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British India

Clive meets with the Mughal emperor, 1765Clive meets with the Mughal emperor, 1765The British East India Company was set up in 1600 to trade with South and Southeast Asia. In 1617 it was given permission by the Mughal emperor Jahangir to trade in India itself. The Company acquired trading bases in Bombay, Madras and Calcutta and slowly extended its control. Under Robert Clive (1725–74), British troops drove out the French from India, then defeated the Nawab of Bengal at the Battle of Plassey in 1757, a victory that gave the British control over Bengal. Clive was appointed by the Company to be its first Governor of Bengal later that year. Over the following decades, the East India Company became the most important political force in India, ruling many Indian kingdoms and influencing others from its capital in Calcutta (known today as Kolkata).

Battle of Assaye, during the Anglo-Maratha WarsBattle of Assaye, during the Anglo-Maratha Wars
A battle during the Carnatic WarsA battle during the Carnatic Wars

British expansion

Following victory in the three Carnatic Wars, fought between 1746 and 1763, the East India Company gained control over southern India. The Company also expanded its territories around its bases in Bombay and Madras, while victory in the Anglo-Mysore Wars (1767–99) and later the Anglo-Maratha Wars (1775–1818) led to control of vast regions of India. The Ahom Kingdom of northeastern India fell to the British in 1826. Punjab, the Northwest Frontier Province and Kashmir were annexed in 1849. Other territory came under Company influence through alliances with local rulers, creating the “princely states” of the Hindu maharajas and the Muslim nawabs (Kashmir was sold to the Dogra Dynasty of Jammu and became a princely state). By the 1850s, the Company controlled most of the subcontinent

Indians overseas

Unhappy with the British East India Company's interference in the affairs of his province, the Nawab of Bengal laid siege to Fort William, the Company’s stronghold in Calcutta (now Kolkata). The fort was captured and the British prisoners-of-war, some 146 men, were packed into the fort’s tiny prison, measuring around 4 x 5.5 m (14 x 18 ft), overnight on 20th June 1756. By morning, only 23 had survived, the rest dying from thirst, trampling or suffocation. The prison became known as the Black Hole of Calcutta.

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