Stephen Bown: Merchant Kings
@ The Writer's Cafe

Merchant Kings
When Companies Ruled the World, 1600-1900

Stephen Bown

Douglas and McIntyre, 2009

Topic: History

The Merchant Kings of the Age of Heroic Commerce were a rogue's gallery of larger-than-life merchant-adventurers who, during a couple of hundred years, expanded their far-flung commercial enterprises over a good portion of the world to generate revenue for their shareholders, feather their own nests and satisfy their vanity and curiosity.

Merchant Kings looks at each ruling monopoly through its greatest "Merchant King" - Jan Pieterszoon Coen of the Dutch East India Company, Pieter Stuyvesant of the Dutch West India Company, Robert Clive of the English East India Company, Alexandr Baronov of the Russian American Company, George Simpson of the Hudson's Bay Company and Cecil John Rhodes of the British South Africa Company - and follows their fortunes through the era when nations belatedly assumed responsibility for these quasi-colonial commercial enterprises. These Merchant Kings were vested with enormous powers by both their company and their country: the right to establish private armies, pass laws, collect taxes and negotiate treaties or wage war with foreign princes.

In trying to balance the interests of their company with the interests of their country, they changed history as significantly as the most celebrated generals, despots and monarchs.

Merchant Kings is the narrative and biographical story of the great commercial monopolies that at one time ruled millions of people and vast tracts of the world. Although the stories of most Merchant Kings have been told before, they have never been considered together, even though they lived in overlapping time periods between the early 1600s and the late1800s.

Listen to Stephen Bown discussing Merchant Kings


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