A compilation of short films made specially for schools on the rise and fall of the East India Company, which accidentally created one of the greatest empires in history.
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Just over 400 years ago, a group of London merchants arrived here
on the Indian coast hoping to do some peaceful trading.
Those early pioneers dreamt of making huge profits.
Over 200 years, the company they formed grew into a commercial titan.
Its wealth rivalled that of the British state.
It had its own army...and eventually ruled over 400 million people.
Its trade was vital to Britain's commercial success
and it revolutionised the British lifestyle...
The East India Company changed the way we dress,
it changed the way we eat, it changed the way we socialise.
..and by accident created one of the most powerful empires in history.
But the company's rise was followed by a dramatic descent into profiteering and corruption...
..and, eventually, a chilling story of unchecked greed with devastating consequences.
This is where it all started.
On December 31st 1600,
the East India Company was established by royal charter in London
and granted a monopoly on trade with the East by Queen Elizabeth I.
It was the beginning of a new age in Britain's history,
an age of speculation and profit, enterprise and competition,
an age that saw the beginnings
of one of the most powerful empires in history.
Capitalism would change for ever the lives of its people and politics.
Trade would make Britain great
and turn London into the richest city in the world.
Thanks to the East India Company,
exotic goods like spices from Indonesia, tea and porcelain from China,
became part of everyday life.
Every year, huge merchant ships of the East India Company,
known as East Indiamen, would leave from right here
loaded down with silver bullion and British merchandise
heading up the Thames and out to sea to trade with the East.
On board were young men filled with hope.
In following their dreams,
these young men would inadvertently forge an empire,
an empire that would create thousands of winners...
but millions of losers.
One country above all would play a major role
and become the jewel in the company's crown...
Our story begins in 1639 at an unlikely spot on the east coast,
a place that became known as Madraspatnam.
When the company arrived here it wasn't pursuing dreams of conquest or empire
but looking for a secure base from which to conduct trade.
And one of its employees, Francis Day,
was convinced this was the right spot.
And with good reason.
This is the Coromandel Coast,
a name synonymous with diamonds, pearls and the finest cotton.
In mid-17th-century Europe, Indian cotton was the height of fashion.
It was cheap, colourful and hard-wearing.
A fortune could be made exporting it.
Francis Day claimed a section of beach and set up shop.
Within a year, 300 Bengali weavers
were working here and a handful of Englishmen were busy exporting cloth and spices
back home for sale in London, much to the delight of the company's shareholders.
They could send their ships out here, fill their holds with spices
and hopefully return rich men.
Now, it was a very lucrative trade and it's one that had been exploited
by other European powers for quite a long time now,
but by making it a monopoly, they could ensure
there'd be no domestic opposition to threaten the shareholders' profits.
Even so, the company's investors were taking a huge gamble.
Each voyage could take two years or more, a long and tense wait to see a return on investment.
Along the way there would be potential loss
of ships through storms, there could be piracy,
there could be conquest by local rulers etc etc.
So this was a very high-risk venture.
But one that had paid dividends from the beginning.
When company ships first returned from the East Indies in 1607,
investors had hit the jackpot.
That single voyage netted an absolutely vast amount of money
because of these...cloves.
A single cargo of this ensured that the investors made a 230% profit,
bringing them £36,000, that's tens of millions in today's money.
It's hard to comprehend just how much of a revolution this was,
something that we now take for granted.
Used in medicine as a painkiller,
cloves were so highly prized
they were literally worth their weight in gold.
In Madras the company built a warehouse and several homes along three miles of beach.
Trade was valuable, so they protected their new settlement
with a stockade and called it Fort St George.
The original Fort St George was built on this spot.
Now it's been massively strengthened and enlarged over the years,
but it took 14 years to build
and the East India Company directors bitterly complained about the cost.
But this was like a big security barrier for their warehouse.
Madras was the springboard for expansion.
Within 50 years, the company was building two further settlements,
which they called Bombay and Calcutta.
By 1700, it was operating 22 trading posts across India.
Calcutta was one of the biggest. The company's star was rising fast.
But investors were about to be handed a commercial opportunity
beyond their wildest expectations.
For 200 years,
India had been part of a vast empire ruled by a powerful dynasty.
The Mughals had imposed a centralised government,
built imposing monuments and unified the country with a road system and single currency.
The population was huge compared with Britain's.
It was about 140 million and Britain then had about four million.
The economic position
was it was the second largest economy in the world, reputedly,
with about 25% of the world's GDP.
For the first few decades,
the mighty Mughals barely even noticed the East India Company.
The British didn't cause trouble. And, besides, they paid good money.
The Mughal Empire had a tax on imports of bullion,
so they were doing quite well out of the company bringing in all this silver and gold.
