In 1750, the East India Company operated alongside French and Dutch companies, employing 3,000 armed soldiers to protect its silks and spices in its trading stations from the infighting that often broke out among local kings and rulers. By 1803, it had 260,000 soldiers in a private army and had become the effective ruler of an entire subcontinent having subdued the native rulers. This single company was responsible for half of all Britain’s trade.
The astonishing expansion and transformation of the East India Company can be illustrated in the lives of two of its most famous officials, Robert Clive and William Hastings. Together they helped lay the foundations for two centuries of British rule, but they also illustrate the reasons for the East India Company’s eventual demise.
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