«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
Daily Advertiser (Kingston, Jamaica) 20 July 1790, Issue 172 Third Mysore War of 1790-92.14 This meant that it was an auspicious time to face Tipu on the field of battle, according to the English Chronicle: "Tippoo Saib, and his father Hyder Ally, owed all of their success last war to the assistance of the French forces. At present Tippoo has no such aid, and therefore is not deemed to be an enemy of any importance."15 Although this London newspaper underestimated the military prowess of Tipu, it pointed to the connection that still existed between Tipu and the French in the British popular imagination. Even though France possessed little territory and few soldiers in India, the country remained a dire threat in the minds of the British public, particularly when combined together with the anxieties surrounding "Tippoo the Tyrant."
The Public Advertiser made this connection between Tipu and the French even more explicit when commenting on the war: "The power of the House of Bourbon will be... considerable curtailed; for in the East we have a right to consider Tippoo Saib as a part of that power, and a part that has given us much trouble and alarm – now is the time, unshackled by any other objects to destroy him, and prevent, in future wars with France or Spain, the possibility of an Eastern diversion in their favor."16 This source viewed Tipu as little more than a client state of the French monarchy, which was a factually dubious claim, but pointed nonetheless to this continued association of Tipu together with the French. Tipu alone was much less frightening than when he was faced in combination with the French. The same Public Advertiser had earlier written: "We have now an opportunity that never presented itself before, of ensuring a permanent peace, in the destruction of Tippoo Saib; for, unaided by France, he never can stand against the strength of the British interest in India. The opportunity ought not, and we believe will Anonymous author [1798?] Notes on Tipu Sultan (p. 281-470) IOR/H/609 p. 465 English Chronicle or Universal Evening Post (London, England) 24 July 1790, Issue 1692 Public Advertiser (London, England) 16 November 1790, Issue 17586 not, be lost."17 For these authors, Tipu's association with France was very much a part of the negative reputation that had been built up around the Sultan. Tipu was not only an Oriental despot and a religious bigot, he was also a sworn enemy of the British nation, his implacable hatred best demonstrated by the long-standing connection to France.
Although these ties to France often existed more in the imagination of the British public than in reality, they played an important role in public perceptions of the Sultan.
Popular interest in Tipu's possible alliance with France took on new meaning in the wake of France's own revolutionary turmoil. Britain had joined in the wider European war against the French revolutionaries in 1793, which would continue with only a brief interlude of peace until 1815. The potential for an alliance between revolutionary France and Tipu Sultan's Mysore summoned up all sorts of fears in the British imagination that were wildly out of proportion to the actual events taking place in India. Tipu's misguided attempts to gain the support of France would ultimately lead to his doom, providing the justification for the Fourth Mysore War of 1799.
The years leading up to this final war continued to indicate ongoing British anxieties about a connection between Tipu and the French. The Oracle and Public Advertiser wrote in 1794 how Tipu continued to possess a more formidable military force than ever, despite the diminution of his territory, as the result of an "inundation" of French emigrants. In its view, this potential menace therefore justified the continuation of the Company's large military expenses, which had often been criticized by the political opposition.18 These fears were exaggerated, and Tipu's military had been significantly reduced during these years as a result of his lost territory and revenue, although the Public Advertiser (London, England) 26 July 1790, Issue 17488 Oracle and Public Advertiser (London, England) 5 March 1794, Issue 18636 Company did not know this at the time.19 Tipu Sultan did retain a number of Frenchmen as officers in his army, however, particularly as technical experts for use with artillery and fortification design.20 Newspaper accounts and military histories of the Mysore Wars frequently made mention of these French officers serving under Tipu. The presence of Frenchmen and other Europeans serving in Indian armies was a common practice in eighteenth century India, as Europeans living in the interior of the subcontinent frequently "went native" and adopted a self-fashioned Indian identity for themselves.
This often included taking on Indian dress, learning Indian languages, and practicing Hindu or Islamic religious customs to take part in the court of Indian princes.21 Frenchmen and other Europeans serving in Tipu's military forces were unexceptional in this regard, no different from the Nizam's court in Hyderabad, which also contained large numbers of French soldiers. The presence of French officers in Tipu's army was not sufficient pretext on its own as a motivation for war, but in the context of a possible military alliance with France, those individuals would appear much more threatening.
Despite the general hope that peace would prevail with Tipu, rumors of his possible military involvement with France continued to stir up great anxiety in Britain. E.
Johnson's British Gazette wrote in 1796 that Tipu remained at peace but his friendship with the British was "without cordiality", and that he viewed the extension of British power and territory with sentiments of jealousy and apprehension.22 The general belief was that Tipu would like to gain revenge for his defeat in the previous war, but M H Gopal. Tipu Sultan's Mysore; An Economic Study (Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1971): 35-36 James Bristow. Narrative of the Sufferings of James Bristow (Calcutta: unknown publisher, 1792;
London: Reprinted by J. Murray, 1793; 1794; 1801; 1828): 46-47 William Dalrymple. White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth Century India (New York: Viking, 2003) E. Johnson’s British Gazette and Sunday Monitor (London, England) 22 May 1796, Issue 864 practically speaking, all sides were well aware that he lacked the means to do so. Thus an uneasy peace reigned for the moment, one which could potentially be disturbed by the involvement of the French. Writing on this subject in 1796, a dispatch from Calcutta noted: "Should the Sultaun of Mysore have entertained any designs hostile to the English interest in India, it has probably arisen from the hope of deriving succours from the French; but the impractibility of this hope being realized... Tippoo cannot have the most distant intention of coming to a rupture, or giving offence to the English Government."23 The involvement of the French was the key component for this anonymous commentator; so long as there was no possibility of French involvement in India, Tipu would not provoke a conflict at this time with the Company. The Oracle and Public Advertiser agreed, stating that there was little probability Tipu would choose the current moment for hostile action. The French were "not now in a condition to give him the least assistance", whatever hopes they both might entertain for regaining their lost territorial possessions in India.24 Without the assistance of the French, there was little reason to suspect that Tipu could prevail in another war against the Company. By the late 1790s, Tipu alone no longer provided a threat to the British power in India; this helped to explain why so much of the focus shifted away from the earlier concern with British prisoners and concentrated instead upon the possibility of a French alliance.
