In 1764, after winning the Battle of Buxar, the East India Company had become a dominant power in the Indian subcontinent.
The Bengal region was under their control.
On the other hand, the Mughal empire had weakened terribly.
Only this small territory in North India was still under Mughal control.
But look southwards, there was another empire in the Indian subcontinent.
Stronger than either of them.
The Maratha Empire.
Their territory was much larger than the East India Companies.
They had more resources and more power.
So how did the East India Company defeat the Maratha Empire?
Come, let’s try to understand this in today’s article.
“In this era in the 18th century the Mughals were the rulers in Delhi, but their power didn’t exceed beyond the Red Fort.”
“New powers were rising in the region.
The Indian Maratha Empires.”
“By the 1770s, the traders of the East India Company had laid the foundation of Britain’s empire in India.”
The Maratha Empire was founded in the year 1674, by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
Since the very beginning, they were a powerful force.
Even during Aurangzeb’s rule, the Maratha Empire was a big threat to the Mughal Empire.
The Mughal Empire was rapidly weakening and losing territory.
The Marathas contributed greatly to it. The Maratha Empire was at its peak in 1759.
This year, the territories of the Marathas, began from parts of Afghanistan in the North
and extended to Tamil Nadu in the South.
From Sindh in the West to Odisha in the East.
But 2 years later, in 1761,
the Maratha Empire was greatly shocked.
The infamous Third Battle of Panipat was fought.
Which, the Afghan ruler, Ahmad Shah Durrani, defeated the Marathas.
The Maratha Empire had to lose a lot of territory in this war, But a decade after this the Marathas regained their power.
They restored several territories under the leadership of their new Peshwa Madhavrao I. Under Peshwa Madhavrao I the Maratha Empire remained strong.
So powerful that the EIC knew that they did not have a chance to defeat them.
Not only this, the EIC wanted to distance themselves from the Marathas.
This is why they did not occupy Awadh.
In 1765, the Treaty of Allahabad was signed which declared Awadh to be a kind of buffer state between the EIC-controlled Bengal and the Maratha Empire.
The Company didn’t want its territories to border the Maratha Empire.
It’s not that the company didn’t want the Maratha territories, they wanted it all.
They wanted to control the entire subcontinent.
They were waiting for the right opportunity.
An opportunity when the Marathas would weaken and the Company could safely attack them.
They got this opportunity in 1772, when Peshwa Madhavrao I died, due to tuberculosis.
After his passing, the rest of the Maratha leaders were engaged in a power struggle.
Who would be the next Peshwa?
Friends, it is important to understand that the post of the Peshwa in the Maratha Empire was akin to the position of the Prime Minister.
Peshwa’s superior was the Chhatrapati.
The ruler of the Empire.
The Chhatrapati was more powerful than the Peshwa but after the death of the Chhatrapati Shahu, the role of the Peshwas was more prominent than the Chhatrapati.
The Peshwas were considered the ruler of the Maratha Empire.
And the role of the Chhatrapati had become that of a Nominal Head.
Similar to how the Indian President does not have many powers.
Coming back to the conflict, after the death of Peshwa Madhavrao I, his younger brother Narayan Rao was made the new Peshwa.
But his uncle, Raghunath Rao did not like this.
Ever since 1761, Raghunath Rao wanted to be the next Peshwa.
After the death of his brother Balaji Bajirao.
But in 1761, instead of making Raghunath Rao the next Peshwa, Balaji Bajirao’s son Madhavrao was made the next Peshwa.
This is why during the rule of Madhavrao, uncle Raghunath Rao was constantly in conflict with him.
He repeatedly tried to overthrow Madhavrao.
But his efforts were unsuccessful.
And then after the death of Peshwa Madhavrao, Raghunath Rao saw that as his chance to be the Peshwa, but even then, the seat slipped out of his grasp, and Narayan Rao became the next Peshwa.
Raghunath Rao could not tolerate this.
In his greed for the position, he assassinated the Peshwa.
In 1773, he had Narayan Rao killed.
After that, finally, he became the new Peshwa of the Maratha Empire.
But his victory was shortlived.
When he had Narayan Rao assassinated, his wife was pregnant.
Next year, in 1774, Narayan Rao’s son, Madhav Rao II was born.
