In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section British-India Armies from 1740 to 1849

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Military Revolution Theories
  • Garrison State
  • Military Orientalism
  • British Army and the Company’s European Army in India
  • Construction of the Sepoy Army
  • Mutinies
  • Cavalry, Small Arms, and Artillery
  • Logistics
  • Military Leadership
  • Carnatic, Bengal, and Bihar
  • Anglo-Mysore Wars
  • Anglo-Maratha Wars
  • Anglo-Sikh Wars

Military History British-India Armies from 1740 to 1849
Kaushik Roy
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 06 February 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0025


The British, in the guise of East India Company (EIC; also referred to as “the Company”) came to India (South Asia/subcontinent) as traders during the mid-17th century. They established small fortified enclaves at Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta. At that time, the EIC had neither the intention nor the capability to establish a large land empire in South Asia. In the occasional skirmishes between the “native” powers and the EIC’s forces, the latter were always worsted. However, the scenario started changing in the 1740s. The pan-Indian Mughal Empire broke up, and several indigenous powers started fighting against each other to establish their independent domains. The power vacuum and the prospect of acquiring economic concessions from the indigenous potentates encouraged the French and the British to intervene in local politics and penetrate inland into the interior of the subcontinent. By the 1750s, the French East India Company (Compagnies des Indies) was defeated by the EIC. Between the 1760s and 1849, the EIC fought and destroyed the three large indigenous powers—Mysore, Maratha Confederacy, and Khalsa Kingdom—and established subcontinental hegemony.

General Overviews

The principal pillar of British imperialism in South Asia was the British-controlled armed forces. On average, about 33 percent to 50 percent of the budget of the EIC went to finance its armies. Besides importing bullion from England, the EIC sustained its armies with the land revenue sucked from its large agrarian bureaucratic empire in the subcontinent. Heathcote 1995 portrays the evolution of the various armies of the EIC. Whereas Heathcote focuses on the British officers, Menezes 1993 highlights the role of the Indians in the making of the British-led Indian Army. The presence of EIC’s capital-intensive infantry-artillery oriented army also resulted in extensive modernization/Westernization of the forces of the indigenous powers during this period.

  • Heathcote, T. A. The Military in British India: The Development of British Land Forces in South Asia 1600–1947. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1995.

    This volume provides a snapshot of the development of British armies in South Asia from 1600 until 1947. However, Heathcote’s focus remains the British officers.

  • Menezes, Lieutenant-General S. L. The Indian Army: From the Seventeenth to the Twenty-First Century. New Delhi: Viking, 1993.

    This volume provides an overview of the evolution of the land army in British India. While the Indians provided muscle power, the British officers constituted the brains of the army.

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