The old trading routes between the East and the West came under Turkish control after the Ottoman conquest of Asia Minor and the capture of Constantinople in 1453. Moreover, the merchants of Venice and Genoa monopolised the trade between Europe and Asia and refused to let the new nation states of Western Europe, particularly Spain and Portugal, have any share in the trade through these old routes.

The West European states and” merchants therefore began to search for new and safer sea routes to India and the Spice Islands in Indonesia, then known as the East Indies. They were well-equipped to do so, as great advances in ship-building and the science of navigation had taken place during the 15th century. Moreover, the Renaissance had generated a great spirit of adventure among the people of Western Europe.

Eventually, the new sea route via the Cape of Good Hope was discovered by Vasco da Gama in 1498. Thereafter, many trading companies came to India and established their trading centres.

They entered India as traders at the outset but by the passage of time indulged in the politics of India and finally established their colonies. The commercial rivalry among the European powers led to political rivalry. Ultimately, the British succeeded in establishing their rule India.


Portugese were the first to come to India, the new sea route viz, the Cape Route, was discovered by Vasco da Gama. He reached the port of Calicut on the 17th May, 1498 and was received warmly by the Hindu ruler of Calicut (known by the title of Zamorin).

Pedro Alvarez Cabral arrived in 1500 and Vasco da Gama also made a second trip in 1502. They established trading stations at Calicut, Cannanore and Cochin. The first governor of the Portuguese in India was Francis de Almeida. Later in 1509 Albuquerque was made the governor of the Portuguese territories in India. In 1510, he captured Goa from the ruler of Bijapur. Thereafter, Goa became the capital of the Portuguese settlements in India.

Albuquerque captured Malacca and Ceylon. He also built a fort at Calicut. He encouraged his countrymen to marry Indian women. Albuquerque died in 1515 leaving the Portuguese as the strongest naval power in India.

The successors of Albuquerque established Portuguese settlements at Daman, Salsette and Bombay on the west coast and at San Thome near Madras and Hugli in Bengal on the east coast.  However, the Portuguese power declined in India by the end of the sixteenth century. They lost all their possessions in India except Goa, Diu and Daman in the next century.


The Portuguese monopoly of the Indian Ocean remained unbroken till 1595 but gradually lost many of the her settlements in India. Shah Jahan captured Hugli in 1632. In 1661, the king of Portugal gave Bombay as dowry to Charles II of England when he married Catherine of Braganza, the sister of Portuguese king.

The Marathas captured Salsette and Bassein in 1739. In the end the Portuguese were left only with Goa, Diu and Daman, which they retained till 1961. The decline of Portuguese power in India was due to several internal and external factors.


  1. The Portuguese failed to evolve an efficient system of administration.
  2. Their religious intolerance provoked the hostility of the Indian rulers and the people.
  • Their illicit practises in trade went against them, one of which was the Cartaze system by which every Indian ship sailing to a destination not reserved by the Portuguese for their own trade had to buy passes from the Portuguese Viceroy to avoid seizures and confiscation of its merchandise as contraband.
  1. The discovery of Brazil drew the colonizing activities of Portugal to the west.
  2. The Portuguese failed to compete successfully with the other European companies.


The Dutch East India Company was established in 1602 by a charter of the Dutch Parliament.The merchants of this company came to India and established their settlements at Masulipattinam, Pulicat, Surat, Karaikal, Nagapattinam, Chinsura and Kasimbazar. In the seventeenth century they won over the Portuguese and emerged the most dominant power in European trade in the East.

Pulicat was their main centre in India and later it was replaced by Nagapattinam. In the middle of the seventeenth century the English began to emerge as a big colonial power. Beginning of rivalry between the Dutch and the English in the middle of the 17th century; decline of the Dutch power in India by the beginning of the 18th century, their final collapse with their defeat by the English was marked by the battle of Bedara in 1759.



