16th Century Timeline -- Britain
1517 -- Martin Luther nails Theses to Door -- Beginning of Reformation
1520 -- Cortez conquers Mexico
1536 -- Dissolution of Monasteries in England
1562 --English African Slave trade starts
1585 -- Shakespeare begins to write.
1588 -- Defeat of Spanish Armada
1600 --Great English Poor Law Passed
16th Century England
Elizabeth I reigned from 1558-1603
When Elizabeth died, one of the great epochs of English history ended. Her 45-year rule decisively shaped the future of England as a stable Protestant monarchy governed through the cooperation of crown and local elites.

The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 established the glory of the English navy and inspired merchants and explorers toward colonization of a wider world.  It was the time of Shakespeare and xx and xx.  It was the time of the great English pirates and adventurers—Drake, Hawkins and Frobisher. 

England had defined itself as an island nation separate from the European continent—English kings no longer laid claim to French lands across the English Channel.  Englishmen were united as a nation and proud to be English.  England had a powerful navy and no standing army.  Mercenaries were widely used for cannon fodder.

Despite the success of her reign, the country was plagued with continual economic problems.  During the 16th century the population of England and Wales roughly doubled.  By the time of Elizabeth’s death the population stood at 5 million.  Prices for food and clothing skyrocketed in what became known as the Great Inflation.

The 1590s were the worst years of the century, marked by starvation, epidemic disease, and roving bands of vagrants looking for work.  The situation was aggravated by the dissolution of the monasteries carried out by Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, 50 years earlier, which eliminated one of the great social nets of medieval times. 

As a result of these problems Elizabeth’s government enacted legislation known as the Poor Laws, which made every local parish responsible for its own poor, and severely punished homeless beggars. “Poor laws” continued to be tightened during the next two hundred years.  The combination of Poor Laws, together with draconian Penal Laws,  were at their very worst (for the poor) between1780 and 1820—just when our ancestors were fleeing England and Wales.  It was these Penal Laws which filled England’s jails in the next century.  Budget constraints on jail building led to the extradition of convicts to the Americas and, after 1776, to Australia. 

Map of Moghul India -- Akbar and Aurangzeb
Euro-India Timeline --16th and 17th Centuries
1612  English ships defeat Portuguese ships off coast of Surat -- Impress Moghuls
1615 -- Jehangir  Gave Thomas Roe Ambassador from James 1 a license to trade in India
1627-58 Shah Jahan  -- built Taj Mahal and Pavilions around Anasagar Lake in Ajmer
xx xx Aurangzeb -- last effective Moghul.  Expanded Empire.   Persecuted Hindus
1857 -- British Officer murders last Moghul children in cold blood.  End of Dynasty

16th and 17th Century India

 Akbar the Great, reigned from 1555 to 1605
Beginning early in the 16th century, the Moghuls--Persian for Mongol--conquered Northern India and created a relatively stable Muslim civilization in the mainly Hindu Indo-Gangetic plain.

The greatest of these legendary Muslim Emperors of India, Akbar the Great, reigned from 1555 to 1605--almost exactly the same period Elizabeth I ruled England.  Akbar is famous for his excellent civil administration, tolerance of rival religions and for extending Moghul rule over much of India.  His court included Portuguese Jesuits, Buddhists monks, Muslim sages and Hindu philosophers.  At the end of his reign the Moghul Empire covered most of India.   Unlike Europe, most of India was united under one Emperor and had a temporary respite from war. 

Like Europe, the Indian subcontinent was divided by the boundaries of religion, race, culture and geography.  Despite the peace imposed by Akbar, there were no “Indians”, just as there were no “Europeans”.  There were “Rajputs” and “Sikhs”, and “Bengalis”, just as there were “Englishmen” and “Dutchmen” and “Frenchmen”. There were Hindus and  Muslims just as there were Catholics and Protestants.  It was not until about the late 19th century that the concept of being an “Indian” who belonged to the subcontinent of India began to take hold. 

At Elizabeth’s death, the population of England was in the region of 5 million.  At Akbar’s death, the population of the Indian subcontinent was in the region of 125 million.  Portions of India-- such as Bengal--were massively wealthier than England.  Speaking of  India and England in the same breath is a classic Eurocentric concept.  A more appropriate comparison would be comparing the relative characteristics of England with say Bengal (with a population more than three times that of England), or Hyderabad (the size of France) or the Punjab (larger than the present Germany). 

