M -General Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive, also known as Clive of India, was the first British Governor of the Bengal Presidency. He began as a writer for the East India established the military and political supremacy of the EIC by securing a decisive victory in Bengal. In return for supporting the Nawab Mir Jafar on the throne, Clive was granted a of 30,000 pounds per year which was the rent the EIC would otherwise pay to the Nawab for their tax farming concession, when he left he had a fortune of 180,000 pounds which he remitted through the Dutch East India Company Blocking impending French mastery of India, and eventual British expulsion from the continent, Clive improvised a military expedition that ultimately enabled the EIC to adopt the French strategy of indirect rule via puppet government. Hired by the EIC to return a second time to India, Clive conspired to secure the Company’s trade interests by overthrowing the Ruler of Bengal, the richest state in India. Back in England, he used his loot from India to secure an Irish barony from the then Whig PM, Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle, and a seat for himself in Parliament, via Henry Herbert, 1st Earl of Powis, representing the Whigs in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, as he had previously in Mitchell,
Clive has become one of the most controversial figures in all British military history. His achievements included checking French Imperial ambitions on the Coromandel Coast and establishing EIC control over Bengal, thereby taking the first step towards establishing the British Raj, though he worked only as an agent of the East India Company, not the British government. He was vilified by his political rivals in Britain, and put on trial before Parliament. Of special concern was that he amassed a personal fortune in India. Modern historians have attributed to him atrocities, for high taxes, and for the forced cultivation of crops which exacerbated famines.
The Flag British India
Robert Clive was born at , the Clive family estate, near Market Drayton in Shropshire, on 29 September 1725 to Richard Clive and . The family had held the small estate since the time of Henry VII. The family had a lengthy history of public service: members of the family included an Irish chancellor of the exchequer under Henry VIII, and a member of the Long Parliament. Robert’s father, who supplemented the estate’s modest income as a lawyer, also served in Parliament for many years, representing Montgomeryshire. Robert was their eldest son of thirteen children; he had seven sisters and five brothers, six of whom died in infancy.
Clive’s father was known to have a temper, which the boy apparently inherited. For reasons that are unknown, Clive was sent to live with his mother’s sister in Manchester while still a toddler. Biographer Robert Harvey suggests that this move was made because Clive’s father was busy in London trying to provide for the family. Daniel Bayley, the sister’s husband, reported that the boy was “out of measure addicted to fighting”. He was a regular troublemaker in the schools he was sent to. When he was he and a gang of teenagers established a protection racket that vandalised the shops of uncooperative merchants in Market Drayton. Clive also exhibited fearlessness at an early age. He is reputed to have climbed the tower of St Mary’s Parish Church in Market Drayton and perched on a gargoyle, frightening those down below.
When Clive was nine his aunt died, and, after a brief stint in his father’s cramped London quarters, he returned to Shropshire. There he attended the Market Drayton Grammar School, where his unruly his father to send him to Merchant Taylors’ School in London. His bad behaviour continued, and he was then sent to a trade school in Hertfordshire to complete a basic education. one of the several languages then in use in south India because of the Portuguese centre at Goa. At this time the East India Company had a small settlement at Fort St. George near the village of , later Madras, now the Indian metropolis of Chennai, in addition to others at Calcutta, Bombay, and . Clive arrived at Fort St. George in June 1744, and spent the next two years working as little more than a glorified assistant shopkeeper, tallying books and arguing with suppliers of the East India Company over the quality and quantity of their wares. He was given access to the governor’s library, where he became a prolific reader.
Political situation in south India
The land Clive arrived in was divided into a number of successor states to the Mughal Empire. Over 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 dominant rulers on the Coromandel Coast were the Nizam of Hyderabad, Asaf Jah I, and the Nawab of the Carnatic, Anwaruddin Muhammed Khan. The nawab nominally owed fealty to the nizam, but in many respects acted independently. Fort St. George and the French trading post at Pondicherry were both located in the nawab’s territory.
