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The law is open on both sides’: Great Britain and Sweden’s Interpretation of the Law of Nations in the East India Trade in the 1730s - 21 January 2021

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Speaker: Christin Simons, University of St Andrews

Chair: Dr Alan James, War Studies Department


Previous research of the Swedish East India Company (SOIC) has long demonstrated the resentment by the Great Maritime Powers, especially Great Britain, of their new competition from Scandinavia. The SOIC was therefore forced to find a strategy which guaranteed its survival and avoided the fate of the recently abolished Ostend Company. While scholars have focused on the economic strategy of the SOIC, the associated legal strategy remains largely unexamined.

This presentation explores the role of the Scot, Colin Campbell, as a director of the SOIC and his knowledge about British law as a key component to Swedish success in the East India trade. Condemned as an “interloper” by British legislation, his presence, amongst other British subjects, was certain to initiate a reaction by Great Britain and its EIC.

The conflict culminated in the so-called Porto Novo affair in 1733, in which a 600 strong Anglo-French force attacked the Swedish warehouse in the neutral town of Porto Novo. The following eight-year-long lawsuit demonstrates the struggle between British exceptionalism and Swedish sovereignty and finally the question - who owns the sea? Based on the research of perception and reputation, this paper aims to contribute to the understanding of maritime conflicts in the absence of international law.



Christin Simons is a PhD student in Modern History at St. Andrews University. Through a semester abroad in Sweden and year abroad in China, she gained an interest in transnational history. Her current research revolves around the Scandinavian Asiatic Companies in due consideration of the perception and recognition as “interlopers” but also as “neutrals” by the Great East India Monopoly rivals such as the EIC and the VOC. In this context, she aims to investigate how far these perceptions were used by the Swedish and Danish East India Companies in a legal context to survive in the East India trade. Together with Scott Carballo (University of Strathclyde), she was the organizer of the International Postgraduate Port and Maritime Studies Network UK, 2019-2020. Christin, together with Elena Romero Passerin (St Andrews University), has further developed a board game called “Merplantilism”, which combines elements of Maritime History and the History of Botany.


This seminar is part of the long-running ‘King’s Maritime History Seminars’ hosted by the Laughton Naval History Unit (on behalf of the British Commission for Maritime History and the Society for Nautical Research)

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Event details

21 January 2021

Online event