The English East India Company was founded by a royal charter on 31 December 1600, as a joint stock company of London merchants uniting to combat Dutch competition in Eastern trade. It was given monopoly of all trade from England to the East and was permitted, even in an age dominated by mercantilist ideas, to carry bullion out of the country to finance its trade. It was not, however, given any agenda at that time to carry on conquest or colonisation. The Company formally started trading in India from 1613 after settling scores with the Portuguese, who had arrived at the scene earlier.

A farman from Mughal emperor Jahangir gave them permission to establish their factories or warehouses in India, the first factory being set up in Surat in the western coast. In 1617 Jahangir received Sir Thomas Roe as a resident English envoy in his court. This was the modest beginning from where the Company gradually extended its trading activities to other parts of India, with Bombay, Calcutta and Madras emerging by the end of the seventeenth century as three major centres of its activities. Political expansion started from the middle of the eighteenth century, and within hundred years almost the whole of India was under its control.


  • Formation of the French East India Company by Colbert under state patronage
  • Establishment of the first French factory at Surat by Francois Caron in 1663.
  • Establishment of a factory at Masulipatnam by Maracara in 1669.
  • Acquisition of a small village from the Muslim Governor of Valikondapuram by Francois Martin in 1673. The village developed into Pondicherry and its first governor was Francois Martin.
  • Acquisition of Chandranagore in Bengal from the Mughal Governor (1690).
  • Arrival of Dupleix as French Governor in India in 1742 and the beginning of the Anglo-French conflict (Carnatic Wars).




  • The War of the Austrian Succession broke out in Europe in 1740. In this war Britain and France joined opposite camps. As a result the English and the French Companies also became engulfed in the war. Thus the First Carnatic War was started.
  • At first a British fleet under Barnett captured some French ships and even endangered Pondicherry. Dupleix, the Governor General of French, then sent an appeal to La Bourdonnais, governor of Mauritius, to assist him with his fleet. With the help of this fleet Dupleix kept Madras under his control.
  • But soon differences flared up between Dupleix and Bourdonnais. La Bourdonnais went back with his fleet. The English then made a naval attack on Pondicherry but was repulsed with heavy loss.
  • Anwaruddin, the Nawab of Carnatic, did not like these hostilities in his kingdom. The English appealed to him to come to their rescue. Responding to their request the Nawab asked the French to quit Madras.
  • Dupleix at first tried to appease him by saying that he would hand over Madras to the Nawab at an appropriate time. But the Nawab was not satisfied with this vague reply. He sent a large army to fight against the French.
  • But to the surprise of all, a handful of French army and some properly trained Indian soldiers routed Anwarud­din’s vast army at Mylapore near Thomas in 1746. This exposed the military weakness of the Indian rulers. It also revealed the helplessness of an Indian army against a small body of properly trained European soldiers.
  • The war in Europe came to an end in 1748 after the signing of the treaty at a place Aix-La-Chapelle between the European powers. According to the provisions of the treaty war in India was brought to an end and Madras was returned to the English East India Company.


