CLIVE, Robert (1725-74), of Styche Hall, nr. Market Drayton, Salop; subsequently of Walcot Park, Salop; Claremont, Surr.; and Oakley Park, Salop

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1754 - 24 Mar. 1755
1761 - 22 Nov. 1774

Family and Education

b. 29 Sept. 1725, 1st s. of Richard Clive. educ. Lostock, Cheshire; Market Drayton; Merchant Taylors’, London; Hemel Hempstead, Herts. m. 18 Feb. 1753, at Fort St. George, Margaret, da. of Edmund Maskelyne, 2s. 2da.  cr. Baron Clive of Plassey [I] 15 Mar. 1762; K.B. 24 Apr. 1764.

Offices Held

Writer, E.I. Co. at Fort St. George 1742; ensign in their military service 1747; returned to civil establishment 1749; re-entered military service with brevet rank of capt. 1751; left for England 23 Mar. 1753; appointed 25 Mar. 1755 to the council of Fort St. George, and dep. gov. of Fort St. David, with rank of lt.-col.; sailed for India 23 Apr. 1755; appointed to command of expedition to recapture Calcutta 21 Sept. 1756; gov. Bengal 1758-60. Having resigned the service sailed for England 21 Feb. 1760, arriving 9 July 1760. Gov. and c.-in-c. Bengal 1764-7, with rank of maj.-gen. in the Company’s service; left England 4 June 1764, arriving Bengal 3 May 1765; left Bengal 29 Jan. 1767, arriving in England 14 July 1767. Ld. lt. Salop, Mont. 1772- d.


Robert Clive arrived at Madras in 1743 at the age of 17, poor, awkward, and without connexions. In 1760 when he resigned the Company’s service he had by his exploits as a soldier and administrator assured its predominance in India over its European rivals, played a big part in consolidating its influence in the Carnatic, and laid the basis of its rule in Bengal. He had also made the first and greatest of the large private fortunes acquired by the Company’s servants in India, and his actions and example had set in train the events which were to lead to the gradual assumption by the state of responsibilities become too great for a trading company.

The chance to show his natural military skill was first given him by the struggles between the French and English Companies in the Carnatic—before 1749 as part of the war between England and France, after that, nominally at least, as allies of Indian rulers competing for power. His heroic defence of Arcot in 1751 and his share in the siege of Trichinopoly in 1752 won him a high military reputation, which his return to England in 1753, on grounds of health, enabled him to exploit. He had acquired by private trade, his military ‘batta’, and prize money, a moderate fortune which he used to establish his family in comfort, and he himself lived in some style. Though he had every intention of returning ultimately to India, in 1754 he stood for Mitchell on the Scawen interest (on which his cousin Edward Clive had sat 1741-51). He was returned but unseated on petition, 24 Mar. 1755, after long and exceedingly bitter wrangles in the House. A proposal that he should stand for Dover was not proceeded with.1

His return to India in 1755 was owing to the imminence of war between Britain and France, and the knowledge that its outbreak would be followed by hostilities in India. Royal land and naval forces had already been sent to strengthen the Company’s arms; and the sudden assault on the Company’s factories and capture of Calcutta by Siraj-ud-daula, the new Nawab of Bengal, gave him the opportunities he needed. Placed by the Government of Fort St. George in command of a strong force to retrieve the situation in Bengal, he succeeded in recapturing Calcutta, bringing the Nawab to terms, and in seizing Chandernagore, the chief French stronghold in Bengal. Evidence that Siraj-ud-daula was intriguing with the French led him to foment a conspiracy to replace him by Mir Jafar, and on 23 June 1757 Clive routed Siraj-ud-daula’s forces at Plassey and recognized Mir Jafar as Nawab. In 1758 the council of the Bengal presidency invited Clive to act as governor, and in 1759 he broke the power of the Dutch Company in Bengal by defeating their forces near Chinsura.