Since the dawn of history, India had been the target of land invasions from the West.  The Muslim invasions beginning in the 9th century were repeats of the earlier invasions including the Greeks under Alexander (~300BC) and the even earlier invasions of Persians and Aryans.  Indian kings had developed large and skilful armies to defend against land-based invasions.  Only in a few regions of India was there a naval presence to compare with the European navies. 

It was left to the Europeans to “invade” by sea.  Their superior navies, their advanced weapons, and the disarray of the subcontinent as the Moghuls disintegrated in the 18th century, led to systematic plunder by Englishmen on an unprecedented scale. 

By the late 15th century, before the Moghul regime in the North,  the Portuguese had found a sea route to south India.  A hundred years later, in the early 1600s, the Dutch and British came to India. Being Protestants and competitors, they were harassed by the Portuguese. The Dutch and British drove out the Portuguese, a British fleet defeating the Portuguese off the West coast of India in 1612.  The Portuguese remained a minor power in India with their capital in Goa.


Moghul Military and Naval Power

Prior to 1612 the Moghuls, without a navy, had looked to the Portuguese to protect the ships that took Muslim Indians on their annual pilgrimage to Mecca, and now they turned to the English for this protection. This was accompanied by an increase in trade with England, monopolized by the Honorable East India Company (HEIC), which in 1619, built a “factory” at Surat, the primary Muslim seaport just north of Bombay.

By 1647 the Company had 23 factories and 90 employees in India. The major factories became the walled forts of St George in Bengal, Fort William in Madras and Bombay Castle.  By 1700 HEIC had just under 2000 employees in India including soldiers.  Their task was to enrich HEIC by European trade and to enrich themselves in any way they could.

Fortunes could be made by Company employees. One of the most famous men to do this was "Diamond" Pitt. Until the discovery of diamonds in Brazil and then in South Africa, India was the sole source of diamonds.  As Governor of Fort St George Pitt bought an uncut diamond weighing 410 carats for £20,000. His son Robert smuggled the diamond to England; it took five years to cut the stone which was sold to the French Regent for £35,000. In 1791 it was placed among the French Crown Jewels and was valued at £480,000. Often employees of the Company who had made their fortunes in India returned to England and purchased estates which gave them political power. Consequently the East India lobby was extremely powerful in Parliament.  Pitt's grandson and great grandson became Prime Ministers of England.  Prime Minister Pitt's India Act (1784) was the cornerstone of legislation regarding the HEIC, India and the Crown.

Another interesting HEIC employee was Elihu Yale the benefactor of Yale University.  Yale was Governor of Fort William (Madras) in xxx.  He amassed a fortune in a suspicious enough manner that he was recalled by HEIC directors.  He donated xxx in yyy to the school which eventually became Yale. 

By the end of the 17th century HEIC had established three moderately successful coastal trading “capitals” in India, with several smaller trading centers inland -- all legally set up with appropriate permission from Moghul and local rulers.  These coastal centers were set up in Bombay (previously in Surat), Calcutta, and Madras.   They later became known as the respective capitals of the HEIC  Bombay, Bengal and Madras Presidencies.

India’s 17th century manufacturing and craftsmanship were significantly superior to their Western European competition, and as a result India had little use for Western goods.  Silver and gold from Europe were the primary medium of exchange.   Between 1660 and 1690, European demand for Indian textiles rose steeply.  These materials were bought mainly for “specie”--on average 34 tons of silver and a half-ton of gold was flowing from Europe to India every year, much to the chagrin of the European governments. 

By the late 1600s, there was such overwhelming demand for Indian chintz, that ultimately French and English wool and silk merchants prevailed on their governments to ban the importation of these imported cottons from India. The French ban came in 1686, while the English followed in 1701.  So much for free trade.  Various Indian goods were banned and heavily taxed as Britain's Empire grew during the 18th century.

By the 1680s, hundreds of prosperous market towns dotted northern India, the towns occupied by traders in grain, moneylenders, retired military officers and other officials, and Muslim gentry. The millions of people on state salaries increased demand for manufactured and processed consumer goods, some goods supplied by the government sector of the economy, but most by the private sector.   India’s population grew from about 100 million in 1500 to about 150 million in 1700 compared with the population of Europe of about xxx in  xxx.

