Carnatic Wars

In the 18th century, three Carnatic Wars were fought between various Indian rulers and British and French East India Company on either side. These wars resulted in establishment of political supremacy of British East India Company. The French company was reduced in the areas around Pondicherry only. Commercial and maritime rivalry between France and England was the primary reason behind these wars. The entire south India was divided into minor Rajas, Nawabs and petty chieftains who fought with each other for supremacy. British and French took opposite sides to support these rivals and increase their own dominance.

First Carnatic War (1744-48)

In 1740, Europe was entangled into the War of Austrian Succession. The belligerents on one side were Prussia, Spain, France; Sweden etc. while on other side were Habsburg monarchy, England, Dutch Republic and Russia. Since France and Russia were on opposite side, a contest was inevitable between French and British East India Company forces in India also.

The war began with British Fleet arrived on Coromandel Coast and they started capturing the French Ships. The French Governor Dupleix requested the Nawab of Arcot Anwaruddin Khan for interference but Nawab did not respond.  French asked backup forces from Mauritius. When these forces came, they attacked British, captured Madras and imprisoned the British Company servants including Robert Clive. To recapture Madras from French, Nawab of Arcot sent troops to Fort St George but the forces of Nawab were defeated by French, which were very less in number but excellent in warfare.

During the negotiations about fate of Madras, Clive along with some other slipped out of prison and they moved to Fort St. David (the British post at Cuddalore). Further forces of British arrived and saved Cuddalore from French.

The negotiations about the fate of Madras started but these negotiations took. In 1748, the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle ended the war in Europe and this also restored the peace between France and England.  With this treaty, Madras was restored to the English for some territories (Louisburg) in North America.

Implications of First Carnatic War

In this war, the defeat of forces of Nawab of Arcot gave confidence to French about their military supremacy because only 500 French soldiers were able to repel a 10,000 strong army of Nawab. This was used by Dupleix to extend French influence.

Second Carnatic War (1749-54)

After the First Carnatic War ended, a proxy war between British and French continued in India. A victory over Indian Nawab in first war boosted the confidence of Dupleix, who now thought to expand influence in South India. In 1748 he saw an opportunity when Nizam of Hyderabad Asaf Jah I died and a war for succession broke out. There was a trouble in Arcot also. Dupleix pledged French support for Nizam’s grandson Muzaffar Zang for Hyderabad and Chanda Sahib for Arcot.  Thus, a tripartite understanding between French, Muzaffar Zang and Chanda Sahib developed. On the other hand, British pledged support to Nasir Zang for Hyderabad and Muhammad Ali for Arcot.

Initially, a group led by French killed Nawab Anwaruddin of Arcot and his son Mohammad Ali fled to Trichinopoly. The French led army attacked Nasir Zang also and killed him. Thus, it appeared that both British protégés were defeated and Dupleix dream was about to come true.

However, soon, French protégé Muzaffar Zang was killed. French quickly put his nominee Salabat Zang on throne and maintained French Influence on Hyderabad for several years. For military support, the Nizam of Hyderabad gave them four rich districts of the Coromandel Coast known as the Northern Sircar.

The British had realized that there was a serious threat to their existence. However, only hope was that their protégé Mohammad Ali still had a hold over Trichinopoly.

At this juncture, Robert Clive, who was a Clerk at that time in the Company suggest to attack on Arcot. This plan was approved, Arcot was occupied Chanda Sahib was captured and executed. Mohammad Ali was made Nawab of Arcot / Carnatic. With this, Dupleix’s hopes dashed to the ground.

This Siege of Arcot (1751) was a heroic feat, more important than the Battle of Plassey. The Siege of Arcot had made Clive a national hero in England. The Prime Minister Pitt, the elder described him as the “heaven-born general.

Implications of Second Carnatic War

In this war, both France and England were at peace in Europe. Thus, this was an unofficial war between the two companies. After the war, both the countries denounced the policies of their companies in India. Dupleix was recalled to France and was replaced by Godehu. Godehu, signed a treaty of Pondicherry in 1755 and by this both countries agreed to not to interfere in quarrels of Indian princes.

This treaty gave British a stronghold in Carnatic. The French were able to keep stronghold in Hyderabad for some time but their prestige had gone down heavily.

Third Carnatic War 1757-63

The conflict between the France and England got renewed in 1756 in Europe, in the form of Seven Years War, which is coterminous with the Third Carnatic War. The Third Carnatic war was a local version of the Seven Years war in Europe. The Third Carnatic War put an end to the French ambitions to create a colonial empire in India.  The British Forces were able to capture the French Settlements at Chandranagar in 1757. The French forces in south were led by Comte De Lally. The British forces under Sir Eyre Coote, defeated the French in the Battle of Wandiwash in 1760 and besieged Pondicherry.

After Wandiwash, the French capital of Pondicherry fell to the British in 1761. When the Seven Years war ended with the war concluded with the signing of the 1763 Treaty of Paris.

As per parts of this treaty, the Chandranagar and Pondicherry was returned to France. The French were now allowed to have trading posts in India but forbade French traders from administering them. The Government of France also agreed to support British client governments.  This was the last nail in the coffin of the French ambitions of an Indian Empire. British were now the dominant power in India.

Causes for Failure of France and Success of British

Following are some of the main causes which were responsible for the failure of the French and the success of the British in India :

Commercial Superiority and Better Financial Position

The trade carried on by the English Company was far greater than the French Company. Between 1736 to 1756, the trade of British Company was four times than that of French company. The financial position of French further deteriorated with the third Carnatic war and by the close of this war, it was not able to pay even its troops.

Private Character of the English Company

British Company was a private enterprise and this created a spirit of self reliance. French Company was more or less a department of the Government. It completely depended on Government. The corruption was in vogue in French Government and the same reflected in company also.

Naval Supremacy of the East India Company

The British had naval supremacy and due to that they were able to send help whenever required. This naval supremacy helped them to cut link between French possessions in India and France.

Better English Naval Base

Bombay was British Naval base. French Naval Base was in Isle of France. Due to this French failed to take any speedy action during the Carnatic wars.

English Company was backed by English Government

The British East India Company though private in character, was backed by the British Government. Some directors of the East India Company were Members of Parliament who could exercise influence in Government.

Better men Service of English

The British Company was headed by Clive who was a soldier as well as a statesman. Though Dupleix was also a statesman but he was not a soldier. There was a better cooperation and coordination in British East India Company.

Superior Settlements of British

British had their settlements in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. The most important French settlement was in Pondicherry. Thus, British were at advantageous position. Further, French’s entry point in mainland India was Deccan. In comparison to Deccan, the Bengal was much more prosperous.

Recall of Dupleix

Recall of Dupleix by French Government was a blunder. The vacuum created was not filled by the persons who succeeded him.

Mistakes of Lally

Count de Lally come to India as the French Governor General and Commander in Chief during the Third Carnatic war. He lacked the foresight and statesmanship of Dupleix. His departure from Hyderabad ended the French influence there. Nizam Salabat Zing allied himself with the English and gave Northern Circars to the English.

French subordinated their Commercial Interest to Territorial Ambitions

The French Company subordinated their Commercial interests to their territorial ambitions. This worsened the financial position of the company.