  • Dupleix the France Governor General at Pondicherry was the 1st among European governor to evolve a strategy of using the well-disciplined modern French army to take territorial and monetary advantage of the mutual quarrels of the Indian princes by supporting against the other.
  • In 1748, political situation in the Carnatic & Hyderabad gave Dupleix to try out his strategy. Disputes were going on at two capitals in the south for the possession of the throne. In 1748 the Nizam of Hyderabad Asaf Jah died. For his empty throne quarrel broke out between his son Nasir Jung and grandson Muzaffar Jang. Dupleix took up the cause of Muzaffar Jang and the English therefore supported Nasir Jang. Similarly at Arcot the capital of Carnatic there started an alarming dispute between the ruling Nawab Anwar-ud-din and another claimant Chanda Sahib.
  • Dupleix helped Chanda Sahib and thus the English came to the side of Anwar-ud-din. Thus the two European powers took up opposite sides in a contest for throne in Southern India. In the name of their respective candidates they began their war which is famous as the Second Anglo-French War or the Second Carnatic war.
  • In the first phase of the war, success was with the French. The combined army of Dupleix and Chanda Sahib defeated and killed Anwar-ud-din in the Battle of Ambar in 1749 and Chanda Sahib was made the Nawab of Carnatic. Muhammad Ali the son of dead Nawab Anwar-ud-din fled and took shelter inside the fort of Trichinopoly. When the English Company’s hopes were almost lost in the South and everybody was in despair, Robert Clive, the outstanding intelligent man saved the situation.
  • He saw that the French soldiers and Chanda Sahib were busy at Trichinopoly to destroy Muhammad Ali whereas Chanda Sahib’s capital Arcot remained unprotected, he therefore proposed that the English soldiers should better capture the city of Arcot. He attacked Arcot and captured it. Clive next attacked Trichinopoly and defeated Chanda Sahib and the French. Mahammad Ali was rescued and brought to Arcot and was made the Nawab there in 1752. Chanda Sahib was killed. That became a terrible blow to French prestige. On the other hand the whole Carnatic region and the Nawab remained under the influence of the English.
  • At Hyderabad too the diplomacy of Dupleix became successful. Through treachery he got Nasir Jang killed and raised Muzaffar Jang to the throne. When Muzaffar was killed within a short time by some of his enemies Dupleix placed Salabat Jang over the throne. To protect him General Bussy was placed at Hyderabad with a French army. But this success in Hyderabad was equally failed in the Carnatic front by Clive. Dupleix’s fall became Clive’s opportunity. At this critical time the Government of France directed Dupleix to return in 1754. It shattered the hope of Dupleix as much as it shattered the French cause. The Treaty of Pondicherry was signed in 1754 and the second Carnatic war came to an end.


Dupleix had gradually formulated a definite policy of “building up French influence and domination by calculated interference in the native politics”. The first round of the Anglo- French conflict showed “Dupleix as ‘a diplomat and an organiser’. He displayed great talents as an “organiser and a diplomatist”. “He was the first European to exploit the weakness of the Indian military science in order to get political and territorial gains in India.”

Macaulay rightly credits him as the first man that saw the possibi­lity to find an empire on the ruins of the Mughal empire, and in fact, for a time the Nizam of the Deccan, the Nawab of Arcot and the Northern Sarkars were under the French influence. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle marked the zenith of his power.

Dupleix’s imperious temperament had made him unsuited for working with equals. His quarrel with La Bourdonnais which compelled the latter to withdraw from the Indian seas was of disas­trous consequence to the strength and security of the French.

Dupleix had taken upon himself too much responsibility and even did not keep the home government informed of his plans and activities. Many facts have recently come to light which show that he kept the authorities at home informed of his victories but concealing his defeats. His despatches never even mentioned cap­ture of Arcot. Naturally, there was a communication gap which at least reflected the Company’s and the home authorities’ attitude towards him.

Dupleix failure was also due to the incredible folly and incompetence of his generals which made him lose the prize which was almost in his grip.

But it is agreed on all hands that the main and the immediate cause of Dupleix’s failure was the absence of appreciation of the merits of his plan and policy and lack of support and assistance from home.

The contention that Dupleix did not keep the home government and the company informed of his plans and activities which was responsible for the attitude of the home government and the Company towards him only “reveals the inherent conviction of Dupleix, justified in a large measure by later events, that the government of France were either unwilling or unable to devote serious attention to the Indian issues and were always apt to view them as minor and subsidiary parts of their general policy”. Dupleix, therefore, thought of raising revenue in India and in (hat attempt he risked all his accumulated fortunes.

Martineau on the other hand holds Dupleix himself responsible for his failure. He emphasises Dupleix’s wrong judgment and blind obstinacy as the causes of his failure. He remarks, “No doubt at the beginning, the error was legitimate, but in the later stage, when came an unending series of misfortunes and disillusions, it became evident that the substance was being sacrificed for the shadow. The blindness or the obstinacy of Dupleix was the principal cause of his fall”.

