoch’ of Danish-Asia trade; Feldbæk 1969.
  • 53 Burbank &c Cooper 2010, p. 14.
  • 54 The importance of power and prestige as a motive for state building is shared by Jespersen 2000, p. 38.


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