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Robert Clive (1725-1774)

September 10, 20201:00 pmLeave a Comment

 Given the current level of interest in Robert Clive and his statue in Shrewsbury, Shropshire Archives staff have been examining the range of material held about this important but controversial Shropshire figure.  


Robert Clive was born at Styche Hall, near Market Drayton in 1725.  At the age of eighteen he joined the East India Company as a clerk.  When in India, Clive became caught up in fighting between the British and the French. 

Robert Clive from a steel engraving by H. Wallis c 1800

In 1751 he led an attack on Arcot and held it in a seven week siege.  In 1757, he defeated the Nawab of Bengal at the Battle of Plassey.  Following this point, the East India Company took over the administration of large parts of the country, establishing direct military control.   

Clive married the sister of a friend, Margaret Maskelyne, and returned to England where he bought the Walcot estate at Lydbury North.  In further military campaigns in India, he acquired a huge fortune.  In 1760, at the age of 34, he was elected MP for Shrewsbury and in 1762, was made Baron Clive of Plassey.    

Towards the end of the decade the East India Company’s faced accusations of ruthless asset stripping.  The famine of Bengal, that lasted between 1769 and 1773 and killed around a third of the region’s population, was said to have largely been caused by the company’s policies. 

Popular opinion turned against the company and in 1773, Clive had to answer questions in Parliament examining his role in the administration in India and the way he had amassed such a large fortune.  In 1774, Clive died aged only 49 years of age and was believed to have committed suicide.  

In his own terms Clive succeeded by accumulating huge riches through ruthless means and securing his family’s position in society. His son married into the aristocracy.  

Sources at Shropshire Archives 

Original documents held at Shropshire Archives can provide material for further investigation into the life of Robert Clive and public opinion held about him, both during his lifetime and subsequently:  

These comprise both administrative estate material and personal papers. Clive’s correspondence relates to his pursuits in India as well as elections to Parliament. A significant number of items relate to Lord Clive’s Jaghire, a dispute over an annual pension of £30,000 he received from the Nawab of Bengal.

Papers document the sale of Walcot Hall to Robert Clive in 1764. They show Clive’s consolidation of his wealth and creation of a political powerbase. Sections D3651/B/1, D3651/B/1a and D3651/2 are most useful.

Wood engraving from Illustrated London News of the Statue to Lord Clive, 1860

Although public opinion had turned against Clive at the end of his life, 100 years after the Battle of Plassey, dignitaries of Shrewsbury began to debate erecting a statue to him.   A Quarter Sessions committee was set up, 1857-1861 and records include committee minutes and posters of public support. 

  • Newspaper and local studies books and articles 

Shropshire Archives holds over 50 specific articles and books on Robert Clive from the 18th century to the modern day as well as numerous articles in local newspapers.  These reflect how opinions of him have changed over time.   You can find these by searching our online catalogue.

As you can see there is plenty of scope for further research!

Written by sarahd

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