By temperament and training Tipu was a conqueror and he could not resist the temptation of expanding the extent of his dominion; nor could he abandon his father's policy of checking the growth of British power in South India. The several battles, in which he participated, revealed his ability as a great military general. In the words of Dodwell, "by that humiliating pacification, (as Hastings called it) the treaty of Mangalore, Tipu appeared as a conqueror".
Two conquerors, to be sure, cannot possibly co-exist in the arena without conflict. Tipu would be the last man to withdraw willingly. Warren Hastings in 1785 saw little chance of a renewal of hostility between the two powers as he wrote in his Memoir relative to the state of India, "It is not likely that Tipu should soon choose to involve himself in a war with us".
But Cornwallis who came to India in 1786 found that it was not possible to sheath the sword though the Pitt's India Act recommended the termination of war. In a letter to Malet, (March 1788) Cornwallis wrote, "I look up on a rupture with Tipu as a certain and immediate consequence of war and in that event a vigorous cooperation of the Marathas would certainly be of the utmost importance to our interests in this country."
Realising the strength of Tipu Cornwallis wanted to destroy it, as that was essential for the growth of British power in India. Moreover the imperialist in him desired that he could at least partially compensate in India, the loss of the 13 colonies in America.
The inevitable chance of a renewal of hostilities was thus foreseen by both the rivals; a renewal of war between England and France in Europe was sufficient for Tipu to strike again on the British power in India. He had stated in a letter to the Padshah at Delhi (23rd June, 1785) "...with the Divine aid and blessing of God it is my steady determination to set about the total extirpation and destruction of the enemies of the faith" and for that he called upon the Nizam and the Muslim chiefs to unite in a confederacy.
The treaty of Mangalore could hardly satisfy an ambitious and resourceful ruler like Tipu. He planned a course of action to crush the Nizam first, destroy the Maratha power secondly and then to turn to the British to eliminate them from India with the aid of the French. Tipu conquered Nargund and captured Kittur in 1785 but the Nizam and the Marathas liberated them and forced a treaty on him in 1787-the Treaty of Gajendragad.
In 1789, through negotiations, friendship was established with the Nizam and the Marathas and a confederacy against the English was arranged; but the Nizam again characteristically appeared lackadaisical, more bent towards the English. The British diplomacy outwitted that of the Mysorean and succeeded in bringing the Nizam over to their side.
Tipu anxiously turned to the French with the aid of whom he hoped to subvert the British power which he both feared and hated. He made futile attempts to enlist the support of Turkey and France through missions which returned nothing substantial to contribute to his military designs.
These jealousies and preparations for war were in progress while Tipu directed his unsuccessful attack on Travancore. The immediate provocation for the disastrous Third Mysore War however lay in this attempt of Tipu to tighten his hold on the western coast. Taking advantage of the enmity between Tipu and the English the Raja of Travancore in 1789 purchased from the Dutch the forts of Cranganore and Ayakotta which Tipu considered very important and for the purchase of which he had already been negotiating. This was a sufficient excuse for his long desired conquest which we have discussed elsewhere.
The Raja of Travancore applied to the English Company on the strength of the treaty of Mangalore; but Holland, the Governor of Madras (now Chennai) whom Tipu had handsomely gratified turned a deaf ear; the Raja was consequently left to his own fate. But Cornwallis found the time ripe for achieving his end; he informed the secret committee, "We can never hope to see our armies better disciplined than they are at present".
He found that Tipu had only a remote possibility at the time of receiving any help from France and also no country power would help him. He condemned the conduct of Holland as a disgraceful betrayal of an ally and considering Tipu's attack on Travancore to be an act of war, he declared war against Mysore.
He brought both the Nizam and the Peshwa who considered the rise of Tipu to be prejudicial to their own interests within an alliance' against Mysore. Tipu's efforts to woo the Nizam and the Peshwas failed and convulsions' of the Revolution prevented the French to be of any help to him at this crucial period of his career. He had, therefore, to fight single-handed a formidable league of alien and local powers.
In the initial stages of the war the British were not able to secure any decisive victory over Tipu; all their designs were frustrated by him. Of course the English won some victories-Karur, Dharmapuram, Coimbatore, Palghat, Erode etc., were over-run by their army. Several battles were fought between the two; in the South and in the East Tipu's army fared well, but in the west i.e., in Malabar, the British army had proved itself formidable.