With the child’s birth, the Maratha Council declared Madhav Rao II to be the legitimate Peshwa.
That instead of Raghunath Rao, Madhav Rao II was the true ruler.
If you’re wondering who the people deciding this, the Maratha Council was made up of 12 ministers, the Council was led by the famous Nana Fadnavis.
Since Madhav Rao II was an infant, he was a newborn baby at the time, and a newborn couldn’t realistically manage the Maratha Empire.
It was decided that until he grew up, Nana Fadnavis would rule over the Maratha Empire on behalf of the infant Peshwa.
But what about Raghunath Rao?
Raghunath Rao was exiled.
But he wasn’t ready to give up.
He was so greedy for power, that he did what no one could have imagined.
Raghunath Rao allied with the British.
Specifically speaking, the Bombay Presidency was established in Surat, under the control of the British, he went and signed the Treaty of Surat in 1775 with the British.
According to this treaty, the British would provide military assistance to Raghunath Rao, they would send their army to fight on behalf of Raghunath Rao,
so that he could be the next Peshwa.
In exchange, Raghunath Rao would have to give some territories to the British.
The territories were Salsette Island and Bassein.
Fun fact here, Salsette Island is where present-day Mumbai is.
As per the treaty, Raghunath Rao had to pay some money to the British as well.
The revenue from Broach.
This was the first Anglo-Maratha war in 1775.
On one side was the Maratha Empire, and on the other were Raghunath Rao and the British forces.
This was a bloody war.
Both sides had to suffer huge losses.
This was the first time the British had to suffer such losses in India.
But the Marathas suffered equal, if not worse, damage.
Both sides claimed to have won the war.
This was known as the Battle of Adas.
After this war, the British realised that it wasn’t easy to defeat the Marathas.
Looking at the results, the Governor General of India Warren Hastings, cancelled the Treaty of Surat.
According to Hastings, the government of the Bombay Presidency didn’t have any authority to enter into the treaty.
He was enraged that the treaty was signed without his permission.
The officers couldn’t ally with anyone they wished.
Hastings tried to withdraw the British forces so that they do not fight in this war.
But the Bombay Presidency didn’t pay heed to Hastings.
And they continued the war against the Peshwas.
Hastings then wrote a letter to the Peshwas and sent his agent to negotiate.
The treaty of Surat was cancelled and the EIC’s Calcutta Council signed a new Treaty with Nana Fadnavis.
The Treaty of Purandhar, 1776. According to this treaty, some areas of Salsette Island would be under the control of the EIC.
Because these areas were won by the EIC in the battle.
Additionally, the Peshwas would have to pay ₹1.2 million, as expenses incurred due to Raghunath Rao.
Raghunath Rao would have to steer clear of politics and live as a pensioner with an annual pension of ₹300,000 and in return for the pension, he wouldn’t interfere in politics.
But the most crucial thing in this treaty was that the EIC accepted Madhav Rao II to be the actual Peshwa.
And the Peshwas agreed with the EIC to not deal with any other foreign powers.
For example, they would not enter into any treaty or contract with the French.
This sounds like a happy ending.
But the British government in Bombay refused to accept the new treaty.
They openly opposed this Treaty and give full protection to Raghunath Rao.
Nana Fadnavis did not like this one bit.
That the Treaty was breached by Bombay, and in response, in 1777, he gave the French a port of his territory.
Since the British didn’t like the French, and he felt betrayed by the British, he decided to join the French.
The EIC in Calcutta was not amused by this.
They couldn’t have controlled the actions in Bombay, but that didn’t give the Maratha’s leeway to join the French.
The Britishers in Bombay and the Britishers in Calcutta, joined forces to attack Pune.
This began the second phase of the war.
The Bombay British forces clashed with the Maratha forces, and before they could get help from Calcutta, the Marathas had already defeated them.
This was fought in Wadgaon. So the Treaty signed after this battle was known as the Treaty of Wadgaon, 1779.
According to this Treaty, the Maratha territories captured by the Bombay government had to be returned.
And the additional forces that were coming to help them from Bengal, had to be sent back.
In Calcutta, Warren Hastings wasn’t pleased with the recent developments.
He asked the Bombay government with what authority did they sign the treaty?
He hadn’t given any authorisations.
He was the Governor General of India.