In spite of divergence of opinion about the nature, practicability of his political conceptions and the causes of his fall, the fact remains that “he had indicated a new way which was to lead one day to the establishment of European domination in India”.

“But in spite of his final failure Dupleix”, observes P. E. Roberts, “is a striking and brilliant figure in Indian History’. He is rightly regarded as one of the greatest of Frenchmen. In grandness of his policy, in boundless extent of his conception he was the forerunner and unconsciously perhaps the inspirer of his ruins, the English. The French never had an officer more desirous, or more capable, of extending their reputation and power.

At a time when Europeans, without exception, entertained a morbid dread of native armies, he boldly encountered them in the field, and demonstrated their weakness; and, if he had been adequately supported from France, he would probably have succeeded in the great object of his life–the establishment of a French empire in India.

  • The French and the English retained their old positions by the terms of the treaty signed after the Second Carnatic War and promised not to interfere in the local politics in future. However, this marked the beginning of the decline of the French influence and the ascendancy of the English in India.
  • THIRD CARNATIC WAR (1758-1763)

In 1756, there broke out a bigger war in Europe known as the Seven Years War. Once again England and France appeared in opposite sides to fight as enemies. As an echo of the war the French and the English took up arms and fought in India. That war is famous as the Third Anglo-French War or Third Carnatic War. That war was not confined only to the South India but spread to other parts of the country.

  • In 1757 the English captured the French territory Chandarnagore in Bengal and under Clive defeated Siraj-ud-daula, the Nawab of Bengal Bihar and Orissa in the battlefield of Plassey and laid the foundation stone of the British Empire in India. For a little longer however the French and the English continued to fight in the south. Count Lally the French general fought with English from Pondicherry.
  • The Nizam of Hyderabad was fighting in the side of the French and the French general Bussy was in the capital of the Nizam with his army to protect the Nizam. All-in-a-sudden Count Lally recalled Bussy from Hyderabad and the influence of the French on the Nizam came to close for all times.
  • In 1760 AD in the Battle of Wandiwash, Sir Iyre Coote, the British general defeated the French general Count Lally. Madras, Pondicherry, Jinji, Mahe, Karaikal fell to the British. The French practically lost everything to English. In 1763 AD, the Peace of Paris concluded after the Seven Year’s War, ended the Anglo-French rivalry over the Carnatic. Though the French got back their territories as per the terms of the Treaty of Paris they were not allowed to fortify them. It brought an end to what Dupleix and France had strived for and heralded the age of British imperialism in India.



The English Company had complete approval and confidence of their Home government. The British Government interfered in the affairs of the Company only when it was necessary to secure the interest of its shareholders. The French East India Company had to repeatedly look up to the Home government for all kinds of support including financial and military assistance.

  • The English East India Company was independent Commercial Corporation with sound finance and less interference from the British Government. It was a joint-stock company in whose fortune or misfortune a large section of the English nation was directly interested unlike French Company where major share was held by the monarch. French Company was like a department of the State as the major share of the French East India Company was held by French Naturally, the Company did not enjoy autonomy.

Since the French government decided everything, decisions were taken in view of politics and not commerce. This led to decreasing commercial profit forcing it to borrow or selling trading rights or begging the French government for grant.


Officers of the French Company focused more on territorial expansion instead of commerce. When their home government was not in position to subsidise them, they should have concentrated on consolidating their finances before entering into expensive political ventures.


Another major factor for French failure was the superiority of the British naval power. This enabled the English to bring soldiers from Europe and to send supplies from Bengal. But the French were unable to replenish their resources from outside.


The English East India Company was a private company and it showed greater enterprise in business. But the French Company was dependent on the government and lacked the spirit of bold, individual and corporate effort. Neither the French government nor the shareholders who were assured of a fixed dividend took any active interest in the fortunes of the Company.


The British had three important bases in India – Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. If any of these bases were endangered by the French, the English could still get resources from other centres and could continue war from the other bases. On the other hand, the French had only one strong base at Pondicherry. If Pondicherry was endangered, it could not get any effective support from their other bases in India.


