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The Emergence of British Power in India, 1600-1784

The Emergence of British Power in India, 1600-1784: A Grand Strategic Interpretation

G. J. Bryant
Volume: 9
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 368
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt31njtz
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  • Book Info
    The Emergence of British Power in India, 1600-1784
    Book Description:

    Empires have usually been founded by charismatic, egoistic warriors or power-hungry states and peoples, sometimes spurred on by a sense of religious mission. So how was it that the nineteenth-century British Indian Raj was so different? Arising, initially, from the militant policies and actions of a bunch of London merchants chartered as the English East India Company by Queen Elizabeth in 1600, for one hundred and fifty years they had generally pursued a peaceful and thereby profitable trade in the India, recognized by local Indian princes as mutually beneficial. Yet from the 1740s, Company men began to leave the counting house for the parade ground, fighting against the French and the Indian princes over the next forty years until they stood upon the threshold of succeeding the declining Mughul Empire as the next hegamon of India. This book roots its explanation of this phenomenon in the evidence of the words and thoughts of the major, and not-so major, players, as revealed in the rich archives of the early Raj. Public dispatches from the Company's servants in India to their masters in London contain elaborate justifications and records of debates in its councils for the policies (grand strategies) adopted to deal with the challenges created by the unstable political developments of the time. Thousands of surviving private letters between Britons in India and the homeland reveal powerful underlying currents of ambition, cupidity and jealousy and how they impacted on political manoeuvring and the development of policy at both ends. This book shows why the Company became involved in the military and political penetration of India and provides a political and military narrative of the Company's involvement in the wars with France and with several Indian powers. G. J. Bryant, who has a Ph.D. from King's College London, has written extensively on the British military experience in eighteenth-century India.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-179-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE: Conceptual and Methodological Approach
    (pp. ix-xv)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  5. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xvii-xvii)
  6. Maps
    (pp. xviii-xx)
  7. INTRODUCTION: The Early Years and the Evolving Grand Strategic Reality, 1600–1784
    (pp. 1-32)

    Dazzled Victorians saw the nineteenth-century Indian Raj as the jewel that gave lustre to the British imperial Crown, its defence secondary only to that of the homeland in grand strategic considerations. But the raj had not originated in the customary ‘heroic’ and celebrated manner of some other empires – the realisation of the dreams of conquering soldier-statesmen such as Shih Huang Ti, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Babur or Napoleon; or the ‘lucky’ creation of adventurers such as Cortez or Pizzaro; or, again, the product of steady accretion by dynamic political systems such as Rome or the Ottomans; all in search...

  8. Part I: Dealing With the French Menace, 1744–61

    • One THE INDIAN DIMENSION IN THE WAR OF THE AUSTRIAN SUCCESSION, 1744–48
      (pp. 35-43)

      The outbreak of war between Britain and France in 1744, though not anticipated at the time, was to develop into a seventeen-year struggle between their rival East India companies to exclude the other from trading in India by obtaining a preponderant exclusive influence in three major Indian governments in the east of the subcontinent – in the Carnatic, the Deccan and Bengal. The war ended in January 1761 (following the annihilation of the French political and military position in Bengal in 1757) with the conclusive capture of the French seat of government in the East at Pondicherry in the Carnatic by...

    • Two ANGLO-FRENCH MERCENARIES IN THE ‘SERVICE’ OF THE CARNATIC PRINCES, 1749–54
      (pp. 44-73)

      The trauma of the loss of Madras to the French in 1746 shook the London Directorate out of its pre-war complacency that the only military threat to the Company in India came from relatively ineffective ‘country’ forces. But the changes to their military establishment that they ordered at this time indicates that their intent was only to improve the deterrent value of their defences, not to adopt a more proactive grand strategy against either the French or the local Indian authorities. They sent out retired British Army officers (the most notable was Major Stringer Lawrence) to introduce greater regularity and...

    • Three THE STRUGGLE FOR SUPREMACY IN THE CARNATIC DURING THE SEVEN YEARS WAR, 1756–61
      (pp. 74-106)

      News of the formal outbreak of a new Anglo-French war should have marked a significant change of gear in the protracted struggle for domination of the Carnatic, which, since 1749, had been restricted to unofficial hostilities entangled in ‘country’ politics. But, despite the wider range of strategic options that had opened up, with Madras and Pondicherry no longer ‘off-limits’ to the opposing British and French forces and the possibility of fighting off-shore for command of coastal waters, Fort St George wrote to the Directors four months later that the character of the war had hardly changed; nor did it for...

