What are the circumstances that led to the Third Mysore War?


The British in their way to establish their supremacy and control over India had to wage wars with many Indian powers. One of the most formidable powers they had to face in their task of conquering India was the Mysore.

The British had to fight four rounds of wars with the Mysore State before it could be brought under its control.

A survival episode in this context was the third Anglo-Mysore war fought between 1790 and 1792. The British since the beginning viewed with jealousy the rising might of the Mysore under Hyder Ali.


They relieved him to be a dangerous foe. They perceived that in any scheme of conquest of south India, they will have to contend with the rising power of Hyder Ali. They tried therefore to crush him. In the First Mysore War in 1766 to 1769, they forged alliance with the Nizam of Hyderabad to crush Hyder Ali.

However, Hyder Ali succeeded in breaking the alliance and in defeating the British and appeared before Madras. The British had to conclude Treaty of Madras to ward off the danger from his side. After concluding peace with the Marathas at Uadgaon, the British once again between 1780 and 1784 built up presume on Mysore in what has now come to be known as the Second Anglo-Mysore War.

Hyder Ali died during course of war and was succeeded by a worthy successor in form of Tipu Sultan of Mysore, who continued the war. Ultimately both the sides had to settle for existing status quo by the Treaty of Mangalore.

However, the British after this treaty did not refrain from pursuing deliberate expansionist policy. They were on a look out for the opportunity to crush the power of Mysore once and for all. In the meanwhile, the British had brought peace with the Marathas by the Treaty of Salbai which gave them breather for twenty years from the Maratha side. Moreover, they could now use the friendship with the Marathas to pressurize Mysore into submission.


Like British, Tipu was equally aware of danger to his position posed by the imperialist British company. Hence he made all out efforts to strengthen Mysore economically and militarily. He introduced new weights and measures reformed the currency system. He also encouraged modern trade and industry and established trading relations with France, Afghanistan, Turkey and Pegu.

He also curbed the lower of local intermediaries over peasants. Militarily, he imparted military training to his soldiers on modern lines, and organized themselves on western military principles. He also equipped his army with modern weapons. Diplomatically, he cultivated friendly relations and exchanged envoys with France, Turkey, Iran and Pegu.

The British in the meanwhile were busy forging alliances should they had to face the war with Mysore. They organized an anti-Mysore alliance to which were drawn the Marathas, Nizam of Hyderabad and Berar. The arrival of an imperialist Governor General Cornwallis aided the prospects of war with the Mysore State.

The immediate circumstance for the war was provided by Tipu’s attack on the Raja of Travancore. Tipu objected to the Raja of Travancore’s purchase of Jaikottai and Craganore from the Dutch. Tipu had considered Cochin as his tributary state and these areas were parts of Cochin.


To assert his sovereign right, Tipu decided to attack Travancore. On the other hand, the Raja of Travancore was the ally of the British. So, the British utilized the Tipu’s attack on Travancore as pretext to rush to the side of Travancore against Tipu and declared war against Tipu.

At the head of a large army Cornwallis himself marched through Vellore and Amber to Bangalore and approached Serirangpatnam. The English captured Coimbatore only to lose it later. Supported by the Marathas and the Nizam’s troops, the English made a second advance towards Serirangpatnam.

Tipu offered tough resistance but realized the impossibility of carrying further the struggle. The Treaty of Serirangpatnam was concluded in March 1792 which resulted in the surrender of nearly half of the Mysorean territory to the victorious allies. The British acquired Bonamahal, Dindigul and Malabar. The Marathas in their shore got the territory on the Tunghbhadra side and the Nizam acquired territories from the Krishna to the Pennar.

Tipu also had to pay a war indemnity of over three crores of rupees. Tipu lost heavily in this round of strength and could only save his kingdom from total extinction by preparation and planning which seemed beyond his resources. He had also to pay war indemnity and since he could pay only half the amount, two of his sons were taken captive till the indemnity was paid.


A very important aspect related to the Third Anglo Mysore War is the debate on the issue of whether Cornwallis in exercise of his sound judgment could have avoided the Third Anglo-Mysore War. There are two diametrically opposite points of view that are there on this issue.

One side of the debate argues in favour of inevitability of the third Anglo Mysore war. It is contended that the British East India Company in pursuit of its imperialistic ambitions had already engaged in two rounds of struggle and given the nature of relationship between them and preparations made by both sides for the strengthening of their respective positions hardly rule out the fact that the war was inevitable.

The other side of the debate focuses on Cornwallis itching for the war and ultimately entangling the British in it. It is argued that Cornwallis had been explicitly asked to consolidate British gains in India than to go for any fresh round of belligerence.

Also, it is of Pitt’s India Act of 1784 had been that it had prohibited all aggressive wars in India. Moreover, the Pitt’s India Act of 1784 had also ruled against the conclusion of treaties of guarantee with the Indian princes like those with the nawabs of Carnatic and Oudh on the ground that to pursue schemes of conquest and extension of dominion in India were measures repugnant to the British, the honour and the policy of the British nation.


However, Lord Cornwallis in stark violation of provisions of this Act of 1784 went for conclusion of mutually beneficial defensive alliance with Nizam of Hyderabad and deliberately omitted the name of Tipu Sultan from the text of the Treaty. This raised the hackles of suspicion of Tipu who started preparing Mysore for war.

Cornwallis moreover is also criticized for not having annexed Muysore after the conclusion of war when he could have easily done it as entire Mysore lay on his mercy. Lord Cornwallis action in this regard became subject of ringing controversy in Britain at that time.

The main arguments given in favour of Cornwallis stand were that this would have made company’s settlement of spoils of war with its allies complicated. Moreover, there was even present danger of hostility of the rival European companies.

The Third Anglo Mysore War crippled the Mysore state of half of its territories. The final blow to the independence was struck by the Fourth Anglo- Mysore War under leadership of Lord Wellesley.

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