Daily Archives: August 9, 2021

Robert Clive silver course lesson 15


ROBERT CLIVE – CLIVE OF INDIA. Silver course lesson 15.


Clive was born in Moreton Say which lives in Shropshire, United Kingdom in 1725. Shropshire is a county in the West Midlands of England. His father was a solicitor. The family was Anglican. They had been minor landowners for centuries. Some had risen to prominence in Ireland. Robert’s father was also named Robert. Robert Clive the Elder was given a government post in Montgomeryshire. This Welsh county was adjacent to Shropshire.

Robert was the eldest of a brood of 13. Some of his siblings died as children. Robert was tough and irascible. He was the despair of his parents. For a time he lodged with his aunt in Manchester. He was also a daredevil. There is a tower in his home town of Market Drayton that he climbed.

By his teens Robert allegedly ran a protection racket. Local shopkeepers paid him off.

Merchant Taylors’ was the school in London whereat Robert boarded. He was not a scholarly sort. His parents did not know what was to be done with him. Luckily for them, Robert’s uncle Richard had made good in the Honourable East India Company. They bought Robert a post in the Company.

India was a risky prospect for a European. Tropical diseases killed many within a few years of landing in India. However, it was possible to make a great deal of money.


At the age of 17 Robert took ship. The ship weighed anchored bound for the East Indies. The ship had to sail with the currents. However, it was stuck off the coast of Brazil for months. Robert took the time to learn Portuguese. This stood him in good stead in India. The Portuguese held several towns in south India. Therefore, the language was spoken by some Indians.

The voyage should have taken four months. Due to mischances it took over a year for Robert. He finally landed in India. Robert was stationed at Fort St George (Chennai). He was a factor. That was a clerk. He found his work tedious and uninspiring. It was reasonably well paid.

The EIC was mostly based in Bengal. It also had factories (fortified trading posts) at Mumbai (Bombay), Surat and other places on the west coast of India. But it was only in eastern India that the EIC penetrated much beyond the coast.

India held no allure for Robert. His uninquisitiveness was unusual. He did not bother his barney to make an effort at indigenous languages. He passed his time gambling and drinking more than was salubrious. Robert was mentally unstable. He was tempted to commit suicide. Clive might have had bipolar disorder. His objectives in India were twofold: to get rich and get out. He wanted to make his fortune and then return to the United Kingdom.

EIC officials learnt the language of the region of India in which they were stationed. This could be Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Bengali, Bihari, Urdu or Hindi. A few learnt Persian which was the official language of India. In practice, Persian was only spoke by high government officials.

The East India Company (EIC) was sometimes known simply as ”the Company”. People sometimes said they were working for ”John Company” or in ”John Company Land.’

The EIC had its own army and navy. India was a fairly lawless place. The Mughal Empire was fragmenting. In 1739 the Persians (Iranians) launched a massive raid through Afghanistan and into India. They had defeated the Mughal Army and took the Mughal capital city: Delhi. The Persians carried off the Peacock Throne of the Mughal Emperor. They slaughtered and pillaged for days. The Mughal Emperor managed to have the Persians agree to desist from slaying in return for a huge indemnity being paid. The emperor had to empty his treasury and force his subjects to hand over most of their wealth. The Persians were eventually satiated with gold. They consented to return whence they had come. They took many Indian horses with them.

After 1739 the Mughal Empire was permanently enfeebled. The emperor could not afford to pay his soldiers on time or buy them new weapons. The cavalry has lost almost all their horses. Functionaries were underpaid or not paid at all. To make ends meet they had to solicit bribes.

Provincial governors scented blood. They knew that the Mughal Emperor was weaker than before. The provinces said they could not afford to pay full taxes. They sent to Delhi less tax than was due. They reckoned that Delhi did not have the military strength to enforce its will. They were right. In time provinces sent less and less. The Mughal Emperor became poorer. The Mughal Empire therefore had fewer and fewer soldiers. Their equipment was worse and worse.

