“The Law is open on both sides.” : the contrasting British and Swedish interpretations of the Law of Nations and its impact on the role of perceptions and reputations in the East India trade of the 1730s-1740s

  • Christin Simons

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


Previous studies of the Swedish East India Company (SOIC) have consistently demonstrated the resentment of the ‘great maritime powers’, especially Great Britain, towards new competition emerging from Scandinavia. In response, the SOIC was forced to find a strategy to guarantee its survival and thereby avoid the fate of the recently abolished Ostend Company. While scholars have focused on the SOIC’s economic strategy, its legal strategy remains largely unexamined. This thesis explores the role of the Scot Colin Campbell (1686-1757) as a director of the SOIC, and how his knowledge of British law was a key component of Swedish success in the East India trade. Condemned as an ʽinterloperʼ by British legislation, his presence, viewed as hostile by other British subjects, naturally generated a response from Great Britain and the Honourable East India Company (EIC). The conflict culminated in the so-called Porto Novo affair of 1733, in which a 600-strong Franco-British force attacked the Swedish warehouse in the neutral town of Porto Novo on the Coromandel Coast. The ensuing eight-year-long lawsuit demonstrates the struggle between British exceptionalism and Swedish sovereignty, leading to the question: who owns the sea? Based on research into perceptions and reputations, this thesis contributes to the understanding of maritime conflicts in the absence of international maritime law and the impact of commercial treaties on the nationʼs sovereignty.
Date of Award1 Jul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorSteven Watt Murdoch (Supervisor)


  • East India trade
  • Interloper
  • International trade
  • Law of nations
  • Legal strategies
  • Maritime law
  • Swedish East India Company
  • Swedish history
  • Transnational history
  • Treaties

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 31st May 2026

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