Sailors, traders, diplomats and adventurers flocked to India in the 17th and 18th centuries. They brought to India technical advances and technical skills. Some of the Europeans set up shop, and some were hired by Indian merchants and traders. 

Foreigners arriving in India continued to be impressed by the opulence of the Moghul Empire, by the ceremonies, etiquette, music, poetry, paintings and art objects at the imperial court. This was the age of the great Moghul buildings – the Taj Mahal in xxx and xxx.

But despite its affluence, India, like Russia, had little of what could be described as a merchant fleet or navy. By tradition the Moghuls were horsemen. Seafaring was foreign to them. This and the more aggressive pursuit of technological advancement in Europe began to impact India in the early 18th century.

Despite India’s superiority in commerce, Moghul military science was not keeping pace with European developments, and the Moghul government hired European mercenaries as artillerymen -- men who were often deserters from European company garrisons and ships.


Aurangzeb -- xx to 1707

Akbar’s great grandson Aurangzeb further extended the Moghul Empire in the second half of the 17th century.  His constant wars with Hindu Maratthas in Central India and Muslim Shias in the South drained the treasury, his absences from Delhi led to administrative inertia, and his paranoid persecution of Hindus led to revolt. 

By the time Aurangzeb died in 1707 the Moghul Empire covered virtually all of India; however the centralized Moghul government from Delhi was weakening and successful semi-independent kingdoms paying only nominal homage to Delhi began to form around the periphery of the empire.

These semi independent states began hiring Europeans, particularly French and English mercenaries, and the locally born Europeans who were the offspring of European officers, soldiers and traders. 

The larger of these peripheral states such as Bengal and Oudh in the North and Hyderabad and Mysore in the South continued as wealthy, successful and quasi independent entities governing much as their previous Moghul and Hindu rulers had done.  However the smaller states began to fragment into even smaller fiefdoms and European mercenaries were drawn into the fighting.   

On to 17thcentury.htm



17th Century England -- Chrono
1608 -- Galileo Telescope
The earliest national 'guestimates' of the number of poor in England were by Gregory King during the 1690's. He estimated that 25% of the national population in 1694 was in poverty, with a further 25% on the margins of poverty.
1615 -- Thomas Roe gets license from Moghul Jehangir to trade in India
1620 --Mayflower reaches America
1642 -- Civil War in England
1649 -- Charles 1 beheaded
1651-- 2nd English Civil War.  Scottish prisoners transported to English settlements in America.
1665 -- Plague in London
Ireland...1652 and 1653 the plague, following the desolating wars had swept away whole counties, "so that one might travel twenty or thirty miles and not see a living creature". In September 1653, was issued by parliament the order for the great transplanting. Under penalty of death, no Irish man, woman or child was to be found east of the River Shannon, after the 1st May 1654.
1666 --Newton --Gravity
1668 -- HEIC gets Bombay
1690 Population of England and Scotland and Wales 7.5 million
The first successful British colony was Jamestown, Virginia, founded 1607. By 1664,  there was a continuous fringe of British colonies from the present South Carolina in the south to what is now New Hampshire.
Settlements were made in Gambia and on the Gold Coast of Africa 1618; in Bermuda 1609 and other islands of the West Indies; Jamaica was taken from Spain 1655; in Canada, Acadia (Nova Scotia) was secured from France Utrecht, which recognized Newfoundland and Hudson Bay (as well as Gibraltar in Europe) as British. New France (Quebec), Cape Breton Island, and Prince Edward Island became British as a result of the Seven Years' War 1756-63.
The West Indies was a very attractive target for colonization due to the huge commercial possibilities of the region, mainly the rum and sugar produced there using free slave labor. Between 1623 and 1632 English settlers occupied St Kitts, Barbados, St Croix (later lost), Nevis, Antigua, and Montserrat. Cromwell's forces took Jamaica from the Spaniards 1655.

17th Century England

In the 16th century England, under the Tudors Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, developed a centralized monarchy with an increasingly professional administration. 

