Clive, Robert

views updated May 21 2018


CLIVE, ROBERT (1725–1774), the first baron Plassey, governor of Bengal (1758–1760 and 1765–1767) At the time of his birth, Robert Clive's once-respected Shropshire family was in decline. They were, however, able to secure him a clerkship in the British East India Company in 1744. Shortly after his arrival in Madras, war broke out between France and England. Madras fell to the French, and Clive found himself a prisoner of war. This experience gave him an incentive to reflect on the success of the French in outmaneuvering the British by playing the "nabob game," supporting rival claimants to contested thrones of Indian states and thus expanding European influence. Clive then embarked on a military career in the company's service, during which he mastered and then bested the French at their own game. He helped topple a key French ally, Chanda Sahib, their nawāb of the Carnatic, through bold military actions that restored British prestige and earned him great wealth.

When Clive returned to England in 1753, he was lionized as a military genius. However, after expending virtually all his Indian fortune restoring his family to its former estate, he had little choice but to accept the company's offer of promotion to lieutenant colonel and appointment to the governorship of Fort St. David. Clive arrived in Madras just in time to hear of disastrous events in Bengal. There, the company agents' attempt to use the recent wars with France as a cover for expanding the company's financial interests had become transparent. The young nawāb of Bengal, Siraj-ud-Dawla, had retaliated by moving against the British factories in his province. With characteristic speed, Clive sailed to Bengal and quickly found rivals in Siraj-ud-Dawla's court, eager to supplant him. When an intermediary, the Hindu financier Umichand, threatened to reveal their treachery unless rewarded for his silence, Clive seemingly agreed to his demands, then defrauded him. On 23 June 1757 Clive's three thousand mixed European and Indian troops confronted Siraj-ud-Dawla's fifty-thousand-strong force near the village of Plassey. Though Clive had some last minute doubts, all ran according to plan. The nawāb's army turned against their ruler, who was promptly executed by elements loyal to Clive's co-conspirator, Mir Jafar, who was then installed as nawāb. Clive next secured for the company the twenty-four parganas (villages) that were to become Calcutta, while openly arranging for an amount equal to its revenue (£30,000) to be assigned to him by Mir Jafar as his personal jagir (feudal land grant). He and other corrupt company officials then gorged themselves on the prostrate state's treasury, which made many of them "nabobs" but eventually left Mir Jafar bankrupt. Clive then defeated a Dutch assault in Bengal, ending their role in the province, and soon eliminated French influence in the neighboring northern Circars.

In 1760 Clive once again returned to England in triumph and was given an Irish peerage. But tragic events in Bengal so darkened the company's future that he was asked to return there as governor. In Clive's absence, Mir Jafar had been deposed by company officers. His successor, Mir Qasim, had rebelled and ultimately fled to Oudh where he allied himself with its ruler, Shuja-ud-Dawla, and the Mughal emperor Shah Alam II in a bid to regain Mughal control of the province. However, before Clive's arrival, their combined forces were defeated by British troops at Buxar in 1765. Clive's skills at playing country politics were equal to the challenges that remained. He restored Oudh to Shuja-ud-Dawla in return for the latter giving two of his districts to Shah Alam II, to whom the company then gave a 26 lakh (£30,000) tribute in return for the emperor's grant of the lucrative diwani (collector of revenue) for Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa. The settlement of the diwani on the company led to a notoriously corrupt "dual government," by which avaricious company agents controlled the civil administration and acted as revenue collector, while the cowed Indian nobility was left with the burdens of the nawābi, or executive authority (now virtually reduced to the enforcement of criminal law). The number of "nabobs" multiplied, the company now commanding the affairs and revenues of more than 20 million people, with no money left to those burdened with "governing" them.

Clive did not exploit India's condition to the extent he had previously, which made it easier for him to address his other assigned task: to stop the abuse of company resources by its own agents. Clive had the company's servants sign covenants prohibiting bribery and other corrupt practices, though he stopped short of eliminating their lucrative private trade. He also reduced the allowances enjoyed by officers in the company's army and suppressed a mutiny that this economy spawned. Though limited in scope, these reforms laid the earliest foundation of the Indian Civil Service.