The relationship between the Europeans in the region was influenced by a series of wars and treaties in Europe, and by commercial rivalries for trade on the subcontinent. Through the 17th and early 18th centuries, the French, Dutch, Portuguese, and British had vied for control of various trading posts, and for trading rights and favour with local Indian rulers. The European merchant companies 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 used to appropriate territory and to collect land revenue.
First Carnatic War
In 1720 France effectively nationalized the French East India Company, and began using it to expand its imperial interests. This became a source of conflict with the British in India with the entry of Britain into the War of the Austrian Succession in 1744. On 4 September 1746, Madras was attacked by French forces led by La . After several days of the British surrendered and the French entered the city. The British leadership was taken prisoner and sent to Pondicherry. It was originally agreed that the town would be restored to the British after negotiation but this was opposed by Dupleix, who sought to annex Madras to French holdings. The remaining British residents were asked to take an oath promising not to take up arms against the French; Clive and a handful of others refused, and were kept under weak guard as the French prepared to destroy the fort. Disguising themselves as natives, Clive and three others eluded their inattentive sentry, slipped out of the fort, and made their way to Fort St. David, some to the south. Upon his arrival, Clive decided to enlist in the Company army rather than remain idle; in the hierarchy of the Company, this was seen as a step down. Clive was, however, recognized for his contribution in the defence of Fort St. David, where the French assault on 11 March 1747 was repulsed with the assistance of the Nawab of the Carnatic, and was given a commission as ensign.
In the conflict, Clive’s bravery came to the attention of Major Stringer Lawrence, who arrived in 1748 to take command of the British troops at Fort St. David. During the 1748 Siege of Pondicherry Clive distinguished himself in successfully defending a trench against a French sortie: one witness of the action wrote Clive’s “platoon, animated by his exhortation, fired again with new courage and great vivacity upon the enemy.” The siege was lifted in October 1748 with the arrival of the monsoons, but the war came to a conclusion with the arrival in December of news of the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle. Madras was returned to the British as part of the peace agreement in early 1749.
The end of the war between France and Britain did not, however, end hostilities in India. Even before news of the peace arrived in India, the British had sent an expedition to Tanjore on behalf of a claimant to its throne. This expedition, on which Clive, now promoted to lieutenant, served as a volunteer, was a disastrous failure. Monsoons ravaged the land forces, and the local support claimed by their client was not in evidence. The ignominious retreat of the British a blow to the British reputation. Major Lawrence, seeking to recover British prestige, led the entire Madras garrison to Tanjore in response. At the fort of on the River the British force was confronted by the much larger army. Lawrence gave Clive command of 30 British soldiers and 700 sepoys, with orders to lead the assault on the fort. Clive led this force rapidly across the river and toward the fort, where the small British unit became separated from the sepoys and were enveloped by the cavalry. Clive was nearly cut down and the beachhead almost lost before reinforcements sent by Lawrence arrived to save the day. The daring by Clive had an important consequence: the abandoned the fort, which the British triumphantly occupied. The success prompted the rajah to open peace talks, which resulted in the British being awarded and the costs of their expedition, and the British client was awarded a pension in exchange for renouncing his claim. Lawrence wrote of Clive’s action that “he behaved in courage and in judgment much beyond what could be expected from his years.”
On the expedition’s return the process of restoring Madras was completed. Company officials, concerned about the cost of the military, slashed its size, denying Clive a promotion to captain in the process. Lawrence procured for Clive a position as the commissary at Fort St. George, a potentially lucrative
Second Carnatic War
The death of Asaf Jah I, the Nizam of Hyderabad, in 1748 sparked a struggle to succeed him that is known as the Second Carnatic War, which was also furthered by the expansionist interests of French Governor-General Dupleix. Dupleix had grasped from the first war that small numbers of disciplined European be used to tip balances of power between competing interests, and used this idea to greatly expand French influence in southern India. For many years he had been working to negotiate the release of Chanda Sahib, a French ally who had at one time occupied the throne of Tanjore, and sought for himself the throne of the Carnatic. Chanda Sahib had been imprisoned by the Marathas in 1740; by 1748 he had been released from custody and was building an army at Satara.