By the end of the 17th century an administratively and militarily centralized state emerged in England.  The 17th century is the century of James I, Jamestown, Pilgrims to America, Civil War, Cromwell, the London Plague, Regicide, The Great Fire of London, the British slave trade, Irish genocide--and a reasonably straight forward commercial arrangement with India through the HEIC. 

The 17th century is also the century of the beginning of the dramatic gap between rich and poor in England.  The spoils of slavery based mercantilism created, and then enriched a land owning class which controlled Parliament until the second half of the 19th century.  Enclosure Acts threw peasants (yeoman) off land their families had (inefficiently) farmed for generations and set up the mass of landless peasants which would provide factory fodder for the Industrial revolution.  Enclosure Acts also created large farms which led to efficient farming and higher yield per acre.  Enclosure Acts also led to the sports of steeple chasing, fox hunting and, later show-jumping -- farmers had to have horses which could navigate hedges and fences at speed.           

Unlike India, where central Delhi power began weakening early in the 18th century with the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, England entered the 18th century with power firmly centralized in London, and with a massively profitable, slavery based Empire strung along the shores of the Atlantic.

In the 17th century Englishmen discovered that the wrath of God did not descend on them when they killed their King, Charles I.  They did however decide they liked republicanism even less than a monarchy.  The English compromise was to restore a weaker monarchy and to control the King's power through a "Parliament".

The new King, Charles II, was restored in 1660, and Parliament began to play a larger part in the government of England.      

There were continuing wars between England, Scotland and Ireland during this period.  Scotland eventually surrendered and the union of Scotland and England took place in 1701.  The Battle of Culloden in the 18th century (1746) is a seminal event in the annals of Great Britain.  The "ethnic cleansing" of Culloden led to the impoverishment of Scotland's nobility and accounted for the large number of once wealthy Scotsmen who went to India and other colonies to seek their fortunes.  The upper reaches of HEIC administration had a very large percentage of Scotsmen 

Ireland's tragic story continued in the 17th century.  Ireland was "occupied" by England and remained so for the next two hundred or so years.  The Irish fled Ireland in the thousands.  They went to America and the West Indies and England where they performed menial tasks and joined Britain's army and contributed a very large part of Britain's infantry.  The "Europeans" of the HEIC army in India was comprised of a large number of Irishmen followed later by a few Irish women.

England's wars against Scotland and Ireland were particularly brutal.  Genocidal is an accurate word to apply to the English treatment of the Irish and maybe to the Scots as well in this period.

The future ethnic cleansing and herding of native Americans off their land, was first carried out on Irishmen in Ireland and to a lesser degree on Scotsmen in Scotland.       

The British Army and Navy

The Puritan New Model Army started  by Cromwell laid the foundations for a permanent standing army.  England developed a (small) permanent army for the first time in the 17th century.  Despite its suspicion of the king, Parliament reluctantly authorized a  permanent army, reporting to the King for use against French inspired Catholic Stuart restoration.  This reluctance to finance a large standing army has been a consistent theme in English politics.  It has its roots initially in British poverty and in suspicion of royal power.

From the 17th century onwards British military strategy consistently stressed a strong navy and a very small standing army assisted by mercenaries and allies when necessary. 

The British used German Hessians in the American Civil war, and against Napoleon in 1815.  The use of an Indian army to expand Britain's Empire in the 19th century and the use of Indian soldiers in WW1 and WW II is in line with a long British tradition of using mercenaries.  The French complained (during WWI I think) that Britain's strategy was to fight "to the last drop of French blood".

England and Colonies and Slavery   

By the late 17th century colonies had been established up and down the East coast of North America and highly profitable plantations were active in the three way slave trade between England, Africa and the West Indies.  The rise of Bristol and Liverpool as major ports at this time was due to the Atlantic trade in slaves, prisoners, and starving Irishmen going to America as indentured servants. 

The practice of "Barbadoing" began in the 1660's.  The word arises from the practice of Judge Jeffries "the hanging judge" to give prisoners the choice of a one way ticket to Barbados or of hanging.

In 16xx Britain obtained a license to supply slaves to the Spanish colonies in the New World.  This slave trade and the rum and sugar trade with the slave plantations of the British West Indies (BWI) began to make Englishmen economically dependent on the African slave trade, and Britain became the world's largest slave trader.  The English coin the "Guinea" marks the celebration of the slave trade.  The slave trade was eventually made illegal for British ships in 1807 when the BWI became economically unimportant.  It was abolished in the British Empire in 1837.