Mir Jafar confirmed the Company’s rights in Bengal, and made lavish gifts to Clive and others concerned in the revolution. By the time Clive left India he had acquired a fortune of nearly £300,000, which he remitted to his attorneys in England,2 and in 1759 he was granted in addition by the Mogul a ‘jagir’ or quit-rent for an office of honour of some £27,000 p.a. to be paid him by the Nawab.

In 1760 Clive left India, as he believed, for ever and had ambitious though ill-defined plans for his ‘future power’, his ‘future grandeur’3 in his native land. Clive’s first claim was for a peerage and recognition by the Crown. He was discontented that nothing was done for him until 1762 when the Duke of Newcastle procured him an Irish barony, with which he was by no means satisfied. He wrote to Henry Vansittart that had he acquired a larger fortune, ‘I might have been an English Earl with a Blue Ribbon, instead of an Irish Peer (with the promise of a Red one). However the receipt of the jagir money for a few years will do great things.’4 A small band of relatives and friends from India, including John Walsh, Luke Scrafton, his father Richard Clive, his cousin George Clive, his brother-in-law Edmund Maskelyne, and after 1764 his secretary Henry Strachey, helped him in managing his affairs; his father, his cousin Sir Edward Clive, William Belchier, and William Smyth King acted as his attorneys in subscribing on his behalf £78,750 for Government stock in January and £73,000 in Feb.-Mar. 1759, transferring the stock to his name in March 1761 (he sold most of it in March 1763);5 John Walsh, Luke Scrafton, and his father later acted as his attorneys for the management of his considerable holdings of East India stock,6 and he was always well served by them and others.

When in June 1759 Robert More, M.P. for Shrewsbury, declined to stand again at the general election, Clive’s candidature was declared by his father with the support of Lord Powis, leader of the Shropshire Whigs, and was endorsed by the corporation in spite of Lord Bath’s exertions on behalf of his son Lord Pulteney, heir presumptive to very considerable estates in Shropshire. For a year Bath persisted, but after Clive’s arrival in England Pulteney ‘had really no chance of success’,7 and Bath withdrew his candidature.8 Clive was returned unopposed; while his father, whom Powis, as a compliment to Clive, had returned for Montgomery in November 1759, was re-elected in 1761, and John Walsh secured for himself a seat at Worcester. This was the nucleus of a Clive group in Parliament, added to in 1763 when Clive bought at the inflated price of £92,000 Walcot Park, and thereby obtained the best interest at Bishop’s Castle, the one notoriously venal borough in Shropshire; at a by-election in September he returned for it his cousin George Clive. Before the next general election his hold on Bishop’s Castle was rendered complete by the purchase of two other adjoining estates, so that in 1768 and afterwards Clive nominated to both seats there; and the borough was his first and most lasting acquisition.

Early in his parliamentary career Clive had taken as a maxim ‘No more struggles against the ministry; I choose to be with them’.9 Nevertheless he did not think this aim inconsistent with a position of considerable political independence, and it was only for short periods, when his private needs were particularly urgent, that he was ever closely associated with the ministry of the day. After Newcastle had obtained the Irish peerage for him, Clive enrolled himself among his followers, rejecting Henry Fox’s plea to support the new Administration in the debates on the peace preliminaries,10 and voting with the minority on 1 and 9 Dec. 1762. The following year, however, the attack made on his ‘jagir’ by his enemies in the Company under the leadership of Laurence Sulivan led him to make a volte face and to offer his support to George Grenville in return for Grenville’s good offices with the East India Company. ‘My poor services, such as they are’, Clive promised him, ‘shall be dedicated for the rest of my days to the King, and my obligations to you always acknowledged, whether in or out of power.’11 The Grenville Administration served him well, and while he was again abroad his parliamentary supporters considered themselves pledged to Grenville’s support.12 Still, on the fall of that Administration in July 1765, John Walsh, who was managing the political affairs of the Clive group, held that he was personally bound to Grenville but not to his allies in opposition; he therefore advocated a policy of ‘independency’,13 but took pains to keep on good terms with first the Rockingham and then the Chatham Administration.14

