―Conqueror of India‖
1 Assessing Robert Clive
1. Early life
2. Political situation in India before Clive
3. First journey to India (1744-1753)
4. The Siege of Arcot (1751)
5. Second journey to India (1755-1760)
6. The fall and recapture of Calcutta (1756-1757)
7. War with Siraj ud-Daula & Plassey
8. Further campaigns & Return to England
9. Third journey to India : The Imperial Farman
10. Attempts at administrative reform
11. Retirement and death
2 Assessing Robert Clive
Major-General Robert Clive, 1st Baron
Clive of Plassey, KB (29 September
1725–22 November 1774), also known as
Clive of India, was a British soldier who
established the military and political
supremacy of the East India Company in
Southern India and Bengal. Together with
Warren Hastings he was one of the key
figures in the creation of British India.
3 Assessing Robert Clive
1. Early Life
Robert Clive was born at Styche, the old family estate, near Market
Drayton and briefly educated at Merchant Taylors' School in
London, until his expulsion. From his second speech in the House of
Commons in 1773, it is known that the estate yielded only £500 a
year. To supplement this income, his father practised law.
Teachers despaired of the young Clive. He is reputed to have
climbed the tower of St Mary's Parish Church in Market Drayton and
perched on a gargoyle. He also attempted to set up a protection
racket enforced by a gang of youths.
If his behaviour generally was bad, in school it was worse - he was
expelled from three schools, including Market Drayton Grammar
4 Assessing Robert Clive
2. India before Clive
By the mid-eighteenth century the Mughal Empire had become
divided into a number of successor states. For the forty years since
the death of the Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707, the power of the
Emperor had gradually fallen into the hands of his provincial
viceroys or subahdars.
The three most powerful were the Nizam of the Hyderabad State in the
Deccan region (Asaf Jah), of south and central India, who ruled from
the Nawab of Bengal (Murshid Quli Khan), whose capital was
and the wazir or Nawab of Awadh (Sa'adat Ali Khan, Burhan ul-Mulk).
The European Trading companies still acknowledged the sovereignty of
the Emperor at Delhi, Bahadur Shah I, but their relations with these
regional rulers were of much greater importance.
5 Assessing Robert Clive
The Western traders
In addition the relationship between the Europeans
was influenced by a series of wars and treaties on
mainland Europe. Since the late seventeenth century
the European merchants had raised bodies of troops
to protect their commercial interests and latterly to
influence local politics to their advantage.
Military power was rapidly becoming as important as
commercial acumen in securing India's valuable
trade, and increasingly it was also the means of
securing riches by another route: the right to collect
6 Assessing Robert Clive
After Clive's arrival in India, the rich lands of the
Coromandel Coast were contested between the French
Governor General Joseph François Dupleix and the
British. This rivalry included the British and French
supporting various factions as Nawab of the remaining
parts of the Mughal Empire.
Clive was the first of the "soldier-politicals" (as they
came to be called) who helped the British gain
ascendancy in India.
While the British would later be challenged in the South
by Tipu Sultan of Mysore, Clive's fame and notoriety
principally lie in his military conquest of the province of
7 Assessing Robert Clive
3. Clive’s first journey to India
At the age of eighteen, Clive was sent out to Madras
(now Chennai) as a "factor" or "writer" in the civil service
of the East India Company.
On 4 September 1746, Madras was attacked by French
Forces. Clive and others made their escape and for his
part in this, Clive was given an ensign's commission.
In the conflict, Clive's bravery had been noted by Major
Stringer Lawrence, the commander of the British troops.
However, the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748 forced
him to return to civil duties for a short time. The conflict
between the British and the French continued, this time
in political rather than military terms.
8 Assessing Robert Clive
4. The Siege of Arcot (1751)
In the conflict that followed, France and Britain remained
officially at peace. The troops deployed were always
those of the East India Company and the company could
only rarely deploy more than a thousand troops. The
British had been further weakened by the withdrawal of a
large force under Admiral Boscawen, and by the return
home, on leave, of Major Lawrence. But that officer had
appointed Clive commissary for the supply of the troops
with provisions, with the rank of captain. Clive drew up a
plan for dividing the enemy's forces, and offered to carry
it out himself.
9 Assessing Robert Clive
In the summer of 1751, Chanda Sahib had left Arcot, the capital of
the Carnatic, to attack Mahommed Ali Wallajah at Tiruchirapalli.