English Social Life

 During the first half of this century, internally,  England was the same struggling rather poor country she had always been.  The upheavals of the civil war and wars with Ireland and Scotland drained the country.  There was a mini "ice age" to add to the miseries of the poor.  In fact poverty continued to increase throughout the century.  In the later part of the century money from the BWI slave plantations and the slave trade began pouring into the hands of England's mercantile class and Parliament became even more powerful.  The gap between rich and poor began to widen, and large scale emigration and deportation to America became a fact of life.

The advantages of colonies to mother countries as captive suppliers of raw material, captive markets for finished products and dumping grounds for the socially undesirable became obvious to Europeans.  The race for colonies was on. 

On to 18th_C_Britain.htm




Britain18th Century Chrono
Good simple summary on Industrial Revolution
Britain 1756 - 1815
Enclosure Acts


The 18th century saw revolutionary changes in Britain -- it was the beginning of the Agrarian and Industrial Revolution which took place in Europe and America.  From the second half of the 18th century onwards there is a wealth of documentation on Britain and India by Englishmen.  There is no such documentation on Britain and India by Indians.  Only now is the history of 18th century India being researched and written about in depth.  

Within Britain the early 18th century was much the same as the second half of the 17th century.  Major changes began to occur in the middle and second half of the 18th century.  Britain was now beginning to be wealthy and powerful.  Scotland had been conquered and joined with England in 1701, forming Great Britain.  The British navy was the strongest in the world.  The slave trade and the Atlantic coast colonies were thriving.  The "Navigation Act" of Britain in 1651 which mandated that all goods flowing to or coming from British colonies must be carried on British ships added to Britain's wealth. 

The American colonists propensity to use smuggled goods from the West Indies and thus avoid paying duties to the British government was a thorn in the side of the British government,  The squabble over duties went to the very heart of the British system of colonial financing, and was therefore not a minor matter. 

The same financing system together with land taxes and plunder, was used to an extreme later in India for massive wealth transfers from India to Britain.  Gandhi's "salt march to the sea" was the equivalent of the Boston Tea Party in popularizing the unpopularity of certain taxes.   .

Britain's government revenue was made up in large part by excise taxes and stamp duties from transshipment of colonial goods.   English companies and individuals made their profits principally on the three way trade between Britain, North America and Africa.  England became dependent on the profits from the slave trade.

As a result of the slave trade and the massive profits for individual Englishmen from the West Indies and India, the mercantile class in England experienced a sharp increase in wealth and began investing in land and peerages.  They rapidly became part of the “landed gentry” of England and formed a powerful lobby.  Most of the peerages purchased at this time were from merchants from the West Indies and later from India.

These nouveau riche “nabobs” were able to initiate and pass powerful “Enclosure” laws  which enclosed large areas of the common land of England creating a large class of newly poor landless peasants. 

The English countryside was transformed between 1760 and 1830 as the open-field system of cultivation gave way to compact farms and enclosed fields.  Despite massive increases in agricultural output, British per capita income fell in the period 1770-1820.  the rich got much richer and the poor became penniless.

Population of England and Wales
1700 5.8
1730 6
1760 6.6
1790 8.2
1820 12
1850 18
Industrial Revolution Children
Industrial Revolution--Housing
 Industrial  Revolution -- Weavers
Toynbee's excellent and very long (277K) essay on the Industrial Revolution
Britain after 1760

Industrial Revolution

The population of England and Wales nearly tripled in the century between 1750 and 1850 due to falling death rates.  After 1750 there was a surplus of labor which provided the fodder for the Industrial Revolution.   As an example, the population of Manchester increased by an order of magnitude in the two plus generations between 1760 and 1830 -- 17,000 to 180,000.  For another example, in 1800 more than 15% of the population of London were domestic servants. 