Upon the death of Asaf Jah I, his son, Nasir Jung, seized the throne of Hyderabad, although Asaf Jah had designated as his successor his grandson, Muzaffar Jung. The grandson, who was ruler of , fled west to join Chanda Sahib, whose army was also reinforced by French troops sent by Dupleix. These forces met those of Anwaruddin Mohammed Khan in the Battle of Ambur in August 1749; Anwaruddin was slain, and Chanda Sahib victorious entered the Carnatic capital, Arcot. Anwaruddin’s son, Muhammed Ali Khan , fled to Trichinopoly where he sought the protection and assistance of the British. In thanks for French assistance, the victors awarded them a number of villages, including territory nominally under British sway near and Madras. The British began sending additional arms to Muhammed Ali Khan and sought to bring Nasir Jung into the fray to oppose Chanda Sahib. Nasir Jung came south to in 1750, where he requested and received a detachment of British troops. Chanda Sahib’s forces advanced to meet them, but retreated after a brief long-range cannonade. Nasir Jung pursued, and was able to capture Arcot and his nephew, Muzaffar Jung. Following a series of fruitless negotiations and intrigues, Nasir Jung was assassinated by a rebellious soldier. This made Muzaffar Jung nizam and confirmed Chanda Sahib as Nawab of the Carnatic, both with French support. Dupleix was rewarded for French assistance with titled nobility and rule of the nizam’s territories south of the Kistna River. His territories were “said to yield an annual revenue of over 350,000 rupees”.
Robert Clive was not in southern India for many of these events. In 1750 Clive was afflicted with some sort of nervous disorder, and was sent north to Bengal to recuperate.
His conduct during the siege made Clive famous in Europe. The Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder described Clive, who had received no formal military training whatsoever, as the “heaven-born general”, endorsing the generous appreciation of his early commander, Major Lawrence. 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.
Clive and Major Lawrence were able to bring the campaign to a successful conclusion. In 1754, the first of the provisional Carnatic treaties was signed between Thomas Saunders, the Company president at Madras, and Charles , the French commander who displaced Dupleix. Mohammed Ali Khan was recognized as Nawab, and both nations agreed to equalize their possessions. When war again broke out in 1756, during Clive’s absence in Bengal, the French obtained successes in the northern districts, and it was Mohammed Ali Khan efforts which drove them from their settlements. The Treaty of confirmed Mohammed Ali Khan as Nawab of the Carnatic. It was a result of this action and the increased British influence that in 1765 a came from the Emperor of Delhi, recognizing the British possessions in southern India.
He left Madras for home, after ten years’ absence, early in 1753, but not before marrying Margaret Maskelyne, the sister of his friend Nevil Maskelyne who was afterwards well known as Astronomer Royal.
Clive also briefly sat as Member of Parliament for the Cornwall rotten borough of St Michael’s, which then returned two Members, from 1754 to 1755. He and his colleague, John Stephenson were later unseated by petition of their defeated opponents, Richard Hussey and Simon Luttrell.
Second journey to India
In July 1755, Clive returned to India to act as deputy governor of Fort St. David at . He arrived after having lost a considerable fortune route, as the Doddington, the lead ship of his convoy, was wrecked near Port Elizabeth, losing a chest of gold coins belonging to Clive worth £33,000. Nearly 250 years later in 1998, illegally salvaged coins from Clive’s treasure chest were offered for sale, and in 2002 a portion of the coins were given to the South African government after protracted legal wrangling.
Clive, now promoted to lieutenant-colonel in the British Army, took part in the capture of the fortress of , a stronghold of the Maratha Admiral . The action was led by Admiral James Watson and the British had 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 divided among the victorious forces as was custom at the time.
