Beginning with small means, then suddenly astonishing the world by its dazzling promise, the venture of the French in India was destined to end thus early in humiliation and failure. Discuss. (250 Words)

Mentors Comment:

  • This is a famous quote regarding the downfall of the French East India Company in India. Their rise and downfall in the Indian subcontinent were both astonishing and quick. So you have to base your answer on these lines.
  • Introduce the French East India Company in the intro and its establishment of centers in various parts of the Indian Subcontinent. Then discuss the meteoric rise of French in India. Discuss various centers they acquired and how quick this expansion was. 
  • In the second part, discuss the reasons for the downfall of the French company. Reasons are lack of support from the French government, financial losses, weak navy, not many centers of importance with respect to what English had, inefficient personnel, etc. 


The French were the last among the European powers to arrive in India, but they were the first to evolve the building of a territorial empire in the Indian subcontinent. French East India Company was founded in 1664. In 1667 the company established the first factory at Surat and the second factory was established at Masulipatnam a year later. But it withered away all their quick gains quite quickly to British East India Company.

Meteoric Rise of French East India Company in India:

  • In 1674, the French East India Company established a trading center at Pondicherry
  • It eventually became the chief French settlement in India. 
  • The Dutch captured Pondicherry in 1693 but returned it to France later. 
  • The French acquired Mahe in the 1720s, Yanam in 1731, and Karaikal in 1738. 
  • They also established a factory at Chandranagar in Bengal. 
  • A new factory in 1688 was established at Chinsura.
  • It made rapid progress and it was reorganized in the 1720s and soon began to catch up with the English Company.
  • The French came to India mainly with the purpose of trade and commerce.
  • As time passed, there came a change in their motives and they began to consider India as their colony.
  • In 1741, Joseph François Dupleix began to cherish the ambition of a French Empire in India. 
  • In 1742, war broke out in Europe between France and England over colonies in America.
  • This rivalry spread to Indian soil as well.
  • Mughal Empire was disintegrating and so the prize of trade or territory was likely to be much bigger than in the past.
  • Anglo-French conflict in India lasted for nearly 20 years and led to the establishment of British power in India.

What went wrong with French?

Attitude of government:

  • At the beginning of the 18th century, English & French were competing for their supremacy in India, mainly in the Carnatic & Bengal region which resulted in the Carnatic War.
  • The French Government did not realize the importance of the colo­nial empires in India.
  • They got involved in the Continental War near home which precluded her from sending adequate help to her colonies abroad.
  • British East India Company, on the other hand, had various advan­tage over their French counterparts. 
  • Britain fought the war on the Continent with the help of Prussia, a rising military power very near to France.
  • Thus Britain employed much of her strength and energy to fight the French in India.

Nature of the Company:

  • There was an inherent weakness in the very nature of the organization of the French Company. 
  • Unlike the English East India Company, the French East India Company was a State concern, depending on everything on the home government.
  • Its freedom of action was very much limited by the charter and the whims and fancies of the rulers.
  • The Company did not enjoy autonomy, nor did it re­present the interest of the French nation.
  • The fortune or misfortune of the Company was unrelated to the fortune or misfortune of the French nation. 
  • But the English East India Company was a joint-stock company in whose fortune or misfortune a large section of the English nation was directly interested.

Weak centers of power for French:

  • Both for commercial purposes and for purposes of war the French seat of power was less advantageous compared to that of the English.
  • The French had only one seat of power, Pondicherry, and a harbor and sea base at Mauritius, but it was distant and ill-equipped. 
  • The English had three well-established seats of power in India, namely, Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta, and had in their possession one dockyard and an excellent harbor.

Finances of French Company:

  • Poverty dogged the French in India even when they were at the zenith of their power in India.
  • The French company was not even in a position to pay its troops while the English company enjoyed steady streams of revenues through its seats of power. 
  • French companies put Indian trade on a backseat and focused instead on political expansion which also hurt their economic backbone. English, on the other hand, kept doing their trade while fighting French at the same time.
  • General Dupleix spent his own fortunes to meet the financial needs of the French Government in India, but this was too small in comparison to the task he had undertaken. 

Naval Strength:

  • The lack of naval strength of the French compared to that of the English was one of the decisive factors for the failure of the French in India. 
  • French company did not appreciate the greater importance of the navy in the colonial expansion in India; on the contrary, they relied more on the land forces. 

Incompetent Personnel: 

  • Personal Incompetence of French officials was also responsible for their decline in India. 
  • They were of no match to English generals who manned and motivated their troops and traders efficiently.
  • The decisive battle was fought at Wandiwash on 22 January 1760 when the English general Eyre Coote defeated French general Lally.
  • The war ended in 1763 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris.
  • Though the Treaty of Paris, 1763, accorded to the French the status quo as it stood in 1749, there was a marked decline in the position and status of the French in India. 

Gradually French were no longer masters, only subordinates, whose existence in India depended upon the goodwill and kindness of the English. The causes of the French failure in the Carnatic wars can be traced to several factors. They suffered much on account of scarcity of necessary funds and lack of timely support from the home government. What was a tremendous rise of political expansion in India, French ended losing most of their gains and lost the track of things in India.

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4 years ago

@parth_verma sir, can you please let me know how to access the monthly AWE magazine?


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