In its global struggle with the Netherlands for domination of the seas, Britain gradually gained the advantage. In 1664, the British defeated the Dutch in America and took over the settlement of New Amsterdam, renaming it New York. Britain subsequently took the lead over the Dutch in Asia while maintaining equality in Europe. Nevertheless, they also suffered serious setbacks. The Amboina Massacre of 1623 was a severe blow to British power in the Indies and they finally lost their foothold in the Spice Islands when they were forced out of Bantam by the Dutch in 1682. After losing its vital interest in the pepper and spice trade to the Dutch, Britain had no choice but to fall back on India. This retreat to India had a quite unexpected result: the westward diffusion of cotton. Since Indian cotton was the only commodity that could be traded for gold and silver as well as pepper and spices, the British East India Company embarked upon the plan of exporting cotton to England and creating domestic demand for it.
The Cotton Craze in Britain
Even in the 1670s, the cotton-spice transit trade between India and the Spice Islands was not the chief concern of the British trading house in Bengal. Until the above-mentioned turning point in its trading policy in the Indies, the main imports of the British East India Company were indigo, drugs??, pepper and spices, saltpeter, raw silk thread, and precious stones. With this change in policy, however, Indian cotton came to dominate the company_s imports. For roughly a century from the second half of the 1660s, Indian cotton and other fabrics (including silk fabrics) accounted for about two-thirds of all the East India Company_s imports from Asia.
The final two decades of the seventeenth century were known as the _Indian Craze_ in Britain, and by the end of the century
Indian cotton had attained a popularity unrivaled by any other commodity. A pamphlet written in 1699 described this remarkable development: _Twenty years ago, calico (also known as by other names such as muslin or suede??) was never seen as a fashionable adornment. But nowadays most men and women would not consider themselves dressed if they did not wear garments made of calico. Men now wear calico shirts, ties, sleeve protectors, gowns and handkerchiefs, while women favor calico hair ornaments, nightdresses, head scarves, aprons, gowns, and underwear. Indian stockings are now all the rage among both the sexes. Unless parliament passes a law prohibiting it or it incurs the ire of the royal family, it will be difficult to restrain this craze._ The novelist Daniel Defoe (1660_1731) put it more succinctly: _The woolen fabrics and silk that were formerly used for women_s clothing and household effects have all been replaced by Indian goods._
The Background to the Diffusion of Indian Cotton
Three reasons can be given for the rapid diffusion of Indian cotton in Britain and Europe. The first is the preference of light and sheer fabrics that developed after the arrival of Indian cotton. In the second half of the sixteenth century, a change in fashion from furs to woolen fabrics was already taking places among the wealthy and privileged. This preference for thinner cloth continued in the first half of the seventeenth century with the popularity of _new drapery__woolen textiles made by carding long-fibered wool and characterized by the lightness of the cloth and the ease with which they could be made into dress materials of various colors and patterns. Since cotton goods were clearly superior to this new drapery both in their lightness and flexibility of finish, Indian cotton that was__delicate like a woman and thin like a spider_s web_ rode the crest of this wave.
Secondly, the East India Company deliberately implemented various policies to create a fashion for cotton goods in Britain. Gaining the favor of the post-Restoration aristocracy, it promoted a preference for cotton goods among the upper classes, sending samples of patterns favored by Europeans to India, where they had them copied and dyed.