In returning to Bengal in 1764 as governor and commander-in-chief Clive was largely moved by the disputes in which he was involved, by the need to protect his wealth against his enemies, and one of the results of his return was his success in securing the continuation of the ‘jagir’ for twenty years. He brought some order into the disorganized civil and military administration of Bengal (at the cost of raising up against himself new and dangerous enemies in the Company, in particular the formidable Johnstone family), and, obtaining a grant from the Mogul of the ‘diwani’ or financial administration of Bengal, he set up the so-called dual system of government which remained in force until superseded by the early reforms of Warren Hastings. The new grant caused still further disorganization in the East India Company by leading to violent speculation in its funds, in which Clive took part through his attorneys.

With the Parliament of 1761 in its seventh year, Clive’s return to England in July 1767 produced a spate of election schemes: there seemed no need for him and his friends to hunt for boroughs—his fabulous wealth attracted offers from all over the country. A fortnight after his return he was invited to nominate one or two candidates for Colchester.15 When in November he was negotiating a lease of Ball’s Park, a mile from Hertford, people there were impatient to know whom he would ‘recommend to represent them’.16 He was approached through his father by a group of voters at Newcastle-under-Lyme—‘if you refuse ... as I believe you will’, wrote Richard Clive on 23 Nov., ‘it may serve as a compliment to Lord Gower’. At Leicester there was ‘a warm contest and much money spent’, and Lord Stamford’s agent told George Clive that Booth Grey would be glad to join any candidate recommended by Clive, it being thought ‘that your appearance quells every opposition’.17

‘I have had three seats offered me for £7,000 which were engaged for Charles Townshend’, wrote George Clive on 1 Oct. (Townshend had died on 4 Sept.). Names were withheld for some time by the intermediaries: the manager was the notorious Theobald Taaffe,18 and the boroughs were Helston and Grampound; and the negotiation was broken off at the end of November when Taaffe insisted on handling the money before delivering the goods.19

On 26 Nov. Walsh wrote to Clive:

I imagine a perpetuity like mine at Pontefract will not be disagreeable to you. I am in close pursuit of one and for you, though it is a purchase I would like myself. Perfect secrecy on this head is necessary.

And the name of that ‘perpetuity’ nowhere appears.

Walsh also backed the schemes which Chase Price was pressing on Clive. These, as Price proved by returning Carnac for Leominster and himself for Radnorshire,20 were perfectly feasible but were turned down by Clive, probably because they would have antagonized some of the leading men in mid-Wales and the border counties, including Lord Powis; and Clive, a very sick man, was averse to making new enemies.

In the end, besides defending his own seat at Shrewsbury, Clive actively engaged in two contests only: he supported the candidature of his brother-in-law Edmund Maskelyne at Cricklade, which was, however, abandoned a few days before the poll;21 and pursuing a feud which originated at East India House, he unsuccessfully backed Robert Mackintosh in Perth Burghs against George Dempster, canvassing friends in his favour,22 and helping him financially.23 Dempster in turn reconnoitred Shrewsbury for William (Johnstone) Pulteney, when in March 1768 he decided to stand against Clive.24 Clive stood jointly with Noel Hill, and was returned after a contest from which he was absent, having gone abroad for reasons of health. Thus in the end only three Members were added to the Clive group in 1768: John Carnac on Chase Price’s interest at Leominster; Henry Strachey on Walsh’s interest at Pontefract; and William Clive on Lord Clive’s own interest at Bishop’s Castle—a surprisingly meagre result of so much activity backed by such vast resources.

In March 1768, paying £43,000, Walsh bought for Clive V. Morris’s Usk estate in Monmouthshire which carried considerable influence in the by-election of July 1771 but would not have sufficed to establish a new interest in the county. Some time after 1768 Clive bought Thomas Pitt’s Okehampton estate, and returned in 1774 Wedderburn for the seat it carried (it was sold in 1778 to Lord Spencer); and further Oakley Park from Lord Powis with electoral influence at Ludlow. This is about the sum total of the parliamentary interests he acquired.