Clive offered to attack Arcot in order to force Chanda Sahib to raise
the siege. Madras and Fort St David could supply him with only 200
Europeans and 300 sepoys and of the eight officers who led them,
four were civilians like Clive himself, and six had never been in
action. In addition, the force only had three artillery pieces. The
initial British assault took the fort at Arcot during a thunderstorm and
Clive's troops immediately began to fortify the building against a
siege. Aided by some of the population, Clive was able to make
sallies against the besieging troops. As the days passed on,
Chanda Sahib sent a large army led by his son, Raza Sahib and his
French supporters, who entered Arcot to besiege Clive in the fort.
10 Assessing Robert Clive
His conduct during the siege made
Clive famous back home in Europe.
The Prime Minister Pitt the Elder
described Clive—who had received
no formal military training
whatsoever—as the "heaven-born
general",. The Court of Directors of
the East India Company voted him
a sword worth £700 which he
refused to receive unless Lawrence
was similarly honoured. He left
Madras for home, after ten years'
absence, early in 1753, but not
before marrying Margaret
Maskelyne, the sister of his friend
11 Assessing Robert Clive
5. Clive’s return
In July 1755, Clive returned to India to act as deputy governor of
Fort St. David, a small settlement south of Madras.
On his way back from leave, Clive (now promoted to Lieutenant-
Colonel in the King's army) took part in the capture of the fortress of
Gheriah (today Vijaydurg) a stronghold of the Maratha Admiral Tuloji
Angre. The action was led by and the English had a several ships
available, some Royal troops and some Maratha allies. The
overwhelming strength of the joint British and Maratha forces
ensured that the battle was won with few losses. A fleet surgeon,
Edward Ives, noted that Clive refused to take any part of the
treasure which was divided among the victorious forces (as was the
custom at the time).
12 Assessing Robert Clive
6. The fall and recapture of
Following this action Clive headed to his post at Fort St. David and it
was there he received news of twin disasters for the English. Early
in 1756, Siraj Ud Daulah had succeeded his grand father Alivardi
Khan as Nawab of Bengal. In June Clive received news, firstly that
the new Nawab had attacked the English at Kasimbazar and shortly
afterwards that on 20 June he had taken the fort at Calcutta. The
losses to the East India Company due to the fall of Calcutta were
estimated by investors at £2,000,000. Those British who were
captured were placed in a room which became infamous as the
Black Hole of Calcutta and, in the stifling summer heat, it is alleged
123 of the 146 prisoners died due to suffocation or heat stroke.
While the Black Hole became infamous in Britain, it is debatable
whether the Nawab was aware of the incident.
13 Assessing Robert Clive
By Christmas 1756, no response had been received to diplomatic letters to
the Nawab and so and Clive were dispatched to attack the Nawab's army
and remove him from Calcutta by force. Their first target was the fortress of
Baj-Baj which Clive approached by land while Admiral Watson bombarded
it from the sea. The fortress was quickly taken with minimal British
casualties. Shortly afterwards on 2 January 1757, Calcutta itself was taken
with similar ease.
Approximately a month later, on 3 February 1757, Clive encountered the
army of the Nawab itself. For two days, the army marched past Clive's
camp to take up a position east of Calcutta. Sir Eyre Coote, serving in the
British forces, estimated the enemy's strength as 40,000 cavalry, 60,000
infantry and thirty cannon. Even allowing for overestimation this was
considerably more than Clive's force of approximately 2000 infantry,
fourteen field guns and no cavalry. The British forces attacked on 5
February 1757 and after an initial assault during which around one tenth of
the British attackers were killed, the Nawab sought to make terms with Clive
and surrendered control of Calcutta.
14 Assessing Robert Clive
7. War with Siraj ud-Daula
In spite of his double defeat and the treaty which followed it, the
Nawab soon resumed the war. As England and France were once
more at war, Clive sent the fleet up the river against
Chandernagore, while he besieged it by land. After consenting to
the siege, the Nawab sought to assist the French, but in vain. The
capture of their principal settlement in India, next to Pondicherry,
which had fallen in the previous war, gave the combined forces
prizes to the value of £140,000.
Some officials of the Nawab's court formed a confederacy to depose
him. Jafar Ali Khan (better known as Mir Jafar), the Nawab's
commander-in-chief, led the conspirators. With Admiral Watson,
Governor Drake and Mr Watts, Clive made a treaty in which it was
agreed to give the office of viceroy of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa to
Jafar, who was to pay a million sterling to the Company for its
losses in Calcutta and the cost of its troops..