They were also selling the company trading concessions
and wherever they were able to set up factories they had to pay for it.
So it was quite a good sort of source of income for the Empire.
But in 1707, the Mughal Empire began to disintegrate.
When the last great Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb, died,
his successors were unable to hold his empire together
and power devolved into a patchwork of competing regional states.
Obsessed with its own problems, therefore,
the Empire didn't have time to worry about the little old East India Company.
Amid the confusion a deal was signed.
In exchange for an annual fee
the East India Company was granted the right to trade duty-free across the state of Bengal.
No gift could have been greater.
Company merchants previously restricted to the coast
could now do business across an entire province.
And as the Mughal Empire weakened further the company expanded.
The East India Company was sucked into this vacuum.
It would back one local claimant to a throne against another
and in return for its support it would be given little land holdings or trading concessions.
That meant within decades the East India Company
was becoming a sovereign entity in its own right.
It had the power to raise revenue, to make war and peace,
to mint its own coins, to administer justice.
The East India Company...was becoming a state.
A state that was controlled
by 159 civil servants in a London office some 14,000 miles away.
Their headquarters, East India House, has long since disappeared
under this towering structure, the Lloyd's building.
It was from here that the company was run.
As its ships scoured the world's oceans,
they were controlled by directors elected by shareholders,
who were known collectively as The Court of Directors.
The East India Company helped to develop many modern business practices
and turned London into the world's commercial capital.
By 1800, the state that they administered from London
would rule 140 million people across 94,000 square miles
and command an army a quarter of a million strong.
This was the beginning of Britain's empire.
The East India Company in its early trading activities
had a huge influence on the British way of life,
both in India and back in Britain.
People were eager to learn about this exotic place
with its very different customs, dress and culture.
And the Indian products that the company exported to Britain
became more popular than their British equivalents.
By 1700, goods were flooding across the sea from India.
Can I have a single tea, please?
It was the beginning of new kinds of diets, of choice, of consumerism.
People could now choose to have sugar from the West Indies,
pepper from India.
It was also the start of the Brits' obsession with hot drinks.
Tea and coffee arrived for the first time.
Thanks very much.
Gingham, silk, muslin, calico.
Back in Britain the company was importing a cavalcade of rich new fabrics.
Bowled over by the exquisite skill of India's craftsmen
the British public went crazy.
18th-century Indian textiles held at London's Victoria and Albert Museum
revealed an impressive range of techniques were used in their manufacture.
All these objects are made of chintz,
which is basically cotton
which has been hand painted rather than printed.
The Indians managed to find ways of dyeing cotton
so the colours remained brilliant and were colourfast.
So that was very exciting for people in the West.
Cheap, washable and hard-wearing, they made a huge impact.
Less formal clothing became acceptable and fashionable.
And it certainly worried the British textile industry,
because they were very fearful that there would be no demand for their own wool and linen products.
And at one point it caused such a sensation and so much fear
-amongst the silk workers that they tore the clothes off people's backs.
Because they thought their livelihoods were threatened. So it was that dramatic.
Company merchants were quick to respond to the consumers' changing tastes.
The East India Company would report back regularly after every shipment to Britain from India
saying, "Well, we liked this, but these didn't sell so well. And could you do more of the floral sprigs?"
Or, "Could you do more of this colour?"
The British retail fashion industry was born.
Pyjamas, bandannas, dungarees,
dozens of new words entered the English dictionary.
Demand for Indian textiles was so great it threatened to destroy Britain's industry.
The Government even passed a law to ban people from wearing Indian textiles,
but it didn't work, testimony to the rising power of the consumer.
Over the next 100 years,
sales of Indian textiles would generate 60% of the company's income.
While the British back at home were succumbing to Indian influences
the British in India were also changing.
Many company men formed lifelong relationships with Indian women
and some even adopted the local tradition of polygamy.
The East India Company had serious misgivings
about its employees cohabiting with local women.
But, then again, knowledge of local markets was good for business.
Liaisons with indigenous women teach men languages,
so the company really has a vested interest
in these relationships being close and tight-knit.
By the middle of the 18th century,
90% of company employees in India had local partners.
Many could now afford several mistresses and a house full of servants.
Right, let's go!
But something odd was going on.
They'd arrived here as humble merchants,
but their new-found wealth was having a bizarre effect.
They adopted the ostentatious, flamboyant lifestyles of an Eastern prince,
surrounded themselves with armies of servants, being carried from place to place in a palanquin.
The pomposity and extravagance of these white Mughals knew no bounds.
Much to the annoyance of their fellow countrymen.
I think this is my favourite picture from the period.
It shows a man who looks like a Mughal emperor,
he's sitting on a cushion, smoking a hookah, attended by servants,
master of all he surveys in his luscious robes and turban.