The personal friendship and trust which grew up between him and George Grenville after his return to England, and his annoyance with the Government over its East Indian policy led Clive into the parliamentary Opposition with which, by 1769, he was fully identified. On 9 May 1769 he was present at the dinner of Opposition Members at the Thatched House Tavern. When Alexander Wedderburn had to give up his seat at Richmond on account of the active part he took on the Middlesex election, Clive let Grenville know that he would return him for Bishop’s Castle,25 and did so on 16 Jan. 1770; and in the debate on the Address, 9 Jan. 1770, though Clive himself was absent, George Clive, Henry Strachey, and John Walsh voted in the minority. On 27 Feb. 1769 he himself made a vigorous and wide-ranging speech in opposition to the financial agreement concluded that year between the ministry and the Company.26

The death of Grenville on 13 Nov. 1770 left Clive without a leader, but though Grenville’s followers, including Wedderburn (with whom Clive’s relations had become increasingly close), soon made their terms with Administration, he himself received coldly tentative approaches made by the North Administration through Wedderburn in 1771. It was the events of 1772 that brought him into their fold. His new enemies in the Company joined with his old ones had for some time been encouraging attacks in the press against him and attributing to his second government of Bengal the economic and administrative disorders that continued to mount there. Early in 1772 the court of directors took up at their demand some charges against him. During a debate in the Commons, 30 Mar. 1772, Clive took the offensive and defended himself against these charges while vigorously attacking his opponents and the court of directors. The result was the setting up of a select committee of the House under the chairmanship of Colonel Burgoyne of which Clive and Henry Strachey were members but which, under the influence of Clive’s enemies, began an investigation of his Indian career and that of other Company servants who had worked with him. The investigation, which threatened the confiscation of almost the whole of his fortune, aroused widespread and hostile interest. In the circumstances the value of good relations with the ministry became obvious, and in September 1772 Clive’s appointment as lord lieutenant of Shropshire was generally and correctly taken as an indication that they had come to terms.27 North stated on this occasion that ‘an opportunity of manifesting my respect to his merit and my earnest desire of being well with him is what I have long wished to find’.28 Though the minister studiously avoided reference to East Indian affairs in his talks with Clive, the results were satisfactory to both sides. Clive used his interest in the East India Company to help the ministry to achieve the reforms in the Company which accompanied the passing of the Regulating Act of 1773, and when the chairman of the select committee brought charges against Clive in the House of Commons on 19-21 May 1773, the ministry made no attempt to present a united front, and both North and the King were relieved when he was exonerated though North had divided against him.29 In these debates Clive made several effective fighting speeches in his own defence, ending with a short speech on the night of 21 May, when he retired from the House begging them that ‘when they come to decide upon my honour, they should not forget their own’.30 Horace Walpole said of his defence that ‘with the frankness of Julius Caesar he promised himself an escape like Verres’.31

For the few remaining months of his life Clive continued to support Administration though he by no means fully approved of the Regulating Act, and his influence and that of his circle in indoctrinating with their views on East India matters Philip Francis, appointed under the Act a member of the governor-general’s council, may be said to have played a part in making the working of the Act impossible. Besides Clive’s immediate followers certain ‘nabobs’ and others concerned with him in East India affairs tended to vote with him, but their numbers were not large. In 1774 Strachey considered the second seat at Worcester, in which Thomas Bates Rous had in 1773 tried to succeed Henry Crabb Boulton, as ‘a great part of our parliamentary weight’, and feared its loss when Rous’s election being voided on petition, he refused for the moment to stand again, especially if ‘Mr. Walsh should determine not to stand at the next election’.32 Nevertheless he considered Clive’s influence in Parliament to be considerable; and sharing the belief that the operation of Grenville’s Act in the next election ‘would prevent either King or minister from making the next Parliament so that those who have most members under their banner will command what they please’, he wrote to Clive:

The only object you have in life [an English peerage] must be pushed for by weight at the next general election. It will certainly be the last effort, and most probably will succeed at that period.