    • Four NOISES OFF: THE SEVEN YEARS WAR IN BENGAL – UNSEATING A NAWAB, 1756–57
      (pp. 107-144)

      While there was every expectation at Madras that renewed conflict with France in Europe in 1756 would terminate the provisional Anglo-French truce in the Carnatic, it was not so certain that fighting between them would occur in Bengal. Here the Nawab was deemed to be strong enough to deter the Europeans from it and, anyway, neither had the spare resources to open up a second front deliberately. Nonetheless, they did eventually fight there, following the failure of prolonged negotiations to agree a local truce, though active campaigning lasted less than a month. There were no field operations, just a straightforward...

  9. Part II: Towards an All-India Grand Strategy, 1762–84

    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 147-152)

      For much of the first half of the eighteenth century the Company had enjoyed quieter times than in the seventeenth, usually delivering healthy dividends to the shareholders, a pillar of the City with friends at Westminster and a valued role in the British economy; and, out in India, cultivating stable but uninvolved political relations with the local authorities. Then, for the following forty years it found itself in a turbulent political sea, lurching militarily between disaster and triumph in India, but overall progressing to become a major player on the Indian political scene, while back in Britain its grand strategic...

    • Five BENGAL, 1757–67: CROSSING THE THRESHOLD AND BECOMING A ‘COUNTRY’ POWER
      (pp. 153-185)

      On handing Mir Jafar to the musnud on 1 July 1757 in the wake of Plassey, Clive, in a speech to the assembled Indian dignitaries, sought to allay their suspicions that the Company intended to become the power behind the throne by declaring: ‘that as long as [the Nawab’s] affairs required it [the Company’s army was] ready to keep the field, after which we should return to Calcutta and attend solely to commerce, which was our proper sphere and whole aim in these parts’.⁵ If Clive really believed this would be the likely course of events, he was being naive...

    • Six THWARTED IMPERIALISM: MADRAS, 1761–78
      (pp. 186-220)

      We have seen (Chapter 3) how, under the Treaty of Versailles in 1763, French military power in India was all but eradicated; but a potential grand strategic threat remained. Even though their revenue streams in India had been largely cut off and the Compagnie des Indes, never recovering its former trading position and prosperity, was wound up in 1767 and the trade was thrown open to private french merchants, the french Government inherited the company’s remaining military and naval assets in the East and these could be exploited to pose a serious challenge to British power in India – if it...

    • Seven BENGAL, 1767–84: THE BORDERS OF POWER AND THE POWER OF BORDERS
      (pp. 221-256)

      While the Fort St George Council, in formulating a grand strategy, was forever frustrated by their lack of control over the revenues and disbursements of the ‘country’ government, their colleagues at Calcutta, with Clive’s acquisition in 1765 of the diwani of Bengal-Bihar, secured effective possession of the richest provinces in India. This gave the Company sufficient resources, should it so choose, to support a proactive militant expansionist policy in India in any or all three of its Presidencies.⁸ This was far from the thoughts of the Directors, though not necessarily from those of some of its servants in India. The...

    • Eight BOMBAY ENTERS THE IMPERIAL GAME, 1774–82
      (pp. 257-281)

      In the later 1770s and early ’80s, the East India Company, eventually supported by more naval and military power from the British Government than ever before, became involved in a decade of intermittent wars against three Indian states and two European rivals in the east (France and Holland). All of the Company’s enemies became variously aligned with each other against the common British foe, though not effectively enough to have a decisive impact on the outcomes. The Company, for its part, managed to enlist the help of a few minor ‘country’ powers who had grudges against the major Indian states,...

    • Nine MADRAS VERSUS HAIDAR ALI – ROUND 2, 1778–84
      (pp. 282-316)

      Hastings told the Directors that Haidar Ali’s invasion of the Carnatic in July 1780 ‘changed the Object of our pursuit from the Aggrandisement of your power [at Bombay] to its Preservation’ [at Madras].⁶ In a few weeks Haidar and his forces had smashed the madras army, was laying siege to Arcot, Mohamed Ali’s capital, and held the Central Carnatic countryside at his mercy. Many of Mohamed Ali’s lesser forts in the interior were painlessly taken by the Mysoreans by bribing the killadars (commandants) whose loyalty to the Nawab had been sapped over the years by the decline in his prestige...

  10. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 317-328)

    In the history of the British in India, the end of the wars of 1774–84 proved to be the last occasion (after 1746 and 1756) until 1857, and then ninety years later in 1943–4, when their power in India was seriously threatened by military defeat. But it did not necessarily usher in resumed expansion; indeed, many were arguing in favour of stasis. the Company had successfully faced down the most widespread military challenge so far, partly provoked by itself, to its political survival and potential future growth in India, by the two most powerful Indian states and its...

  11. SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 329-336)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 337-350)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 351-353)