But that is no Mughal emperor,
in fact it's an accountant from Yorkshire.
His name's John Wombwell, he's living the dream.
Whilst some lived like overblown maharajahs,
others, like Major General Charles Stuart, engaged with India on a more profound level.
Charles Stuart came out here from his native Ireland aged 19
and immediately fell in love with the place.
He had a house here on Wood Street which he turned into a museum,
filling it up with Indian artefacts and carvings.
He was happy to show anybody around
and share his passion for all things Indian.
Stuart's encounter with India changed his life.
Within a year of his arrival, he had discarded Christianity and become a Hindu.
Hindoo Stuart, as he became known, learned the local languages,
dressed like a local, would have been very comfortable in places like this.
He took a local woman as a wife and had a brood of mixed-race children.
He even hired a group of Brahmins, Hindu scholars,
to prepare the family's food in traditional Hindu manner.
Stuart wasn't unusual in embracing his new home.
Many Britons and Indians accepted each other
in an atmosphere of mutual understanding.
The British came to India before the 19th century very much as explorers,
adventurers, people out to make their money,
and they encountered a very old and very complex civilisation
and they were often impressed by it.
And so they didn't feel that they were in any way superior to Indians,
they were just simply one of a number of groups jostling in India
to try and earn a living and to try and make their way.
In these early days of the company's activities in India,
respect and tolerance for Indian customs, culture and religion were encouraged.
They weren't there to change India or Indians but to profit from them.
In the final analysis, integration was good for business.
And business was what mattered to the company above all else.
In the mid-18th century,
the East India Company was at the heart of a global conflict.
Driven by antagonism between the great world powers
of the 18th century over colonial interests,
the Seven Years' War raged from Europe to North America
and across the world's oceans.
But in India the ultimate prize was control over trade.
A bitter rivalry grew between Britain and France
over their colonial and trading interests.
They both hoped to be the greatest European power on the Indian subcontinent.
The East India Company's hostility towards their French counterpart
grew into an escalating military confrontation.
The British and French had set up trading posts
within a few miles of each other,
the French at Pondicherry and Chandernagore,
the British at Madras and Calcutta.
In 1756, rivalry exploded into open warfare.
The merchants of the East India Company had traditionally tried to avoid war,
its costs were certain but its outcomes far less so.
It was bad for business.
But as the French grew more threatening in the subcontinent,
the company realised it needed to get more serious
about the military side of things,
and the motley crews guarding its forts in India weren't up to scratch.
What it needed was a serious standing army.
The company decided to strengthen its garrison at Fort St George.
In January 1748, 150 British troops arrived in Madras
led by an irascible old soldier, Major Stringer Lawrence.
He's 50 years old, he's fought in the lowlands in Spain
and also in the Jacobite Rebellion.
And he is a man with great knowledge of military affairs
and his job is really to reform the company troops out in India.
He begins by forming them into companies, each commanded by an officer,
and those companies are equipped, trained and disciplined exactly like British troops would be.
And, of course, the end result of all of this
is it becomes a much more effective fighting force.
His new army was led by European officers,
but most of the troops were Indians known as "sepoys"
from the Persian word for soldier.
Stringer Lawrence is seen as the grandfather of the modern Indian Army.
Many units are the direct descendants of those he founded 250 years ago.
One young soldier in Lawrence's new army
was the future national hero Clive of India.
Robert Clive was from a family of provincial gentry.
As a young boy, he was a bit of a tearaway and loved getting into fights.
And he was expelled three times from school.
So his father thought nothing much would come of him
and he might as well gamble and send him out here to India
to join the East India Company, which made men or broke them.
He was known as a man who had a relatively short temper.
He was, as we discover in his later career,
a man with tremendous energy, vigour and resolution,
and this must have seemed a pretty crushing way to begin his career.
Clive would be the driving force in transforming the company
from commercial giant to THE dominant political power in India.
In 1756, his great adversary was the Mughal ruler or Nawab of Bengal.
Siraj ud Daulah, an ally of the French, loathed the British
and bitterly resented the company's hold on Calcutta.
In June...he attacked the city.
Calcutta fell within hours.
And on the evening of June 20th, 146 British prisoners were taken to Fort William...
..now the site of the Government Post Office.
100 yards from this spot stands a grim reminder of what happened next.
The most vivid account we have was left by a man called John Zephaniah Holwell.
He'd been the Chief Magistrate of Calcutta, he'd been left in charge.
And he and his men were marched into a cell just 18 foot wide at gunpoint.
It became known simply as the Black Hole.
And what happened in there became one of the most infamous stories
in the whole of British imperial history.
It's said the prisoners, crushed together, suffocating
and fighting to stay upright were gripped by claustrophobic terror.
The heat was almost unbearable.
