Carnatic Wars

The Carnatic Wars established British superiority over the French in India and provided an opening for the British East India Company, allowing it gradually to extend its political control over most of the Indian subcontinent.

Summary of Event

After Vasco da Gama of Portugal discovered a sea route to India in 1498, many of the European maritime nations, such as the British, the Danes, the Dutch, the French, and the Portuguese, tried to establish trade relationships Trade;Western Europe with India with India and other parts of southern and eastern Asia. The British East India Company British East India Company was chartered in 1600, and a French East India Company French East India Company was established in 1664. Both established trading posts on the southern coast of India—the British in Madras Madras, India and the French in Pondicherry. Pondicherry, India
[kw]Carnatic Wars (1746-1754)
[kw]Wars, Carnatic (1746-1754)
Colonization;British of India
Colonization;French of India
British East India Company
Carnatic Wars (1746-1754)
[g]India;1746-1754: Carnatic Wars[1170]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1746-1754: Carnatic Wars[1170]
[c]Colonization;1746-1754: Carnatic Wars[1170]
[c]Expansion and land acquisition;1746-1754: Carnatic Wars[1170]
Clive, Robert
Dupleix, Joseph-François
Lawrence, Stringer
Lally, comte de
Āṣaf Jāh I
Nāṣir Jung
Muẓaffar Jung
Chanda Sahib
La Bourdonnais, Bertrand-François Mahé de
Bussy-Castelnau, marquis de
Cornwallis, first marquess
Wellesley, Richard
Tipu Sultan

Initially, the French company was not a significant competitor of the British. However, by 1740, the French were approaching parity with the British in trading volume. The other European companies had little mercantile importance in the region, and the British and the French vied for supremacy in India. Their rivalry on the subcontinent corresponded with ongoing British-French hostilities in Europe and North America, and it would continue until 1789, when the capture of the state of Mysore marked the establishment of full British hegemony in the south, as the French East India Company dwindled to an insignificant entity commercially and politically.

The southernmost part of India (the Deccan) had never really been under the rule of the Mughals, even at the peak of their power. The last of the great Mughal emperors, Aurangzeb, died in 1707, and by this time a number of feuding states coexisted with the nizam—theoretically a vassal of the Mughals. There were four major powers in south India at this time—the British and the French sided with the one or the other as the occasion arose.

In 1745, when four British ships appeared off the coast, Joseph-François Dupleix, the governor of French Pondicherry, appealed for help to Anwār-ud-Dīn, the nawab (ruler) of the Carnatic. Anwār-ud-Dīn agreed, and the British threat was averted. The next year, 1746, Bertrand-François Mahé de La Bourdonnais, a French admiral and governor of Mauritius and Réunion, arrived with a fleet and attacked and occupied the British East India Company’s port of Madras, officially beginning the Carnatic Wars. Dupleix and La Bourdonnais had major differences of opinion in the wake of their victory, however, and the latter returned to Mauritius and then to France. Anwār-ud-Dīn then threatened the French and attacked Madras, but he was soundly defeated.

In 1748, Major General Stringer Lawrence of the British East India Company tried to attack Pondicherry, but he too was defeated. The French were now in a secure position in southern India. However, later that year in the Treaty of Aix-la-Chappelle, which ended the War of the Austrian Succession in Europe, Madras was returned to the British.

Both the French and the British conducted themselves in India largely by assuming the role of kingmaker to native regimes. The capital of the Deccan was at Hyderabad. The Muslim ruler, niẓām-ul-mulk Āṣaf Jāh I, died in 1748. His eldest son, Ghaziuddin, was poisoned by the Marāthās and the fight for the throne unfolded between his second son, Nāṣir Jung (supported by the English), and his grandson Muẓaffar Jung (supported by the French). Nāṣir Jung won but reneged on his promises to reward his British allies. He made a treaty with the French, but Dupleix attacked and killed him and put Muẓaffar Jung on the throne. The French commander, the marquis de Bussy-Castelnau, also captured the important fort of Jinjee. Muẓaffar Jung, the new nizam, rewarded the French with land and trade advantages.

Meanwhile, Sayajee was the legitimate Hindu ruler of the state of Tanjore. He had been driven out and his kingdom usurped by his brother, Pratap Sing. Sayajee appealed to the British for help. The British were able to return Sayajee to the throne of Tanjore and obtained money and land in exchange. By the same token, the Hindu ruler of Trichinopoly was killed by the Muslim Chanda Sahib. Chanda Sahib was captured and imprisoned by the Marāthās. Freed by the British, Chanda Sahib was killed and Trichinopoly occupied by the Marāthās until it was taken over by the nizam. In 1749, Mohammad Ali, a Muslim, became the ruler and renewed his state’s alliance with the British. Trichinopoly was unsuccessfully besieged by the French from 1751 to 1756. Ultimately the state became British property.