Fall and recapture of Calcutta
Following this action Clive headed to his post at Fort St. David and it was there he received news of twin disasters for the British. Early in 1756, Siraj Daulah had succeeded his grandfather Khan as Nawab of Bengal. In June, Clive received news that the new Nawab had attacked the British at and shortly afterwards on 20 June he had taken the fort at Calcutta. The losses to the Company because of the fall of Calcutta were estimated by investors at £2,000,000. Those British who captured were placed in a punishment cell which became infamous as the Black Hole of Calcutta. In stifling summer heat, it was reported that 43 of the 64 prisoners died as a result of suffocation or heat stroke. While the Black Hole became infamous in Britain, it is debatable whether the Nawab was aware of the incident.
By Christmas 1756, as no response had been received to diplomatic letters to the Nawab, Admiral Charles Watson 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 540 British infantry, 600 Royal Navy sailors, 800 local sepoys, fourteen field guns and no cavalry. The British forces attacked the Nawab’s camp during the early morning hours of 5 February 1757. In this battle, unofficially called the ‘Calcutta Gauntlet’, Clive marched his small force through the entire Nawab’s camp, despite being under heavy fire from all sides. By noon, Clive’s force broke through the besieging camp and arrived safely at Fort William. During the assault, around one tenth of the British attackers became casualties. While technically not a victory in military terms, the sudden British assault intimidated the Nawab. He sought to make terms with Clive, and surrendered control of Calcutta on 9 February, promising to compensate the East India Company for damages suffered and to restore its privileges.
War with Siraj Daulah
As Britain and France were once more at war, Clive sent the fleet up the river against the French colony of , while he besieged it by land. There was a strong incentive to capture the colony, as capture of a previous French settlement near Pondicherry had yielded the combined forces prizes valued at £130,000. After consenting to the siege, the Nawab unsuccessfully sought to assist the French. Some officials of the Nawab’s court formed a confederacy to depose him. Jafar Ali Khan, also known as Mir Jafar, the Nawab’s commander-in-chief, led the conspirators. With Admiral Watson, Governor Drake and Mr. Watts, Clive made a gentlemen’s agreement in which it was agreed to give the office of viceroy of Bengal, Bihar and Odisha to Mir Jafar, who was to pay £1,000,000 to the Company for its losses in Calcutta and the cost of its troops, half a million to the British inhabitants of Calcutta, £200,000 to the native inhabitants, and £70,000 to its Armenian merchants.
Clive employed , a rich Bengali trader, as an agent between Mir Jafar and the British officials. threatened to betray Clive unless he was guaranteed, in the agreement itself, £300,000. To dupe him a second fictitious agreement was shown to him with a clause to this effect. Admiral Watson refused to sign it. Clive deposed later 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.
The whole hot season of 1757 was spent in negotiations with the Nawab of Bengal. In the middle of June Clive began his march from , with the British in boats and the sepoys along the right bank of the Hooghly River. During the rainy season, the Hooghly is fed by the overflow of the Ganges to the north through three streams, which in the hot months are nearly dry. On the left bank of the Bhagirathi, the most westerly of these, above Chandernagore, stands Murshidabad, the capital of the Mughal viceroys of Bengal. Some miles farther down the field of Plassey, then an extensive grove of mango trees.