Clive left India in 1767, having established the company as a power on the subcontinent and having initiated its administrative structure; by that time, however, he had made enemies within the company's directorate and in Parliament, which convened a committee of inquiry. Some members of Parliament may have been legitimately alarmed by Clive's situational ethics and self-enrichment. However, since the charges brought against him pertained to events that had occurred a decade earlier, some suggested that the accusations were motivated by a personal or political vendetta rather than genuine reformist zeal. Clive was defiant in his own defense. Questioned as to his acquisition in India of rewards totaling over £234,000 from 1757 to 1759, he declared that, considering the potential wealth he could have acquired by his overthrow of Siraj-ud-Dawla, he was "astonished at my own moderation." The inquiry closed on 21 May 1773 with an ambiguous Parliamentary resolution that censured him for misappropriating company funds but praised him for having done "great and meritorious service to the state." Disheartened by the mixed results of the Parliamentary inquiry, Clive fell into one of the many bouts of depression he experienced throughout his life. He committed suicide on 22 November 1774.

Marc Jason Gilbert

See alsoBritish East India Company Raj ; Nabob Game


Chaudhuri, Nirad C. Clive of India: A Political and Psychological Essay. London: Barry and Jenkins, 1975.

Forrest, George. Life of Lord Clive. London and New York: Cassell, 1918.

Sutherland, Lucy. The East India Company in Eighteenth Century Politics. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1952.

Robert Clive

views updated May 21 2018

Robert Clive

The English soldier and statesman Robert Clive, Baron Clive of Plassey (1725-1774), extended British power in India. He checked French aspirations in that area and made possible 200 years of British rule in the Indian subcontinent.

Robert Clive was born of an old and prominent family on Sept. 29, 1725, at Styche in Moreton Say, Shrop-shire. An unruly youngster, he attended several schools and at 18 was sent to Madras as a clerk and bookkeeper in the East India Company. A moody young man, he once fought a duel and twice attempted suicide.

The rivalry between French and British interests in southern India gave Clive his opportunity for fame and fortune. He volunteered for military service, received an ensign's commission, and participated in several battles against the French; he distinguished himself at Pondicherry in 1748, before the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle temporarily ended hostilities. In 1749 he was appointed captain of commissary to supply provisions to the troops, and he began to amass a fortune. But recurring clashes between the French and English East India companies brought him back to active military service.

In 1751 Clive offered to lead an expedition to relieve Trichinopoly (Tiruchirappalli), where Mohammed Ali, the British candidate for nawab, or ruler, was besieged by Chanda Sahib, the French candidate. With only 200 European and 300 Indian troops, plus three fieldpieces, Clive seized Arcot, Chanda Sahib's capital, thereby diverting 10,000 of Chanda Sahib's men from Trichinopoly.

Clive withstood a 50-day siege and, when he received reinforcements, began guerrilla warfare against the French and French-supported troops. The siege of Trichinopoly was finally lifted, and a truce in 1754 recognized Mohammed Ali as nawab. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 confirmed this, and in 1765 the emperor at Delhi admitted British hegemony in southern India.

Clive's brilliant leadership at Arcot gave him an immense reputation in Europe. When he went home in 1753, William Pitt the Elder called him a "heaven-born general." After running unsuccessfully for Parliament, Clive returned to India in 1755 as governor of Fort St. David and as lieutenant colonel in the royal army.

In 1756 Suraja Dowla (Siraj-ud-Daula), the new nawab, seized and plundered Calcutta, the principal city of Bengal and the most valuable trading center in India. Many English fled to ships and escaped, but 146 were imprisoned in a small underground dungeon called the Black Hole. Only 23 would emerge alive. Clive led a relief expedition from Madras in October; he rescued the English prisoners in December, took Calcutta in January, and defeated the nawab's army in February. Peace was made, and the East India Company's privileges were restored.