Some provincial governors obeyed Delhi less and less. They knew that the emperor could not afford a war. The government was going to take decades to recover from the Persian Raid of 1739.

The French East India Company was also active. The French held posts at Arcot, Chadernagar, Pondicherry and other places.


In 1745 there was fighting between the British and French in India. Clive distinguished himself in fighting. He defended the fort valiantly. He was not scared of death. The fort was then surrendered. The British were asked to swear an oath not to fight the French again. Most swore the oath and were released. Clive was one of those who refused were held prisoner. He managed to escape.

Robert Clive’s characteristic approach to making war was to be audacious. He liked to use speed and stealth. He would often insist on forced marches. Indian armies usually moved ponderously – slowed by huge baggage trains. They kept to roads and avoided rough country. Clive led his men through seemingly impassable jungle and muddy swaps. They travelled light. He attacked when the enemy least expected it. He would attack at night. This meant that he foe could not see if he had only a tiny force. Sometimes his men attacked in rainstorms. No one expected an attack then because gunpower could get wet.

The EIC had separate units for Indians and for whites. This was for linguistic reasons. The Indian units were officered by whites. The white officers had to be able to speak the language of their men.

The war ended in British victory. Robert Clive was made an ensign (the lowest officer rank) in the EIC Army.

The Nawab of Bengal was Siraj ud Daula. The French had been canny enough to treat him obsequiously. The EIC had been foolish enough to alienate him. The Nawab of Bengal also ruled Orissa and Bihar. Bengal back then included modern day Bangladesh.

Siraj ud Daula was notorious for his sadism. He was unpopular and not even an effectual ruler. He was a Shia Muslim. In Bengal 60% of the people were Hindus. The rest were Muslims but they were mostly Sunni Muslims. Very few were Shia.

At the age of 28 Clive wed a Briton. He is not known to have had any relationships with Indian women. He then returned to the British Isles for a few years. He intended to never return to India again. Robert Clive and his goodwife has several children.

In the 1756 war broke out between France and the United Kingdom. It was the Seven Years’ War as in it lasted until 1763.

It was in war that Clive came into his own. He had been a lacklustre ‘writer’ for the company. He volunteered to lead soldiers on an audacious raid. It was crowned with success. Clive was fearless.

The British received intelligence that the French planned to attack Calcutta. In fact this intelligence was faulty. But believing in its genuineness the EIC started building new defences around Calcutta. This was in material breach of an express term of a treaty with the Nawab of Bengal. Siraj ud Daula was affronted that the EIC had dared to break this treaty. Their new fortifications also suggested that they intended to defy him. He gathered an army to levy war on them. He wished to take Calcutta before its defences became too strong.

Siraj ud Daula besieged Calcutta in 1756. This was the HQ of the EIC in India. The British Governor of Fort William (i.e. Calcutta) was a deeply inept man. He was loathed by people both British and Indian. He foolishly said that the Bengal Army would never attack Calcutta. The siege went badly for the EIC. Some EIC soldiers and their families fled on boats on the River Hughli. Those left in Fort William – the centre of Calcutta – eventually threw in the towel. Much of the city was looted and burnt by the Bengali Army.

The British prisoners at Calcutta were then held in a small room. They were too densely packed in and there was little airflow. Overnight some died of asphyxiation. The British later overplayed this incident and said it was indicative or oriental barbarism.

The EIC organised an effective fightback against the Bengali Army. They were highly cognizant of the unpopularity of the detested Siraj ud Daula.

Siraj ud Daula began to realised that in wrecking Calcutta he had killed the goose that laid the golden egg. The EIC had been a profitable source or revenue for his coffers. He put out peace feelers to the EIC. They could have Calcutta back subject to various provisos. However, the EIC refused to treat with him.