To try to slake his thirst, Holwell took off his sweat-soaked shirt
and wrang it out into his mouth.
Other people trampled on the weakened bodies of their comrades,
desperately trying to reach the two small windows at the top of the wall
and gulp down some fresh air.
It was a night of unspeakable suffering and cruelty.
When the doors were flung open at dawn the next day,
the cell was filled with corpses.
To Holwell's horror just 23 had survived.
The news of what had happened to their fellow countrymen at the hands of a barbarous Indian despot
electrified congregations right across Britain.
This after all was a generation that was starting to believe that...
"Britons never, never, never shall be slaves."
The story of the Black Hole
had an immense impact on generations of Britons.
To Victorian schoolchildren the events of 1756 were as familiar as the Battle of Hastings.
What we don't know for sure is how many actually perished that night.
The numbers range from three to over 100,
I suspect it's somewhere in-between.
What is not in question is that this was an atrocity. Was it deliberate? Almost certainly not.
It was unfortunate that this small airless room...
It happened on an incredibly hot and humid night,
some of the people inside were already wounded from the battle that had taken place.
And there were bound to be some fatalities,
but that there were so many was a point taken very seriously by the British,
the remaining British in India and also the British back home,
and there was very much a sense that they wanted revenge.
Determined to re-assert supremacy,
Clive recaptured Calcutta and confronted Siraj at a village called Plassey,
120 miles north of the city, in what would become a decisive moment
in the history of the East India Company.
At Plassey, Clive was terribly outnumbered by more than ten to one,
but Clive had a plan that didn't just rely on military might alone.
He'd been in secret correspondence with one of the Nawab's key lieutenants,
the commander of his cavalry, a man called Mir Jafar.
The deal is done between Clive and Mir Jafar that at a certain key part of the fight,
Mir Jafar will come onto his side, in other words he'll leave his chief.
And in return for putting him on the throne,
the company will not only be paid vast sums of money,
and we are talking about fantastical sums,
but also it will be given a free rein in terms of its trade.
NOISES OF BATTLE
It was all over in a matter of hours,
but it had little to do with military might.
Mir Jafar, the traitor, had been paid off and he ensured
that the majority of the Nawab's troops took no part in the battle.
He was then installed as Britain's puppet.
This opened up the richest province of India to the company.
Robert Clive regarded this Machiavellian manoeuvring as the pinnacle of his career.
Clive and the company were now rich.
Better still, in exchange for a single payment of £270,000,
the company was granted the right to manage the "diwani" or the revenue and civil administration of Bengal.
This allowed them to collect
land tax from the entire population of Bengal, ten million people.
It effectively turned them into the de facto government.
Robert Clive estimated that it would be worth £1.7 million every year.
With control over the revenues of India's richest province,
the company's role had profoundly changed.
It's the point at which the East India Company
really moves from being a trading enterprise to an actual ruler of territory.
The company now had impressive armies, a robust trading network
and authority over a huge swathe of territory.
The British were in a position of unrivalled supremacy in India
and overall Britain emerged from the Seven Years' War
as the world's leading colonial power.
In the mid-18th century, the East India Company took control of India's richest province.
Led by Robert Clive, the company defeated the ruler of Bengal
and installed a replacement of their choosing.
They were given the right to manage the revenue
and civil administration of Bengal called the "diwani".
The diwani was a licence to print money.
After the costs of administering Bengal had been met
the company's profit margin was 49%.
The commercial floodgates had opened.
In 1766, news of the diwani reached London.
The prospect of massive financial gains in Bengal
pushed the company's share price through the roof.
Now, this is partly fuelled by Clive, who wrote to his friends from India
advising them to buy stock, and he wrote to his own attorneys as well
telling them to make huge purchases on his behalf.
Not surprisingly other British and foreign investors followed suit.
Robert Clive returned home a national hero
with a personal fortune equivalent to £38 million today
and a generous income from land holdings in Bengal.
He went on a spending spree.
He bought a raft of properties including his childhood home, Styche Hall,
which he renovated for his father, and then he bought this place, Walcot Hall,
for the princely sum of £90,000.
Not bad for 6,000 acres.
Clive began transforming his new home into a lavish palazzo
with one of the finest gardens in England.
After ruling a state four times bigger than Britain,
Clive was determined to forge a political career back in the old country.
His new Shropshire pile came with an added bonus.
Walcot Hall had traditionally been owned by the powerful Walcot family
and they'd been able to nominate the area's MPs.
When they fell badly into debt, Clive saw his chance.
He bought the estate and with it came control of the local parliamentary borough.
That allowed him to basically appoint his cousin as the MP.
For the next 50 years, Clive's money ensured that his family continued to live in style
and they continued to control the politics of the local area.
Clive added half a dozen seats in Shropshire
and further estates in Devon, Monmouth and Surrey to a bulging property empire.