Displeased with the nawab's friendly attitude toward the French, Clive decided to replace him. In June 1758, at the Battle of Plassey, he defeated Suraja and became company governor and virtual master of Bengal. His position now enabled him to buttress the authority of the new nawab, Mir Jafar, to launch successful military expeditions against the French and to thwart Dutch expansion.

In declining health Clive went to England in 1760. He was given an Irish peerage, knighted, and made a member of Parliament. In 1765, when administrative chaos and fiscal disorder brought the company near disaster in Bengal, he returned to Calcutta as governor and commander in chief.

Clive limited the company to Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa, bringing these states under direct company control. He reformed the company's administrative practices, restored financial discipline while abolishing abuses, and reorganized the army. His efforts made the company sovereign ruler of 30 million people who produced an annual revenue of £4 million sterling.

Clive left India in February 1767. Five years later, in the absence of his strong hand in Bengal, the company appealed to the British government to save it from bankruptcy caused by widespread corruption. Clive's enemies in Parliament claimed that he was responsible for the situation. After a long trial he was exonerated; but continuing attacks on his integrity, together with illness and physical exhaustion, led him to commit suicide in London on Nov. 22, 1774. Somewhat above average height, with a commanding presence though melancholic mien, Clive brought a measure of peace, security, prosperity, and liberty to Indian natives who had been oppressed for many years.

Further Reading

There are three standard biographies of Clive: Sir George Forest, The Life of Lord Clive (2 vols., 1918); R. J. Minney, Clive of India (1931; rev. ed. 1957); and A. Mervyn Davies, Clive of Plassey (1939). H. H. Dodwell, Dupleix and Clive: The Beginning of Empire (1920), is a classic account of French-British rivalry in India. Lucy Sutherland, The East India Company in Eighteenth-Century Politics (1952), clarifies the relationship of government and business.

Additional Sources

Bence-Jones, Mark, Clive of India, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1975, 1974.

Chaudhuri, Nirad C., Clive of India: a political and psychological essay, London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1975.

Edwardes, Michael, Clive: the heaven-born general Michael Edwarde, London: Hart-Davis, MacGibbon, 1977.

Garrett, Richard, Robert Clive, London: A. Barker, 1976.

Lawford, James Philip, Clive, Proconsul of India: a biography, London: Allen & Unwin, 1976.

Malleson, G. B. (George Bruce), The founders of the Indian empire, Delhi: Mayur Publications; New Delhi: Distributed by D.K. Publishers Distributors, 1985.

Spear, Thomas George Percival, Master of Bengal: Clive and his India, London: Thames and Hudson, 1975.

Turnbull, Patrick, Clive of India, Folkestone: Bailey and Swinfen, 1975.

Watney, John Basil, Clive of India, Farnborough, Hants.: Saxon House, 1974. □

Clive, Robert

views updated May 11 2018

Clive, Robert (1725–74). Soldier-statesman who helped to secure British control over India. Born in Shropshire, he was sent to Madras to join the East India Company in 1743. Eight years later, when war broke out between Britain and France in India, he volunteered for military service and, against all the odds, seized and held the city of Arcot. In 1756 he moved to Bengal, where a dispute between the British and the French-supported Siraj-ud-Daula had led to the loss of Calcutta, where surviving Europeans had been incarcerated in the notorious ‘Black Hole’. Clive organized a small force of European and Indian soldiers to retake the city in January 1757, but it soon became apparent that Siraj was still a major threat. Clive marched inland with no more than 3,200 troops to face Siraj's army of 50,000 at Plassey on the Bhagirathi river. The battle was fought in a rainstorm on 23 June 1757; for the loss of only 23 men, Clive routed the enemy. By now the undisputed master of Bengal, Clive returned to England in 1760, where he was raised to the Irish peerage as Baron Clive of Plassey (1762). He returned to India in 1765 as governor of Bengal, where he introduced a series of reforms to company administration. Corruption remained, however, and in 1772 he was forced to defend himself before Parliament. Although exonerated, the trial affected his health and, on 22 November 1774, he committed suicide.

John Pimlott