The Carnatic Wars were fought between the English and the French on the Indian soil for supremacy. These wars were fought to decide the rivalry between the English and the French and were directly connected with their rivalry in Europe. These were really part of the great Anglo-French wars of the eighteenth century and are called the Carnatic wars because the theatre of these wars in India lay mainly in the Carnatic.
First Carnatic War (1744–1748)
The War of the Austrian Succession broke out in Europe in 1740. In this war Britain and France joined opposite camps. As a result the English and the French Companies also became engulfed in the war. Thus the First Carnatic War was started.
At first a British fleet under Barnett captured some French ships and even endangered Pondicherry. Dupleix, the Governor General of French, then sent an appeal to La Bourdonnais, governor of Mauritius, to assist him with his fleet. With the help of this fleet Dupleix captured Madras. But soon differences flared up between Dupleix and Bourdonnais. La Bourdonnais went back with his fleet. The English then made a naval attack on Pondicherry but was repulsed with heavy loss.
Anwaruddin, the Nawab of Carnatic, did not like these hostilities in his kingdom. The English appealed to him to come to their rescue. Responding to their request the Nawab asked the French to quit Madras. Dupleix at first tried to appease him by saying that he would hand over Madras to the Nawab at an appropriate time. But the Nawab was not satisfied with this vague reply. He sent a large army to fight against the French. But to the surprise of all, a handful of French army and some properly trained Indian soldiers routed Anwarud din’s vast army at Mylapore near St. Thomas in 1746.
This exposed the military weakness of the Indian rulers. It also revealed the helplessness of an Indian army against a small body of properly trained European soldiers. Dupleix realized that a small but efficiently trained army might play a decisive role in the rivalries among the local princes. This would also ensure French influence in the courts of the Indian princes.
In the meantime the War of Austrian succession came to an end by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748) on the basis of mutual restitution of conquests. Madras was restored to the English and the territory the English and the French positions remained unaltered. But the First Carnatic War had far reaching consequences. The First Carnatic War totally changed the character of the commercial companies.
Second Carnatic War (1749–1754)
Though a state of war did not exist in Europe, the proxy war continued in India. On one side was Nasir Jung, the Nizam and his protege Muhammad Ali, supported by the English, and on the other was Chanda Sahib and Muzaffar Jung, supported by the French, vying to become the Nawab of Arcot.
Muzaffar Jung and Chanda Sahib were able to capture Arcot while Nasir Jung’s subsequent death allowed Muzaffar Jung to take control of Hyderabad. Muzaffar’s reign was short as he was soon killed, and Salabat Jung became Nawab. In 1751, however, Robert Clive led British troops to capture Arcot, and successfully defend it.
The war ended with the Treaty of Pondicherry, signed in 1754, which recognised Muhammad Ali Khan Walajah as the Nawab of the Carnatic. Charles Godeheu replaced Dupleix, who died in poverty back in France.
The Third Carnatic War (1757-1763 AD.)
The seven Year’s War broke out in Europe in 1756 A.D. In this War England and France joined opposite camps. Its repercussion was immediately felt in India. The two Companies renewed their hostility. Thus began the Third Carnatic War.
This time the war passed beyond the limits of the Carnatic and reached Bengal as well, where the English captured the French possession of Chandernagore in 1757. But as the most decisive battles of the wars were fought in the Carnatic, it is rightly called as the Third Carnatic War.
This time the French Government made a determined effort to oust the English from India. For this purpose the French sent a strong contingent of force headed by Count-de-Lally. Lally started his work vigorously. He attacked Fort St. David and captured it and other small English possessions in this region. He then made an attack on Madras. This attack ended in failure and the French troop became demoralized. At this critical juncture Lally committed another great blunder by recalling Bushy from the Nizam’s court and the French influence at Hyderabad at once collapsed.
An English army under Colonel Forde sent from Bengal occupied he Northern Circar, so long held by the French. The Nizam, Salabat Jang, switched over to the English and ceded the Northern Circar to them. The battle still continued but Lally was eventually defeated decisively at the Battle of Wandiwash in 1760. He retreated to Pondicherry which was besieged by the English. Lally defended it gallantly for some time but was starved into submission in 1761. The fall of Pondicherry sounded the death knell of French dominions in India.
The Third Carnatic War ended officially in 1763 with the conclusion of the Peace of Paris. Pondicherry and other French possessions in India were restored to France. But these could be held only as mere trading centers without any fortifications and armies. Thus the French dream of building an empire in India was shattered. It cleared the way for the establishment of the British Empire in India unhampered by any European rival.