The British Empire in India is sometimes said to have been acquired in a 'fit of absentmindedness'. This book attempts to examine the attitudes and plans of the various players within the power structure of the British East India Company and how they interacted with the various India powers and their French rivals, to produce a more accurate appraisal of the thinking behind the expansion of British power in India.
The dates in the title are a little misleading - the period from 1600 to 1744 is dealt with in thirty pages, and the detailed analysis begins in 1744 with the War of the Austrian Succession. This is the period in which the British East India Company went from being a trading concern controlling small enclaves in the middle of a powerful if declining Mogul Empire to becoming an Indian power in its own right, with sizable land holdings and one of the most powerful armies on the sub-continent.
It quickly becomes clear that there was no overriding 'Grand Strategy' guiding the Company's actions in India. The directors in London did have a clear plan - make as much money as possible at as little cost and risk as possible while staying out of local entanglements, and on no account to become a 'country' power. Some of the Company's servants in India shared this view, but they were frequently overruled by their more aggressive colleagues. In India different people had different reasons for supporting military campaigns - some made no secret of their desire to create an Indian Empire, others saw limited campaigns as necessary to ensure the security of the Company's existing holdings or to preserve its prestige, while still others hoped to be able to intervene indirectly by supporting local rulers. A combination of the long time lag in communications between London and India and the Company's set-up in India (with three independent Presidencies, each ruled by their own council) meant that local concerns almost always overruled London's desires.
I found this to be a very impressive piece of work, combining a good narrative account of events in India during this period with a detailed analysis of the political and personal background to events and the motives that guided the key players. Bryant also good an excellent job of linking together events in different parts of India, and on the reaction to events back in London. As a result we get a good view of the pressures and personalities that drove British expansion during this crucial period.
Introduction - The Early Years and the Evolving Grand Strategic Reality, 1600-1784
Part I: Dealing with the French Menace, 1744-1761
1 - The Indian Dimension in the War of the Austrian Succession, 1744-48
2 - Anglo-French Mercenaries in the 'Service' of the Carnatic Princes, 1749-54
3 - The Struggle for Supremacy in the Carnatic during the Seven Years War, 1756-61
4 - Noises Off: The Seven Years War in Bengal - Unseating a Nawab, 1756-57
Part II: Towards an All-India Grand Strategy, 1762-84
5 - Bengal, 1757-67: Crossing the Threshold and Becoming a 'Country' Power
6 - Thwarted Imperialism: Madras, 1761-78
7 - Bengal, 1767-84: The Borders of Power and the Power of Borderes
8 - Bombay Enters the Imperial Game, 1774-82
9 - Madras vs Haider Ali - Round 2, 1778-84
Author: G.J. Bryant
Publisher: Boydell and Brewer