The British Company was lucky to have many capable men like Clive, Lawrence, and Eyre Coote etc. in its service. On the other hand, besides Dupleix, the French Company had no really able man to serve it.

Finally the victory at Plassey gave the English Company large resources which were essential for fighting further battles.


  • The English East India Company had very humble beginnings in India. Though started as a trading concern which managed to establish its first trading post in Surat by 1813, the British East India Company developed into a great territorial power eventually. The establishment of British power in India was in a fit of absent-mindedness. Initially, it seems British had no pre-planned ideas to rule over India. The British conquests began when British and French both tried to get hold of lucrative Trade from Indian Sub-continent. This competition led to Anglo-French Rivalry and thus British got more involved in politics of Indian Kingdoms. The taste of success in Carnatic Wars have made them bold and in 1757 challenged Nawab of Bengal. With the help of greedy nobles and native rivals, overnight Company found itself in indirect control of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.
  • The acquisition of income and workers on a large scale put the British power in India in a different class from all competitors. Now Britain had the resources to do what no other European power could accomplish, namely the conquest of the whole subcontinent. They would do it one step at a time, usually in response to threats against what they already had.
  • Later, in the nineteenth century, Britain would take the Suez Canal, Australia, Burma, Malaya, and a third of Africa, all in the name of defending their Indian interests, and they would meddle in the Balkans, the Middle East and Tibet for the same reason.
  • By the time they were done, the Indian Ocean was effectively a British lake. In short, “The Empire on Which the Sun Never Sets” was created just to secure its most valued colony.

The ‘Drain of wealth’ from India to England started after 1757, when the Company acquired political power and the servants of the Company a ‘privileged status’ and, therefore, acquired wealth through dastak, dastur, nazarana and private trade. For company, becoming a political power meant its ownership of revenues as used in financing ‘investments’ and ‘expenditure’ of ‘colonial budget’.

The Company servants, after 1757, extorted immense wealth from Indian rulers, zamindars, merchants and common people, amounting to not less than 6 million between 1758 and 1765; four times more than the total land revenue collection of Bengal in 1765. After 1737 and especially after 1765 (year of receiving diwani rights of Bengal) financial structure of the Company had a qualitative change. Earlier, the Company had to import ‘treasure’ fell (bullion in form of gold and silver) to buy Indian goods for sale in Europe.

After Plassey, however, the import of ‘treasure’ fell sharply in size and yet the export of the Company to England and Europe continued. This became possible due to appropriation of Indian revenue which was used as the investment of the Company and this investment financed the cost of commodities which the Company had to export from India. In other words, the company was getting Indian goods for sale outside India for nothing. Investment was thus nothing but a ‘political’ tribute. This is how there began the ‘Drain of Wealth’ which was nothing but a unilateral transfer of fund; the Early nationalist leaders made this point central to their economic criticism of the British colonialism.


  1. “The Battle of Plassey (1757) thus marked the beginning of political supremacy of the English East India Company in India.”                                                                [2018, 10m]
  2. Comment on the French ambition of building a territorial empire in India.

[2016, 10m]

  1. “Neither Alexender the Great nor Napoleon could have won the empire of India by starting from Pondicherry as a base and contending with a power which held Bengal and command of the Sea.” Comment.                                                                [2006, 20m]
  2. “Dupleix made a cardinal blunder in looking for the key of India in madras: Clive sought and found it in Bengal.” Critically examine.                                           [2013, 10m]
  3. “Compared to their English counterpart, the French East India Company enjoyed little discretionary power and had to always look up to Paris for all major decisions. This partly explains the failure of the French in India.” Evaluate Critically.

[2012, 10m]

  1. “The forces of free trade and the British determination to create a political and administrative environment conductive to trade and investment had shaped the British policy towards India in the first half of the nineteenth century”. Elucidate.

[2012, 10m]



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