One of the remarkable foibles of history is the fact that India
, when first conquered by a European power
, was not occupied by a country at all. It was, instead, a private corporation
-- the British East India Company
-- which ruled India with its own private army
for the first few years, at least. The ascension of this model of governance began in 1757, when the Company responded to an attack by allied French and Indian forces (this is not to be confused with the French and Indian War
, going on at the exact same time and for the exact same reasons
, but involving different Indians
on a different contintent
). In India, the allied enemies had attacked British-controlled Calcutta
, and this was all the excuse the Company needed to wage a full-scale war (complete with political intrigue including a Company-sponsored coup d'etat in local Indian government), in which the Company prevailed with its superior resources. The local ruler, the "Nawab of Bengal" as he was arcanely titled, was forced to cede control over his territory to the Company; eight years later the Company was formally granted authority to tax the populations of Bengal
, and seven years after that -- in 1772 -- it set Calcutta as its capital
, appointed a Governor-General (Warren Hastings, who would later be bankrupted in an impeachment trial in the British House of Commons, despite his ultimate acquittal), and began undertaking the serious business of governing the people.
But this is not to suggest that the rulership was carried out wisely or well. The company, unbound by civil service laws, was free to rely upon corruption and nepotism in its ordering of affairs. Within a year of establishing its capital city, the Company was coming hat in hand to the Parliament
of the United Kingdom
. And so began the progression of attempts at a legislative solution, each titled the India Act. The first, in 1773, authorized British supervision of the governance of the subcontinent -- but stopped short of taking any role in such governance. Next, in 1784, the United Kingdom set up a council, essentially advisory in nature, and seeded with Company members along with British appointees. But then in 1786, an amendment to that act made the unflappable Lord Cornwallis
Governor-General, essentially installing him as ruler of the land. Although the Company remained powerful for some time to follow, it's charter was whittled down to a monopoly on tea in 1813, and its trade license revoked altogether in 1833 -- leaving the Company with no responsibility other than the governance of India itself. Naturally, by this time everybody who'd been involved with the initial establishment of the company's power was dead, and the new generation running it were effectively a private corps of civil servants.
The next India Act ended the role of the Company altogether. In the 1850s the British struggled to end excessive 'familiarity' between the British governing officials and the native inhabitants -- especially the practice amongst Company men of taking mistresses, beautiful Indian women schooled in the arts of the Kama Sutra
and more forwardly sexual than the wives who had (usually) been left home. The enforcement of barriers against social interaction between the people and their occupying rulers led to friction, coming to a head in a nationalist rebellion in 1857. In part, the rebellion was fueled by the introduction of a new model of rifle
-- one whose cartridges were greased with animal fat. The rumor spread wild that the grease was a mix of pork fat (offensive to Muslims
) and beef fat (offensive to Hindus
). Since the Company relied on paid native soldiers who most frequently belonged to one of these faiths, this new weapon turned their own army against them. The United Kingdom, incensed by reports of the massacre
of defenseless British women and children in the ensuing violence, sent a mass of forces to crush the rebellion, and in 1858 passed a new India Act, one forever ending the role of the Company in the governance of India.