Tipu had made earlier attempts to ink a formal treaty with the French, even going so far as to send an embassy to the court of Louis XVI during the spring and summer of
1788. This was a very popular story in the British popular press, and was widely reported upon at the time. Newspapers enjoyed commenting upon the exotic spectacle presented East Indies. Calcutta, 28 September 28 1796 (no author given). Printed in the St. James’ Chronicle or the British Evening Post (London, England) 13 April 1797, Issue 6134 Oracle and Public Advertiser (London, England) 18 April 1797, Issue 19600 by Mysorean ambassadors, such as this passage from the Bath Chronicle: "Tippoo has sent some very magnificent presents to the court of France; amongst them is a bedstead of solid gold, in which, when ambition take its rest, it may enjoy a splendid repose!"25 Most observers viewed the embassy as a prelude to further hostile action against the British; the Bath Chronicle reported that the French would furnish Tipu with 5000 European soldiers, while the Whitehall Evening Post saw the stirrings of a larger plot set in motion: "The restless ambition of that Indian Chief, and his rooted hatred to the English nation, excite him to mediate their destruction and expulsion from the Peninsula of India... He therefore sends this Ambassador Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, in all the pompous style of Eastern magnificence and splendor, to concert measures with the French Cabinet for carrying his horrid plan into execution!"26 The Whitehall Evening Post would go on to invent a conversation between the French king and Tipu, leaving instructions to attack the Company’s possessions when Britain showed weakness. Once again, Tipu was portrayed as a close French ally, and therefore inherently hostile to the British Company. While Tipu's delegation ultimately failed to achieve anything of significance, due to the French monarchy's growing preoccupation with its own revolutionary crisis, the continuing print coverage of the embassy demonstrated the genuine interest in news of Tipu Sultan amongst the British public, and their preoccupation with his connection to France. Tipu's next attempt to send an embassy to the French would have much more lasting consequences.
After suffering major military and territorial losses in the Third Mysore War, Tipu Sultan faced an uncertain future, and searched for the means to restore his kingdom to its Bath Chronicle (Bath, England) 17 April 1788, Issue 1429 Emphasis in the original.
Whitehall Evening Post (London, England) 24 April 1788, Issue 6382 former strength. One of Tipu's attempted solutions in the late 1790s was to renew his desire for a closer alliance with the French, in the hopes that they would offset his own setbacks and balance the growing power of the British Company. Through a series of misunderstandings and political blunders, however, Tipu's purported alliance with France would fail to provide him with any substantial assistance, while simultaneously creating the justification for a pre-emptive war of aggression on the part of the Company. With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to see that Tipu's pursuit of the French was a disastrous miscalculation which brought about his ruin and ultimate death. Tipu was continuously misled by French adventurers at his court into believing that the French had vastly more military power available in India than actually existed. Tipu appears to have believed these fabrications because he fervently wanted them to be true, rejecting the advice of his councilors who cautioned that closer ties with France would almost certainly draw the attention of the British Company. Tipu's burning desire to overturn the setbacks of the previous war led him into a very serious error in judgment, which was ultimately responsible for his final military defeat and death.27 Tipu was encouraged to pursue these plans for an alliance by a French adventurer named Ripaud, who arrived at the court of Seringapatam in 1797. Ripaud was an individual with an unsavory background who Tipu's advisers correctly deduced to be a fraud. But he managed to convince the Sultan that he was an envoy from the French colony of Mauritius, leading Tipu on with wild claims that a French army would soon arrive to sweep the British out of India. Ripaud and other French adventurers like him were unintentionally playing the role of agent provocateurs, encouraging native rulers There is little doubt that Tipu wanted to regain his lost territories and harbored antipathy towards the Company. Even historians highly sympathetic to Tipu do not dispute this point. See for example B. Sheikh Ali. Tipu Sultan: A Study in Diplomacy and Confrontation (Mysore: Geetha Book House, 1982): 327-32 like Tipu to entertain designs against the British with promises of French support which were impossible in practice.28 Against the wishes of the rest of his court, Tipu agreed to move forward with plans for an alliance with the French, and began preparing an embassy to travel to Mauritius. Tipu's desire for revenge and desperate search for allies against the British Company appear to have overridden more sensible judgment and led him into this poor decision. The contemporary Indian historian Mir Hussain Kirmani wrote years later about how sometimes Tipu would act rashly and without thought, refusing to listen even to his most faithful servants, and cited the interactions with Ripaud as one such example of poor judgment.29 Tipu drew up a proposed treaty of alliance with France in April 1797, which is instructive in outlining the goals that he hoped to achieve through this agreement.