Robert, Lord Clive, 1764 (c)
Oil on canvas by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), 1764 (c).
Robert Clive (1725-1774) arrived in India a pauper and left it a millionaire. On his way from rags to riches, he established East India Company control of Bengal.
Clive began his career in India in 1744, as a Writer (clerk) of the East India Company, but soon switched to the Company's military service. His tactical flair and personal bravery earned him rapid promotion and popular acclaim. After his victory at the Battle of Plassey (1757), the Company appointed him Governor of Bengal. At just 32 years old, he had already made a personal fortune from lucrative Company posts and gifts from Indian rulers.
In his later years as Governor of Bengal, Clive attempted to stamp out corruption and profiteering by Company employees - amongst other things he forbade the acceptance of gifts which had made him so wealthy. In 1765, he secured for the Company the diwani (the right to collect the tax revenues) of Bengal. This gave Britain a political stake in India.
Clive has been viewed not only as a courageous and resourceful military commander and statesman, but also as a greedy speculator who used his political and military influence to amass a fortune, at India's expense. When he died in 1774 he was worth about £500,000 (£32 million today).
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