On 21 June 1757, Clive arrived on the bank opposite Plassey, in the midst of the first outburst of monsoon rain. His whole army amounted to 1,100 Europeans and 2,100 sepoy troops, with nine field-pieces. The Nawab had drawn up 18,000 horse, 50,000-foot and 53 pieces of heavy ordnance, served by French artillerymen. For once in his career Clive hesitated, and called a council of sixteen officers to decide, as he put it, “whether in our present situation, without assistance, and on our own bottom, it would be prudent to attack the Nawab, or whether we should wait till joined by some .” Clive himself headed the nine who voted for delay; Major Eyre Coote led the seven who counselled immediate attack. either because his daring asserted itself, or because of a letter received from Mir Jafar, Clive was the first to change his mind and to communicate with Major Eyre Coote. One tradition, followed by Macaulay, represents him as spending an hour in thought under the shade of some trees, while he resolved the issues of what was to prove one of the decisive battles of the world. Another, turned into verse by Sir Alfred Lyall, pictures his resolution as the result of a dream. that may be, he did well as a soldier to trust to the dash and even rashness that had gained Arcot and triumphed at Calcutta since retreat, or even delay, might have resulted in defeat.
After heavy rain, Clive’s 3,200 men and the nine guns crossed the river and took possession of the grove and its tanks of water, while Clive established his headquarters in a hunting lodge. On 23 June, the engagement took place and lasted the whole day, during which remarkably little actual fighting took place. Gunpowder for the cannons of the Nawab were not well protected from rain. That impaired those cannons. Except for the 40 Frenchmen and the guns they worked, the Indian side could do little to reply to the British cannonade, which, with the 39th Regiment, scattered the host, inflicting on it a loss of 500 men. Clive had already made a secret agreement with aristocrats in Bengal, including Jagat Seth and Mir Jafar. Clive restrained Major Kilpatrick, for he trusted to Mir Jafar’s abstinence, if not desertion to his ranks, and knew the importance of sparing his own small force. 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. That would come only seven years later in 1764 at the Battle of , where Sir Hector Munro defeated the combined forces of the Mughal Emperor and the Nawab of Awadh in a much more closely fought encounter.
Siraj Daulah fled from the field on a camel, securing what wealth he could. He was soon captured by Mir Jafar’s forces and later executed by the assassin Mohammadi Beg. Clive entered Murshidabad and established Mir Jafar as Nawab, the price which had been agreed beforehand for his treachery. Clive was 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, and provided gifts of £24,000 to each member of the company’s committee, as well as the public compensation stipulated for in the treaty.
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 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.
While busy with the civil administration, Clive continued to follow up his military success. He sent Major Coote in pursuit of the French almost as far as Benares. He dispatched Colonel Forde to Vizagapatam and the northern districts of Madras, where Forde won the Battle of , pronounced by Broome “one of the most brilliant actions on military record”.
Clive came into direct contact with the Mughal himself, for the first time, a meeting which would prove beneficial in his later career. Prince Ali Gauhar escaped from Delhi after his father, the Mughal Emperor Alamgir II, had been murdered by the usurping Vizier Imad-ul-Mulk and his Maratha associate Bhau.
Prince Ali Gauhar was welcomed and protected by Shuja-–, the Nawab of Awadh. In 1760, after gaining control over Bihar, Odisha and some parts of the Bengal, Ali Gauhar and his Mughal Army of 30,000 intended to overthrow Mir Jafar and the Company in order to reconquer the riches of the Eastern Subah’s for the Mughal Empire. Ali Gauhar was accompanied by Muhammad Khan, Hidayat Ali, Mir Afzal, Kadim Husein and Ghulam Husain Tabatabai. Their forces were reinforced by the forces of Shuja-– and Najib-–. The Mughals were also joined by Jean Law and 200 Frenchmen, and waged a campaign against the British during the Seven Years’ War.
Prince Ali Gauhar successfully advanced as far as Patna, which he later besieged with a combined army of over 40,000 in order to capture or kill , a sworn enemy of the Mughals. Mir Jafar was terrified at the near demise of his cohort and sent his own son Miran to relieve and retake Patna. Mir Jafar also implored the aid of Robert Clive, but it was Major John Caillaud, who defeated and dispersed Prince Ali Gauhar’s army.