15 Assessing Robert Clive
Clive employed Umichand, a rich Bengali trader, as an agent
between Mir Jafar and the British officials. Umichand threatened to
betray it unless he was guaranteed, in the treaty itself, £300,000. To
dupe him, a second fictitious treaty was shown him with a clause to
this effect. Admiral Watson refused to sign this. Clive deposed to the
House of Commons that, "to the best of his remembrance, he gave
the gentleman who carried it leave to sign his name upon it; his
lordship never made any secret of it; he thinks it warrantable in such
a case, and would do it again a hundred times; he had no interested
motive in doing it, and did it with a design of disappointing the
expectations of a rapacious man."
It is nevertheless cited as an example of Clive's unscrupulousness.
16 Assessing Robert Clive
The whole hot season of 1757 was spent in these negostiations. Then in
the middle of June, Clive began his march from Chandernagore, with the
British in boats and the sepoys along the right bank of the Hooghly River. It
was between Siraj ud-Daulah and the English army led by Robert Clive. On
21 June 1757, Clive arrived on the bank opposite Plassey, in the midst of
that outburst of rain which ushers in the south-west monsoon of India. His
whole army amounted to 1,100 Europeans and 2,100 sepoy troops, with
The Nawab had drawn up 18,000 horse, 50,000 foot and 53 pieces of
heavy ordinance, served by French artillerymen. For once in his career
Clive hesitated, and called a council of sixteen officers to decide,but his
daring soon re-asserted itself, He did well as a soldier to trust to the dash
and even rashness that had gained Arcot and triumphed at Calcutta, He
was fully justified in his confidence in Mir Jafar's treachery to his master, for
he led a large portion of the Nawab's army away from the battlefield,
ensuring his defeat.
Clive lost hardly any European troops; in all 22 sepoys were killed and 50
wounded. It is curious in many ways that Clive is now best-remembered for
this battle, which was essentially won by suborning the opposition rather
than through fighting or brilliant military tactics. Whilst it established British
military supremacy in Bengal, it did not secure the East India Company's
control over Upper India, as is sometimes claimed.
17 Assessing Robert Clive
The spoils of war?
Clive entered Murshidabad, and
established Mir Jafar as Nawab, the
price which had been agreed
beforehand for his treachery. When
taken through the treasury, amid a
million and a half sterling's worth of
rupees, gold and silver plate, jewels
and rich goods, and besought to
ask what he would, Clive took
£160,000, a vast fortune for the
day, while half a million was
distributed among the army and
navy (of the East India Company),
both in addition to gifts of £24,000
to each member of the Company's
committee and besides the public
compensation stipulated for in the
18 Assessing Robert Clive
In this extraction of wealth Clive followed a
usage fully recognized by the Company,
although this was the source of future
corruption which Clive was later sent to India
again to correct. The Company itself
acquired a revenue of £100,000 a year, and
a contribution towards its losses and military
expenditure of a million and a half sterling.
Mir Jafar further discharged his debt to Clive
by afterwards presenting him with the quit-
rent of the Company's lands in and around
Calcutta, amounting to an annuity of £27,000
for life, and leaving him by will the sum of
£70,000, which Clive devoted to the army.
19 Assessing Robert Clive
While busy with the civil administration, Clive continued to follow up
his military success. Clive also repelled the aggression of the Dutch,
and avenged the massacre of Amboyna - the occasion when he
wrote his famous letter; "Dear Forde, fight them immediately; I will
send you the order of council to-morrow."
Meanwhile Clive improved the organization and drill of the sepoy
army, after a European model, and enlisted into it many Muslims
from upper India. He re-fortified Calcutta. In 1760, after four years of
hard labour, his health gave way and he returned to England.
The long-term outcome of Plassey was to place a very heavy
revenue burden upon Bengal. The Company sought to extract the
maximum revenue possible from the peasantry to fund military
campaigns, and corruption was widespread amongst its officials.
20 Assessing Robert Clive
9. Return to England
In 1760, the 35-year-old Clive returned to England with a fortune of
at least £300,000 and the quit-rent of £27,000 a year. In the five
years of his conquests and administration in Bengal, the young man
had crowded together a succession of exploits which ― gave peace,
security, prosperity and liberty under British control…
The immediate consequence of Clive's victory at Plassey was an
increase in the revenue demand on Bengal by at least 20%, much
of which was appropriated by Zamindars and corrupt Company
Officials, which led to considerable hardship for the rural population,
particularly during the famine of 1770.