In January 1757 the EIC under Clive’s command retook Calcutta six months after it had fallen to Siraj ud Daula. Robert Clive achieved this by a night attack in Siraj ud Daula’s camp. Within only a few thousand men Clive assailed a foe of tens of thousands. He liked to attack in the dark because it concealed his numerical inferiority. It also rendered enemy firepower ineffectual. He created such a pandaemonium among the Bengali Army that the Bengalis mistook friend for foe. Many Bengali soldiers killed their comrades believing them to be EIC soldiers.

Siarj ud Daula fled. He hen agreed that the EIC could have Calcutta back.


Mir Jafar was Siraj ud Daula’s uncle. Mir Jafar entered into a secret correspondence with Robert Clive. Clive advanced north from Calcutta with 3 000 men. A third were British and two-thirds Indians.

Clive sent letters to Mir Jafar via various couriers. Mir Jafar had offered the EIC a huge sum of money to help him overthrow Siraj ud Daula. Mir Jafar would then rule Bengal as Nawab. Clive stopped receiving replies from Mir Jafar. He became perturbed. Was he being led into an elaborate trap? Or was Mir Jafar even alive? It was possible that Clive’s secret missives to Mir Jafar had been intercepted. If Siraj ud Daula came to learnt that his uncle was conspiring against him then Mir Jafar would be executed immediately.

Finally Clive received a letter from Mir Jafar. But it was non-committal. Perhaps that was reassuring. If Mir Jafar wanted to induce Clive to walk into an ambuscade then he would have expressed his enthusiasm for their pact in the strongest possible terms.

The Battle of Plassey then took place in June 1757. It was fought in a mango tope. The EIC’s 3 000 men faced over 50 000 men from the Bengal Army. Astonishingly, the EIC held their foe off on the first day. The Bengali Army showed little inclination to fight. On the second day Mir Jafar’s faction changed sides and retreated. Upon seeing Mir Jafar’s men leaving the battlefield the rest of the Bengali Army was gripped by panic. They fled in terror. It was then easy for the EIC to make a clean sweep of the battlefield. Siraj ud Daula and his adherents fled.

Siraj ud Daula was later captured by Mir Jafar’s forces and put to death. Clive was present in the Bengali capital of Murshidabad when Mir Jafar was enthroned as nawab.

Mir Jafar had some difficulty paying out the enormous reward that he had promised to the EIC. But after a few days he did so. Clive received a large cut of it. He received £ 170 000. In today’s money that is about £17 000 000

Mir Jafar was then financially embarrassed. He was unable to pay his army and civil servants. That did not stop him spending on lavish jewellery and dancing girls. Mir Jafar’s army officers and functionaries were irate. He had promised the EIC a huge reward without giving any thought to how Bengal could afford it.

The EIC hoped that Mir Jafar would prove a competent and compliant ruler. However, he was the latter but not the former. He was as cruel and as inept as his feckless and torpid nephew.

Taxes went unpaid in Bengal. There were revolts. The country was prey to the depredations of other states.

In 1760 the EIC hatched a new plot to oust Mir Jafar and replace him with Mir Qasim. It was effected. Mir Jafar was considered so ineffectual that he was allowed to slink away. There was very little chance that he would ever attempt a comeback. He lived out his live in obscurity.

Mir Qasim proved to be a canny and capable administrator. He improved governance in Bengal. The EIC fell out with him. He was later ousted and replaced with someone more pliable.

The Nawab of Bengal existed as a title until the 1970s. However, after the 1770s the position was fairly unimportant. The EIC made the decisions in Bengal.


Eventually Robert Clive had amassed a fortune. He was a multimillionaire in modern terms. He sailed back to the British Isles. He was eager to get into politics. Clive managed to buy himself a constituency. He was elected as an MP for a Cornwall constituency. Clive was Whig. The Tories vehemently opposed him. They managed to have his election overturned.