*Governor General: Should I resign from my post then?*
Amid these disagreements, Nana Fadnavis realised one thing.
For the first time, he realised the true intent of the British.
That the British wanted to defeat the Marathas and establish control over the entire Indian Subcontinent.
Nana Fadnavis realised this threat in time.
And allied with the surrounding kingdoms in the Indian subcontinent.
Hyderabad’s Nizam, Mysore’s Hyder Ali, Arcot’s Nawab, And the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II.
All joined forces with the Maratha Empire to defeat the British.
This war continued across multiple territories. This is still the First Anglo-Maratha War by the way.
The EIC occupied some more territories.
Such as Ahmedabad and Gwalior in 1781.
And the Marathas occupied some places.
This war went on for years.
But they were in a sort of a stalemate situation.
Neither were the British gaining more areas nor were the Marathas able to defeat the British in a way that they could be eradicated from Bengal.
Finally, both sides decided to end the war.
And in 1782, the war ended, and the Treaty of Salbai was signed.
And since the Marathas had the upper hand in this war, the winners of the First Anglo-Maratha War were the Marathas.
Broadly speaking, the Maratha Empire was successful in defending its territories.
According to the Treaty of Sabai, some territories were returned to the Marathas, but the EIC could keep Salsette and some of the minor territories.
The British promised not to support Raghunath Rao any longer.
And finally both sides agreed that Raghunath Rao would stay away from politics, and he would be given a pension to remain inactive.
He was promised an annual pension of ₹300,000.
Marathas promised not to support any other European country.
They wouldn’t give away any territory as they did to the French.
And finally, over the next 20 years, there was peace between the British and the Marathas.
But there’s a twist in the story.
There was indeed peace between the Marathas and the British for 20 years, But the Marathas and the other Indian Empires of the time, weren’t at peace.
As I told you, in 1779, The Maratha Empire formed alliances with Hyderabad’s Nizam, and Mysore’s Hyder Ali to defeat the British.
But this alliance remained only till 1780.
During the 20 years of peace between the Marathas and the British, the two joined their forces to fight against the Mysore Kingdom.
The EIC used the Marathas to defeat Mysore.
This eliminates a major threat to the EIC.
This year, once again, there was infighting in the Maratha Empire.
To understand this infighting, we need to understand how the Maratha Confederacy worked.
After some time, the Maratha Empire has renamed the Maratha Confederacy.
This Confederacy was made up of 5 factions.
These 5 factions had their leaders.
Which were the 5 factions?
The Gaekwads of Baroda, Bhonsle’s of Nagpur, and Holkars of Indore.
Scindias of Gwalior, And the Peshwas of Pune.
The Peshwa was considered to be the head of the Confederacy.
There were several minor conflicts among the factions.
But more or less, they remained united.
Especially, when Nana Fadnavis was on the throne.
But in 1800, Fadnavis passed away.
The internal conflict among the factions kept on increasing.
Once again, when there’s internal conflict, the British are very attentive to it.
They see opportunities.
When two powers fought each other, it was a golden opportunity for the British to exploit them.
In 1800, the Governor General was Lord Wellesley.
He invited the Maratha leaders of all 5 factions to form subsidiary alliances with them.
I’ll put the link to it in the description below you can watch it later.
But thankfully, all the leaders rejected this offer.
The thing is, in 1795, Madhav Rao II passed away.
And Raghunath Rao’s son, yes, the same Raghunath Rao, his son, Baji Rao II became the next Peshwa.
Baji Rao’s relationship was terrible with the Holkar leader Yashwant Rao Holkar, Baji Rao II had killed his brother.
That’s why in 1802, Yashwant Rao decided to avenge his brother’s death.
He started a war against the Peshwas and the Scindias.
As a result, the Peshwas of Pune had to flee Pune.
And when Baji Rao II saw that he had no one to help him, whom could he go to for help?
He went to the British.
He went to the EIC asking for help to regain his position as the Peshwa.
This seemed like a wonderful financial opportunity for the British, and they wasted no time seizing it.
This was an easy route to take over Pune’s control.
They asked Baji Rao II to sign a Treaty.
To form a Subsidiary Alliance with them in return for the help.
The Peshwa gladly entered into the Subsidiary Alliance.
As per this Treaty, the British Army of about 6,000 soldiers would be stationed at Pune.
