During the 1500s and 1600s, the Mughals presided over a powerful empire in India. By the mid-1700s, however, the Mughal empire was in decline. When Mughal rulers were strong, the British East India Company gained only limited trading rights on the fringe of the empire.
An official of the British East India Company rides in an Indian procession in the early 1800s. How does the painting convey the power of the British?
As Mughal power declined, the company's influence grew and it drove its rival France out of India. By the mid-1800s, the British East India Company controlled three fifths of India. In the 1800s, Britain turned its commercial interests in India into political ones.
Even when Mughal power was at its height, India was home to many people and cultures. As Mughal power crumbled, India became fragmented. Indians speaking dozens of different languages and with different traditions were not able to unite against the newcomers.
The British took advantage of Indian divisions by playing rival princes against each other. When local disputes led to conflict, the British stepped in. Where diplomacy or intrigue did not work, the British used their superior weapons to overpower local rulers.
The East India Company's main goal in India was to make money, and leading officials often grew rich. At the same time, the company did work to improve roads, preserve peace, and reduce banditry.