James Macardell, Robert, Lord Clive, mezzotint after a painting by Thomas Gainsborough

Published by John Ryall at Hogarth's Head, Fleet Street, London, 1763

Robert Clive (1725-74) was a courageous soldier and a cunning strategist, and had a talent for exploiting local rivalries in fragmented India to the advantage of British interest. He first came to prominence when he led British and Indian troops to victory over the French and their allies in the south of India. Then in 1757 attention shifted northwards to the wealthy province of Bengal. British men and women had died imprisoned by allies of the French in the 'Black Hole' of Calcutta and in January Clive - leading 900 British troops and 1500 sepoys (Indian soldiers) recovered the city for the East India Company. The following June, the victory at Plassey effected a crucial change in the role of the British in India - formerly powerful traders, they now became political overlords.

Clive's return to London in 1760 was triumphal. He was created Baron Clive of Plassey and wielded political power both as a member of parliament and as a major stockholder in the East India Company. News of corruption and instability in the Company's affairs in India sent Clive back in 1765 to restore order. It was during this last stay - of less than two years - that the British took formal control of Bengal. The East India Company was amassing some two million pounds a year. Back in London wealthy Company men or 'nabobs' were building grand houses, favouring the still-undeveloped land north of Oxford Street around Portman Square.

Clive's return to England in 1767 was a contrast to his earlier glorious welcomes. The climate of opinion was changing from one where every British gain was greeted as an unequivocal good, and he was met with severe criticism of the means by which he had enriched himself. His health failed and he succumbed to opium addiction and depression, finally committing suicide at the age of forty-nine.

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Height: 465.000 mm
Width: 313.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1950-5-20-230


Gift of F.W.B. Maufe and Mrs G.B. Lane


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