The state of the Carnatic had a Muslim ruler with his capital at Arcot. It was ultimately captured by Hyder Ali, Hyder Ali a Muslim and an ally of the French, who had defeated a Hindu ruler to acquire the state of Mysore with its capital at Seringapattam. The British would defeat Hyder Ali’s son Tipu and conquer Mysore (and Carnatic) in 1783.

The final important group in eighteenth century India were the Marāthās. A loosely organized Hindu group initially formed to fight the Mughals, their centers of power were in Poona and Satara. The ruler, or peshwa, was Bālājī Rao, though the Marāthās often fought in the south under the leadership of a chieftain, Morārī Rao.

The early Carnatic Wars came to an end in 1754, when Dupleix was recalled to France and his conduct of hostilities against the British East India Company ended. The peace was short-lived, however, because the Seven Years’ War broke out in Europe just two years later. The branch of the Seven Years’ War that was fought in India is often seen as a continuation of the Carnatic Wars and is sometimes referred to as the Third Carnatic War.


In the wake of the Carnatic Wars, and especially after 1783, the British were entrenched in southern India. The French presence in the region was gradually weakening because of discord between the local authorities (exemplified by the conflict between La Bourdonnais and Dupleix), the indecision of the French authorities in Paris, and their distrust of agents such as Dupleix. Dupleix, a consummate politician, had acquired enormous power and wealth in India but was recalled to Paris to face charges in 1754. His replacement was unable to maintain the French influence in the region, especially since the French East India Company was financially strapped. Similarly, the successful marquis de Bussy-Castelnau was recalled by the comte de Lally in 1758.

The British, by contrast, were led by extraordinarily capable men (both politically and militarily) such as Robert Clive, the First Marquess Cornwallis, and Richard Wellesley, and they were united by a vision of India as the jewel in the crown of the British Empire. British Empire The Carnatic Wars had laid the foundation for this vision to become reality. Clive captured the French settlement at Chandernagor in 1757 and then fought the Battle of Plassey Plassey, Battle of (1757) (1757), in which he defeated and killed the nawab of Bengal. This battle effectively marked the beginning of the British Empire in India.

The only significant Indian challenger to the British was Tipu Sultan of Mysore. Tipu understood the threat posed by the British and sent emissaries to Turkey and France (1785-1786) asking for help against the British and facilities for trade. He even sent a message to the king of the English complaining against the depredations of the British in south India. Ultimately, none of these tactics was successful. The French expedition to Egypt in 1798 accelerated the war in India. Richard Wellesley fought a series of battles with Tipu and ultimately defeated him and captured his capital at Seringapatam in 1799. Tipu died fighting, and no significant obstacles remained to the creation of British India.

Further Reading

  • Ali, B. Sheik. “French Relations with Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan: A Record of Blunders.” In French in India and Indian Nationalism, edited by K. S. Mathew. Vol. 1. Delhi: B. R., 1999. Explores the military and political weaknesses of the French forces in southern India.
  • Aniruddha, Ray. “France and Mysore: A History of Diverse French Strategies.” In State and Diplomacy Under Tipu Sultan: Documents and Essays, edited by Irfan Habib. New Delhi: Tulika Books, 2001. Details the economic and political reasons behind the French strategies in India during the eighteenth century.
  • Kadam, V. S. “Franco-Marāthā Relations.” In French in India and Indian Nationalism, edited by K. S. Mathew. Vol. 1. Delhi: B. R., 1999. Describes the important role of Marāthā forces in the shifting of political power in southern India.
  • Lafont, Jean-Marie. “Observations on the French Military Presence in the Indian States, 1750-1899.” In The French in India and Indian Nationalism, edited by K. S. Mathew. Vol. 1. Delhi: B. R., 1999. Useful discussion of French military strength and strategies in India.
  • Ramaswami, N. S. Political History of the Carnatic Under the Nawabs. New Delhi: Abhinav, 1984. This 436-page overview includes plates, a bibliography, and an index.

  • The Rise and Growth of the British Power in India. Vol. 135 in Encyclopedia Indica. New Delhi: Anmol, 2004. Well-researched articles cover the period in great detail.

War of the Austrian Succession

Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle

French and Indian War

Seven Years’ War

Battle of Plassey

Anglo-Mysore Wars

First Marāthā War

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Eighteenth Century</i><br />

Robert Clive; First Marquess Cornwallis; Joseph-François Dupleix; Hyder Ali. Colonization;British of India
Colonization;French of India
British East India Company
Carnatic Wars (1746-1754)