Marquis Dupleix

The French colonial administrator Joseph François, Marquis Dupleix (1697-1763), sought to establish a French empire in India but was frustrated by indifference at home and by growing British power.

Joseph François Dupleix was born in Landrecies on Jan. 1, 1697, into a wealthy family. After making several voyages to America and India, in 1721 he was named a member of the superior council at Pondicherry, India, of the Compagnie des Indes—the French counterpart of the English East India Company. In addition to his official duties he engaged, as was the custom, in private business ventures and gained a fortune. In 1731 he became governor or superintendent of French affairs in Chandernagor, where he administered his office with great competence and established a fruitful trade with China.

In 1742 Dupleix was appointed governor general of the company with authority over French investments in India. Ambitious to found a great French colony at a time when native governments were in a state of political dissolution and when commercial advantages were open to European nations, Dupleix found himself opposed by British designs. He was also hampered by a bitter jealousy on the part of the Comte de La Bourdonnais, governor of the isle of Bourbon, and by a lack of understanding among the company officials in France.

The War of the Austrian Succession permitted Dupleix partially to realize his aims. The capitulation of Madras to the French in 1746 fostered his purpose, but restoration of the city to British control blocked him. He sent an expedition against Fort St. David in 1747, but it was defeated by the nawab of Arcot, who was allied with the British. When the British besieged Pondicherry in 1748, Dupleix conducted a brilliant defense, but news of the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle arrived during the operations and halted further military activities.

Dupleix sought to subjugate southern India and use military forces to safeguard commercial advantages. He sent troops to aid sovereign claimants to the Carnatic and the Deccan, who were opposed by British-supported rivals. In the end, Dupleix was unable to match the British aspirations and activities directed by Robert Clive, and French influence declined as British power increased.

In 1754 the French government, wishing to avoid further conflict with the British in India, sent a special commissioner, Charles Robert Godeheu, to replace Dupleix, who returned to France that year. Although he had expended his personal fortune to support his public policy, he found that the Compagnie des Indes was unwilling to reimburse him and that the French government would do nothing to help him. Regarded at the time as an ambitious and self-serving adventurer, he died in obscurity, neglect, and poverty in Paris on Nov. 10, 1763. He was, however, one of the greatest French colonial administrators of the 18th century, but his country's lack of interest defeated him.

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Further Reading on Marquis Dupleix

For information on Dupleix see G. B. Malleson, Dupleix (1895), and Henry Dodwell, Dupleix and Clive: The Beginning of Empire (1920).