He was just one of a number of company men who had grown fabulously wealthy in Bengal
and then had returned home to improve their status in life.
They bought their way into the aristocracy.
They bought influence and power.
They became known as "nabobs",
a term synonymous with vanity and absurd pretention.
They're perceived to be too rich for their own good,
to wear their diamonds too ostentatiously,
to wear textiles from India, concerns about so-called Oriental despotism
that they may have brought back from the Mogul Empire in India with them.
All of those are great concerns for people.
The nabobs represented the East India Company at its most venal and corrupt,
a direct threat to the social and political order.
By the 1780s, they had become a powerful minority,
with one tenth of the seats in Parliament.
But their good fortune would soon end.
A natural calamity was about to throw the Honourable Company into the biggest crisis in its history.
Famine had long been a part of life in Bengal,
but one that began in the late 1760s was turned into a full-blown humanitarian disaster
by the East India Company.
It's hard to come to terms with even after all these years,
but while the nabobs were back in Britain buying stately homes,
throwing parties, filling them with silver wine and art,
the people of Bengal who were paying for all that
were experiencing some of the most appalling conditions imaginable.
A prolonged drought and a poor harvest caused a famine
that continued for three long years, the worst in living memory.
The East India Company watched and recorded everything.
Did the East India Company help or did they make things worse?
They made things worse. They raised the taxes on agricultural produce,
they banned the hoarding of rice and grain,
which was traditionally used to tide over the population
through periods of scarcity.
They ripped up some of the food crops to plant much more profitable indigo
and even more profitable opium.
And, finally, some of their junior servants
started to speculate and profiteer from the sale of rice and grain,
selling it out of the province at grossly inflated prices.
The company was more interested in protecting its profits
than in relieving the suffering of the Bengali people.
It's estimated that between two million and ten million people died.
A valuable lesson on the dangers of unchecked corporate power.
Nobody was ultimately brought to account for it,
but there was certainly a sense that the nature of East India Company government at the time
had exacerbated the famine,
that it had made things worse, if it hadn't actually caused it.
The famine was a human tragedy and a financial disaster.
The Bengal economy collapsed,
the company's income plummeted.
Its share price crashed and all dividend payments were suspended.
The bubble was burst. People wanted to know why, how could this have happened?
Parliament set up its own inquiry and a scapegoat was lined up...
Robert Clive, Britain's richest man.
He became seen as the sort of leader of the nabobs
and was nicknamed Lord Vulture.
Denounced for enriching himself with Indian loot,
Clive was hauled before Parliament.
He asked his accusers to remember the situation that he'd been in,
an opulent city had lain at his mercy.
He'd been shown through vaults full of treasure, gold and precious stones on every side.
He finished by saying "By God, Mr Chairman, I stand astonished at my own moderation".
Well, if Clive was greedy or corrupt,
he certainly wasn't the only one in the House of Commons.
He was acquitted. In fact, he was even thanked for services to his country.
But his life ended in tragedy.
In November 1774, Clive was found dead at his London home.
He'd suffered depression for much of his life
and he'd become an opium addict.
It's very likely that he'd committed suicide.
Dr Samuel Johnson wrote that his crimes
had driven him to slit his own throat.
It was a scandalous and pitiful end
to a life of extraordinary if controversial achievement.
Robert Clive's victory in Bengal
proved to be a major turning for the East India Company,
but not in the way he had hoped for.
Their mismanagement of the province, the devastating famine
and the company's plummeting fortunes led to a crisis point
which could only be solved by government intervention.
By the 1760s, the East India Company had grown
from a tiny band of merchants with a small foothold in India into a colossal trading empire,
pouring wealth into the pockets of its shareholders back in Britain.
But then they conquered the wealthy region of Bengal and bled it dry,
amplifying the effects of a deadly famine, leading to the deaths of millions of people
in a human tragedy of unprecedented scale.
The British were horrified and the Government was forced to step in.
From that point on the state's grip grew ever tighter
as it attempted to control this voracious monster.
Accused of corruption, incompetence and greed
the company's reputation was in tatters
and there was worse to come.
The crisis that was affecting the company really came to
a head in 1772, where there was a failure of a major Scottish
bank, the Ayr Bank.
About 30 other banks in fact failed
and that led to a major shortage of money in the economy. The company
had to go repeatedly to the Bank of England for loans to tie them over.
They were very indebted.
Now, starved of funds,
the world's greatest company had run out of cash.
There was only one possible way out. Massive government bailout.
For reasons that are spookily familiar,
it was decided that the
East India Company was too big to fail.
The British government rescued the company with public money
today equivalent to £176 million.
But its powers were progressively curtailed.
The India Act of 1784 transferred its executive management to
an independent Board of Control, answerable to Parliament.
