The chapters in this book examine and illuminate the nature of the Anglo-French relationship at certain periods during the last two hundred years, both in peacetime and in war and include political, economic, diplomatic, military and strategic considerations and influences. While the impact of Anglo-French relations is centred essentially on the European context, other areas are also considered including the Middle East, Africa and the North Atlantic.
The elements of conflict, rivalry and cooperation in Anglo-French relations are also highlighted whether in peace or war. This book was previously published as a special issue of Diplomacy and Statecraft. Contestants for power in certain coastal states were willing to seek European support for their ambitions and Europeans were only too willing to give it. In part, they acted on behalf of their companies.
By the s rivalry between the British and the French, who were late comers to Indian trade, was becoming acute. In southern India the British and the French allied with opposed political factions within the successor states to the Mughals to extract gains for their own companies and to weaken the position of their opponents.
Private ambitions were also involved. Great personal rewards were promised to the European commanders who succeeded in placing their Indian clients on the thrones for which they were contending. A successful kingmaker, like Robert Clive, could become prodigiously rich. There the local ruler actually took the Company's Calcutta settlement in , only to be driven out of it by British troops under Robert Clive, whose victory at Plassey in the following year enabled a new British satellite ruler to be installed.
Anglo-French relations since the late eighteenth century
British influence quickly gave way to outright rule over Bengal, formally conceded to Clive in by the still symbolically important, if militarily impotent, Mughal emperor. What opinion in Britain came to recognise as a new British empire in India remained under the authority of the East India Company, even if the importance of the national concerns now involved meant that the Company had to submit to increasingly close supervision by the British state and to periodical inquiries by parliament.
In India, the governors of the Company's commercial settlements became governors of provinces and, although the East India Company continued to trade, many of its servants became administrators in the new British regimes. Huge armies were created, largely composed of Indian sepoys but with some regular British regiments.
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These armies were used to defend the Company's territories, to coerce neighbouring Indian states and to crush any potential internal resistance. Collection of taxes was the main function of government. About one third of the produce of the land was extracted from the cultivators and passed up to the state through a range of intermediaries, who were entitled to keep a proportion for themselves.
In addition to enforcing a system whose yield provided the Company with the resources to maintain its armies and finance its trade, British officials tried to fix what seemed to them to be an appropriate balance between the rights of the cultivating peasants and those of the intermediaries, who resembled landlords.
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British judges also supervised the courts, which applied Hindu or Islamic rather than British law. There was as yet little belief in the need for outright innovation.
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On the contrary, men like Warren Hastings, who ruled British Bengal from to , believed that Indian institutions were well adapted to Indian needs and that the new British governments should try to restore an 'ancient constitution', which had been subverted during the upheavals of the 18th century. If this were done, provinces like Bengal would naturally recover their legendary past prosperity. By the end of the century, however, opinions were changing. India seemed to be suffering not merely from an unfortunate recent history but from deeply ingrained backwardness.
It needed to be 'improved' by firm, benevolent foreign rule. Various strategies for improvement were being discussed.
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Property relations should be reformed to give greater security to the ownership of land. Laws should be codified on scientific principles. All obstacles to free trade between Britain and India should be removed, thus opening India's economy to the stimulus of an expanding trade with Europe. Europe made the UK. The emergence first of England as a nation state was the product of European pressures — to defend itself against Viking raids. Moreover, Europe has almost always been more important to us than the rest of the world.
The nature of the European challenge varied greatly over time.
It was always strategic. In the Middle Ages the main enemy was France. In the 16th century and early 17th centuries it was Spain. From the late 17th to the early 19th century it was France again; in the mid to late 19th century it was Tsarist Russia.
Very often, the danger was also ideological. From continental heresy in the Middle Ages, through counter-reformation Catholicism which also become a synonym for absolutism and continental tyranny in the 16th and 17th centuries, French Jacobinism in the late 18th century , right and left wing totalitarianism in the 20th century, to Islamist terrorists arriving from Europe as migrants today.
Furthermore, Europe has profoundly shaped domestic politics in the UK. It has been the subject of argument without end for hundreds of years. In the 16th and 17th century there were furious debates over the best way to protect Protestantism and parliamentary freedoms in a Europe in which both were under severe attack. From the 18th century onwards, Britons disagreed on the best strategy for maintaining the European balance of power.