Lord Minto was Governor-General of the British East India Company in India for most of the second half of the Napoleonic Wars, taking up his post at a time when Napoleon dominated most of Europe, and surviving in post long enough to see Napoleon's invasions of Spain and Russia begin his decline and fall.
Lord Minto faced a series of different challenges during his time in charge. At first the big danger was seen as a possible French land invasion, coming via the Ottoman Empire and Persia, or possibly via Russia after the treaty of Tilset saw Napoleon and Tsar Alexander form an alliance. As a result his early years in India saw a series of attempts to form anti-French alliances, with Persia and with the independent powers of north-western India. Once the Franco-Russian Alliance began to fall apart this threat diminished, and Lord Minto's attention turned to more local problems, in particular the French naval forces based in Mauritius and the possibility of a French fleet establishing itself in Java, which became a direct French possession after Holland was absorbed into France. He also had to deal with the different priorities of his two masters – the British East India Company, mainly concerned with profit, and the British Government, almost entirely focused on defeating Napoleon.
As the authors make clear, Lord Minto's policy towards the independent Indian powers largely depended on the level of threat from France. This must have been rather frustrating for his diplomats and for the Indian powers, who often found his attitude changing rather dramatically over time, especially as the French threat receded, and with it the need for Indian alliances.
One addition I would have appreciated would have been a good clear map showing the Company's possessions in India along with those of the remaining independent Indian powers – at this stage the British were a major power in India, but still had powerful independent neighbours to deal with. There are contemporary maps of Asia and the East Indies, but they don't show India in that much detail.
Other than that minor quibble, this is an excellent study of a fascinating period, giving a clear picture of the wide ranging diplomacy required of the Governor-General, and the East India Company's place in the wider Indian and Asian world. We also get a good idea of the problems caused by the British power structure in India, with authority split between the Company and the Government in London (amongst other things this resulted in two diplomatic missions to Persia at the same time) and problems caused by the slow speed of communications. Lord Minto, who took the post as a compromise candidate, emerges as a successful Governor-General, who managed to defend and expand the British position in the East without getting involved in too many costly military campaigns.
Author: Amita Das and Aditya Das