The Coming of Europeans and 18th Century India

The commercial contacts between India and Europe were very old via the land route either through the Oxus valley or Syria or Egypt. But, the new sea route via the Cape of Good Hope was discovered by Vasco da Gama in 1498. Thereafter, many trading companies came to India and established their trading centres. They entered India as traders at the outset but by the passage of time indulged in the politics of India and finally established their colonies. The commercial rivalry among the European powers led to political rivalry. Ultimately, the British succeeded in establishing their rule India.

The Portuguese

The Portuguese traveler Vasco da Gama reached the port of Calicut on 17 May 1498 and he was warmly received by Zamorin, the ruler of Calicut. He returned to Portugal in the next year. Pedro Alvarez Cabral arrived in 1500 and Vasco da Gama also made a second trip in 1502. They established trading stations at Calicut, Cannanore and Cochin.

The first governor of the Portuguese in India was Francis de Almeida. Later in 1509 Albuquerque was made the governor of the Portuguese territories in India. In 1510, he captured Goa from the ruler of Bijapur. Thereafter, Goa became the capital of the Portuguese settlements in India. Albuquerque captured Malacca and Ceylon. He also built a fort at Calicut. He encouraged his countrymen to marry Indian women. Albuquerque died in 1515 leaving the Portuguese as the strongest naval power in India.

The successors of Albuquerque established Portuguese settlements at Daman, Salsette and Bombay on the west coast and at San Thome near Madras and Hugli in Bengal on the east coast. However, the Portuguese power declined in India by the end of the sixteenth century. They lost all their possessions in India except Goa, Diu and Daman in the next century.

The Dutch

The Dutch East India Company was established in 1602. The merchants of this company came to India and established their settlements at Masulipattinam, Pulicat, Surat, Karaikal, Nagapattinam, Chinsura and Kasimbazar. In the seventeenth century they won over the Portuguese and emerged the most dominant power in European trade in the East. Pulicat was their main centre in India and later it was replaced by Nagapattinam. In the middle of the seventeenth century the English began to emerge as a big colonial power. The Anglo-Dutch rivalry lasted for about seven decades during which period the Dutch lost their settlements to the British one by one.

The English

The English East India Company was established in 1600 and the Charter was issued by Queen Elizabeth of England. Captain Hawkins arrived at the royal court of Jahangir in 1609 to seek permission to establish English trading centre at Surat. But it was refused by the Mughal Emperor due to Portuguese pressure. Later in 1612, Jahangir issued a farman (permission letter) to the English and they established a trading factory at Surat in 1613.

Sir Thomas Roe came to India as ambassador of James I, the king of England to the Mughal court in 1615. He obtained permission from Jahangir to establish English trading factories in different parts of India.

The English established their factories at Agra, Ahmadabad, Baroda and Broach by 1619. The English East India Company acquired Bombay from Charles II, the then king of England. In 1639, Francis Day founded the city of Madras where the Fort St. George was built. In 1690, an English factory was established at a place called Sutanuti by Job Charnock. Later it developed into the city of Calcutta where Fort William was built. Later, Calcutta became the capital of British India. Thus Bombay, Madras, Calcutta became three presidency towns of the English settlements in India.

The French

The French East India Company was formed in 1664 by Colbert, a Minister under Louis XIV. The first French factory in India was established at Surat by Francis Caron. Later, Maracara set up a factory at Masulipattinam. Francois Martin founded Pondicherry in 1673. Other French factories in India were Chandranagore, Mahe and Karaikal. Francois Martin was the first governor of Pondicherry, the headquarters of the French possessions in India.

The Danes

Denmark also established trade settlements in India. Their settlement at Tranquebar was founded in 1620. Another important Danish settlement in India was Serampore in Bengal. Serampore was their headquarters in India. They failed to strengthen themselves in India and they sold all their settlement in India to the British in 1845.

Anglo-French Rivalry

In the beginning of the eighteenth century, the English and the French were competing with each other to establish their supremacy in India. Both of them used the political turmoil prevalent in India as a result of the decline of the Mughal Empire in their favour and indulged in internal politics. The Anglo-French rivalry in India was manifest in the Carnatic region and in Bengal.

The Carnatic Wars

The downfall of the Mughal Empire led to the independence of Deccan under Nizam-ul-Mulk. The Carnatic region also formed part of the Nizam’s dominion. The ruler of

the Carnatic accepted the suzerainty of the Nizam. In 1740, the Austrian War of Succession broke out in Europe. In that war England and France were in the opposite camps. They came into conflict in India also.