A new chapter in its history began.
From now on, its affairs in India would be
run by a Board of Control, appointed by the British government.
And Parliament would gradually transform the way that the
company functioned in India.
The British state was now pulling the strings.
Instead of entrepreneurs like Robert Clive, the British government
would now send out its own, more reliable people to run India.
The Governor General here in Calcutta would rule supreme,
given sweeping new powers in revenue, diplomacy and war.
It was nothing less than the birth of empire.
In 1798 Lord Richard Wellesley was given the top
job in India by the British government.
In the 19th century the biggest risk to the company would be
the emerging struggle between trade and empire,
between the objectives of the company and those of the Government.
This conflict was intensified by Wellesley.
'Wellesley was from a grand aristocratic family back home
'and he took one look at Government House in Calcutta'
and decided something a little more ostentatious was required to
reflect the power of the British in India.
Not to mention his own exalted status.
So he built this, the new Government House.
It's not much, but it's home.
The cost of the project rang alarm bells back at company
headquarters in Leadenhall St.
But of more concern were Wellesley's outright imperial ambitions,
which clashed with the company's stated objectives to minimise
In London the directors were keen to avoid war.
Their costs were certain, their outcomes less so.
But Wellesley dismissed the concerns of the people he described as
the cheesemongers of Leadenhall St. He was here with a personal agenda,
one supported by the British government.
And it had little to do with the rag trade.
He wanted to smash the vestiges of French power in India,
wipe out local opposition
and extend British rule across the subcontinent.
And from 14,000 miles away, there was
little the directors could do to stop him.
Wellesley had set his sights on a formidable Muslim adversary,
The Tiger of Mysore.
The rich, battle-hardened Muslim leader of Mysore was
the East India Company's most intractable enemy.
Three times in three decades his family had fought the company.
They were known as the Terrors of Leadenhall St.
And now Wellesley discovered that on top of it all,
they were in league with the French.
I think he identified quite early on that if he could play the French
and British off against each other, he could expand at their expense.
The French were at the time Britain's main global rival
for the status of global superpower.
And that was being played out in India as it was in North America
and other arenas.
A striking force of around 4,000 East India Company troops,
many of them native soldiers or sepoys,
attacked Tipu's fort in Seringapatam.
Inside with his men, the Tiger was ready to do battle.
A ruler who prided himself on military prowess had
to have an extensive, extravagant,
ornate collection of weapons in his personal arsenal.
And here are some of them.
The sword was the emblem of manhood, the emblem of a great ruler.
And judging by these swords Tipu Sultan was a deeply religious
man and a deeply aggressive one.
Look at this fabulous sword here.
The hilt is entirely covered in gold.
Gold tiger clasping a steel blade in its mouth.
This man was obsessed with the tiger motif. He lived his life as a tiger.
In fact, his favourite expression was,
"It's better to live one day as a tiger than 1,000 days as a sheep."
What I love about this particular one is on the hilt is written
an expression in Persian.
"This blade is the lightning that flashes through
"the lives of infidels."
Probably quite near the end of their lives, I expect.
And on here is the name of Tipu Sultan himself,
and Allah and Muhammad his prophet.
This was a man who believed he was engaged in holy war.
He was God's instrument on earth.
And the task was to destroy infidels, driving them
out from the Indian subcontinent.
But this time it wasn't to be.
After a month-long siege Tipu's stronghold fell
and the Tiger was slaughtered.
When news of the Tiger's death reached Britain there was jubilation.
It turns out the British people didn't share Tipu Sultan's
opinion of himself as a noble servant of God.
They thought he was an extremist tyrant.
There were parties and balls across the country, decorations
and medals were struck. Artists got in on the act
and painted depictions of the final battle.
This wasn't being celebrated as a private,
commercial triumph for the East India Company
but as a moment of national, public achievement.
There was now nothing else standing in the way of total British
domination in the subcontinent.
With the vast, rich kingdom of Mysore now under their dominion,
the company's power in India was growing.
But territorial growth meant bigger
and more expensive armies to hold it.
The cost of this could ruin the company, but from their
offices in London the directors were powerless to contain Lord Wellesley.
Wellesley saw himself as a ruler, not a merchant.
And like countless other empire builders
he developed an insatiable desire for ever wider expansion.
He spent a vast amount of money that should have
been for commercial purposes on conquest.
Against the company's wishes, Wellesley annexed more
and more Indian territory.
Vast swathes of southern, western
and northern India fell to the British.
One quote at the time is he's increased
the population of British India by 40 million.
So this is a massive expansion and it's really the time
when the East India Company moves from paramountcy, from being
the major influential power to being the major territorial power.
It's the start, in effect, of the British Empire.
Wellesley had completely transformed the company's
position in India even whilst the directors back in Britain
were complaining that his actions were taking them into debt.
