Andrea here, starting to get excited that Murder on Queen’s Landing, my latest Wrexford & Sloane Regency mystery, releases on Tuesday! It’s always a thrill when a book is close to getting into the hands (or ears!) of readers, as that’s what makes all the angst and gnashing of teeth within the solitary confinement of the writing room worthwhile.
And it also makes me reflect on what a long process it is to bring a mystery from the initial “hmm, what if . . .” to weaving all the threads together (without tying myself in knots!) to handing in a finished manuscript and finally seeing a printed book!
For me, research is always a huge part of the early stages. I like to base my stories around scientific discoveries or technical advances in the Regency, and then figure out how create a mystery with them interacting with some aspect of the era’s rich history. And then, of course, you need to figure out a villain—which isn’t always as easy as it might seem. However, in this book, in which I wanted to create a scheme that involved skullduggery in finance and commerce, an obvious villain leapt to mind . . .
During the Regency, the storied East India Company was the most powerful economic entity in the world. Its original royal charter, granted in 1600 by Queen Elizabeth I, gave a group of English merchants permission develop mercantile opportunities in the East Indies in the name of the Crown, in return for a monopoly on the trade. But in addition, the charter gave the company formed by the merchants the power to “wage war.”
This became a key clause. At first, the East India Company raised troops to force other foreign trading companies out of the Indian subcontinent, which was proving a very lucrative market. But soon began to act as a sovereign power, creating its own private corporate army. (in the late 1778, there were 67,000 soldiers—and at its pinnacle of power it had 260,000 soldiers—which was twice the size of England’s standing army at the time.)
In 1757, the Company seized the entire Mughal state of Bengal, and from there, they moved to conquer a vast part of the subcontinent and bring it under their rule. The British government slowly began to pass some laws limiting the Company's power, but with Britain at odds with France for much of the 1700s—the Seven Years War, and the American Revolution—the presence of the EIC private armies were a help as conflict with French-supported Indian rulers required the British to send regular troops to defend the country’s commercial lifeline. (Those of you who are fans of Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe series have read about those bloody conflicts.)
In 1784, Britain passed an Act separating the EIC’s political and economic power, but was nebulous and proved hard to enforce. The Regency era saw the Company continue to rule the Indian subcontinent as their fiefdom. They collected taxes from the local populations, minted their own money, had their own private flags and set up governor-generals in various regions who ruled with absolute authority.
As you can imagine, the Company earned quite a reputation for ruthlessness. One aspect of their numerous money-making ventures particularly caught my eye. (Sorry—no spoilers here, so I won’t say what!) It was diabolically clever . . . I can’t help but imagine that smart young men whose minds were skilled at math and finance were attracted to working for the Company, seeing it as a way to advance and make their fortune . . . just as the bright young men today are attracted to Wall Street. So the Company really did work out some very sophisticated financial models for profiting from international trade.
So the core mystery I use in Murder on Queen’s Landing is based on actual history. But of course, as I’m writing fiction, I can also let my imagination run wild. I had great fun weaving together the plot (though I confess I had to consult with some friends who understand advanced economics far better than I do to help me through some of the fine points of how money moves around the world!) Fair warning—I hope I keep you guessing!
As I’ve said before in my blogs, one of the many things I love about the Regency is how many many parallels there are to our own modern times. In this case, the idea of a multinational company that hold immense economic power—perhaps too much power—is something that worries many of us today . . .
The East India Company frightened many people around the world in its heyday . . . What about you? What company worries you you regarding its influence and ability to affect our world? I’ll be giving away an e-book copy of Murder at Queen’s Landing to one winner chosen at random from those who leave a comment here.