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Journal, Memorials and Letters of Cornelis Matelieff de Jonge: Security, Diplomacy and Commerce in 17th-Century Southeast Asia

CORNELIS MATELIEF DE JONGE (c. 1569–1632) was a Dutch admiral who was active in establishing Dutch power in Southeast Asia during the beginning of the 17th century. His fleet was officially on a trading mission, but its true intent was to destroy Portuguese power in the area.


NUS Press (First edition, 2015)
704 pages including Bibliography and Index


Out of stock

Journal, Memorials and Letters of Cornelis Matelieff de Jonge: Security, Diplomacy and Commerce in 17th-Century Southeast Asia presents a collection of documents of vital importance in the early modern hiStory of European trade, warfare, and expansion in Southeast Asia. It features annotated translations relating to VOC Admiral Cornelis Matelieff de Jonge and his voyage to Asia (1605-08), their geographic focus is on present-day Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, with additional references to India, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, China and The Philippines. Researchers specialising in early colonialism, international law, international relations, security studies, trade, diplomatic and company history will find that the texts offer a range of fresh and unfamiliar perspectives.

Cornelis Matelieff de Jonge served as a lifetime director of the Rotterdam Chamber of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). In 1605 he was appointed fleet commander of the company’s second voyage to Asia, and his mission was both commercial and military: he launched a major seaborne attack on Portuguese Melaka, arranged for the signing of treaties with the rulers of Johor, Aceh and Ternate, and founded the first Dutch fort on Ternate. His endeavours to open the Chinese market for the VOC, however, proved unsuccessful.

Following his return to the Dutch Republic in September 1608, Matelieff penned a series of epistolary memorials in which he identified problems faced by the company and suggested recommendations for their resolution. These texts were written at a formative moment in the company’s early history, when the directors were seeking to balance the pursuit of trade against the task of waging war with the Iberian powers east of the Cape of Good Hope. The directors aimed to meet the short-term expectations of the shareholders for a decent return on capital, but were also committed to investing heavily in expensive, long-term commercial and military infrastructure—an objective which consumed the profits, and more. With an eye cast on the unfolding of Dutch colonial power in Asia, the directors perceived the center of gravity shifting away from Melaka and the Straits region toward the area around the Sunda Strait and specifically the northwestern coast of Java. Matelieff’s letters and memorials mirror these dilemmas and trends. They showcase his business sense and military and diplomatic prowess, as well as convey his personal vision for securing the company’s long-term future.

It has been claimed that Matelieff was a man with an imperial agenda. Arguably, the proposals he spelt out in his writings acted as something of a blueprint for future action by the VOC—and indeed, the creation of the first Dutch empire in Asia. Based on what he had learnt about the way the Portuguese operated in Asia, he urged the directors to select a Strategic location that would be a permanent Asian base for the company’s operations. He weighed the merits of several locations—Aceh, Melaka, Johor, Palembang, Banten and Jayakerta. The last of these was his preferred choice, and was in fact taken by force by the VOC about a decade later-and renamed Batavia.

In tandem with the selection of a rendezvous, it was also Matelieff who proposed the appointment of a permanent supreme authority in the East Indies, a governor-general. The system that prevailed in the first decade of the 17th century, where each fleet commander exercised plenipotentiary power, clearly had limitations—Matelieff could not help but observe the propensity of fleet commanders to get in the way of each other.

Showing his business acumen, Matelieff held out the realistic prospect of monopolising the nutmeg, mace and clove supplies at source. He set the stage for creating the clove monopoly in 1607 by signing the VOC’s First exclusive delivery contract with the ruler of Temate. The company’s stranglehold over nutmeg and mace-producing Banda began in 1609. With regard to pepper, Matelieff advised against any attempt to control the market, and proposed an entirely different strategy. Since the supply of pepper was far too large to control, he advised the VOC to purchase pepper in large quantities and carry this spice as ballast on the return voyage to Europe. At home this pepper might be sold off at a price to recoup costs. But even selling at a loss would be worthwhile if it led to a glut of pepper that would erode profit margins and prospectively drive competitors out of business.

Reflecting debates that would plague the company for much of its corporate lifespan, Matelieff recognised that the VOC could not profitably trade everything. For this reason he suggested farming out parts of its monopoly to private citizen-traders. This proposal was clearly less palatable to the directors.

Apart from providing vita] insights into Dutch policy and strategy, the documents translated in this colleaion also furnish new and valuable information on the social and political structures of SoutheaSt Asian polities—including information about key leaders and their diplomatic maneuverings, their political agency. The documents allow the reader to eavesdrop on discussions between Matelieff and leading Malay personalities of the day, revealing clashes of priorities, expectations, and values. One example is the strikingly high value placed by Malay leaders on the preservation of life—which contrasted with the little value they attached to land or territorial ownership. The Dutch found such understandings difficult to grasp.

The birth of the Dutch Republic, its protracted war against Spain, and its shifting attitudes toward Portugal, are crucial for appreciating the backdrop against which the VOC and its relations with Asian polities would develop. This historical setting serves to contextualize the observations expounded by Matelieff—a perceptive analyst determined to seize business opportunities and grasp the political and economic structures of Asia. At a time of Europe’s rapidly growing engagement with this part of the world, Matelieff sought to assess the ways Europeans could and should deal with local rulers. In doing this, he helped to forge a primordial structure to VOC endeavours in Asia—a structure that, as it turned out, was to endure for the next two centuries.