Clive was deeply disappointed to get nowhere in politics. He decided that he needed more money to make his mark. Therefore, he sailed back to India. When he returned he found that the British situation had deteriorated anew.

Governor of Fort William was Clive’s new appointment. The Mughal Emperor gave some expensive jewels to Lord Clive to deliver to King George III as a present. Clive promised to pass them on. When Clive returned to Britain he presented the jewels to the king. However, he did not mention anything about the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II. The king was ingratiated to Clive for the jewels. Naturally the king assumed that Clive had bought the jewels for him.

Shah Alam II sent an ambassador to London. The EIC had a good relationship with many courtiers. It ensured that the ambassador never had the chance to meet the king. The EIC did not want to be bypassed. It wanted to handle relations with India. It did not want the king or Parliament knowing what was going on in India.

There was a terrible famine in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa in the late 1760s and into the early 1770s. This was caused by three years of drought. Despite that, Clive demanded that taxes be paid in full. He even raised the tax rate. There had always been famines in India. The highest estimate is that 5 000 000 people died in the famine. That is up to a third of Bengal’s population. Some conscience stricken EIC officials remitted taxes and purchased food from wealthier parts of India. But that was not overall EIC policy.

EIC was a business. Its goal was to make a profit. It certainly succeeded. It had some bad years and was sometimes in debt. Very little was spent on education by the EIC.

Robert Clive wanted to be a peer of Great Britain. However, this eluded him. He was made a peer of Ireland being ennobled as Lord Clive of Plassey. An area near in County Clare was renamed Plassey in honour of the field of Clive’s victory. That is despite him never setting foot in Ireland. One of his ancestors had been the Irish Chancellor of the Exchequer. Plassey in Ireland has since been allotted to County Limerick.

In the UK, Clive bought himself a country seat from the Duchess of Newcastle. His country house was Charlemont in Surrey. Charlemont still stands and is now a school.

There were some in the United Kingdom who loathed Clive. They were covetous of his wealth and fame. Tales circulated of his mercilessness in India. It is true that his raised taxes during a famine. Some aristocrats saw him as new money. They despised him because he was a counter jumper.

A play went on the stage in London. It was entitled the Nabob. The play lampooned parvenus who had made a quick buck in India. The title role is about an unsavoury character who buys a constituency called Bribeham. The character was patently modelled on Clive.

Lord Clive was questioned in Parliament about his actions in India. He said that India had been prostrate at his feet. Rulers competed for his smiles. He could have taken far more gold than he did. He remarked, ”I stand in astonishment at my own moderation.” He has become famous or perhaps infamous. People called him Clive of India despite his dislike of India.


In 1774 Clive was back in his house at Berkeley Square, London. He was dining with his family. He asked to be excused for a moment. Minutes later he was found dead. There is much dispute whether he died of apoplexy or suicide. Nirad C Chaudhuri – one of his biographers – said it is clear and should be uncontentious that Clive took his own life.

Surprisingly for such a well known man he had a private and rushed funeral. His body was buried in the middle of the night at a church in Moreton Saye which was his birthplace. This is possibly because he may have committed suicide. Suicides were not permitted to be interred in consecrated ground. Some like Dr Johnson gloated at Clive’s apparent self-destruction.

Clive of India was survived by his wife and four children. His son Edward was a notable figure in India. Edward Clive did not rise as high as his father. He was considered short on the grey matter.

Until the 1960s children in the United Kingdom were taught that Clive was a hero. In the centuries after his death Clive became a popular Christian name for boys. He was certainly valiant. Nowadays he has been reassessed. Many see him as rapacious, unscrupulous and aggressive.


  1. In which year was Clive born?

2. What was his Christian name?

3. What was his father’s occupation?

4. What was Clive’s behaviour like as a child?

5. Which school did he attend?

6. When did he sail to India?

7. Which was the EIC’s man base in India?

8. What does EIC stand for?

9. What was good about Clive? Five marks.

10. What was bad about Clive? Five marks.