Third Maratha War Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Third Maratha War was the last of three major conflicts between the British East India Company and the Marathas, the most powerful indigenous force in India. It ended with the Marathas being disarmed, robbed of their ruler, and incorporated into the British subsidiary alliance system: With this victory, the British had destroyed every powerful state in India except for the Sikhs in the Punjab.

Summary of Event

The three Maratha Wars of 1775-1782, 1803-1805, and 1817-1818 were part of the campaign of the British to dominate India. The Marathas were Hindu inhabitants of the state of Maharashtra who had been made into a great power under Śivajī Śivajī[Sivaji] (1627/1630-1680). The Marathas were a powerful confederation based in Poona (now Pune), Gwalior, Indore, Berar, and Baroda and headed by a peshwa (prime minister) at Poona. By 1749, the peshwaship had become a hereditary office. During the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815), Great Britain sent the first marquis of Hastings to India as governor-general and commander in chief of the Indian army. He was ordered to establish total British control of India and to prevent the French French Empire;and India[India] India;and France[France] from reestablishing any foothold in the subcontinent. Fulfilling his assignment entailed engaging in wars against the Gurkhas Gurkhas in Nepal Nepal in the north (1814-1816) and against the Pindaris Pindaris (1817) and Marathas (1816-1818) in central India. Maratha wars India;Maratha wars British East India Company;and Maratha wars[Maratha wars] Bājī Rāo II British Empire;and India[India] [kw]Third Maratha War (Nov. 5, 1817-June 3, 1818) [kw]Maratha War, Third (Nov. 5, 1817-June 3, 1818) [kw]War, Third Maratha (Nov. 5, 1817-June 3, 1818) Maratha wars India;Maratha wars British East India Company;and Maratha wars[Maratha wars] Bājī Rāo II British Empire;and India[India] [g]British Empire;Nov. 5, 1817-June 3, 1818: Third Maratha War[0930] [g]India;Nov. 5, 1817-June 3, 1818: Third Maratha War[0930] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Nov. 5, 1817-June 3, 1818: Third Maratha War[0930] [c]Colonization;Nov. 5, 1817-June 3, 1818: Third Maratha War[0930] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;Nov. 5, 1817-June 3, 1818: Third Maratha War[0930] Muḍhōjī II Raghuji III Malhār Rāo Holkar II Hastings, first marquis of Elphinstone, Mountstuart

United and under strong leadership, the Maratha states constituted a powerful political and military force, but petty jealousies and personal rivalries between leaders divided them and frequently led to civil war. These internal divisions benefited the British, who normally supported one candidate in a succession struggle in the hope of acquiring more territory if their candidate won or if a civil war afforded other opportunities to annex land. The Marathas were also susceptible to bribes, and the British spent a considerable amount of money buying alliances with various Maratha chieftains. It has been argued that bribery was the key to Britain’s success against the Marathas, who often had greater numbers of troops and superior artillery to the British.

The Treaty of Bassein Bassein, Treaty of (1802) of 1802 forced the peshwa to join the British subsidiary system, a series of alliances with subordinated states through which Britain administered its control over India. A representative of the British Empire, known as a “resident,” was established at Poona. The British resident was supported by troops, and he interfered increasingly in the Maratha peshwa’s affairs of state.

In 1816, Gangadhar Shastri Shastri, Gangadhar , an emissary of the state of Baroda, was murdered in Poona. His murderer, Trimbakji Danglia, was a minister of Peshwa Bājī Rāo II. The peshwa was forced by Mountstuart Elphinstone Elphinstone, Mountstuart , the British resident at Poona, to hand over Trimbakji to the British, but Trimbakji escaped on September 12, 1816, and the peshwa claimed he did not know where he was. Bājī Rāo also increased the size of his army and prepared to attack the British. Elphinstone responded by forcing the peshwa to sign the Treaty of Poona (June 13, 1817).

Among other punitive measures, the eighteen-article treaty called for the abolition of the Maratha Confederacy, the handing over of Konkan and Ahmadnagar Fort to the British, and the maintenance of five thousand British cavalry, three thousand infantry, and military equipment at Maratha expense. It was a humiliating treaty that considerably reduced Bājī Rāo’s moral authority and economic resources, but the peshwa ratified it because he believed he did not have the arms to defeat the British. However, neither Bājī Rāo nor other Maratha leaders could accept this degrading pact, and they gathered troops near Poona.

