Anglo-Maratha Wars


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Prelims: History of India and Indian National Movement.

Mains: Modern Indian History from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues.

 Anglo - Maratha Wars - The Rise of Marathas, The Three Anglo - Maratha Wars

The 18th century witnessed a fierce struggle for supremacy in India, pitting the Marathas, a powerful indigenous force, against the formidable British East India Company. The Marathas controlled vast territories and played a pivotal role in shaping the subcontinent's political landscape, receiving tributes from regions beyond their direct rule. However, internal divisions and the defeat at the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761 weakened their position. 

Amidst this backdrop, the ambitious British East India Company sought to capitalise on the Marathas' decline and establish their governance along the lines of their success in other regions. The ensuing Anglo-Maratha Wars, spanning the late 18th and early 19th centuries, marked pivotal moments in India's history.


Rise of Marathas

The Marathas, who controlled a large portion of the country and received tributes from areas not directly under their control, were in Lahore thinking of becoming rulers of the north Indian empire and in the court of the Mughals playing the role of kingmakers.

  • Defeat at Panipat: After their defeat in the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761, the Marathas re-grouped, regained their strength, and within a decade, achieved a position of power in India.
  • Bajirao I: He is considered the greatest of all the Peshwas, had started a confederacy of prominent Maratha chiefs to manage the rapidly expanding Maratha power and, to some extent, appease the Kshatriya section of the Marathas led by the Senapati Dabodi.
  • Maratha confederacy: Under the arrangement of the Maratha confederacy, each prominent family under a chief was assigned a sphere of influence which he was supposed to conquer and rule, but in the name of the then Maratha king, Shahu.
  • Families of the confederacy: The prominent Maratha families that emerged were: (i) the Gaekwad of Baroda, (ii) the Bhonsle of Nagpur, (iii) the Holkars of Indore, (iv) the Sindhias of Gwalior, and (v) the Peshwa of Poona.
  • Peshwaship weakened: The defeat at Panipat, and later the death of the young Peshwa, Madhavrao I, in 1772 weakened the control of the Peshwas over the confederacy. 
    • Even though the confederacy's chiefs occasionally worked together, as they did when fighting the British (1775–82), they quarrelled more frequently among themselves.


Entry of English into Maratha Politics

The years between the last quarter of the 18th century and the first quarter of the 19th century witnessed the Marathas and the English clashing thrice for political supremacy, with the English emerging victorious in the end.

  • The cause of the conflicts: The inordinate ambition of the English and the divided house of the Marathas encouraged the English to hope for success in their venture.
  • English ambitions: The English in Bombay wanted to establish a government along the lines of the arrangement made by Clive in Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa.
    • So it was a longed-for opportunity for the English when dissensions over succession divided the Marathas.


The First Anglo-Maratha War (1775-82)

The First Anglo-Maratha War set the tone for the upcoming tense relations between the Anglo-Maratha relations that were later decisive in the future of India.

