While considering the many economic and personal relationships forged in the Indian Ocean during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the friendships and collaborations among European women and their counterparts in Mughal India often remain neglected. In reality these women traveled back and forth between continents, often alongside their husbands, and created new avenues of cultural dialogue and commercial exchange. In particular this essay will examine the interactions of three women: the Armenian Christian maiden later identified as Mariam Khan, who was chosen by the Mughal emperor Jahangir to become the wife of Captain William Hawkins of the East India Company, and two English women, Frances Steele and Mrs. Hudson. Soon after her husband's death on the voyage to England in 1613, Mariam married another East India Company employee, Captain Gabriel Towerson. After a few years in London, she set sail for India in 1617, this time accompanied by Steele and Hudson. Together they formed personal bonds of friendship that also had significant economic and cultural implications, as the English ambassador Sir Thomas Roe discovered. Unlike company merchants, the English women were able to access the zenana quarters of Mughal India, and their acquaintance with Mariam possibly made it easier for them to build vital relationships with daughters and wives of Mughal officials. In so doing they secured privileges for themselves and their husbands, often countering the direct interests of the East India Company.
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Amrita Sen; Traveling Companions: Women, Trade, and the Early East India Company. Genre 1 July 2015; 48 (2): 193–214. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00166928-2884844
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