Robert Clive, known as Clive of India, was born on the 29th of September 1725, in Shropshire. As a boy he was sent to several schools, but appeared to benefit little from this. In 1743, at the age of eighteen, he joined the service of the East India Company as a clerk, and went to Madras, where he arrived in 1744. In Madras Clive spent much time studying in the Governor's library.

At this time, the Mughal Empire had declined to the point that the various Indian princes were practically independent, and the English and French East India Companies each supported rival princes who were friendly to them. In 1746 the French attacked and took Madras. Clive escaped from the town to Fort St. David, where he joined the military forces of the East India Company as an Ensign. The fighting soon ended, however; in 1748 the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle returned Madras to England, and Clive returned to civilian duties, with responsibility for acquiring supplies for the Madras garrison.

Hostilities soon broke out again. In 1751, during a dispute over the succession to the Carnatic, Muhammad Ali, a British ally, was beseiged by his French-connected rival, Chanda Sahib, in the fortress of Trichinopoly. Clive rejoined the military as a Captain, and lead a diversionary attack against Arcot with 200 Europeans and 300 Indians. Clive successfully took Arcot, and then withstood a seven-week siege. When his enemies finally withdrew, he followed and defeated them, before going to relieve the garrison at Trichinopoly.

In 1753 Clive left India with his bride, Margaret Maskelyne, and a considerable amount of money gained from his civilian position in Madras. In England, Clive spent part of his fortune in an attempt to enter parliament for a rotten borough. He was not successful; and in 1756 he arrived back in India as a Lieutenant Colonel in the regular army and governor of Fort St. David, storming a pirate stronghold en route.

In 1756 the new Nawab of Bengal attacked and captured the fort at Calcutta, during a dispute with the East India Company over the fortification of Calcutta. It was in the aftermath of this that the Black Hole of Calcutta incident occurred. Clive was given command of the expedition for the relief of Calcutta, and he retook the city in early 1757. On the 23rd of June, he defeated the nawab's forces at the Battle of Plassey (largely due to the nawab's forces being unable to keep their powder dry in the rain), and put Mir Jafar in his place. Mir Jafar, in return, made an enormous cash gift to Clive.

The victory at Plassey gave Clive and the East India Company control of Bengal. Clive acted as governor until 1760, when he returned to England due to ill health. Clive stood successfully for parliament for the constituency of Shrewsbury, and in 1762 was made Baron Clive of Plassey in the Irish Peerage.

In 1765 Clive returned to Calcutta as governor and commander-in-chief of Bengal. He reformed the company's service and the army, eliminating inefficiency and corruption, and making many enemies by doing so. After he returned to Britain, Clive was accused of corruption and had to face a parliamentary inquiry. He was practically acquitted, parliament declaring that he did "render great and meritorious service to his country". However, Clive was in poor health and remained obsessed with the charges. He became addicted to opium and committed suicide in November 1774.

Richard Boleslawski directed a film, "Clive of India", based on the life of Robert Clive, with Ronald Colman in the title role.