Background of Rivalry

Though the British and the French came to India for trading purposes, they were ultimately drawn into the politics of India. Both had visions of establishing political power over the region. The Anglo-French rivalry in India reflected the traditional rivalry of England and France throughout their histories; it began with the outbreak of the Austrian War of Succession and ended with the conclusion of the Seven Years War. Specifically in India, the rivalry, in the form of three Carnatic wars, decided once for all that the English and not the French were to become masters of India.

In 1740, the political situation in south India was uncertain and confused. Nizam Asaf Jah of Hyderabad was old and fully engaged in battling the Marathas in the western Deccan while his subordinates were speculating upon the consequences of his death. To the south of his kingdom lay the Coromandel coast without any strong ruler to maintain a balance of power. Instead, there was the remnant of the old Vijayanagara empire in interior Mysore, Cochin and Travancore in the Malabar coast, and on the east the small states of Madura (Madurai), Tanjore (Thanjavur) and Trichinopoly (Thiruchirapally). The decline of Hyderabad was the signal for the end of Muslim expansionism and the English adventurers got their plans ready. Also, there was the Maratha kingdom of Tanjore, providing the Peshwa of Pune an excuse for interference whenever he pleased.

First Carnatic War (1740-48)


Carnatic was the name given by the Europeans to the Coromandel coast and its hinterland. The First Carnatic War was an extension of the Anglo-French War in Europe which was caused by the Austrian War of Succession.

Immediate Cause

Although France, conscious of its relatively weaker position in India, did not favour an extension of hostilities to India, the English navy under Barnet seized some French ships to provoke France. France retaliated by seizing Madras in 1746 with the help of the fleet from Mauritius, the Isle of France, under Admiral La Bourdonnais, the French governor of Mauritius. Thus began the first Carnatic War.


The First Carnatic War ended in 1748 when the Treaty of Aix-La Chapelle was signed bringing the Austrian War of Succession to a conclusion. Under the terms of this treaty, Madras was handed back to the English, and the French, in turn, got their territories in North America.


The First Carnatic War is remembered for the Battle of St. Thome (in Madras) fought between the French forces and the forces of Anwar-ud-din, the Nawab of Carnatic, to whom the English appealed for help. A small French army under Captain Paradise defeated the strong Indian army under Mahfuz Khan at St. Thome on the banks of the River Adyar. This was an eye-opener for the Europeans in India: it revealed that even a small disciplined army could easily defeat a much larger Indian army. Further, this war adequately brought out the importance of naval force in the Anglo-French conflict in the Deccan.

Second Carnatic War (1749-54)


The background for the Second Carnatic War was provided by rivalry in India. Dupleix, the French governor who had successfully led the French forces in the First Carnatic War, sought to increase his power and French political influence in southern India by interfering in local dynastic disputes to defeat the English.

Immediate Cause

The opportunity was provided by the death of Nizam-ul-Mulk, the founder of the independent kingdom of Hyderabad, in 1748, and the release of Chanda Sahib, the son-in-law of Dost Ali, the Nawab of Carnatic, by the Marathas in the same year. The accession of Nasir Jang, the son of the Nizam, to the throne of Hyderabad was opposed by Muzaffar Jang, the grandson of the Nawab, who laid claim to the throne saying that the Mughal Emperor had appointed him as the governor of the Carnatic. In the Carnatic, the appointment of Anwar-ud-din Khan as the Nawab was resented by Chanda Sahib.

The French supported the claims of Muzaffar Jang and Chanda Sahib in the Deccan and Carnatic, respectively, while the English sided with Nasir Jang and Anwar-ud-din.

Course of the War

The combined armies of Muzaffar Jang, Chanda Sahib and the French defeated and killed Anwar- ud-din at the Battle of Ambur (near Vellore) in 1749. Muzaffar Jang became the subahdar of Deccan, and Dupleix was appointed governor of all the Mughal territories to the south of the River Krishna. A French army under Bussy was stationed at Hyderabad to secure French interests there. Territories near Pondicherry and also some areas on the Orissa Coast (including Masulipatnam) were ceded to the French.

