Major Effect of a Miniature Portrait

by Ray Setterfield


Event Date: September 29, 1725
Location: Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Robert Clive, born on this day, was one of the key early figures in the creation of British India and became popularly known as “Clive of India.”

A man steeped in war, battles and death, he also had a soft heart when it came to women, particularly his wife, Margaret, with whom it was a case of love at first sight.

The story of how he was romantically smitten was told by Sir Bernard Burke in his book, The Rise of Great Families, published in 1873. (Sir Bernard was the founder of Burke’s Peerage, the guide to the genealogy and heraldry of the landed gentry in the United Kingdom and other parts of the world).

A young man called Edmund Maskelyne had gone to India in the service of the Honourable East India Company and became a good friend of Clive. Burke wrote in his book:

“There hung up in Mr Maskelyne’s room several portraits, among others a miniature which attracted Clive’s frequent attention. One day Maskelyne read to his friend a letter he had received from England. A day or two later Clive came back to ask to have the letter read to him again.

“Who is the writer?” enquired Clive.

“My sister,” was the reply. “My sister [Margaret] whose miniature hangs there [and he pointed to the portrait that had caught Clive’s attention earlier].

“Is it a faithful representation?” further asked Clive.

“It is,” rejoined Maskelyne, “of her face and form; but it is unequal to represent the excellence of her mind and character.”

“Well, Maskelyne,” said Clive, taking him by the hand, “you know me well, and can speak of me as I really am. Do you think that girl would be induced to come to India and marry me?”

“Maskelyne wrote home, and so recommended Clive’s suit that the lady acquiesced, went to India and, in 1753, was married at Madras [now Chennai] to Clive.”


Margaret was 17 on her wedding day, ten years younger than her bridegroom. She gave Clive nine children and lived to be 82 when she died in 1817.

Sadly, she had been a widow for more than 40 years because Clive – or Major-General Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive, Commander-in-Chief of British India – to give him his various titles, died at the young age of 49 in 1774.

Published: July 21, 2017

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