But the Peshwa would have to surrender his territories in Pune.
As with the other Subsidiary Alliances, the Peshwa couldn’t wage any war or enter into other alliances
without the permission of the EIC.
Seeing this happen, angered the Scindias and Bhonsle’s.
The Peshwa had entered a deal with the British without discussing it with them.
They refuse to recognise the treaty.
And this was the start of the Second Anglo-Maratha War in 1803.
In this war, the Scindias and Bhonsles tried their best to keep the Maratha Confederacy independent.
Later, the Holkars supported them too.
On the other hand, not only were the Peshwas supporting the British, but also the Gaekwads.
Literally, at this point, the Maratha Empire was split.
On one side were the Scindias, Bhonsles, and Holkars, while the Peshwas and Gaekwads were in alliance with the British.
You’d wonder why the Gaekwads allied with the British. The reason for this was that in 1802, the British had helped a Gaekwad leader in becoming the leader.
There were ongoing internal conflicts in the state.
Once again, the British interrupted it, and ‘helped’ place someone on the throne.
In 1803, in the Battle of Assaye and the Battle of Aragon, the British forces defeated the Scindias and Bhonsle’s.
The Scindias were made to sign a Treaty.
The Bhonsle’s were made to sign a Treaty.
In both Treaties, they had to give up a large portion of their territory to the British.
These territories included the regions of Delhi, Agra, Bundelkhand, Ahmednagar, and several parts of Gujarat, all of which went to the British.
After eliminating Scindias and Bhonsles, Holkars were the last faction standing.
The conflict between the British and the Holkars, continued till 1805 after which they too lost.
They had to sign a treaty too.
And so the Second Anglo-Maratha War ended in which the British won tremendously.
After the Holkars signed the Treaty, several territories in present-day Rajasthan went to the British.
Since the Peshwas were on the side of the British, Baji Rao II was made the Peshwa of the Maratha Confederacy again.
However, this time was different, he was the puppet ruler, controlled by the British.
The same thing happened in this case too.
By 1817, the Peshwa had realised that the British aimed at eradicating them.
Baji Rao II was secretly planning for a war.
That could drive away the British.
A large of that planning involved Lord Elphinstone being assassinated.
Baji Rao II was planning his assassination.
By this point in time, the power and authority of the Marathas had significantly weakened.
The revenue they were earning, was constantly going to the British.
They weren’t left with much military power.
So the Marathas decided to carry out a last-ditch effort to defeat the British.
Peshwa Baji Rao II joined forces with the Holkars and Bhonsles, not only this, he joined forces with Afghan leader Aamir Khan as well.
Initially, the Scindias did not want to participate, but later, they joined the alliance too.
But due to the decades-long infighting, these kingdoms had greatly weakened.
In the Third Anglo-Maratha War, the British wiped them out easily.
This time, the British East India Company decided to end the rule of the Peshwa.
The Peshwa-ship system was abolished.
Baji Rao II was deposed to remain as a pensioner.
And to live out his remaining life like that.
This was the end of the Maratha Empire.
The leaders of the various factions had to sign treaties once again.
Such as the Treaty of Poona, 1817, Treaty of Gwalior, 1817, Treaty of Mandsaur, 1818, all the territories went to the British.
And the EIC gained two-thirds control of the Indian Subcontinent.
It is interesting to note that had there been unity among the kingdoms, it would have been very difficult for the EIC to gain control over the entire subcontinent.
But as we saw here, not only were the Indian kingdoms fighting each other but there was infighting in the Empires as well.
In the Maratha Empire, several leaders were fighting over the throne.
Even in the Mughal Empire, several leaders were fighting for the throne.
The EIC could exploit this easily.
Specifically speaking, before the Second Anglo-Maratha War, the EIC was faced with another major power that was a threat to them.
The Mysore Kingdom and their legendary ruler Tipu Sultan.
The biggest twist in the story is that to defeat the Mysore kingdom, the EIC allied with the Maratha Empire.
This happened in the 20 years of the ‘peaceful’ period when the EIC and the Marathas were not at war with each other.
To understand the internal rivalries better, I will make the next episode of this series, on the Mysore Kingdom.
And we’ll understand how the Game of Thrones was played here by the East India Company.
Thanks for reading How the British Destroyed Maratha Empire?