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British foreign and imperial policy

During the middle decades of the 18th century, there were several outbreaks of military conflict on the Indian subcontinent, the Carnatic Wars, as the English East India Company (often known simply as “the Company”) and its French counterpart, the French East India Company (Compagnie française des Indes orientales), struggled alongside local rulers to fill the vacuum that had been left by the decline of the Mughal Empire. The Battle of Plassey in 1757, in which the British, led by Robert Clive, defeated the Nawab of Bengaland his French allies, left the British East India Company in control of Bengal and as the major military and political power in India.[63]France was left control of its enclaves but with military restrictions and an obligation to support British client states, ending French hopes of controlling India.[64] In the following decades the British East India Company gradually increased the size of the territories under its control, either ruling directly or via local rulers under the threat of force from the British Indian Army, the vast majority of which was composed of Indian sepoys.[65]

The British and French struggles in India became but one theatre of the global Seven Years’ War (1756–1763) involving France, Britain and the other major European powers. The signing of the Treaty of Paris (1763) had important consequences for the future of the British Empire. In North America, France’s future as a colonial power effectively ended with the recognition of British claims to Rupert’s Land,[50] and the ceding of New France to Britain (leaving a sizeable French-speaking population under British control) and Louisiana to Spain. Spain ceded Florida to Britain. Along with its victory over France in India, the Seven Years’ War therefore left Britain as the world’s most powerful maritime power.[66]