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Saturday, 10 May 2014

Robert Clive

Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive of Plassey, KB, "Clive of India," was born at Styche, the family estate, in the parish in Moreton Say, near Market Drayton, Shropshire on September 29, 1725.

The Clives, or Clyves, were one of the oldest families in the county of Shropshire, having held the manor of that name in the reign of Henry II.

As the estate yielded only £500 a year, his father followed the profession of the law also.

Robert was their eldest son of thirteen children; he had seven sisters and five brothers, six of whom died in infancy With his five surviving sisters, all of whom married, he always maintained the most affectionate relations. His only brother survived to 1825.

He didn't get on with his father as a teenager, his old man used to call him, The Booky.

As a boy Clive ran a protection racket extorting money from shopkeepers in his home town of Market Drayton and leading gangs in window breaking.

He is said to have climbed the tower of St Mary's Parish Church in Market Drayton and sat on a gargoyle, frightening people down below.

At school he was lazy and unruly. Young Clive was the despair of his teachers and his bad behavior resulted in him being expelled from three schools.

The Market Drayton school which he attended still has his initials carved on a desk.

Despite his early lack of scholarship, in his later years Clive devoted himself to improving his education. He eventually developed a distinctive writing style.

In 1744 Clive's father acquired for him a position as a £5 a year clerk in the service of the East India Company, and Clive set sail for India. He arrived on May 31, 1744.

For the first two years of his residence In India Clive was miserable. He was homesick and was rarely out of trouble with his fellow clerks.

In his early days in India he fought a duel with a man who had accused him of cheating at cards.

In his early days in India and down in the dumps, the depressed Clive twice held a pistol to his head and twice it misfired. When another clerk entered the room finding Clive still holding it, the future baron asked the clerk to test the pistol by firing it out of the window. When he did so there was a loud report.

In 1750 Clive was afflicted with some sort of nervous disorder, and was sent north to Bengal to recuperate. He returned to Madras the following year.

As a bookkeeper for the East India Company with three years limited military experience,  Clive got his big break after hearing of an argument over the succession to the Carnatic (a region in SE India), in which the French took the side of one claimant and the British the other.  Clive led a brigade of 210 Englishmen and 300 Indians who seized Arcot, the capital of the Carnatic, then defended it for seven weeks against 10,000 French and Indian troops.

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."

After ten years in India, Clive married Margaret Maskelyne. She was the sister of his friend Nevil Maskelyne who was afterwards well-known as Astronomer Royal.

All Clive's correspondence proves him to have been a good husband and father, at a time when society was far from pure, and scandal made havoc of the highest reputations.

"George Clive and his family with an Indian maid", painted by Joshua Reynolds, 1765.

He left Madras for home, after ten years' absence, early in 1753. There  he briefly sat as Member of Parliament for the Cornwall rotten borough of St Michael's.

In 1755 Clive returned to India as Lieutenant General and Governor of Fort St David. He arrived after having lost a considerable fortune en 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.

After the Nawab of Bengal seized Calcutta, Clive, now a lieutenant colonel led an army of 2,500 men who defeated the Nawab's army of 50,000 Bengali men and French auxiliaries and retook Calcutta.

Clive's crushing victory at the Battle of Plassey established British supremacy in Bengal which expanded over much of India for the next hundred years.

Robert Clive, meeting with Mir Jafar after battle of Plassey, by Francis Hayman

Clive returned from India at the age of 35 in 1760 with jewels of immense value and a fortune of at least £300,000. Few Englishman at such an early age had ever amassed such a fortune.

He was elevated to the Irish peerage in 1762 and knighted in 1764.

In 1765 Clive was sent to India for a third period of service as governor of Bengal. His mission was to.deal with corruption among British East India officials there. His reforms upset the army and civilians and he returned home after his health had given way..

Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive, by Nathaniel Dance, 

In 1769, he acquired the house and gardens at Claremont Woods 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. Ready to face the music from Parliament regarding accepting money from native princes, he defended himself with great resolution and Parliament decided that his services for his county outweighed the £230,000 they agreed he had received.

Opportunities for corruption at the time were astounding. At one time when being cross-examined during parliamentary proceedings in 1773, Clive burst out "By God’m Mr Chairman, at this moment I stand astonished at my own moderation."

By the 1770s the bad effect of the climate in India together with the bitter attacks upon him were affecting Clive's health and mind.

On November 22, 1774 Clive committed suicide, 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 razor or taken an overdose of opium.



Clive Of India's legacy was establishing British dominance in India for more than a century.

The resulting capital flowing back to England from India was one cause of the Industrial Revolution.

The 1935 film Clive of India saw Ronald Coleman secure India for England at the cost of his own personal happiness in a way that bears little resemblance to what really happened. Loretta Young played his Margaret.

Source Wikipedia

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