List of Abbreviations
List of Illustrations



1. Excerpt from the Historische Verhael of Admiral Matelieff Concerning the Siege of Melaka and His Engagement at Sea with the Portuguese Armada

2. Advice by Admiral Matelieff to Admiral Paul van Caerden, dated 4 January 1608

3. Letter by Admiral Matelieff to the Next Admiral Arriving from Europe, dated 28 January 1608

4. Discourse on the State of the East Indies, dated 12 November 1608

5. Discourse on Trade Possibilities for the VOC in the East Indies; also on How to Manage Our Factories, and in Which Locations They are Useful and Profitable

6. Comments on the Trade Conducted with the East Indies from these United Provinces, 16 January 1609

7. Letter of Matelieff to Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, dated 18 May 1609

8. Discourse on the State and Trade of the Indies, written by Admiral Cornelis Matelieff de Jonge, c. June 1607

9. Memorial of Admiral Matelieff to Hugo Grotius and Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, dated 31 August 1610

10. Letter by Admiral Matelieff to Grotius, dated 14 December 1613

11. Letter by Admiral Matelieff to Grotius, dated 27 April 1615

12. Letter by Admiral Matelieff to Grotius, dated 3 May 1615

13. Letter by Admiral Matelieff to Grotius, dated 3 March 1616


1. Instructions of the Gentlemen XVII to Admiral Matelieff and his Broad Council, 1605

2. Treaty between Vice-Admiral Olivier de Vivere and Ali Ri’ayat Shah of Aceh, dated 17 January 1607

3. A Historicall and True Discourse, of a Voyage Made by the Admirall Cornelis Matelife the Younger, into the East Indies, Who Departed Out of Holland, in May 1605

4. Treaty between Admiral Matelieff and Sultan Modafar of Ternate and His Council, dated 26 May 1607

5. Letter from Master Gabriel Towerson, Chief Factor of the Honourable East India Company at Banten, to his Brother, dated 30 April 1607 (Old Style)

6. Instructions of the Gentlemen XVII to Company Servants in Africa and Asia, dated 11 April 1608

7. Letter by Alauddin Ri’ayat Shah III and Raja Bongsu of Johor to the Dutch States General and Prince Maurice; passed to Admiral Pieter Willemsz. Verhoeff, dated 6 February 1609

8. Treaty of Samuel Bloemaert with Sebua Tangan Pangeran Adipati of Sambas, dated 1 October 1609

9. Letter by Alauddin Ri’ayat Shah and Raja Bongsu of Johor to Stadholder Prince Maurice, dated 8 December 1609 (from the Contemporary Dutch Translation Prepared by Cornelis Franckx)

10. Original Dutch Captions on the 1606 Map of Melaka in the Bibliothéque nationale de France (BNF)

Glossary of Non-geographic Terms, Currencies, Measures and Commodities
List of Place Names and Geographic Terms

Weight1.515 kg
Dimensions25.7 × 17.8 × 3 cm




Year Published

  1. Kawah Buku

    “The book makes a major contribution toward understanding the generally neglected history of the Portuguese in Southeast Asia and the South China Sea region during the 17th century, and Borschberg demonstrates a remarkable grasp of Portuguese-language sources – a rare achievement for an English-speaking historian.”–Manuel Lobato, Portuguese Institute of Tropical Research (IICT), Lisbon.

  2. Kawah Buku

    “In making Matelieff’s work available for the first time in English, Borschberg has rendered a tremendous service to the field.”–Adam Clulow, Monash University.

  3. Kawah Buku

    “This book speaks to a new phase in historical studies of Asia: the critical re-examination of the source materials on which all historical interpretation has to be based.”–Anthony Milner, Australian National University.

  4. Kawah Buku

    “The readership of this book will include experts in the field, who will be filled with admiration for Borschberg’s research, analysis, his mastery of language, his knowledge and careful description of the sources.”–Nicholas Tarling, New Zealand Asia Institute, The University of Auckland.

  5. Kawah Buku

    “One of the most significant contributions of Borschberg’s analysis is the focus on previously overlooked information about how the Dutch encountered and navigated the agency of Malay political actors who were articulating local expectations and values.”–Ali Humayun Akhtar, Bates College, University of Wisconsin.

  6. Kawah Buku

    “Beyond revealing Dutch military and commercial tactics, a valuable focus of this book is Matelieff ’s attempt at creating relationships with leaders across Southeast Asia through treaties signed with the rulers of Johor, Aceh, and Ternate.”—Kris Alexanderson, University of the Pacific.

  7. Kawah Buku

    “Borschberg’s book is a substantially built account of an important phase in the history of the Dutch East India Company. Even for a Dutchman who can read the original source material and is familiar with the story and the period, the book offers a number of interesting vistas.”—Leo M. Akveld, Rotterdam.

  8. Kawah Buku

    “By bringing these documents together and providing a translation into modern English, Borschberg certainly has done a service to scholars interested in the early years of the VOC, the history of European expansion in Asia, and the relations between European companies and Asian rulers.”—Pepijn Brandon, University of Pittsburgh.

  9. Kawah Buku

    “The English translation of the letters and texts brings this valuable body of sources to a wider non-Dutch-speaking audience, which would otherwise remain oblivious to their relevancy. But the book breaks the linguistic and historiographic barriers even further, by using Portuguese materials and secondary literature to clarify and offer a contradictory to Matelieff’s writings.”—Edgar Pereira, Leiden University

  10. Kawah Buku

    “All in all, this is an exciting new set of translations, which will provide a valuable reference for historians of both Southeast Asian and world history for years to come.”—Robert K. Batchelor, author of London: the Selden Map and the Making of a Global City, 1549-1689

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