By the time he was finished, Britain controlled an area that
was ten times the size of the British Isles
with a population of 180 million people.
That's one sixth of the entire global population at the time.
British India flourished under Wellesley.
And in turn, Britain was boosted.
The stage was set for the creation of an empire.
And despite their objections,
the East India Company was at the heart of it.
By the early 19th century, Britain,
through the East India Company, was the dominant authority in India.
But the next few years would see a significant
change in the company's role.
The end of their trading monopoly saw them
become colonial administrators rather than merchants.
This new role as ruler of India would herald a new attitude
towards its subjects.
Over time, the British would grow more distant and aloof.
Neglecting its relationship with the people of India,
carefully cultivated over the previous centuries, would prove
a terrible mistake and threaten the company's very existence.
They increasingly see a need to separate
themselves from the people that they're ruling
and to create a sense of British prestige around themselves
as the ruling race and the people who are in charge.
Where earlier companymen had embraced local
and religious customs, now people were becoming alarmed by them,
especially Britain's growing number of Christian missionaries,
who had been arriving in India in small numbers
against the company's wishes.
The company believed that the people of India should be left to
practise their own religions.
Otherwise, they could grow hostile.
And that would jeopardise Britain's position on the subcontinent.
But, it wasn't up to the company any more.
'With ultimate control over its activities in India,
'the British government found itself lobbied by some powerful
In 1813 the British government gave way
and forced the company to give missionaries full access to India,
sending a dangerous message to its people that the British
planned to convert them to Christianity.
'Missionaries were just one of the parliamentary impositions'
the company was forced to accept in order to stay in India.
'Just 20 years since Parliament extended its royal charter,
'it was up for renewal again.'
Every time the East India Company's royal charter had come
up for renewal, there were calls to end its commercial
monopoly on trade with India.
But it survived intact for more than 200 years.
But this was the era of free trade
and Parliament decided to end that privileged position.
That meant that the East India Company servants were no
longer here to trade, to make money through buying and selling
but as colonial administrators,
running its vast territories on behalf of the British Crown.
'The 1813 Charter Act marked a complete
'shift in the company's role.'
After some 200 years in India,
they were no longer here as merchants but as rulers.
And this new position would have a tangible
effect on the behaviour of the British in India.
Britain was going through a massive Industrial Revolution.
It was becoming one of the richest
and perhaps THE richest country in the world.
And the British in India reflected that change.
They no longer saw themselves as people who had chosen to
live in India and had to muddle along and get on with the locals.
They now saw themselves as part of a superior,
advanced, progressive civilisation.
And they saw themselves increasingly as detached from India.
The respect for Indian culture that had characterised previous
generations had completely vanished.
It was no longer acceptable for an East India Company servant to
speak like or dress like an Indian.
They had to now wear European dress and the army soon followed suit.
European customs and manners were emphasised.
A huge gulf was opening between the British governing elite
and the Indian subjects.
As the British entered the new, self-assured Victorian age,
their attitude towards the Indians hardened.
They were convinced of their own cultural superiority
and they believed India needed all the help it could get.
India was a barbaric place and its civilisation was stagnant.
From now on, company servants and officers who came to India
were influenced by this conviction of moral and racial superiority.
To our ears their views seem shockingly racist.
The refusal to learn local languages, dismissing
Indians as savage barbarians incapable of elevated thought.
These were ignorant views and ones which ironically confined
the British into a narrow life that many of them found so boring.
But perhaps even more than being stupid and racist,
these views were dangerous,
because if that chasm opened up between the rulers
and the ruled, then there's fertile ground for conflict.
Few of these Brits had the urge or the need to look outside
the confines of this artificial little bubble.
Often the only natives they did meet were their own servants.
They tried to recreate their old British lives,
eating British food three times a day, planting British
seeds in their garden and wearing ridiculous British clothing
as they went out in the hot Indian sun.
It was an obstinate, desperate attempt to keep a little
piece of Britishness alive here in the heart of India.
As administrator of India,
the East India Company was allocated a pot of money by the British
government for the intellectual improvement of the people.
But no-one could best decide how to use it.
No-one, that is, until the arrival of one man, Thomas Babington Macaulay,
law maker on the newly created Supreme Council of India.
And his legacy has left a profound mark on the subcontinent.
These poor young men have exam week on at the moment.
It's bringing back all sorts of horrible memories of my own
time at school.
Macaulay, like many other prominent Victorians, assumed that
British culture was the highest form of human civilisation.
And he was desperate to try
and bestow some of that on the Indian subjects.
He envisaged an education system that would create
"Indians in blood and colour but English in tastes, opinions, morals
"and intellect." And the first thing to do was teach them all English.
Macaulay's act, the Minute on Education,
was passed in February 1835.