  • Background: 
    • After the death of Madhavrao in 1772, his brother Narayanrao succeeded him as the fifth Peshwa.
    • However, Narayanrao’s uncle, Raghunathrao, had his nephew assassinated and named himself the next Peshwa, although he was not a legal heir.
    • Narayanrao’s widow, Gangabai, gave birth to a son after her husband’s death.
    • The newborn infant was named ‘Sawai’ Madhavrao, and he was legally the next Peshwa.
    • Twelve Maratha chiefs (Barabhai), led by Nana Phadnavis, tried to name the infant as the new Peshwa and rule for him as regents.
  • Treaties of Surat and Purandar: 
    • Raghunathrao, unwilling to give up his position in power, sought help from the English at Bombay and signed the Treaty of Surat in 1775.
    • Under the treaty, Raghunathrao ceded the territories of Salsette and Bassein to the English, along with a portion of the revenues from the Surat and Bharuch districts.
    • In return, the English were to provide Raghunathrao with 2,500 soldiers.
  • Condemnation of the treaty: 
    • The British Calcutta Council condemned the Treaty of Surat (1775) and sent Colonel Upton to Pune to annul it and make a new treaty (Treaty of Purandar, 1776) with the regency renouncing Raghunath and promising him a pension.
    • The Bombay government rejected this and gave refuge to Raghunath.
    • In 1777, Nana Phadnavis violated his treaty with the Calcutta Council by granting the French a port on the west coast.
    • The English retaliated by sending a force towards Pune.
  • The course of the war: 
    • The English and the Maratha armies met on the outskirts of Pune.
    • Though the Maratha army had more soldiers than the English, the latter had superior ammunition and cannons.
    • However, the Maratha army was commanded by a brilliant general named Mahadji Sindhia (also known as Mahadji Shinde).
    • Mahadji lured the English army into the ghats (mountain passes) near Talegaon and trapped the English from all sides, and attacked the English supply base at Khopali.
    • The Marathas also utilised a scorched earth policy, burning farmland and poisoning wells.
    • As the English began to withdraw to Talegaon, the Marathas attacked, forcing them to retreat to the village of Wadgaon.
    • Here, the English army was surrounded by the Marathas and cut off from food and water supplies.
    • The English surrendered by mid-January 1779 and signed the Treaty of Wadgaon that forced the Bombay government to relinquish all territories acquired by the English since 1775.
  • Treaty of Salbai (1782):
    • Warren Hastings, the Governor-General in Bengal, rejected the Treaty of Wadgaon and sent a large force of soldiers under Colonel Goddard, who captured Ahmedabad in February 1779, and Bassein in December 1780.
    • Another Bengal detachment led by Captain Popham captured Gwalior in August 1780. In February 1781, the English, under General Camac, finally defeated Sindhia at Sipri.
    • Sindhia proposed a new treaty between the Peshwa and the English, and the Treaty of Salbai was signed in May 1782. It was ratified by Hastings in June 1782 and by Phadnavis in February 1783.
    • The main provisions of the Treaty of Salbai were:
      • Salsette should continue in possession of the English.
      • The whole of the territory conquered since the Treaty of Purandar (1776), including Bassein, should be restored to the Marathas.
      • In Gujarat, Fateh Singh Gaekwad should remain in possession of the territory which he had before the war and should serve the Peshwa as before.
      • The English should not offer any further support to Raghunathrao, and the Peshwa should grant him a maintenance allowance.
      • The English should enjoy the privileges of trade as before.
      • The Peshwa should not support any other European nation.
      • The Peshwa and the English should undertake that their several allies should remain at peace with one another.
      • Mahadji Sindhia should be the mutual guarantor for the proper observance of the terms of the treaty.


The Second Anglo-Maratha War (1803-05)

The second Anglo-Maratha War is also an important milestone in Anglo-Maratha relations. 

  • Background: 
    • The Second Anglo-Maratha War started in circumstances similar to those of the First.
    • After Peshwa Madhavrao Narayan committed suicide in 1795, Bajirao II, the worthless son of Raghunathrao, became the Peshwa.
    • Nana Phadnavis, a bitter foe of Bajirao II, became the chief minister.
    • The disagreements among the Marathas provided the English with an opportunity to intervene in Maratha affairs.
    • The death of Nana Phadnavis in 1800 gave the British an added advantage.
  • Course of the war: 
    • On April 1, 1801, the Peshwa brutally murdered the brother of Jaswantrao Holkar, Vithuji. Jaswant arrayed his forces against the combined armies of Sindhia and Bajirao II.
    • The turmoil continued, and on October 25, 1802, Jaswant defeated the armies of the Peshwa and Sindhia decisively at Hadapsar near Poona and placed Vinayakrao, son of Amritrao, on the Peshwa’s seat.
    • A terrified Bajirao II fled to Bassein, where, on December 31, 1802, he signed a treaty with the English.
  • Treaty of Bassein (1802): Under the treaty, the Peshwa agreed:
    • To receive from the Company a native infantry with the usual proportion of field artillery and European artillerymen attached to be permanently stationed in his territories.
    • To cede to the Company territories yielding an income of Rs 26 lakh.
    • To surrender the city of Surat.
    • To give up all claims for Chauth on Nizam’s dominions.
    • To accept the Company’s arbitration in all differences between him and the Nizam or the Gaekwad.
    • Not to keep in his employment Europeans of any nation at war with the English.
    • To subject his relations with other states to the control of the English.
  • Reduced to Vassalage: 
    • After the Peshwa accepted the subsidiary alliance, Sindhia and Bhonsle attempted to save Maratha's independence.
    • But the well-prepared and organised army of the English under Arthur Wellesley defeated the combined armies of Sindhia and Bhonsle. It forced them to conclude separate subsidiary treaties with the English.
    • In 1804, Jaswant Rao Holkar made an attempt to form a coalition of Indian rulers to fight against the English. But his attempt proved unsuccessful.
    • The Marathas were defeated, reduced to British vassalage, and isolated from one another.
  • Significance of the Treaty of Bassein: 
    • Admittedly, the treaty was signed by a Peshwa who lacked political authority, but the gains made by the English were immense.
    • The provision of keeping English troops permanently in Maratha territory was of great strategic benefit.
    • The Company already had troops in Mysore, Hyderabad, and Lucknow.
      • The addition of Poona to the list meant that the Company’s troops were now more evenly spread and could be rushed to any place without much delay in times of need.
    • Though the Treaty of Bassein did not hand over India to the Company on a platter, it was a major development in that direction; the Company was now well-placed to expand its areas of influence.
    • In the circumstances, the observation that the treaty 'gave the English the key to India' may be exaggerated but appears understandable.