Some commentators believe that Elphinstone put intolerable pressure on the peshwa deliberately in order to force a war. In any event, on November 5, 1817, the peshwa’s military adviser, Bapu Gokhale Gokhale, Bapu , and his troops burned down the British residency at Poona. Meanwhile, twenty-six thousand Maratha troops with fourteen guns unsuccesfully attacked a small force of twenty-eight hundred British troops at Kirkee, near Poona. These attacks constituted the casus belli (justification for war) for the Third Maratha War. General Lionel Smith arrived at Kirkee and on November 15 defeated Bapu Gokhale at the Battle of Yeravda. The peshwa fled for his life, going from state to state seeking support from the Maratha chiefs. This was the beginning of a drawn-out series of battles between the British and various Maratha states.

The Maratha leaders Malhār Rāo Holkar II Malhār Rāo Holkar II and Muḍhōjī II Muḍhōjī II agreed to support Bājī Rāo II against the British, but other Marathas shunned him. Muḍhōjī attacked the resident at Nagpur, but the British took up a position on a ridge at Sitabaldi and defeated the Nagpur forces on November 27, 1817. With reinforcements arriving a few days later, the British forced Muḍhōjī to surrender. He lost his position as Nagpuri chief within four months. His successor fared no better, however: On December 16, 1818, the Nagpur army, now led by Raghuji III Raghuji III , was utterly defeated.

Malhār Rāo Holkar, meanwhile, was defeated at the Battle of Mahidpur Mahidpur, Battle of (1817) in December, 1817, and forced to sign the Treaty of Mandasor the following month. Indore became part of the subsidiary alliance system. In the Battle of Asti, on February 20, 1818, Bapu Gokhale was again defeated in a hotly contested battle. On April 17, the peshwa was defeated, and by May he had been deserted by large numbers of his troops. Bājī Rāo II surrendered on June 3, 1818. In the treaty that followed, the British again imposed very harsh terms. The peshwa was forced to give up for himself and his descendants all claims to the peshwaship and leadership of the Maratha Confederacy. He was granted a pension of 800,000 rupees per year and forced to live in isolation in the north of India at Bithur, near Kanpur. There, under the watchful eyes of the British commissioner of Bithur, he was prevented from organizing any further Maratha resistance to British colonial power in India.

Significance

The third and final Maratha war was of major importance to the history of India. It removed the last powerful indigenous force capable of challenging British authority in central India or in other areas of the subcontinent. The Maratha states became princely states. The British now controlled some three hundred states in India through a system of British residents and troops in those states’ capitals. Only the Sikhs, confined west of the River Sutlej in the Punjab, could present any significant opposition to the British, and they were broken in 1849. With the defeat of the Marathas in 1818, India became a British dominion.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Banga, Indu. “The Punjab Under Sikh Rule: Formation of a Regional State.” In History and Ideology: The Khalsa over Three Hundred Years, edited by J. S. Grewal and Indu Banga. New Delhi, India: Tulika Books, 1999. A discussion of the formation of the last indigenous state in India left outside British control after the Third Maratha War.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Choksey, R. D. Mountstuart Elphinstone: The Indian Years, 1796-1827. Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1971. A good study of Elphinstone that includes a number of his journal entries. The chapter “Elphinstone and Bajirao II” covers the former’s period as British resident at Poona.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cooper, Randolf G. S. The Anglo-Maratha Campaigns and the Conquest of India: The Struggle for Control of the South Asian Military Economy. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2003. While Cooper’s case study is of the Second Maratha War, his study is important for an understanding of the Third Maratha War as well. He argues that the British were victorious not for military reasons but because of their superior financial resources.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gadre, Prabhakar. Bhosle of Nagpur and East India Company. Jaipur: Publication Scheme, 1994. Provides a comprehensive study of Nagpur, explaining why the British campaign in the region was unexpectedly short and conclusive.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gordon, Stewart. The Marathas, 1600-1818. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993. One of the volumes of the New Cambridge History of India series; offers a comprehensive but short introduction to Maratha history, administrative practice, and especially geopolitics. Essential reading to understand the complicated Maratha polity.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sardesai, G. S. New History of the Marathas. Vol. 3. Bombay: Phoenix, 1946-1948. Comprehensive history of the Marathas that was produced in both Marathi and English. Sardesai’s three volumes in English, which he condensed from his eight-volume work of more than four thousand pages, are considered the authoritative account of the history of the Marathas. The Third Maratha War is covered in volume 3.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Varma, Sushama. Mountstuart Elphinstone in Maharashtra, 1801-1827: A Study of the Territories Conquered from the Peshwas. Calcutta, India: K. P. Bagchi, 1981. Chapter 3 of this useful study covers Mountstuart’s tenure as resident at Poona from 1811 to 1817.

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