Some words about the French adventurers who came in India in the 18° century to make a fortune

During the 18° century, the French ( monarchy) tried to colonize India. Dupleix, then governor general of the French establishments in India and the greatest rival of Robert Clive ( then British governor of Bengal), achieved to rule half of South India thanks to his diplomatic and commercial acute sense : he intervened directly with the South Indian princes by giving his army of sepoys in exchange of territories. In 1763, the Paris treaty ended the Seven Years’ war between the European nations, particularly between France and England. The confrontation between the two nations spred to North America and India where both countries had colonies. Being defeated, France had to abandon its colonies in North America while in India, France retained only five territories, the establishments of Pondichéry, Karikal, Yanaon, Mahé and Chandernagor. All of them were placed under British surveillance. Dozens of French officers were demobilized or deserted their garrisons to sell their services to Indian princes. ( After all, most of them came in India to become rich, not to serve their king.) Those who stayed to serve Indian princes had under their command Indian soldiers who were trained the European way. Once engaged, these adventurers were in charge of armies comprising sometimes thousands of men, cosmopolitan battalions with officers coming from France, Italy, Netherlands, Germany,… Because of their discipline and their ability, such artillery units were dreaded by the other Indian princes. Many times, their strike force made the difference. In return for their services, these adventurers received huge domaines where they almost ruled like monarchs, where the French flag was sometimes flying.

While the British considered them as agents spying on behalf of France, most of these adventurers pursued their own personal goals ( i.e. making money). Claude Martin ( 1735-1800) was one of them. When he was still very young, he embarked to India where he served France for five years. Then, he was taken prisoner by the British but betrayed his country to serve them. He enlisted another Frenchman, René Madec, who had also been captured by the British at Gingee ( near Pondichéry) in 1761. Throughout India, Madec became famous for his military skills. At some point, he was in charge of an army comprising 100 000 men trained by 150 European officers. Benoît de Boigne ( 1751-1830) was another romantical character. First, he enrolled to serve the British before serving the Maratha kings. He was then at the head of an army of 30 000 men and became the ruler of a significant part of northern India.

Known as efficient warriors, sometimes overestimated, the French adventurers were also well-advised businessmen. Claude Martin made a fortune thanks to the indigo trade. Despite of their long-term sojourn abroad, they had not forgotten their native country. When he came back in Europe in 1795, Boigne was filthy rich. He used his fortune to embellish his native town, Chambéry. Ennobled by Louis XVI, Madec came back to his native Brittany to live a quiet life with his wife. Many times the villagers saw him riding his horse in the moor, accompanied by his loyal indian servant.

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2 Responses to Some words about the French adventurers who came in India in the 18° century to make a fortune

  1. masalabou says:

    Fascinating! My great great great great great grandfather was a French army officer who married a local Indian woman. As their daughter Marie married in 1800, he must have been in India in the c.18th.

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