The French governor of Pondicherry, Dupleix opened attack on the English in 1746 and thus began the First Carnatic War (1746-1748). The English sought help from the Nawab of Carnatic, Anwar Uddin. But the French concluded a treaty with his rival Chanda Sahib. The English army crushed a defeat on the French in the Battle of Adyar, near Madras. In the meantime, the Treaty of Aix-la-Chappelle was concluded in 1748 to end the Austrian Succession War. Thus, the First Carnatic War came to an end.

But the English and French continued to take opposite sides in the internal politics of India. This had resulted in the Second Carnatic War (1749-1754). Dupleix supported the cause of Muzafar Jang, who wanted to become the Nizam of Hyderabad and Chanda Sahib, an aspirant for the throne of Arcot. The troops of these three defeated Anwar Uddin, who was with the British in the First Carnatic War, and killed him in the Battle of Ambur in 1749. After this victory, Muzafar Jung became the Nizam and Chanda Sahib the Nawab of Arcot. Muhammad Ali, son of Anwar Uddin escaped to Tiruchirappalli. The English sent troops in support of him. In the meantime, the British commander Robert Clive captured Arcot. He also inflicted a severe defeat on the French at Kaveripakkam. Chanda Sahib was captured and beheaded in Tanjore. Meanwhile Dupleix was replaced by Godeheu as the French governor. The war came to an end by the Treaty of Pondicherry in 1754. The outbreak of the Seven Years War (1756-1763) in Europe led to the Third Carnatic War (1758-1763). Count de Lally was the commander of the French troops. The British General Sir Eyre Coote defeated him at Wandiwash in 1760. In the next year, Pondicherry was captured and destroyed by the British troops. The Seven Years War came to an end by the Treaty of Paris in1763.

The Third Carnatic War also ended. The French agreed to confine its activities in Pondicherry, Karaikkal, Mahe and Yenam. Thus, the Anglo-French rivalry came to a close with British success and French failure.

The causes for the French failure can be summed up as follows:

  1. Commercial and naval superiority of the English.
  2. Lack of support from the French government.
  3. French had support only in the Deccan but the English had a strong base in Bengal.
  4. English had three important ports – Calcutta, Bombay and Madras but French had only Pondicherry.
  5. Difference of opinion between the French Generals.
  6. England’s victory in the European wars decided the destiny of the French in India.

18th Century India

During the first half of the eighteenth century, the boundaries of the Mughal Empire were reshaped by the emergence of a number of independent kingdoms. In this post, we will read about the emergence of new political groups in the subcontinent during the first half of the eighteenth century – roughly from 1707, when Aurangzeb died, till the third battle of Panipat in 1761.

The Mughal Crisis

  • Emperor Aurangzeb had depleted the military and financial resources of his empire by fighting a long war in the Deccan.
  • Nobles who were appointed as governors (subadars) controlled the offices of revenue and military administration (diwani and faujdari) which gave them extraordinary political, economic and military powers over vast regions of the Mughal Empire.
  • Peasant and zamindari rebellions in many parts of northern and western India added to these problems.

Emergence of New States

Through the 18th century, the Mughal Empire gradually fragmented into a number of independent, regional states. It can be divided into three overlapping groups:

  • States that were old Mughal provinces like Awadh, Bengal, and Hyderabad. Although extremely powerful and quite independent, the rulers of these states did not break their formal ties with the Mughal emperor.
  • States that had enjoyed considerable independence under the Mughals as watan jagirs. These included several Rajput principalities.
  • States under the control of Marathas, Sikhs and others like the Jats. They all had seized their independence from the Mughals after a long-drawn armed struggle.


Nizam-ul-Mulk Asaf Jah, the founder of Hyderabad state, was appointed by Mughal Emperor Farrukh Siyar. He was entrusted first with the governorship of Awadh, and later given charge of the Deccan. He ruled quite independently without seeking any direction from Delhi or facing any interference. The state of Hyderabad was constantly engaged in a struggle against the Marathas to the west and with independent Telugu warrior chiefs (nayakas).


Burhan-ul-Mulk Sa ‘adat Khan was appointed subadar of Awadh in 1722. Awadh was a prosperous region, controlling the rich alluvial Ganga plain and the main trade route between north India and Bengal. Burhan-ul-Mulk held the combined offices of subadari, diwani and faujdari.

Burhan-ul-Mulk tried to decrease Mughal influence in the Awadh region by reducing the number of office holders (jagirdars) appointed by the Mughals.

The state depended on local bankers and mahajans for loans. It sold the right to collect the tax to the highest bidders. These “revenue farmers” (ijaradars) agreed to pay the state a fixed sum of money. So, they were also given considerable freedom in the assessment and collection of taxes.

These developments allowed new social groups, like moneylenders and bankers, to influence the management of the state’s revenue system, something which had not occurred in the past.


Bengal gradually broke away from Mughal control under Murshid Quli Khan who was appointed as the naib, deputy to the governor of the province and he was neither a formal subadar. Like the rulers of Hyderabad and Awadh, he also commanded the revenue administration of the state.

