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Archive for January 9th, 2012

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Robert Clive (1725-1774)

Spirited son of a Shropshire lawyer in declining fortunes he was sent at the age of three to live with his relatives in Manchester. Soon proving himself unmanagable and a bully who terrorized the people of Market Drayton, he was only sent to India to get him out of the way.
British rule in India at that period was yet struggling to ward off the French for control of trade in the sub-continent. Young Clive not yet out of his teen years began his career as a clerk in the East India Company in Madras. Unhappy at the situation and one day in a fit of desperation he tried to kill himself but failed. The young man concluded that his life had been spared for a reason. He suffered bipolar disorder all his life long.
In 1746, hostility between English and French empire builders boiled over. Madras was captured by the French, and Clive and several others escaped to Fort George 20 miles away, which remained in British hands.
Here he joined the East India Company’s private army and found his role in life: That of soldier, imperial statesman and politician.
Clive quickly began to build a reputation for courage and skill in battle in the wars against the French and their Indian allies.
Soon his reputation reached England when he was given command of an expedition to seize Arcot, the capital of the Carnatic and hold it, dividing the enemy’s forces.
With a force of just 200 Europeans and 300 native soldiers, backed up with a handful of guns, Clive took the central fort and proceeded to hold it against all the odds.
Back in England, Prime Minister Pitt pronounced the youth of 27 was a “heaven-born general”.
He returned home in 1753 a hero, marrying Margaret Maskeylne and living in a fine London house.
Clive also began to make his mark in Shropshire but India was in his blood and he returned three years later as a Lieutenant Colonel and Deputy Governor of Fort St David.

He arrived in the middle of a crisis: Calcutta had been captured by the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj ud Daula who held 146 captured Britons – and just 23 of them had survived. The incident the Black Hole of Calcutta required reprisal and Clive was sent to take the city. He quickly re-took the city and then inflicted a decisive defeat on Siraj ud Daula at the Battle of Plassey. Clive’s army of 3,000 men, with just 650 British, routed the Nawab’s 68,000-strong French-backed army.
The path was clear for Britain to extend its influence into Bengal under a new and grateful Nawab, who rewarded Clive handsomely. Plassey also practically removed serious opposition to British rule in India.
In 1760 Clive returned to England, and at the age of 34 was elected MP for Shrewsbury, later serving as Mayor.
Two years later he was made Baron Clive of Plassey. His meteoric rise and his humble origions had created enough enemies, and allegations of treachery and dishonesty were levelled at him.
There was a Parliamentary inquiry after which Clive was criticised for accepting huge payments, mainly from the rulers he supported or helped into power.
Clive’s death remains something of a mystery, but it’s likely that the manic depression that stalked him all his life was at the heart of it.

Although it was always denied by his family, it is most likely that he killed himself at the age of 49. As it is, Robert Clive was buried in an unmarked grave in the church of Moreton Say, the parish where he was born.

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