The necessity of stern action brought Cornwallis to Madras (now Chennai) he assumed personally the command of the English army in the beginning of 1791. Marching through Ambur and Vellore, Cornwallis reached Bangalore; in spite of the stout resistance offered by Tipu and his men the fortress fell at the cost of more than 1500 men on both sides.
From Bangalore he marched to Seringapatam, the capital city of Mysore to the defense of which Tipu had already made enough preparation. The English army failed here to match the brilliant generalship of Tipu and retreated to Bangalore on 26th May 1791 due to scarcity of provisions and the beginning of monsoon. But Cornwallis was not in any way disposed to yield.
In the meantime the Marathas supported by some Bombay (now Mumbai) forces ravaged the territories of Mysore. The English established easy communication with the Carnatic and the Nizam's dominions to have uninterrupted supply. Fighting was resumed in the summer of 1791. Cornwallis planned a triangular attack-the Marathas were to occupy the territories to the North-West, the Nizam's troops to the North-East while the English were engaged in reducing the forts in the Baramahals.
When the army of Cornwallis supported by the Nizam and the Marathas reached six miles near Seringapatam, the capital, Tipu, realizing the futility of further resistance deputed his envoys to negotiate peace.
Cornwallis was also in favour of a termination of War, now that he wrote to Sir Charles Oakeley, the Governor of Madras (now Chennai), "an arrangement which effectually destroys the dangerous power of Tipu will be more beneficial to the public than the capture of Seringapatam and it will render the final settlement with our Allies who seem very partial to it, much more easy."
But when Tipu approached, Cornwallis showed no inclination for a truce, his intention being to bring Tipu to his knees and make him yield as much territory as possible to whet the greed of the British and their allies.
By the treaty of Seringapatam signed in February 1792, Tipu relinquished half his territories which was shared by the Allies; a large portion of this went to the English- all the lands on the Malabar coast between Cochin and Kaway, the Baramahal district, and that of Dindigal; to the Nizam went the lands from the Krishna to the trans-Pennar river with the forts of Ganjkottai and Cuddapah and to the Marathas were ceded the territories extending from their boundary to the Tungabhadra.
This one-half of the territory to be ceded included the outlying districts which Haider Ali and Tipu added to the ancient possessions. But in extent these two halves were very much dissimilar, the ceded part being smaller than Tipu's. This was actually done by a clever manipulation of accounts of revenue: Tipu's Mysore was undervalued by 50 per cent and the ceded districts overvalued. As a contemporary observed, "The countries ceded by Tipu Sultan are found to exceed the value at which they are stated in the first estimate of their account."
It is certain that Tipu got larger territory by producing false accounts. Sir Thomas Munro was able to see through the little game when he examined the deals of both the years 1792 and 1799, and remarked, "No person employed in settling the treaty of 1799 or even of 1792 ever knew how the accounts in the schedules were made up.
They knew that they were fabricated for the purpose but they had no means of proving to that extent. Could the allies have done this in 1792 they never would have permitted Tipu Sultan to overvalue their shares and undervalue his own as greatly as was done." The treaty of Seringapatam therefore proved Tipu to be a superior maneuver of the art of state dissembling in which the British feigned they were masters.
The Third Mysore War, however, enhanced greatly the strength and territorial extent of the possessions of the Company. Moreover Tipu was forced to pay a war indemnity of three million rupees and surrender as hostages two of his sons for prompt payment of the dues. He was also to restore to the British all the prisoners of war since the days of Haider Ali.
One significant factor to be noted in the whole transaction is that even though the war was fought for the defense of the Raja of Travancore, who was, when the treaty was signed he was totally ignored; even his name was not mentioned in the document. That, to be sure, was characteristic of British treaty relations of the period.
The downward drift of Mysore's greatness which saw its end within the same decade began with the Third Mysore War or the treaty of Seringapatam. The treaty was a great blow to the rising power, prestige and honour of Tipu and Mysore; it sapped the economic, financial and military resources of Tipu in several ways. Many condemned Cornwallis for having entered into a treaty instead of fighting to the last point.
Dundas, who was earlier in favour of an agreement, now wanted Tipu crushed for ever; Munro thought that the existence of this power is a threat to their possessions and "if once destroyed there is little danger of its being reestablished." It seems certain that had Cornwallis continued the war, a Fourth Anglo-Mysore War could have been avoided.
But Cornwallis was satisfied with the treaty. For him that was the utmost that he wanted to gain from this war; he wrote Dundas. "We have at length concluded our Indian war handsomely and I think as advantageously as any reasonable person could expect. We have crippled our enemy without making our friends too formidable."