There is an excellent focused web site on the Industrial Revolution in England, at http://www.cottontimes.co.uk written recently by a teacher in England who lives in Lancashire.  The site covers a wide field of Lancashire Industrial Revolution history and I hope the entire site is available for a long time.  I have copied  three of his pages in the side bar on Children, Housing and Weavers.  The site is particularly interesting because the Lancashire textile industry and the Manchester Board of Trade were largely responsible for much of the famine in India's Deccan in the late 18th century, and for the destruction of the native Indian textile industry.  One of the huge crimes committed by the British government against India was the decimation of the Indian textile and agrarian industry by the protection and feeding of the Lancashire cotton industry.   Gandhi's "swadeshi" movement in the early 20th century was a move against the import of British textiles.  It had a significant impact on a Lancashire textile industry which was struggling mightily during the depression of the 1930's..   

Britain sacrificed at least two generations of its peasants and laborers during the  late 18th century through the mid 19th century.  The increase in population in England, together with the increasing gap between rich and poor, the demands of the Industrial Revolution, coupled with the rigors of the Napoleonic wars (1793 - 1815) and the paranoia about revolution in England, made England into a two society nation.

As an example of the plight of the poor, between 1790 and 1796 the price of bread rose from 54s  a qtr in 1791 to 90s in 1796.  This was in a period when per capita income was falling.  There were bread riots throughout the country.  The government under William Pitt passed several laws restricting civil liberties.  In May 1792  "seditious meetings" were outlawed.  In Dec 1792 Pitt told the militia to be ready for rebellion.  In 1794 Parliament suspended habeas corpus—indefinite jail without trial.  In 1795 the seditious meetings acts and the treasonable practices act allowed transportation to penal colonies for anyone who spoke against the king or tried for reforms.  In 1798 labor unions were outlawed by the “combination act".

The Penal Code (the "Bloody Code") in England was based heavily on its provisions for capital punishment. In 1688, the death penalty was the standard punishment for about fifty crimes, but by 1765, the number rose to around 165 crimes, and it finally reached 225 before the system of law was abolished in 1815.

Not only was the population of Britain exploding, the Industrial revolution was increasing productivity.  The textile industry provided the most jobs, and it was natural that new machinery would be applied to cost reduction there.   By 1812 the cost of making cotton yarn had dropped nine-tenths, and by 1800 the number of workers needed to turn wool into yarn had been reduced by four-fifths. And by 1840 the labor cost of making the best woolen cloth had fallen by at least half.

One of the many workers protests during this time was the Luddites in 1811.  The movement was crushed by the government using spies and provocateurs.

In addition to a new factory-owning bourgeoisie, the Industrial Revolution created a new working class. The new class of industrial workers included all the men, women, and children laboring in the textile mills, pottery works, and mines. Often skilled artisans found themselves degraded to routine process laborers as machines began to mass produce the products formerly made by hand.

This was the context in which Roberts and Blanchett chose to join the Army.  Roberts was probably a displaced agricultural laborer, and Blanchett was probably a skilled wool worker with no future.

On to 18th_century.htm


18th Century India

Europe and India to 1760

In the 18th century the population of Europe was in the region of 180 million, and the population of India was in the region of 200 million. 

In the early part of the 18th century the Moghul Empire in India was splitting into its constituent parts.  There were wars in India between Muslim and Hindu states, as there were wars in Europe between Protestant and Catholic states.   There were wars between  Muslim states in India as there were wars between Protestant states like Holland and Britain in Europe.  There were poor Indian states and there were very rich Indian states.  There was probably as much sense of "Indianness" as there was of "Europeanness"--meaning not much of either.  In the interstices between states and cities,  life was dangerous in both subcontinents.   

The richest Indian states were richer than the richest European sates.  The poorest Indian states were probably on a par with the poorest European states.  The peasants of rich states in India were probably better off than the peasants of rich states in Europe  

In other words there were similarities between the sub continent of India and the sub continent of Europe.  There were however critical differences between European "states" and Indian "states"

For the previous two hundred years, despite intra family squabbling, the Moghul Empire had maintained most of India in relative peace.  Akbar's strategy of including all religions in his government and not interfering with the internal affairs of subject Hindu states like the Rajputs and the Maharttas, was followed reasonably well by his heirs until Aurangzeb in the late 17th century. 