But by this time Clive’s health and spirits were undermined by anxiety and the excessive medical use of opium. His death on 22 Nov. 1774, before the new Parliament met, was by his own hand.

Clive’s achievements in India were those of a soldier and man of action; his successes as an administrator were due rather to daemonic energy and force of character than to grasp of long-range policy, but his part in the creation of British India was a great one. Ruthless and self-seeking, autocratic and violent, but capable of great exertion and fearless courage when set on a task, and of steady loyalty to those who befriended or served him, his qualities were more suited for the troubled scene in India in which he rose to fame, than to the political world of 18th century England. To this temperamental difficulties were added, moreover, the suspicions stimulated by his sudden and doubtfully gained wealth, and the enmities which he had aroused during his Indian career and in the Company after his return. For these reasons his part in the politics of the East India Company was on the whole damaging rather than useful, and in national politics his considerable talents and influence were confined almost wholly to the negative purpose of protecting his own position.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Authors: Lucy S. Sutherland / Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Rich. Clive to Rob. Clive, 18 Apr. 1755, Sir G. W. Forrest, Life of Clive, i. 238.
  • 2. Sir J. Malcolm, Life of Clive, ii. 187.
  • 3. Clive to J. Pybus, 27 Feb. 1762, Malcolm, ii. 195.
  • 4. 3 Feb. 1762, Clive mss.
  • 5. Bank of England recs.
  • 6. Sutherland, E. I. Co. in 18th Cent. Politics, 101-2.
  • 7. Powis to Newcastle, 25 Sept. 1760, Add. 32912, ff. 106-7.
  • 8. For the Shrewsbury election of 1761 see Namier, Structure, 257-68.
  • 9. Robert to Rich. Clive, 19 Aug. 1757, Forrest, ii. 36.
  • 10. Namier, Structure, 288-9.
  • 11. Grenville Pprs. ii. 183.
  • 12. Malcolm, ii. 243-4.
  • 13. Sutherland, 134, n. 3.
  • 14. Malcolm, iii. 190.
  • 15. John Cornel to Ld. Clive, 29 July 1767; all the following letters, unless otherwise marked, are to Ld. Clive and in the Clive mss.
  • 16. Geo. Clive, 11 and 24 Nov.
  • 17. Geo. Clive, 24 Nov.; see also SHIFFNER, Henry.
  • 18. For Taaffe see TOWNSHEND, Hon. Charles.
  • 19. On these negotiations see letters from G. Clive, 1, 17, 20, 24 Oct. and 13 Nov.; from Chase Price, 21 Oct.; from John Walsh, 26 Nov. and 1 Dec.; from T. Ryder and H. Mountfort, Taaffe’s attorneys, 26, 27, 29 Nov.; from Taaffe himself, 28 Nov.
  • 20. See PRICE, Chase.
  • 21. For an account of Maskelyne’s candidature see J. A. Cannon, ‘Parlty. Rep. Six Wilts. Boroughs’ (Bristol Univ. Ph.D. thesis), i. 55-61.
  • 22. See e.g., letters to Clive from Lord Dupplin, 17 Sept., P. Craufurd, 23 Sept.; also from A. Austin, 8 and 16 Oct.
  • 23. Walsh to Clive, 22 Apr. 1768; James Fergusson, Letters of G. Dempster, 65-68.
  • 24. Dr. W. Adams to Rich. Clive, 9 Mar. 1768.
  • 25. Chatham Corresp. iii. 358 n.
  • 26. Cavendish’s Debates, i. 260.
  • 27. Burke to Rockingham, 29 Oct. 1772.
  • 28. North to Wedderburn, 18 Sept. 1772, Forrest, ii. 395.
  • 29. Sutherland, 255-8.
  • 30. Parlty. Hist. xvii. 879.
  • 31. Last Jnls. i. 198.
  • 32. 8 Feb. 1774, Strachey mss.