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On this day in history in 1725, was born Robert Clive.

Clive was a soldier and administrator for the East India Company, who expanded British rule in India and made a substantial fortune by both legal and illegal means.

Robert Clive was born on 29th September 1725, at the family estate at Styche, Shropshire. The Clives were minor landed gentry, who could trace their Shropshire ancestry back to the reign of Henry II, but were now impoverished. He was educated at the Merchant Taylors' School, where it was hoped that he would learn sufficient law to be able to take up the profession and supplement the family’s diminishing income. However, he learned little apart from developing a literary style, both elegant and succinct, effective for political and administrative purposes, but inadequate for the precise yet uninspiring legal profession. Having failed to gather sufficient Latin, Greek and Classical education to practice law, he was packed off to Madras to serve the English East India Company.

Clive’s official position was company clerk. He used to write letters for the governor, but he also had a sword, a pistol and a horse, and had the authority to call out the troops when required. At that time, India was ruled by Indian princes, and the British East India Company, and the French East India Company, all rivals of one another. In 1751, Chanda Sahib, an ally of the French, attacked a British ally, Muhammad Ali at Fort Trichinopoly. Clive offered to assist with a force of 200 British soldiers and 300 native troops, and led a diversionary attach against a nearby fort at Arcot. This brought out the French army, which Clive harassed and wore down with guerrilla tactics. He eventually defeated the French army and was promoted to supplies officer, a position that he used to his own advantage, accepting bribes from provisions suppliers. By 1753, he had amassed enough to take a bride, Margaret Maskelyne, the sister of a colleague, and return home with sufficient funds to live comfortably.

In 1755, he stood for Parliament but was roundly rebuffed by the electorate, having offered less bribe money to the voters than his rival. He realised that if he wanted to succeed as a politician and as a country gentleman, he would need a lot more ready cash. He therefore took a commission in the army and returned to India. In 1756, one of the native princes, Siraj Ud Daulah, attacked and took over the British trading city of Calcutta. Clive not only led a force that retook the city, but masterminded a political intrigue to depose the prince and replace him with his own placeman. He succeeded in deposing Siraj Ud Daulah after defeating him at the Battle of Plassey, thereby making himself the virtual master of Bengal.

Clive appointed a new Nawab of Bengal, but obliged him to remove all taxes on the East India Company’s trade and on the private trade of the company’s servants. Over the next few years, he acquired a Mughal title of nobility, and an estate, or jagir, together with a considerable cache of gold coins. Other company officials also acquired varying degrees of wealth, but by 1760, both the state of Bengal and the East India Company were on the verge of bankruptcy.

In 1760, Clive returned in triumph. He became M P for Shrewsbury, and purchased an estate. In 1762, he was awarded an Irish peerage and was knighted in 1764. But he was never trusted by establishment figures or by those others who had profited in India. When he suggested that the government should take over the insolvent East India Company, he created for himself many enemies. Meanwhile in India, the Bengal regime collapsed, leading to anarchy.

In 1765, Clive was persuaded to return to India. During his second governorship, he divided up the Indian territories between the fractious princes, softening them with tribute money. He brought about peace within the state and thereby restored the East India Company’s profitability. He also stopped the practice of allowing company servants to take bribes, a masterstroke of hypocrisy, which earned him many enemies. He left Calcutta in 1767, worn out by overexertion and the effects of malaria.

Returning home, he found that his enemies had demanded an enquiry into his acquisition of wealth. Two parliamentary committees worked for years and eventually discovered the truth. Clive defended himself vigorously in Parliament, complaining of being treated as ‘a sheep stealer’ and claiming to be ‘astonished at my own moderation’. Parliament found him guilty of misconduct but passed a motion that he had done ‘great and meritorious services to his country’. Worn out by the strain and by illness and an addiction to opium, he committed suicide by stabbing himself with a pen knife on 22nd November 1774. He work, the great and meritorious services to his country, is remembered as the beginning of the British Empire. He was buried near the family estate in Shropshire. [Church of St. Margaret of Antioch, Moreton Say, Market Drayton, Shropshire, TF9 3RS]

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