During the three years that Clive remained in England, he sought a
political position, chiefly that he might influence the course of events
in India, which he had left full of promise. He had been well received
at court, had been made Baron Clive of Plassey, County Clare, had
bought estates, and had got not only himself, but his friends
returned to the House of Commons, after the fashion of the time.
21 Assessing Robert Clive
Clive set himself to reform the home system of the East India Company,
and in this he was aided by the news of reverses in Bengal. Mir Jafar had
finally rebelled over certain payments to English officials, and in
consequence Vansittart, Clive's successor, had put Kasim Ali Khan, the Mir
Jafar's son-in-law upon the musnud (throne).
The whole Company's service, Civil and Military, had become mired in
corruption, demoralized by gifts and by the monopoly of the inland as well
as export trade, to such an extent that the local people were pauperised,
and the Company was plundered of the revenues which Clive had acquired
For this Clive himself must bear responsibility, as he had set a very poor
example during his tenure as Governor. Nevertheless, the Court of
Proprietors, forced the Directors (who they elected) to hurry Lord Clive to
Bengal with the double powers of Governor and Commander-in-Chief.
22 Assessing Robert Clive
10. Third journey to India
On 3 May 1765 Clive landed at Calcutta to learn that Mir Jafar had
died, and had been succeeded by his son, while Kasim Ali had
induced not only the viceroy of Oudh, but the emperor of Delhi
himself, to invade Bihar. At The emperor, Shah Alam II, detached
himself from the league, while the Oudh viceroy threw himself on
the mercy of the British. Clive had now an opportunity of repeating
in Hindustan, or Upper India, what he had accomplished in Bengal.
But he believed he had other work in the exploitation of the
revenues and resources of rich Bengal itself, making it a base from
which British India would afterwards steadily grow. Hence he
returned to the Oudh viceroy all his territory save the provinces of
Allahabad and , which he presented to the weak emperor.
23 Assessing Robert Clive
The Imperial Farman In return for the Oudhian provinces Clive secured from the
Emperor one of the most important documents in British history in India. It appears in
the records as "firmaund from the King Shah Aalum, granting the dewany of Bengal,
Behar and Orissa to the Company 1765." This effectively granted title of Bengal to
Clive. The date was 12 August 1765, the place Benares, the throne an English
dining-table covered with embroidered cloth and surmounted by a chair in Clive's
tent. It is all pictured by a Muslim contemporary, who indignantly exclaims that so
great a "transaction was done and finished in less time than would have been taken
up in the sale of a jackass". By this deed the Company became the real sovereign
rulers of thirty million people, yielding a revenue of four millions sterling.
On the same date Clive obtained not only an imperial charter for the Company's
possessions in the Carnatic, completing the work he began at Arcot, but a third
firman for the highest of all the lieutenancies of the empire, that of the Deccan itself.
This fact is mentioned in a letter from the secret committee of the court of directors to
the Madras government, dated 27 April 1768. The British presence in India was still
infinitesimally tiny compared to the number and strength of the princes and people of
India, but also compared to the forces of their ambitious French, Dutch and Danish
24 Assessing Robert Clive
Attempts at administrative reform Having thus founded the
Empire of British India, Clive sought to have put in place a strong
administration. The salaries of civil servants were increased, the
acceptance of gifts from Indians was forbidden, and Clive exacted
covenants under which participation in the inland trade was
stopped. Unfortunately this had very little impact in reducing
corruption, which remained as widespread as ever until the days of
Clive's military reforms were more effective. His reorganization of
the army, divided the whole into three brigades, so as to make each
a complete force, in itself equal to any single native army that could
be brought against it. He had not enough British artillerymen,
however, and refused to train Indians to work the guns.
25 Assessing Robert Clive
11. Retirement and death
Clive left India for the last time in February 1767. In 1769, he acquired the
house and gardens at Claremont near Esher and commissioned Lancelot
"Capability" Brown to remodel the garden and rebuild the house.
From 1772, he had to defend his actions against his numerous and vocal
critics in Britain. Cross-examined by a Parliament suspicious of his vast
wealth, he claimed to have taken relatively limited advantage of the
opportunities presented to him.
Despite his vindication, on 22 November 1774 he committed suicide at his
Berkeley Square home in London by stabbing himself with a pen-knife.
Though Clive's suicide has been linked to his history of depression and to
opium addiction, the likely immediate impetus was excruciating pain
resulting from illness (which he attempted to abate with opium).
Clive was awarded the title Baron of Plassey and bought lands in County
Limerick and County Clare, Ireland. He named part of his lands near
Limerick City, Plassey.
26 Assessing Robert Clive