Sir Edward Lutyens and the Building of New Delhi

In 1585, three Englishmen—William Leeds, Ralph Fitch, and John Newbury— landed on the west coast of India, bearing a letter from Queen Elizabeth I. Her majesty requested that the travelers be “honestly intreated and received,” as a first step toward establishing a “mutual and friendly trafique of merchandise on both sides.” With their arrival, seeds were sown for the founding of Britain’s Indian Empire. Leeds and his companions eventually reached Agra, capital of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, whose grandfather, Babar, had founded the dynasty in 1526. To the English visitors, Agra appeared “much greater than London and very populous.” One must remember this was 60 years before Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan, would build the city’s celebrated Taj Mahal. by Patwant Singh I A direct consequence of Fitch’s report on his return to England was the founding of the East India Company, which by the early 1600s had received major trading rights in India. Starting with an outpost at Surat on the west coast, the Company was allowed a factory in Madras in 1639, and another site around 50 years later on the River Hooghly, 80 miles inland from the east coast. Their work on Calcutta began in 1690. As the Company’s trading activities expanded, so did its ambitions, which by the eighteenth century had coalesced into a policy of conquest.

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