Nothing is more becoming than their behaviour to an enemy

Tuesday, March 28th, 2023

William Dalrymple describes (in The Anarchy) how Monsieur Law de Lauriston fought at the Battle of Helsa, near Bodhgaya, the site of the Buddha’s Enlightenment, on 15 January 1761:

A well-aimed ball from a 12-pounder killed the mahout of the Emperor’s elephant. Another stray shot wounded the elephant itself, which careered off the field, carrying the Emperor with it. Meanwhile, Mir Jafar, reverting to his usual devious tactics, had managed with large bribes to corrupt Shah Alam’s commander, Kamgar Khan, as well as several other courtiers in his retinue, ‘who soon crossed sides and joined the forces of the Nawab’, reported the French soldier of fortune Jean-Baptiste Gentil.


Moved by Law’s bravery, the Company commander, John Carnac, dismounted, and without taking a guard, but bringing his most senior staff officers, walked over on foot, and pulling their ‘hats from their heads, they swept the air with them, as if to make him a salaam’, pleading with Law to surrender: ‘You have done everything that can be expected from a brave man, and your name shall undoubtedly be transmitted to posterity by the pen of history,’ he begged. ‘Now loosen your sword from your loins, come amongst us, and abandon all thoughts of contending with the English.’

Law answered that if they would ‘accept this surrendering himself just as he was, he had no objections; but that as to surrendering himself with the disgrace of his being without a sword, it was a shame he would never submit to; and that they must take his life if they were not satisfied with the condition. The English commanders, admiring his firmness, consented to his surrendering himself in the manner he wished to; after which the Major shook hands with him, in their European manner, and every sentiment of enmity was instantly dismissed from both sides.’

Later, in the Company camp, the historian was appalled by the boorishness of Mir Jafar’s Murshidabad soldiers who began to taunt the captured Law, asking ‘where is the Bibi [Mistress] Law now?’

Carnac was furious at the impropriety of the remark: ‘This man,’ he said, ‘had fought bravely, and deserves the attention of all brave men; the impertinences which you have been offering him may be customary amongst your friends and your nation, but cannot be suffered in ours, for whom it is a standing rule never to offer injury to a vanquished foe.’ The man whom had taunted Law, checked by this reprimand, held his tongue and did not answer a word. He went away much abashed, and although he was a commander of importance … No one spoke to him any more, or made a show of standing up at his departure.

The incident caused Ghulam Hussain Khan to pay a rare compliment to the British, a nation he regarded as having wrecked his motherland:

This reprimand did much honour to the English; and it must be acknowledged, to the honour of these strangers, that their conduct in war and battle is worthy of admiration, just as, on the other hand, nothing is more becoming than their behaviour to an enemy, whether in the heat of action, or in the pride of success and victory.


  1. Adar says:

    I believe that during the Vietnam War entire column of elephants was massacred by American artillery. Men elephants were carrying supplies for the vc fog lifted in the morning right in front of the artillery position, with the elephants in Plainview so direct fire massacre them all.

    But for the old ways

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