The Carnatic Wars were armed conflicts in India in the mid-18th century, involving a number of nominally independent rulers and their vassals in the pursuit of succession and territorial claims. The conflict was also a diplomatic and military clash between the French East India Company and the British East India Company.
The fighting took place mainly in the area of India ruled by the Nizam of Haidarabad up to the mouth of the Godavari delta. By the end of the conflicts, the British East India Company had gained dominance among European trading companies in India. The French trading company was cornered and its activities were mainly confined to Pondicherry. The influence of the British East India Company led to the British Company”s domination of most of India and eventually to the establishment of British India.
The coastal region of Karnataka itself, after which the conflict is named, was part of Haidarabad in the 18th century. In the colonial era, the Karnataka region was the area between the Eastern Ghats and the Coromandel coast. It is not the same as the present-day federal state of Karnataka, which is located in the south-western part of the peninsula.
The Mughal ruler Aurangzeb I was succeeded on the throne by Bahadur I, who died in 1707. The central government of the empire saw a steady decline under Jahandar Shah and later rulers. Nizam ul-Mulk took advantage of this to transform Haidarabad into an independent kingdom.
After his death, a power struggle broke out between his son, Nasir Jung, and grandson, Muzaffar Jung. France and Britain exploited this feud to interfere in Indian politics. The French supported Muzaffar Jung, while the British supported Nasir Jung. Many former Mughal areas were granted autonomy, such as Karnataka, ruled by Dost Ali Khan Nabab, despite being legally under the jurisdiction of the Nizam of Haidarabad. The death of Dost Ali led to power struggles between his French-backed son-in-law, Chanda Shahib, and the British-backed Muhammad Ali.
One of the key players in the Carnatic Wars was the Frenchman Joseph François Dupleix, who arrived in India in 1715 and by 1742 had become governor of the French East India Company. Dupleix sought to increase French influence in India, which until then had only a few trading depots, the most important of which was Pondichéry on the Coromandel coast. Immediately after his arrival in India, he recruited Indians into military formations led by French officers and took sides in disputes between local authorities. He soon came into conflict with Robert Clive, a similarly determined young officer in the British army, as the War of the Austrian Succession in 1740 and the Seven Years” War in 1756 automatically led to war in India.
Britain only entered the War of the Austrian Succession against France and its allies in 1744. The French and British trading companies maintained cordial relations in India, while the two countries fought each other in the European theatre of war with great forces.
French company officials in Europe were instructed to avoid conflict, but not the British. A British naval fleet arrived in the area. After some of their merchant ships were captured, the French called in reinforcements from as far away as Ile de France, now Mauritius, which started the battle at sea. In July 1746, the fleets of Admiral La Bourdonnais and Edward Peyton clashed at Negapatam, after which the British fleet retreated to Bengal. On 21 September 1746, the French captured the British outpost at Madras (Chennai). La Bourdonnais had promised to return Madras to the British, but Dupleix reneged on that promise and the one he had made to Anwar-ud-din. The navab sent an army of 10,000 men to take Madras, but a small French force defeated them at the Battle of Adyar. The French then made several attempts to take the British fortress of St David at Cuddalore, but timely reinforcements prevented them from doing so and the British counter-attacked. Admiral Edward Boscawen laid siege to Pondicherry at the end of 1748, but was forced to withdraw by monsoon rains in October. With the end of the War of the Austrian Succession, the First Carnatic War ended. In the Treaty of Aachen of 1748, the British regained Madras in exchange for Louisbourg in North America, which the British had seized from the French during the war.
Robert Clive was taken prisoner at Madras, but managed to escape and later took part in the defence of Cuddalore and the siege of Pondicherry.
Although there was no fighting in Europe, the outsourcing war continued in India. On one side were the British-backed Nasir Jung, the Nizam and his defender Muhammad Ali, and on the other were Chanda Shahib and Muzaffar, who were supported by the French in their bid to win the title of Arcot Navabja. Muzaffar Jung and Chanda Shahib were able to capture Arcot, while the subsequent death of Nasir Jung enabled Muzaffar to capture Haidarabad. Muzaffar”s reign was short-lived for he was soon assassinated and Salabat Jung became the navabah. However, in 1751 Robert Clive captured Arcot with British troops and managed to hold it. The war ended with the conclusion of the Peace of Pondicherry in 1754, which confirmed Muhammad Ali Khan Walajah as the Navab of Karnataka. Charles Godeheu succeeded Dupleix as head of the French East India Company, who returned to France and died a poor man.
The outbreak of the Seven Years” War in Europe in 1758 brought another conflict in India. The Third Carnatic War spread to southern India and Bengal, where the British occupied the French colony of Chandernagore (Chandanaggar) in 1757. The war was, however, decided in the south, where the British successfully defended Madras and Sir Eyre Coote inflicted a decisive defeat on the French under Count Lally at Wandiwash in 1760. After Wandiwash, the main French stronghold of Pondicherry also fell to the British in 1761.
The war ended with the Treaty of Paris, signed in 1763, which returned Chandernagore and Pondicherry to the French and allowed the French to establish trading colonies in India, but forbade French merchants from governing them. The French agreed to support British client governments. In doing so, the French abandoned their plans to build their Indian empire and Britain became the dominant foreign power in India.