The Conquest of Bengal (And example of hand out for sld)

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The Conquest of Bengal (And example of hand out for SLD)
Fertile land, a strong community of skilled artisans, and a major point of international trade all contribute to Bengal’s history of economic prosperity. While the division of the Mughal Empire into regional kingdoms is associated with the decline of the empire, Bengal remained prosperous during this period because of its relative independence from Delhi. This stemmed from Aurangzeb’s appointment of Murshid Quli Khan as diwan of Bengal, giving Khan free reign in the suba because of his success there, prompting him to take the title of both diwan and subadar. After 1713, officials from the center are no longer assigned to the area, giving the nawab the freedom to choose his staff from mansabdars to the local groups growing in power.

Murshid Quli’s reforms led to the rise of large zamindaris and the emergence of a strong banking and commercial class. Revenue collecting duties are increasingly being taken over by zamindars and banking firms. In the period from 1650-1750, the involvement of these bankers with the East India Company increases and many from the commercial class take positions of higher political power.

The Seven Years War breaks out in Europe in 1756. Tensions between the French and British play out on the Indian continent, with both sides eager to get rid of the other, realizing that success hinged on gaining the allegiance of the nawab. Clive manages to defeat the French hold in the Deccan, whose forces were led by Dupleix; the increasing presence of the English worries not only the French, but other nawabs. Despite this, Siraj-ud-daula concentrates his military largely in the western border of Bengal. In addition to the raids on Delhi by Ahmed Shah Abdali, there are also threats of raids from Marathas, and Afghans in the north. Through Clive’s work, he and the EIC appeared to benefiting in huge amounts, while stockholders in England saw little of the same success. Deeply involved in Bengal and the EIC, Clive also held political aspirations to parliament back in England. Many negative depictions of Clive arose in this period, suspicious of his activity in the finances of Bengal and the EIC.

Chaudhury’s research is the most recent, with his body of work owing to the emphasis of economics in Bengal. A large part of his study looks at the importance of economics and finance in Bengal, and concludes that the neither internal instability, nor the relationship between merchants and the EIC are the causes of the Plassey revolution, contrary to many previous studies. In this particular study, he is focusing on research done through the European archives, to prove the insidious nature of the British in Bengal, and illustrates that economic prosperity in Bengal declined under the EIC. Prior scholarship on the EIC in Bengal has tended to view Bengal increasingly weak under Siraj-ud-daula, because of his personal disposition and the willingness of others to conspire against him.

All of Spear’s sources are English only, and not only is he a Clivo-phile, he is also pro-British. In chapter ten of his book, Spear illustrates how well acquainted Clive was with the Indian free market and his ability to reap large profits. The author seems like he is attempting to exonerate Clive of any stigma, and play down (if not disprove altogether) his reputation as a corrupt cut-throat mercantilist. Spear gives the value of Clive’s jagir, and asks the reader not to forget that each jagirdar had a military duty to support a given number of soldiers in the name of the Mughal emperor, and Clive had no such obligation and was thus able to pocket the 30,000 Pounds yearly. Spear also describes the cultural practices of business men in Mughal India, which to the naked eye would seem like down-right greed, but actually follows closely with South Asian etiquette.


Darbar- the court of a prince or governor

Jagat Seth- lit. “Banker of the World”, a hereditary title given by the emperor to a family of highly influential bankers. They had enough financial clout to pay off the ransom of the Mughal emperor

Nazar- In Persian court ritual, a symbolic exchange of gifts upon appointment to a position, emphasizes both the official submission to the Emperor, but also the mutual reciprocity of the relationship between ruler and ruled

Parwana-an official letter with orders from the Mughal emperor


  1. According to Chaudhury, who are the main players in the events which led to Plassey? Is this consistent with Spear’s depiction? How does their understanding of Siraj-ud-daula emerge, what does this reflect in each author’s argument, and to what extent does is this effected by the sources they use?

  2. How does Chaudhury characterize Clive and his motivations? How are sources used to substantiate this?

  3. Spear is attempting a balanced study of Clive compared to previous accounts of this man, with this chapter dealing with his entrepreneurship. How does Spear establish his conclusions of Clive, and are they convincing?

  4. Both authors agree that there was a conspiracy. To what extent is evidence of this conspiracy included or discussed in both readings, and how does this reflect on the conclusions of these authors? To what extent do they corroborate one another?

  5. What are the comparative strengths and weaknesses in the accounts of these authors? Who is more convincing, and why?

  6. Think about why parts of this handout work, and what you might want to avoid for your own SLD session.

"Dupleix, Joseph-François." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2006. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 21 Apr. 2006 <>.
Karen Leonard, “The ‘Great Firm’ Theory of Decline of the Mughal Empire,” in Comparative

Studies in Society and History, Vol. 21, no. 2, (April 1979), 151-167.
Percival Spear, Master of Bengal: Clive and his India. London: Thames and Hudson, 1975.
Sushil Chaudhuri, The Prelude to Empire: Plassey Revolution of 1757, New Delhi: Manohar, 2000.
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