On this day in the year 1757 Robert Clive led his army of 3,000 soldiers against an Indian and French army of 50,000 at the village of Palashi, north of modern day Kolkata. On the morning of this day the British position in India was highly uncertain. The French or the Dutch could easily have ended up as paramount European power in India.
After the battle of Plassey the French were neutralised. Two years later the British were able to consolidate their position by defeating the Dutch at the battle of Chinsurah.
The Battle of Plassey was won by two secret weapons; bribery and tarpaulins. Clive negotiated a deal with Mir Jafar and a group of senior Indians. Jafar commanded the left wing of the Indian forces at Plassey, and defected to the British for a bribe. There was also an issue of two different sets of treaties that were drawn up to hoodwink certain of the conspirators. Sadly this type of double dealing is all too common in the history of British diplomatic dealings. Beware perfidious Albion.
On the military side the victory was not assured. The early stages of the battle were a stalemate as the French and English artillery pounded at each other with little strategic effect. Then the rain came down. The French and Indian artillery saw their powder drenched. Their fire rates plummeted.
This was the signal for the massive Indian cavalry contingent to sweep the British from the field. They charged the British guns only to be decimated by a hail of grapeshot. The British had tarpaulins and they deployed them to keep the powder dry. This simple expedient turned the course of the battle and gave the day to Robert Clive. The ennobled Clive built his Estate in County Clare in Ireland and named it Plassey Estate.
Across the Shannon River Thomas Maunsell, scion of another General of the British Army on the day named his Limerick House after the battle, Plassey House. These lands now house Limerick University. Students nickname the building “The White House”.