Cotton produced in Cambay, Bengal, Coromandel and other regions of India was carried to the Spice Islands, where it was exchanged for spices such as cloves, nutmegs and mace (the dried outer covering of nutmegs). This demand was not simply for Indian cotton regardless of its provenance: specific types of cotton produced in certain regions were required by particular regions of the Spice Islands and the trade routes were determined accordingly. Since Indian cotton was the only commodity that the producers of spices would always buy, merchants had to stock up with various types of Indian cotton in advance so that they could obtain the spices they needed. When the Netherlands gained a monopoly of the spice trade in the seventeenth century, it set up a trading house in India to ensure the steady supply of Indian cotton because it was the only item they could trade with the inhabitants of the Spice Islands.
The Spice Islands_The Moluccas, Java, and Borneo
The Spice Islands consisted of three main islands: the Moluccas, Java, and Borneo. The main product of the Moluccas was cloves, nutmegs being produced in the southernmost region of Panda??. Java produced various kinds of spices, including cloves, nutmegs and pepper, but in comparatively small quantities. The chief product of Sumatra was pepper. In addition to clover and nutmegs, pepper was also produced in large quantities in the Sukadana region of Borneo. Although peppers were grown in Malabar on the west coast of India, Sumatran peppers are said to have been larger and heavier. Pepper was also produced in the Coromandel region on the east coast of India, but it was poor in quality and seems to have been relatively expensive. Even the British East India Company based in India could not accept the price of Indian-produced pepper. Since pepper and spices from the Spice Islands were clearly superior to their Indian counterparts in both quality and price, the world_s merchants went to the Spice Islands for cheap, high-quality spices.
The Stable Demand for Pepper in Europe
In Europe large numbers of livestock were slaughtered in the autumn as food and because there was insufficient fodder to keep livestock over the winter. Pepper and spices were needed both as a means of preserving this meat (although salt was mainly used for this purpose) and to improve the flavor of meat stored over a long period. Demand for pepper in Europe was therefore particularly stable, irrespective of its price. The most important use of pepper and spices was as medicines. In 1621, the Englishman Thomas Mann?? wrote, _Spices maintain health and, being essential for treating maladies, there was tremendous demand for them everywhere and at all times._
To sum up, gold and silver were taken from Europe to India, where they were exchanged for cotton, which was traded in the Spice Islands for pepper and spices, which were brought back to Europe. Commerce between Europe and Asia thus took the form of a stable three-cornered transit trade that continued over three centuries.
(2) Indian Cotton
The British East India Company
As we have seen, Indian cotton was an essential element in the three-cornered transit trade between Europe and Asia. Let us now examine the background to the great demand for Indian cotton in Europe. First of all, it should be noted that when Portugal, Spain, Britain and the Netherlands first entered maritime Asia, none of them was aiming to import cotton from India. The British East India Company had two main objectives: to sell domestically produced woolen cloth and to obtain pepper and spices. However, British wool proved to be unsuitable for the perennially hot climate of India and the Spice Islands, which already had a plentiful supply of cotton cloth that was cheaper and more varied in color than British woolen fabrics. To achieve its second aim_the acquisition of pepper and spices_Britain had to compete with Portugal. The decisive turning point in this struggle was the defeat of the Spanish Armada by the British fleet in 1588, after which Britain and the Netherlands gained the ascendancy over Spain and Portugal.