Religion and Governance in England’s Emerging Colonial Empire, 1601–1698

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Religion and Governance in England’s Emerging Colonial Empire, 1601–1698 | Haig Z. Smith

Religion and Governance in England’s Emerging Colonial Empire, 1601–1698

Haig Z. Smith

New Transculturalisms, 1400–1800

Palgrave Macmillan



xi, 292 pages

This open access book explores the role of religion in England’s overseas companies and the formation of English governmental identity abroad in the seventeenth century. Drawing on research into the Virginia, East India, Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, New England and Levant Companies, it offers a comparative global assessment of the inextricable links between the formation of English overseas government and various models of religious governance across England’s emerging colonial empire. While these approaches to governance varied from company to company, each sought to regulate the behaviour of their personnel, as well as the numerous communities and faiths which fell within their jurisdiction. This book provides a crucial reassessment of the seventeenth-century foundations of British imperial governance.

Haig Z. Smith is a Research Associate on the ERC-funded TIDE project (Travel, Transculturality and Identity in Early Modern England, 1550-1700) at the University of Oxford, UK. He has previously published on a number of topics relating to religion and English overseas expansion in the early modern period. 

1 ‘A Just Government’—Empire, Religion, Chaplains and the Corporation

2 The Virginia Company and the Foundations of Religious Governance in English Commercial Expansion

3 The Plymouth Company and Massachusetts Bay Company (1622–1639): Establishing Theocratic Corporate Governance

4 Apostasy and Debauchery (1601–1660): Behaviour, Passive Evangelism and the East India and Levant Company Chaplains

5 The Massachusetts Bay Company and New England Company (1640–1684): Exportation, Revaluation and the Demise of Corporate Theocratic Governance

6 The East India Company (1661–1698): Territorial Acquisition and the ‘Amsterdam of Liberty’

7 Conclusion


“This important study looks at the central place of religion in the contrasting governance of English overseas companies across the seventeenth century and across the globe, from Boston to Bombay. It identifies three models – pastoral, theocratic and ecumenical – of religious governance and it deepens our understanding of the complex relationship between trade, politics and religion in the development of these companies and the growth of empire.”
Kenneth Fincham, University of Kent, UK

“With both conceptual precision and an expansive, global field-of-view, Smith reveals the distinctively corporate mechanisms that structured religious encounters in the early modern world and, in the process, places religious governance at the centre of our understanding of seventeenth century English expansion overseas.”
William Pettigrew, Lancaster University, UK

“This detailed but wide-ranging study shows the important place that religion occupied in the management and reputation of early modern England’s overseas companies, both in North America and Asia. It will be a valuable read for anyone wishing to learn about how England established a presence in the wider world.”
Thomas Leng, University of Sheffield, UK

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