While Clive was preoccupied with fighting the French, the Dutch directors of the outpost at , not far from Chandernagore, seeing an opportunity to expand their influence, agreed to send additional troops to . Despite Britain and the Dutch Republic not formally being at war, a Dutch fleet of seven ships, containing more than fifteen hundred European and Malay troops, came from Batavia and arrived at the mouth of the Hooghly River in October 1759, while Mir Jafar, the Nawab of Bengal, was meeting with Clive in Calcutta. They met a mixed force of British and local troops at , just outside Calcutta. The British, under Colonel Francis Forde, defeated the Dutch in the Battle of , forcing them to withdraw. The British engaged and defeated the ships the Dutch used to deliver the troops in a separate naval battle on November 24. Clive 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 regions of the Mughal Empire. He re-fortified Calcutta. In 1760, after four years of hard labour, his health gave way and he returned to England. “It appeared”, wrote a contemporary on the spot, “as if the soul was departing from the Government of Bengal”. He had been formally made Governor of Bengal by the Court of Directors at a time when his nominal superiors in Madras sought to recall him to their help there. But he had discerned the importance of the province even during his first visit to its rich delta, mighty rivers and teeming population. Clive selected some able subordinates, notably a young Warren Hastings, who, a year after Plassey, was made resident at the Nawab’s court.
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. Mir Jafar was compelled to engage in extortion on a vast scale in order to replenish his treasury, which had been emptied by the company’s demand for an indemnity of 2.8 crores of
Return to Great Britain
In 1760, the 35-year-old Clive returned to Great Britain with a fortune of at least £300,000 and the quit-rent of £27,000 a year. He financially supported his parents and sisters, while also providing Major Lawrence, the commanding officer who had early encouraged his military genius, with a stipend of £500 a year. In the five years of his conquests and administration in Bengal, the young man had crowded together a succession of exploits that led Lord Macaulay, in what that historian termed his “flashy” essay on the subject, to compare him to Napoleon Bonaparte, declaring that ” gave peace, security, prosperity and such liberty as the case allowed to millions of Indians, who had for centuries been the prey of oppression, while Napoleon’s career of conquest was inspired only by personal ambition, and the absolutism he established vanished with his fall.” Macaulay’s ringing endorsement of Clive seems more controversial today, as some would argue that Clive’s ambition and desire for personal gain set the tone for the administration of Bengal until the Permanent Settlement 30 years later. 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. The non-graduate Clive received an honorary degree as DCL from Oxford University in 1760, and in 1764 he was appointed Knight of the Order of the Bath.
Clive set himself to reform the home system of the East India Company, and began a bitter dispute with the chairman of the Court of Directors, Laurence Sulivan, whom he defeated in the end. In this he was aided by the news of reverses in Bengal. Mir Jafar had finally rebelled over payments to British officials, and Clive’s successor had put Kasim Ali Khan, Mir Jafar’s son-in-law upon the . After a brief tenure, Kasim Ali had fled, ordering Walter Reinhardt Sombre, a Swiss mercenary of his, to butcher the garrison of 150 British at Patna, and had disappeared under the protection of his brother, the Viceroy of Awadh. The whole company’s service, civil and military, had become mired in corruption, demoralized by gifts and by the monopoly of inland and export trade, to such an extent that the Indians were pauperised, and the Company was plundered of the revenues Clive had acquired. For this Clive himself must bear much responsibility, as he had set a very poor example during his tenure as Governor. Nevertheless, the Court of Proprietors, forced the Directors to hurry Lord Clive to Bengal with the double powers of Governor and Commander-in-Chief.