And almost immediately the children of India's elite began
learning English as their main language.
The changing attitudes of the British towards the Indians
affected military life as well as the civilian world.
The Indian army had grown to become a bit of a source of worry
for many in the East India Company.
What had begun as a few security teams guarding the company's
forts around India had grown into one of the largest standing
armies in the world -
more than 250,000 troops,
larger than most European armies at the time.
And that was 96% composed of native, Indian troops
known as sepoys.
Keeping these sepoy troops loyal was critical to the company's survival.
So what would happen if this huge native army turned on them?
The problem with the Indian army at that time is that it's set up
if you have any ambition, any get-up-and-go, any drive,
you will leave your regiment early on for probably civil employ or staff
employ and the reason you did that was because they were better paid.
And so the residue left in the regiments,
the people who had close daily contact with the Indian
soldiers, were the refuse, the worst of the lot. And they didn't tend...
These men were disgruntled, they were bored.
And they didn't tend to treat their Indian soldiers very well.
Just as throughout the rest of British India, in the company's
three armies a racial gulf had opened up between the officers
and their Indian troops.
Any team, but particularly the army, needs that trust and respect between
those who are giving the orders and those who are carrying them out.
If you were an East India Company sepoy, why would you follow
an officer into battle who is openly disdainful of you?
In fact, why would you do anything he said at all?
The sepoys no longer trusted their East India Company officers.
They were appalled at their degrading treatment
and were very suspicious about the future intentions of the company.
What was needed to turn this very tense
situation into a full-blown crisis was a spark.
Appropriately enough that spark was provided by the sepoy's rifles.
In the mid-19th century a sepoy would have
lots of cartridges in his cartridge pouch.
He had to bite off the end...
..pour it down the barrel of the rifle...
then put the cartridge itself and the bullet into the barrel,
ram it down with a ramrod and then it would fire at the enemy.
The big problem came when a rumour spread like wildfire
throughout the sepoy forces
that the British were greasing these cartridges with pig or beef fat.
For them it was completely intolerable to insert anything
that had ever been near a pig or cow into their mouth.
At a stroke the culturally ignorant,
distant British decision makers had managed to alienate not just
the Hindus but also the Muslims of their vast Indian army.
In fact, realising their error,
the East India Company never issued these cartridges to the sepoys.
But it was too late.
The scene was set for the
East India Company's greatest challenge yet,
an episode that has become known to the British as the Indian Mutiny
but to the Indians, it was the First War of Independence.
After several isolated incidents the uprising began for real when the troops at Meerut
rose up and headed for Delhi.
On the 11th of May 1857, the city fell.
The rebellion is a mixture of dissatisfied
groups in India. The biggest dissatisfied
group are the soldiers and since they're professionals
and they're armed, they are the most dangerous.
You will see in any revolution that you've got a problem
if your army turns on you.
But also they were joined by a lot of disgruntled civilians,
people who for
various reasons weren't happy with East India Company rule,
and that included a lot of people whose principalities had been
taken from them, a lot of people who felt
they had something to gain by seeing the back of the British.
The East India Company was about to pay a heavy
price for allowing its relationship with India to break down.
Right across northern India native troops rebelled against their
British officers, often killing them and their families.
There were serious disturbances at the strategically placed
These were situated between Delhi
and the administrative capital, Calcutta.
If they fell it would seriously imperil the entire British
position in northern India.
Even the supposedly reliable garrison at Cawnpore was in revolt.
The East India Company was unable to restore order or prevent
acts of savage retribution by its troops.
The situation spiralled out of control.
The company had fatally bungled its response to the uprising.
Having been forced, bit by bit, to give up its privileges
throughout the previous century, it was finally on its knees.
The mutiny is the beginning of the end for the East India Company,
because it shows quite clearly to the British government that the
East India Company is no longer capable of governing India.
It's clearly made mistakes, probably in the way it runs its army
but also in its civil administration, and the amount of lives lost,
the treasure expended, can only mean one thing
and that is that India has to become a part of the British Empire.
The Government and the British people had had
enough of the rapacious, profiteering East India Company.
On the 1st of November 1858 British India was finally
and inevitably handed over to the government of Queen Victoria.
Dan Snow looks at the rise and fall of the East India Company in this version of the BBC Two series made specially for schools.
Just over 400 years ago, a group of London merchants arrived on the Indian coast. Over the course of 200 years, the company they formed grew into a commercial titan. Its wealth rivalled that of the British state. The East India Company had its own army and eventually ruled over 400 million people. Its trade was vital to Britain's commercial success and it revolutionised the British lifestyle. By accident, it created one of the most powerful empires in history. But the company's rise was followed by a dramatic fall into profiteering and corruption. Unchecked greed led to devastating consequences.