In an effort to reduce Mughal influence in Bengal he transferred all Mughal jagirdars to Orissa and ordered a major reassessment of the revenues of Bengal. Revenue was collected in cash with great strictness from all zamindars.

This shows that all 3 States Hyderabad, Awadh, Bengal richest merchants, and bankers were gaining a stake in the new political order.

The Watan Jagirs of the Rajputs

Many Rajput kings, particularly those belonging to Amber and Jodhpur, were permitted to enjoy considerable autonomy in their watan jagirs. In the 18th century, these rulers now attempted to extend their control over adjacent regions. So, Raja Ajit Singh of Jodhpur held the governorship of Gujarat and Sawai Raja Jai Singh of Amber was governor of Malwa. They also tried to extend their territories by seizing portions of imperial territories neighbouring their watans.

Seizing Independence

The Sikhs

The organisation of the Sikhs into a political community during the seventeenth century helped in regional state-building in the Punjab. Guru Gobind Singh fought against the Rajput and Mughal rulers, after this death, it was under Banda Bahadur’s the fight continued. The entire body used to meet at Amritsar at the time of Baisakhi and Diwali to take collective decisions known as “resolutions of the Guru (gurmatas)”.

A system called rakhi was introduced, offering protection to cultivators on the payment of a tax of 20 per cent of the produce. Their well-knit organization enabled them to put up a successful resistance to the Mughal governors first and then to Ahmad Shah Abdali who had seized the rich province of the Punjab and the Sarkar of Sirhind from the Mughals.

The Khalsa declared their sovereign rule by striking their own coin in 1765. The coin was same as that of Band Bahadur’s time. Maharaja Ranjit Singh reunited the groups and established his capital at Lahore in 1799.

The Marathas

Another powerful regional kingdom to arise out of a sustained opposition to the Mughal rule.

Shivaji (1627-1680) carved out a stable kingdom with the support of powerful warrior families (deshmukhs). Groups of highly mobile, peasant- pastoralists (kunbis) provided the backbone of the Maratha army. Poona became the capital of the Maratha kingdom.

After Shivaji, Peshwas [principal ministers] developed a very successful military organisation by raiding cities and by engaging Mughal armies in areas where their supply lines and reinforcements could be easily disturbed.

By the 1730s, the Maratha king was recognized as the overlord of the entire Deccan peninsula. He possessed the right to levy Chauth [25 per cent of the land revenue claimed by zamindars]. and sardeshmukhi [9-10 per cent of the land revenue paid to the head revenue collector in the Deccan] in the entire region.

The frontiers of Maratha domination expanded, after raiding Delhi in 1737, but these areas were not formally included in the Maratha empire but were made to pay tribute as a way of accepting Maratha sovereignty.

These military campaigns made other rulers hostile towards the Marathas. As a result, they were not inclined to support the Marathas during the third battle of Panipat in 1761.

By all account’s cities [Malwa, Ujjain etc.] were large and prosperous and functioned as important ant commercial and cultural centers show the effective administration capacities of Marathas.

The Jats

Jats too consolidated their power during the late 17th and 18th-centuries. Under their leader, Churaman, they acquired control over territories situated to the west of the city of Delhi, and by the 1680s they had begun dominating the region between the two imperial cities of Delhi and Agra.

The Jats were prosperous agriculturists, and towns like Panipat and Ballabhgarh became important trading centers in the areas dominated by them. When Nadir Shah (Shah of Iran) sacked Delhi in 1739, many of the city’s notables took refuge there. His son Jawahir Shah had troops and assembled some another from Maratha and Sikh to fight Mughal.

Establishment of British Power in Bengal

Bengal remained one of the fertile and wealthy regions of India. The English ascendancy in Bengal proved to be the basis for the expansion of English rule in India. The conflict between the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-Daula and the English led to the Battle of Plassey held on 23 June 1757.

Robert Clive, the Commander of the British troops emerged victorious by defeating the Nawab’s army. The easy English victory was due to the treachery of Mir Jabar, the Commander of Nawab’s army. However, the victory of the British in the Battle of Plassey marked the foundation of the British rule in India.

In 1764, the English once again defeated the combined forces of the Nawab of Oudh, the Mughal Emperor and the Nawab of Bengal in the Battle of Buxar. The English military superiority was decisively established. In 1765, Robert Clive was appointed as the Governor of Bengal. In the same year, the Treaty of Allahabad was concluded by which the Mughal Emperor granted the Diwani rights to the English East India Company. Thus, the British power in India was thoroughly established.


  1. Module-3 ModernIndia by NIOS
  2. Modern India by Bipin Chandra
  3. Class-12 Tamil Nadu State Board History Book

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