Third journey to India
On 3 May 1765 Clive landed at Calcutta to learn that Mir Jafar had died, leaving him personally £70,000. Mir Jafar was succeeded by his son-in-law Kasim Ali, though not before the government had been further demoralized by taking £100,000 as a gift from the new Nawab; while Kasim Ali had induced not only the viceroy of Awadh, but the emperor of Delhi himself, to invade Bihar. At this point a mutiny in the Bengal army occurred, which was a grim precursor of the Indian rebellion of 1857, but on this it was quickly suppressed by blowing the sepoy ringleader from a gun. Major Munro, “the Napier of those times”, scattered the united armies on the hard-fought field of . The emperor, Shah II, detached himself from the league, while the Awadh 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. He might have secured what is now called Uttar Pradesh, and have rendered unnecessary the campaigns of Wellesley and Lake. 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. he returned to the Awadh viceroy all his territory the provinces of Allahabad and Kora, which he presented to the weak emperor.
In return for the provinces Clive secured from the emperor one of the most important documents in British history in India, effectively granting title of Bengal to Clive. It appears in the records as “Ferman from the King Shah Aalum, granting the diwani rights of Bengal, Bihar and Odisha to the Company 1765.” 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 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 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 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 rivals. Clive had this in mind when he penned his last advice to the directors, as he finally left India in 1767:
“We are sensible that, since the acquisition of the , the power formerly belonging to the of those provinces is totally, in fact, vested in the East India Company. Nothing remains to him but the name and shadow of authority. This name, however, this shadow, it is indispensably necessary we should seem to venerate.”
Attempts at administrative reform
Having thus founded the Empire of British India, Clive sought to 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. this had very little impact in reducing corruption, which remained widespread until the days of Warren Hastings. Clive’s military reforms were more effective. He put down a mutiny of the British officers, who chose to resent the veto against receiving presents and the reduction of a time when two Maratha armies were marching on Bengal. His reorganisation of the army, on the lines of that which he had begun after Plassey, neglected during his absence in Great Britain, subsequently attracted the admiration of Indian officers. He divided the whole army into three brigades, making each a complete force, in itself equal to any single Indian army that could be brought against it.
Retirement and death
Clive left India for the last time in February 1767. In 1768, he lived for a time at the Chateau de in in the Hérault of the Languedoc-Roussillon region in southern France. Local tradition says that he was responsible for introducing the local pastry makers of to a sweet pastry, le petit pâté de , the size and shape of a large cotton reel with a sweet centre, and that brought the recipe from India as a refined version of the savoury keema naan. is now known for these delicacies.
Later in 1768, Clive was made a Fellow of the Royal Society
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.
In 1772 Parliament opened an inquiry into the Company’s practices in India. Clive’s political opponents turned these hearings into attacks on Clive. Questioned about some of the large sums of money he had received while in India, Clive pointed out that they were not contrary to accepted company practice, and defended his behaviour by stating “I stand astonished at my own moderation” given opportunities for greater gain. The hearings highlighted the need for reform of the Company, and a vote to censure Clive for his actions failed. Later in 1772, Clive was invested Knight of the Bath, revelations and the subsequent debates in parliament reduced Clive’s political fortunes considerably.
Clive continued to be involved in ongoing Parliamentary discussions on company reforms. During these, in 1773, General John Burgoyne, one of Clive’s most vocal enemies, pressed the case that some of Clive’s gains were made at the expense of the Company and the government. Clive again made a spirited defence of his actions, and closed his testimony by stating “Take my fortune, but save my honour.” The vote that followed completely exonerated Clive, who was commended for the “great and meritorious service” he rendered to the country. Immediately thereafter Parliament began debating the Regulating Act of 1773, which significantly reformed the East India Company’s practices.
On 22 November 1774 Clive died, aged forty-nine, at his Berkeley Square home in London. There was no inquest on his death and it was variously alleged he had stabbed himself or cut his throat with a penknife or had taken an overdose of opium, while a few newspapers reported his death as due to an apoplectic fit or stroke. One 20th-century biographer, John Watney, concluded: “He did not die from a self-inflicted wound…He died of a heart attack brought on by an overdose of drugs”. While Clive left no suicide note, Samuel Johnson wrote that he “had acquired his fortune by such crimes that his consciousness of them impelled him to cut his own throat”. Though Clive’s demise has been linked to his history of depression and to opium addiction, the likely immediate impetus was excruciating pain resulting from he had been attempting to abate with Shortly beforehand, he had been offered command of British forces in North America which he had turned down. He was buried in St Margaret’s Parish Church at Moreton Say, near his birthplace in Shropshire.
