A form of trading company that developed from the European medieval trading guilds and was prominent in the late 16th and 17th centuries. The discovery by explorers of India and America stimulated individual merchants into forming groups, safeguarded by royal charter in order to monopolize trade. Governments awarded exclusive trading rights in a particular area to a few rich merchants. Such companies were easy to control and, with their specially granted diplomatic, legislative, and military authority, they acted as virtual representatives of the crown. Since the companies were so restrictive, they could arouse considerable domestic opposition.