Revenue generation in the Moghul system was based on land taxes and on excise taxes--taxes on goods moving across certain boundaries.  The tax to be paid on land was assessed as a percentage of the crops generated, and was generally paid in specie--often in silver.  Taxes paid by the peasants generally were less than a third of the crop value.  The amount of taxation varied according to the state of the harvest with taxes decreasing in times of famine.  Assessment and collection was done by "zamindars" people who were appointed at the pleasure of the Emperor. These zamindars were not land owners--all land belonged to the Emperor--but they were extremely powerful and had other responsibilities like raising soldiers in time of war.   As long as the taxes were paid the central government in Delhi did not interfere with local customs.  Hindus had their own laws and court system, and Muslims had their separate law and court system.

The Moghul system could be loosely compared to a  Federal system of self governing states where responsibility for external affairs like war, were handled by a weak central government.  The system worked well for the generation of wealth in a stable rural system.  For most of the villages of India this was precisely the situation in the 16th, and 17th centuries, and had been thus for much of the subcontinent's history.  The system did not lead to militarily strong individual states.

For the states of Europe, however the situation was exactly the reverse.  Since the breakdown of the Holy Roman Empire and most particularly since the Reformation in the 15th century, Europe had been involved in a "European civil war".  At the end of the 17th century the winners of these wars were clearly France and Britain with Spain and Portugal beginning to lag behind.  The first three of these states had developed strong central governments.  The revenue generated by their colonies in the Americas gave them the luxury of developing bleeding edge military technology--particularly naval and gunnery systems with which to attack each other and to subdue their colonies in the Americas. 

In the middle of the 18th century a prosperous, relatively self sufficient group of militarily weak states on the subcontinent of India faced the two most militarily powerful and acquisitive states in the world--Britain and France.  In the succeeding 150 years the entire subcontinent of India would be conquered by Britain using mainly Indian forces

In 1756 the "Black Hole of Calcutta" incident ocurred when the young and inexperienced Nawab of Bengal, Siraj ud Daula, attacked the HEIC post in Calcutta.

The incident caused a paroyxsm  of mass patriotism in Britain, and Robert Clive was despatched from South India  to Bengal to avenge the slight.

The rival claimants to the Bengal "throne"--Mir Jaffar and Siraj ud Daulah were backed by Britain and France respectively.  The British prevailed in 1757, at the battle of Plassey, with the help of Hindu bankers (the Seths) who bribed the allies of Siraj not to fight. Plassey and the later battle at Buxar  were the defining events in the shift of effective power from Moghul Bengali Nawabs to HEIC. 


Britain and India after 1760

India in 1800 showing British acquisition dates.  Note Ajmer is shown

At the Peace of Paris (1763) that ended the Seven Years' War, the Anglo French conflicts in Europe, America and Asia were ended. So far as India was concerned, the following terms were agreed:

  1. the French agreed to use their stations at Pondicherry, Mahé and Chandernagore only as trading posts and not to maintain troops there
  2. the French recognised the British-supported rulers in the Carnatic and the Deccan
  3. the British East India Company controlled the provinces of the Carnatic (with its capital at Madras) and Bengal (capital, Calcutta).

In 1764 the native princes of Bengal and Oudh combined to try to eject the British but their revolt was crushed by Clive; the Company extended its influence over the province of Oudh. 

The year 1765 marks the real beginning of the British Empire in India as a territorial dominion. HEIC had overwhelmingly defeated Indian forces struggling for independence of European control. The company had become a government as well as a trader. However, the Company clung to the idea that it was still only a trading company and refused to admit that it had territorial responsibilities. Huge areas of India were acquired by the Company, not by the British government. Company officials were trained to buy and sell, to run warehouses and offices and to deal with book-keeping. They were not trained to govern. The British government gradually took over from the Company the right to govern vast provinces of India.

In 1767, Parliament passed laws in which

  • the British government regulated the amount of dividends the Company could pay to 10%
  •  the Company was required to pay £400,000 for two years to the Treasury
  •  if the dividend fell below 6% the Company was not obliged to pay the annual subsidy to the government 
  • it had to export a fixed amount of British goods to India.
  • the Company was allowed to keep its possessions.

Although the Company paid lucrative dividends, and its servants (the so-called "nabobs") took fortunes from India, its finances generally were unsound. The military and administrative costs, plus the debt to the Treasury imposed heavy burdens which a private company was unable to carry.

