When Thomas Roe arrived in India in 1616 as James I's first ambassador to the Mughal Empire, the English barely had a toehold in the subcontinent. Roe represented a kingdom that was beset by financial woes and deeply conflicted about its identity as a unified "Great Britain" under the Stuart monarchy. Meanwhile, the court he entered in India was wealthy and cultured, its dominion considered to be one of the greatest empires of the world. In this history of Roe's four years in India, Nandini Das offers an insider's view of Britain in the making, a country whose imperial seeds were just being sown.
Das... is the rare scholar who combines a sensitivity to the literature of Jacobean England with a sympathetic and nuanced understanding of the Mughal empire ... In locating Roe within his English context... Das successfully rescues him from the stilted role of the progenitor of colonial rule and reveals something more interesting: an ambassador too honorable and too inexperienced to achieve anything much for either himself or his country ... She remains admirably evenhanded in her appraisal, revealing the subtle change of views and blurring of boundaries in this unpropitious moment of intercultural contact.
A scholarly biography with an antiquary’s eye for detail. Das’s leisurely diversions into the world of Jacobean fashion, food and curiosities are fascinating ... Das works through irony and implication, showing how the 17th century had little time for the finer humanitarianism of our age.
Das’s book is at its most interesting when it moves beneath the familiar and unearths stories that have been forgotten or suppressed ... Courting India is full of well-researched details and anecdotes, but they never quite cohere into a larger narrative about Roe or why his time in India merits another investigation. The tentativeness with which Das approaches her subject yields her no deeper a conclusion than the truism that interactions between different cultures are complex, dynamic and subtle.