The Third Anglo-Maratha War (1817-19)

The third Anglo-Maratha war was the last and decisive War in Anglo-Maratha relations.

  • Background: 
    • Lord Hastings had the imperialistic design of imposing British paramountcy.
    • By the Charter Act of 1813, the East India Company’s monopoly of trade in China (except tea) ended, and hence the company needed more markets.
    • The Pindaris, made up of many castes and classes, were attached to Maratha armies as mercenaries. When the Marathas became weak, the Pindaris could not get regular employment.
    • As a consequence, they started plundering neighbouring territories, including those of the Company. The English charged the Marathas with giving shelter to the Pindaris.
    • Pindari leaders like Amir Khan and Karim Khan surrendered while Chitu Khan fled into the jungles.
    • The Treaty of Bassein, described as a treaty with a cipher (the Peshwa), wounded the feelings of the other Maratha leaders.
    • Lord Hastings’ actions taken against the Pindaris were seen as a transgression of the sovereignty of the Marathas; they served to unite the Maratha Confederacy once again.
    • A repentant Bajirao II made a last bid in 1817 by rallying together the Maratha chiefs against the English in the course of the Third Anglo-Maratha War.
  • The course of the war: 
    • The Peshwa attacked the British Residency at Poona. Appa Sahib of Nagpur attacked the residency at Nagpur, and the Holkar made preparations for war.
    • But by then, the Marathas had lost almost all those elements which are needed for the growth of power. The political and administrative conditions of all the Maratha states were confused and inefficient.
    • The Bhonsle at Nagpur and the Sindhia at Gwalior had also become weak. So the English, striking back vigorously, succeeded in not allowing the Peshwa to exert his authority again on the Maratha confederacy.
  • Result: 
    • The Peshwa was defeated at Khirki, Bhonsle at Sitabuldi, and Holkar at Mahidpur.
    • Some important treaties were signed. These were:
      • June 1817, Treaty of Poona, with the Peshwa.
      • November 1817, Treaty of Gwalior, with Sindhia.
      • January 1818, Treaty of Mandasor, with Holkar.
    • In June 1818, the Peshwa finally surrendered, and the Maratha Confederacy was dissolved. The Peshwaship was abolished.
    • Peshwa Bajirao became a British retainer at Bithur near Kanpur.
    • Pratap Singh, a lineal descendant of Shivaji, was made ruler of a small principality, Satara, formed out of the Peshwa’s dominions.




Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


Q) How many Anglo-Maratha Wars were fought?

Three Anglo-Maratha Wars were fought between the British East India Company and the Maratha Empire.


Q) Who won the First Anglo-Maratha War?

The First Anglo-Maratha War, fought between the British East India Company and the Maratha Empire, ended in a stalemate with no clear winner.


Q) What was the result of the First Anglo-Maratha War?

The war concluded with the Treaty of Salbai in 1782, which resulted in a restoration of territories and a mutual agreement between the two parties to maintain peace with each other.


Q) Which treaty ended the First Anglo-Maratha War?

The First Anglo-Maratha War was ended by the Treaty of Salbai in 1782. The treaty was signed between the British East India Company and the Maratha Empire, marking the conclusion of the war and establishing certain terms and agreements between the two parties.