Between 1770 and 1772 famine devastated Eastern India due to the depredations of HEIC employees. In the region of 5 -10 million Indians died, and as a result the territorial revenues accruing to the company declined by £400,000. At the same time its military costs rose by over £160,000. This period also saw  economic stagnation and trade depression in Europe. These factors combined to bring the HEIC to near bankruptcy.  The Company's directors appealed to parliament for financial aid which led to the passing of the Tea Act in 1773. Although this was intended to assist the HEIC, it led to the Boston Tea Party and the start of the American War of Independence.

Parliament passed the Regulating Act for India (1773). This was the first step along the road to government control of India. A system was established whereby the government supervised the work of the HEIC but did not take power for itself. 

Warren Hastings

Hastings was the first Governor-General to be appointed after the 1773 Act. He had lived in India for most of his life and had worked for the HEIC from boyhood. He knew more about Indian life, culture and government than virtually anyone else in the Company.  He sent a British army across India to Bombay to fight the first Mahratta War (1775-82) against the Hindus of central India. The French had persuaded the Marathas that Britain would be unable to take firm action against them because of her involvement in the American War of Independence.

In 1780, Hastings sent a British army to fight Hyder Ali in South India.  In 1781 Ali was defeated, thus saving Madras and the Carnatic for the British. 

Parliament was suffering from the effects of the deteriorating situation in America and did nothing about India. The Regulating Act did not work well because the burden of responsibility between government and Company was obscure. Also there was a general suspicion that the immense patronage of the Company was twisted to serve the political ends of the government.

Hastings was the last Governor who believed that India was best governed by Indian rules.  His successor, Lord Cornwallis was convinced that India and Indians were corrupt and incompetent and that the only way to a successful government was to make India laws into a replica of English laws.

1783 India Bill

The 1783 Bill proposed a total separation of powers. The government would govern and the HEIC would deal with trade.  The proposals alienated the City and the "nabobs" who had returned to England.  A great political scandal ensued with accusations of political rigging.

The India Bill was used by the King (Mad George III) to bring down the Government. However, it was agreed by all that some regulation of the HEIC was essential.

Pitt the Younger was appointed as Prime Minister in December 1783 (the grandson of Diamond Pitt the one time Governor of Madras) and quickly introduced another India Bill.  HEIC co-operated with Pitt in putting forward a control scheme which only a year before they would have regarded as outrageous.

Pitts 1784 India Act took the British government another step along the road to control India. This system of dual control between Company and Crown was used for the next 75 years, until the Indian Mutiny (1857). After that, Parliament took over complete responsibility for India.

During the in fighting in London, Warren Hastings in Calcutta created a number of enemies in Parliament.  The chaos created by Clive's earlier behavior in Bengal gave everyone in London the chance to cry "foul".  Clive committed suicide, Warren Hastings resigned,  was impeached, and after a trial lasting 7 (!) years, was exonerated.  His treatment convinced many of the old line HEIC managers that the old days of British Indian  camaraderie were over.  Within 20 years all the experienced senior HEIC managers had been replaced by young men in the mold of Lord Wellesley.  Trading and commerce was dirty.  Military conquest was the order of the day.  By about 1820 the British were in full cry expanding their empire throughout Asia and Africa.  Empire was the siren song of the 19th Century.   

The first Governor-General under the new Act was Lord Cornwallis (the same Cornwallis who had surrendered at Yorktown in 1781). He held office between 1786 and 1793 representing the British government and answerable to the Board of Control. He was succeeded by the Marquis of Wellesley who was Governor General between 1797 and 1805.  Cornwallis and Wellesley although very different people, put in place the laws, practices and philosophies which were to set up the British in India as a "race apart".  After that, the post was held by Lord Minto (1807-13). 

In 1813, the  Marquis of Hastings (the Earl of Moira) was appointed Governor-General in 1813 and continued Wellesley's work of extending British power. He completed the destruction of the Mahrattas in the third Mahratta War (1817-19), annexed Poona and forced the Hindu chiefs to submit.  Nepal was more troublesome. It took an 18-month campaign (1814-16) in the Nepal mountains to force the Gurkhas to abandon their claims to "British" territory. Most of Nepal was left as an independent state and the Gurkhas have remained friendly to Britain ever since. By 1830 almost all India except for the Punjab and the "Northwest" was directly or indirectly under British control. 

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