Robert Clive


Robert Clive
Robert Clive is the most famous General associated with the British conquest of India. In reality, he conquered only Bengal, a wealthy province near the mouth of the Ganges river, and the project of subduing all of India involved hundreds of battles against dozens of tribes and took nearly a century. His personal influence on the creation of British India, however, was exceedingly important. Before the age of Clive, Britain occupied only a few relatively insignificant trading posts, had no imperial designs on India other than trade, and was dwarfed in influence on the sub-continent by other European nations such as France and Holland. By the time he left India for the last time, in 1767, Britain was firmly established in Bengal and the Carnatic region, had made important alliances with many Indian princes, had driven the French out of their most important posts, and was recognized throughout India as the most influential European power in the region. And this dramatic change of affairs was due nearly entirely to one man, who had started as his career only twenty years earlier as an inglorious clerk at a remote trading-station, without even so much as a military commission.

Clive's life prior to his assignment at an East-India company trading post at Madras, in 1744, showed no signs of greatness, but a considerable degree of recklessness. He was unhappy in his remote, dull, assignment, and would likely have left it, had not the ongoing War of Austrian Succession caused the French and English trading posts in the region to go on a war footing. In the following years, as his fort was first besieged by the French, and later, involved in the siege of the French fort, he was given the charge of a soldier, although without an official commission. His greatest personal quality was that of extreme bravery and level-headedness in the face of overwhelming danger, and these initial altercations, although militarily insignificant, gave him a reputation as a capable leader. The treaty of Aix-la-Chappelle at the close of hostilities forced him to return to his civilian job, but only briefly. Although officially there was peace between England and France, the political situation in India was extremely fluid; the Moghul empire had recently broken up and dozens of native princes were vying for power. France, under the brilliant governor Dupleix, was poised to take advantage of the situation by making important alliances, and offering military assistance to some of the princes in return for trading influence. The rival princes, in turn, sought alliances with other European powers, notably Britain's East India Company (which had a small army at its disposal), so that they would be able to compete on equal terms with their enemies. In this way France and England were drawn back into an unofficial war footing.

Clive's great opportunity came in 1751 when the French-backed Chandra Sahib, left his capital of Arcot, in order to effect a siege of his rival, Muhammed Ali's, capital of Trichnopoli. Muhammed, of course, request British aid, but the resources available at Madras were not nearly equal to the task. Clive suggested the rather outlandish idea of attacking Arcot, with a small band of Englishmen. Although the probability of success was remote, he was allowed to proceed on the expedition, and succeeded beyond any expectation. His daring and resolve in the face of over-whelming opposition earned him a great reputation, not only among English officers, but also among the natives, who believed he possessed a sort of supernatural charm. England eventually provided more officers and gave Clive, (who had thus far been acting unofficially), a commission in the army, and the conflict between England and France, and their Indian allies escalated. With Clive, now supported by a "real" army, the conflict went largely in England's favor and the 'Second Carnatic War' was finally concluded in 1754 on terms favorable to Britain.

Between 1753 and the outbreak of the Seven Year's war in 1756, Clive returned to England. He was recalled to the governorship of Ft. David however, soon after the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj ud Doulah, besieged Calcutta, and reputedly imprisoned nearly 200 British citizens in a single room, where most died of suffocation, (the famed "Black Hole of Calcutta".) Clive first retook the city of Calcutta, and shortly afterward, in league with Mir Jafar, conspired to attack the Nawab's army. Instead of waiting for reinforcements, he took the first opportunity to attack and although greatly outnumbered won a resounding victory at Plassey. At this point the enormous treasury of Bengal fell into British hands and resulted in widespread corruption, both among company officers and local natives. Clive administered the region for three years and made a great personal fortune before returning to England. Once his strong hand was absent, the problems of widespread corrupting and money-grasping, became even worse, and he was recalled in 1765 to attempt to reform the situation. Reforming a system awash with ill-got gains however, is a far more daunting task than mere military heroics, and Clive was only partially successful. Severe corruption continued in the region for several more decades. In 1767 Clive returned to England for the last time, and seven years later, ended his own life as a result of a serious illness, and an addiction to pain medications.

Key events during the life of Robert Clive:

Birth of Clive
Clive stationed at Madras as a clerk of the East India Company
Madras attacked by the French; Clive helps in defence, but is ultimately captured.
British invest the French fort at Pondicherry.
Treaty of Aix-la-Chappelle ends the War of Austrian Succession.
Chundra's capital of Arcot is captured and held by Clive and a small band.
Clive victorious at Battles of Coverypank, Covelon, and Chingleput.
Clive marries and returns to England with great honor.
Clive is offered governorship of Fort St David. Outbreak of 'Seven Years War' in Europe.
Calcutta falls to Siraj ud Daulah. British citizens killed in the "Black Hole of Calcutta."
A small army, under Clive, reclaims the British post at Calcutta.
Clive routs the Siraj's army at the Battle of Plassey; Nawabship of Bengal passes to a British ally.
  As Governor of Bengal, Clive implements many reforms and reorganizes the sepoy army along European lines.
Clive returns to England, having made many friends, and many enemies.
  Government of Bengal is administered very poorly in Clive's absence.
Clive makes a third journey to India to attempt reforms, and reduce widespread corruption.
Death of Clive, by his own hand.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
How India was Won  in  Cambridge Historical Reader—Primary  by  Cambridge Press
Plassey  in  Stories from English History, Part Third  by  Alfred J. Church
Winning the British Empire  in  The Story of England  by  Samuel B. Harding
How Clive Saved the English  in  India: Peeps at History  by  Beatrice Home
Siege of Arcot  in  Our Empire Story  by  H. E. Marshall
The Story of the Black Hole of Calcutta  in  Our Island Story  by  H. E. Marshall
Dupleix Plays at King-making  in  India  by  Victor Surridge
Coming of Clive  in  India  by  Victor Surridge
Robert Clive  in  Great Englishmen  by  M. B. Synge
Robert Clive  in  The Struggle for Sea Power  by  M. B. Synge
Plassey  in  The Boy's Book of Battles  by  Eric Wood

Book Links
Story of Lord Clive  by  John Lang

Image Links

Lord Clive
 in Cambridge Historical Reader—Primary

Clive Examining the Enemy's Lines
 in Stories from English History, Part Third

To fight or not to fight: Clive's solitary reflections before the Battle of Plassey
 in India: Peeps at History
Robert, Lord Clive
Robert, Lord Clive
 in Back Matter

There he sat, perfectly happy and fearless
 in The Story of Lord Clive

To Clive was given the command of the storming party
 in The Story of Lord Clive

Attacking the French guns at Kaveripak
 in The Story of Lord Clive

An Irish deserter fired at Clive's head
 in The Story of Lord Clive

Clive on the roof, watching the battle of Plassey
 in The Story of Lord Clive

One of the worst things Clive had to handle was a mutiny amongst the officers
 in The Story of Lord Clive

Clive fired one of the guns himself.
 in Our Empire Story

Clive himself sprang to a gun
 in India

Clive at Plassey
 in Great Englishmen

Short Biography
Mir Jafar Succeed to the position of Nawab of Bengal after Clive won the Battle of Plassey.
Dupleix Governor of the French trading company in India; rival of Clive for control of Bengal;
Sir Eyre Coote After Clive, greatest of British generals during early years of British Rule in India.
Mir Cossim Son-in-law of Mir Jafar, who was raised to the Nawabship by the British, but rebelled against them.
Chandra Sahib A prince in the Carnatic region who was supported by the French.
Major Lawrence Clive's commanding officer in the early years of the Carnatic Wars.