I’m delighted to welcome historical novelist Charlotte Betts today, to tell us the history of the East India Company.
My review of Charlotte’s most recent novel, The Palace of Lost Dreams is at the bottom of this article.
THE EAST INDIA COMPANY
The Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies (The Company) was founded in 1600. It established a ‘factory’, or free-trade area, in Masulipatnam in India where local inhabitants could interact with foreign merchants with the consent of local rulers. In 1640 a further factory was established in Madras and this was followed by rapid expansion into other areas. Meanwhile, other companies founded by the Dutch, Portuguese, Danish and the French were also spreading their tentacles throughout India.
The company’s victory at the Battle of Plassey in 1757 under Robert Clive, Commander-in-Chief of British India, established political and military supremacy of the East India Company in Bengal. Clive followed this by securing large areas of land, and its riches, in south Asia – Bangladesh, India and Pakistan – becoming a multi-millionaire at the same time. Together with Warren Hastings, the first Governor of Bengal, the foundations were laid for the British Raj.
The British government began an intensive effort to work with the East India Company, who already had armies in place, to snatch power and control over India as a whole. In 1797 the two strongest powers in India, Mysore and the Marathas, had declined in strength and it was a good time for Britain to grasp the upper hand. The Marquis of Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington’s elder brother, arrived in India in 1798 to take up his new post as Governor General at a time when Britain was locked in a life or death struggle with France all over the world.
Since Napoleon had set his sights on India, too, Wellesley had to move quickly. To achieve his aims, he set up a system of Subsidiary Alliances, which signed away an Indian state’s independence and right of self-defence. The Alliance system was advantageous to the British since they could now maintain a large army at the cost of the Indian states. The first Subsidiary Treaty was signed between Wellesley and the Nizam of Hyderabad on 1st September 1798.
A month later, the largest French force in India was disarmed by the British, who had only a third of their number, without any casualties or a single shot being fired. This turning point, combined with Admiral Nelson’s sinking of the French fleet in Aboukir Bay, effectively ruined Napoleon’s dreams of India becoming a French colony and allowed the Company, backed by the British government, to annex more and more of India.
In 1813, Parliament renewed the Company’s charter but terminated its monopoly, except with regard to tea and trade with China, opening India both to private investment and missionaries. Following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the rule of British India was transferred from the British East India Company to the Crown. In 1876 Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India.
During the hey-day of the Raj, the British civil service collected taxes, raised armies, which included local forces, imposed a system of justice and a postal service, instigated the building of railways, canals, schools and universities. At all times the British demonstrated a breath-taking level of self-confidence that their customs, religions and moral values were infinitely superior to those of the Indians whose country they had appropriated. The British system of governance remained until Partition in 1947.
The Palace of Lost Dreams is set in Hyderabad in 1798.
Newly widowed Beatrice Sinclair returns to the India of her childhood to visit her brother, an employee of the British East India Company. She’s astonished to discover he has married a beautiful Indian girl and lives with his wife’s extended family in a dilapidated palace.
As an outsider in an unfamiliar world, she faces many challenges.
Meanwhile the French and British forces become locked in a battle over India’s riches, and matters are complicated further by the presence of the dashing Harry Wyndam: a maverick ex-soldier and suspected spy.
With rebellion in the air, Bee must decide where her loyalties lie . . .
The Palace of Lost Dreams is out now. Buy it here
Follow Charlotte on Twitter: @CharlotteBetts1
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Many thanks to Deborah for hosting me!
My Review of The Palace of Lost Dreams – perfect escapism
Set in the eighteenth century, in an India riven by political conflict, the era provides a rich, evocative setting for a romance and one full of tension. When recently-bereaved Bee returns to India she remembers her childhood friend, Harry, but he has a son by now, and this is not the only obstacle to their closeness. Whilst in the palace she must unravel the mystery of her mother’s sudden departure from India, and the simmering background to the loss of a rare jewel which is now the cause of intense feelings in her newly adopted family.
Bee is a lovely character, who picks herself up from tragedy and is determined to save the diapidated palace with her own new idea for a business.
Charlotte Betts fleshes out the history of India with detail and atmosphere. There is a glossary of Indian words in the back too, and historical notes for anyone who is unfamiliar with Indian history.
This is both an adventure and a romance and perfect escapism for a summer holiday read. Highly recommended.