Having failed to provide effective assistance to Muhammad Ali at Trichinopoly, Robert Clive, then an agent (‘factor’) of the English company, put forward the proposal for a diversionary attack on the governor of Madras, Saunders. He suggested a sudden raid on Arcot, the capital of the Carnatic, so as to relieve the pressure on Trichinopoly. He reasoned that in such an event Chanda Sahib would rush to save his capital. Thus, in August 1751, with only a force of 210 men Robert Clive attacked and captured Arcot. As expected, Chanda Sahib hastened to his capital, taking a force of 4,000 men from Trichinopoly, but failed to get back the fort even after a siege of 53 days, from September 23 to November 14. Now Mysore, Tanjore and the Maratha chief, Morari Rao, came to the aid of Trichinopoly, and of Clive and Stringer Lawrence. Trichinopoly was first relieved of its siege, while General Law of France with Chanda Sahib remained cooped up in the island of Srirangam. They were forced to surrender in June 1752 when Muhammad Ali executed Chanda Sahib, the British failing to interfere.


The French authorities, annoyed at the heavy financial losses that Dupleix’s policy involved, decided to recall him in 1754. Godeheu succeeded Dupleix as the French Governor-General in India. Godeheu adopted a policy of negotiations with the English and concluded a treaty with them. The English and the French agreed not to interfere in the quarrels of native princes. Also, each party was left in possession of the territories actually occupied by them at the time of the treaty. According to historians, the fear of serious repercussions in America prompted the French to suspend hostilities in India.


It became evident that the countenance of Indian authority was no longer necessary for European success; rather Indian authority itself was becoming dependent on European support. Muhammad Ali in the Carnatic and Salabat Jang in Hyderabad became clients rather than patrons.

Third Carnatic War (1758-63)


In Europe, when Austria wanted to recover Silesia in 1756, the Seven Years War (1756-63) started. Britain and France were once again on opposite sides.

Course of War in India

In 1758, the French army under Count de Lally captured the English forts of St. David and Vizianagaram in 1758. Now, the English became offensive and inflicted heavy losses on the French fleet under Admiral D’Ache at Masulipatnam.

Battle of Wandiwash

The decisive battle of the Third Carnatic War was won by the English on January 22, 1760 at Wandiwash (or Vandavasi) in Tamil Nadu. General Eyre Coote of the English totally routed the French army under Count Thomas Arthur de Lally and took Bussy as prisoner.

Pondicherry was gallantly defended by Lally for eight months before he surrendered on January 16, 1761. With the loss of Jinji and Mahe, the French power in India was reduced to its lowest. Lally, after being taken as prisoner of war at London, returned to France where he was imprisoned and executed in 1766.

Result and Significance

The Third Carnatic War proved decisive. Although the Treaty of Peace of Paris (1763) restored to the French their factories in India, the French political influence disappeared after the war. Thereafter, the French, like their Portuguese and Dutch counterparts in India, confined themselves to their small enclaves and to commerce. The English became the supreme European power in the Indian subcontinent, since the Dutch had already been defeated in the Battle of Bidara in 1759.

The Battle of Plassey, in 1757, is usually regarded by historians as the decisive event that brought about ultimate British rule over India. However, one cannot quite ignore the view that the true turning point for control of the subcontinent was the victory of British forces over the French forces at Wandiwash in 1760. The victory at Wandiwash left the English East India Company with no European rival in India. Thus they were ready to take over the rule of the entire country.

Significantly, in the Battle of Wandiwash, natives served in both the armies as sepoys. It makes one think: irrespective of which side won, there was an inevitability about the fall of India to European invaders. There was a lack of sensitivity to geopolitics of the day as well as a lack of foresight on the part of native rulers.


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