Seven Years' War: Major General Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive

robert clive
Major General Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive.

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Born September 29, 1725 near Market Drayton, England, Robert Clive was one of thirteen children. Sent to live with his aunt in Manchester, he was spoiled by her and returned home at age nine an ill-disciplined troublemaker. Developing a reputation for fighting, Clive compelled several area merchants to pay him protection money or risk having their businesses damaged by his gang. Expelled from three schools, his father secured him a post as a writer with the East India Company in 1743. Receiving orders for Madras, Clive boarded the East Indiaman Winchester that March.

Early Years in India

Delayed in Brazil en route, Clive arrived at Fort St. George, Madras in June 1744. Finding his duties boring, his time at Madras became more livelier in 1746 when the French attacked the city. Following the city's fall, Clive escaped south to Fort St. David and joined the East India Company's army. Commissioned as an ensign, he served until peace was declared in 1748. Displeased at the prospect of returning to his regular duties, Clive began to suffer from depression which was to plague him throughout his life. During this period, he befriended Major Stringer Lawrence who became a professional mentor.

Though Britain and France were technically at peace, a low-level conflict persisted in India as both sides sought an advantage in the region. In 1749, Lawrence appointed Clive commissary at Fort St. George with the rank of captain. To advance their agendas, the European powers often intervened in local power struggle with the goal of installing friendly leaders. One such intervention occurred over the post of Nawab of the Carnatic which saw the French back Chanda Sahib and the British support Muhammed Ali Khan Wallajah. In the summer of 1751, Chanda Sahib left his base at Arcot to strike at Trichinopoly.

Fame at Arcot

Seeing an opportunity, Clive requested permission to attack Arcot with the goal of pulling some of the enemy's forces away from Trichinopoly. Moving with around 500 men, Clive successfully stormed the fort at Arcot. His actions led to Chanda Sahib sending a mixed Indian-French force to Arcot under his son, Raza Sahib. Placed under siege, Clive held out for fifty days until relieved by British forces. Joining in the subsequent campaign, he aided in placing the British candidate on the throne. Commended for his actions by Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder, Clive returned to Britain in 1753.

Return to India

Arriving home having amassed a fortune of £40,000, Clive won a seat in Parliament and aided his family in paying off its debts. Losing his seat to political intrigues and needing additional funds, he elected to return to India. Appointed governor of Fort St. David with the rank of lieutenant colonel in the British Army, he embarked in March 1755. Reaching Bombay, Clive aided in an attack against the pirate stronghold at Gheria before reaching Madras in May 1756. As he assumed his new post, the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj Ud Daulah, attacked and captured Calcutta.

Victory at Plassey

This was partially provoked by British and French forces reinforcing their bases after the beginning of the Seven Years' War. After taking Fort William in Calcutta, a large number of British prisoners were herded into a tiny prison. Dubbed the "Black Hole of Calcutta," many died from heat exhaustion and being smothered. Eager to recover Calcutta, the East India Company directed Clive and Vice Admiral Charles Watson to sail north. Arriving with four ships of the line, the British retook Calcutta and Clive concluded a treaty with the nawab on February 4, 1757.

Frightened by the growing power of the British in Bengal, Siraj Ud Daulah began contacting the French. As the nawab sought aid, Clive dispatched forces against the French colony at Chandernagore which fell on March 23. Turning his attention back to Siraj Ud Daulah, he began intriguing to overthrow him as the East India Company's forces, a mix of European troops and sepoys, were badly outnumbered. Reaching out to Mir Jafar, Siraj Ud Daulah's military commander, Clive convinced him to switch sides during the next battle in exchange for the nawabship.

As hostilities resumed, Clive's small army met Siraj Ud Daulah's large army near Palashi on June 23. In the resulting Battle of Plassey, British forces emerged victorious after Mir Jafar switched sides. Placing Jafar on the throne, Clive directed further operations in Bengal while ordering additional forces against the French near Madras. In addition to overseeing military campaigns, Clive worked to refortify Calcutta and endeavored to train the East India Company's sepoy army in European tactics and drill. With things seemingly in order, Clive returned to Britain in 1760.

Final Term in India

Reaching London, Clive was elevated to the peerage as Baron Clive of Plassey in recognition of his exploits. Returning to Parliament, he worked to reform the East India Company's structure and frequently clashed with its Court of Directors. Learning of a rebellion by Mir Jafar as well as widespread corruption on the part of company officials, Clive was asked to return to Bengal as governor and commander in chief. Arriving at Calcutta in May 1765, he stabilized the political situation and quelled a mutiny in the company's army.

That August, Clive succeeded in getting Mughal emperor Shah Alam II to recognize British holdings in India as well as obtained an imperial firman which gave the East India Company the right to collect revenue in Bengal. This document effectively made it the ruler of the region and served as the basis for British power in India. Remaining in India two more years, Clive worked to restructure the administration of Bengal and attempted to halt corruption within the company.

Later Life

Returning to Britain in 1767, he purchased a large estate dubbed "Claremont." Though the architect of the growing British empire in India, Clive came under fire in 1772 by critics who questioned how he obtained his wealth. Ably defending himself, he was able to escape censure by Parliament. In 1774, with colonial tensions rising, Clive was offered the post of Commander-in-Chief, North America. Declining, the post went to Lieutenant General Thomas Gage who was forced to deal with the beginning of the American Revolution a year later. Suffering from a painful illness which he was attempting to treat with opium as well as depression regarding criticism of his time in India, Clive killed himself with a penknife on November 22, 1774.


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Hickman, Kennedy. "Seven Years' War: Major General Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 26). Seven Years' War: Major General Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "Seven Years' War: Major General Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2023).