Leaders of Indian Empires
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
As with our other Gunpowder Strategy games, play of Indian Empires revolves around proper use of leaders.
With smaller armies in play than in the European
Emperor, a general can make an enormous
difference in battle. And the extra movement
afforded by a general is also vital on the
While most of Soldier Emperor’s leaders
are probably at least somewhat familiar to those familiar
with European military history, it’s doubtful many
gamers know about those in Indian Empires. Here
we take a look at some of the more colorful personalities
of that game.
The sepoy general himself, the future Duke
of Wellington went out to India in 1796 as
Col. Arthur Wesley of the 33rd Regiment of
Foot. When his brother Richard acquired three
extra letters for their name and the governor-generalship
of British India, Arthur’s star rose
The elder Eyre Coote served in India from 1754, playing
a key role at Plassey in the Seven Years’ War. In
1770 he became commander-in-chief in India but came home
almost immediately after a personal dispute with one of
his generals; he returned to the post in 1777. He defeated
Haidar Ali of Mysore in several battles, but was forced
from the field by poor health. Coote was a noted military
eccentric, mentioning Indian sepoys and British private
soldiers in dispatches, behavior considered scandalous
by the British upper classes.
His nephew, also named Eyre Coote, did not
serve in India but held commands in Holland
in 1799 and Egypt in 1800. He later became
Governor-General of Jamaica and is claimed
as an ancestor by the American diplomat Colin
Powell, and holds the distinction as the only
member ever permanently expelled from the
Order of the Bath (for molesting young boys).
The first Sir Eyre Coote,
by Henry Robert Morland.
National Portrait Gallery.
A “dynastic” rather than individual
leader piece, this represents two men who
headed the Scindia clan of the Marathas.
Madhav Rao Narayan, Maharaja Scindia of Gwalior,
first came to prominence fighting the Afghans
at Panipat in 1761, when he was 34. He seized
Gwalior in 1768 and greatly expanded his clan’s
influence in the Maratha Confederacy. Greatly
impressed by his experience in the Seven Years’
War, he imported European officers, drillmasters
and arms to modernize his forces.
In 1792 he conquered Delhi and made the Mogul
Emperor his puppet. Despite nine wives, he
found none of his sons satisfactory as heirs
and instead adopted his great-nephew, Daulat
Rao Scindia Bahadur, who succeeded him upon
his death in 1794.
The younger Scindia oversaw the destruction
of Maratha power and subordination to the
English, despite stout resistance.
Pierre Cuillier deserted from a French frigate in 1780
and spent the next decade as a soldier of fortune in upper
India. By 1790, he’d risen to prominence as commander
of the second brigade of De Boigne’s Maratha corps,
and taken the nom de guerre of Perron. He played a key
role in the victory of Kardla over Hyderabad, and commanded
Maratha forces at Malpura against the Rajputs. But he
deserted Scindia in 1803 and returned to France a rich
Peshwa (Chief Warlord) of the Marathas, not
to be confused with the similarly-named Madhav
Rao Scindia. The first Madhav Rao represented
by the counter became Peshwa after his brother
was killed in action at Panipat in 1761 and
his father died of grief. Madhav Rao defeated
both Hyderabad and Mysore, but died in 1772
at age 27.
Rao receives British supplicants
at Panipat, 1761
The counter also represents the later Peshwa,
Sawai Madhav Rao, who took office as a small
child in 1775 and would in turn die young,
but prove a capable leader before his premature
end in 1795. During his minority, the capable
Nana Phadnis led the Marathas to victory over
the British in 1784 and is also represented
by this piece.
A title rather than a name, this counter
usually represents the wily Nizam Ali Khan,
ruler of Hyderabad. The fourth son of the
dynasty’s founder, the Nizam-ul-Mulk,
Ali Khan skillfully guided his kingdom through
a bewildering patchwork of war and alliance
with the British, French, Marathas and Mysore.
He died in 1803 and was followed by his son,
Akbar Ali Khan Sikander Jah. The Nizam dynasty
kept Hyderabad’s semi-independence through
the 1857 Sepoy Rebellion and into the 20th
century. In 1947 the last Nizam, Mir Osman
Ali Khan, declared Hyderabad independent of
the new India and soon saw his “Army
of Allah” crushed by the Indian Army’s
1st Armored Division.
The forward-looking Sultan of Mysore,
brilliant son of Haidar Ali. Born 1750
or 1753, and succeeded on his father’s
death. Tippoo (sometimes rendered Tipu)
sought to modernize Mysore and free
India of foreign rule, but was killed
by the British in 1799.
The Tiger of Mysore
Sometimes rendered Hyder Ali; a vigorous
former Naik (general) of Mysore who overthrew
Mysore’s ruler Krishnaraja Wodeyar II
and worked to convert Mysore into a modern
state capable of standing up to the Europeans.
After his death, his son Tippoo took up the
Admiral Pierre-André de Suffren brought
a naval squadron to Indian waters in 1781.
Over the next 18 months he fought six naval
battles against the British, helping force
them to seek peace in the so-called “American
War.” Suffren never lost a battle.
greets Haidar Ali of Mysore.
Color engraving by J.B. Morret,
Herman Willem Daendels arrived in Java
on New Year’s Day 1808, determined
to clean up what he saw as a corrupt
and inefficient Dutch colonial government.
He crushed the native princes and strengthened
central rule, and fought off British
invasion attempts. King Louis of Holland
made him a Marshal and when Napoleon
annexed the Netherlands in 1810, Daendels
happily became French. Recalled to Europe
in 1811, he served in the 1812 Russian
campaign. He later died in Surinam,
serving the new kingdom as colonial
governor with equal zeal.
(center) during the 1795
Dutch Revolution; his defection to
the revolutionaries finished the
House of Orange
Emir of Afghanistan in the later 1700s,
Zaman united the warring tribes into a temporarily
united state. The thought of thousands of
Afghan warriors pouring through the Khyber
Pass terrified Indian princes. He defeated
the Marathas at Panipat in 1761.
The wily Ranjit Singh founded the powerful
Sikh kingdom in the Punjab and imported modern
weapons and experts to turn its army, or Khalsa,
into the most efficient in Asia and one of
the best in the world.
Ranjit’s successor, Lal Singh proved
indecisive on the battlefield, losing to Gough
in repeated engagements in both Anglo-Sikh
Wars despite numerical and qualitative advantages.
Probably influenced by East India Company
bribes, he left the battlefield more than
once and later became a submissive client
of the Company.
Click here to put Indian Empires on your game table!
Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.