Clive was awarded an Irish peerage in 1762, being created Baron Clive of Plassey, County Clare; he bought lands in County Limerick and County Clare, Ireland, naming part of his lands near Limerick City, Plassey. Following Irish independence, these lands became state property. In the 1970s a technical college, which later became the University of Limerick, was built at Plassey.
Robert Clive married Margaret 18 February 1753,
Clive quoted about the oppression of Bengal:
“I shall only say that such a scene of anarchy, confusion, bribery, corruption, and extortion was never seen or heard of in any country but Bengal; nor did such and so many fortunes acquire in so unjust and rapacious a manner. The three provinces of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa producing a clear revenue of 3 sterling, have been under the absolute management of the company’s servants, ever since Mir Jafar’s restoration to the ; and they have, both civil and and levied contributions from every man of power and consequence, from the Nawab down to the lowest zamindar.”
Robert Clive’s desk from his time at Market Drayton Grammar School is on display at complete with his carved initials. The town also has a Clive Road.
Robert Clive’s pet Aldabra giant tortoise died on 23 March 2006 in the . The tortoise, whose name was “Adwaita”, appeared to be 150–250 years old. Adwaita had been in the zoo since the 1870s and the zoo’s documentation showed that he came from Clive’s estate in India
A statue of Clive stands in the main square in the market town of Shrewsbury, as well as a later one in King Charles Street near St James’s Park, London.
Clive is a Senior Girls house at the Duke of York’s Royal Military School, where, as at Welbeck college, all houses are named after prominent military figures.
Clive Road, in West Dulwich, London, commemorates Baron Clive despite being so named close to a century after his death. Following the completion of the relocation of The Crystal Palace from Hyde Park to what is now Upper Norwood in 1854, the West End of London and Crystal Palace Railway was opened on 10 June 1854 to cope with crowds visiting the Crystal Palace. This led to a huge increase in employment in the area and a subsequent increase in the building of residential properties. Many of the new roads were named after eminent figures in Britain’s imperial history, such as Robert Clive.
There is a settlement named after Clive in the Hawke’s Bay province of New Zealand.
A bestselling children’s novel, G. A. Henty’s Clive in India: Or, the Beginnings of an Clive’s life and career from a pro-British point of view.
The film Clive of India was released in 1935, and starred Ronald Colman, Loretta Young, and Colin Clive, his descendant.
‘Clive’ is a house at Merchant Taylors’ School, Northwood where he was a student for seven years before his expulsion. Members can be distinguished by their red striped ties.
Robert Clive established the first slaughterhouse of India in Calcutta in 1760.
‘Clive of India’ is a brand of curry powder manufactured in Australia by McKenzie’s Foods.
Clive is now established as a male first name in English-speaking countries.
Lord Clive was a ship that was sunk in front of the city of Colonia del Sacramento by Spanish fire during an Anglo-Portuguese attack in the Rio de la Plata in 1763. Its wreck was located in 2004 by diver Ruben Collado.
In Bengal literature, stage drama and movies on the historical battle of Plassey and the downfall of the last free nawab of Bengal, Robert Clive has been depicted in corrupt and traitorous role as the beginning of the loss of Indian independence at the hand of the East India Company.
Information was taken from:
Chaudhuri, Nirad C. Robert Clive of India: A Political and Psychological
Faught, C. Clive: Founder of British India
Harvey, Robert A Few Bloody Noses: The American Revolutionary War. Constable & Robinson, 2004.
Harvey, Robert. Clive: The life and Death of a British Emperor. Hodder and Stoughton, 1998.
Michael Edwardes The Battle of Plassey and the Conquest of