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The First Duke of Welesley Started his Military Carrier by Defeating Tippu Sultan

A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters.


The Duke of Wellesley is the chief protagonist of this article. He is the same man who defeated the great Napoleon. The second great character in this article is Tippu Sultan. Both the Duke and Tippu crossed swords but it was an anticlimax as Tippu was just not up to the task of stopping the Duke. Tippu Sultan was the Muslim ruler of Mysore state in South India. He was born in 1750 and was the son of Hyder Ali, who was a general in the army of the King of Mysore. Hyder Ali seized power and crowned himself Sultan. He led many expeditions in the Deccan, but his main enemy was the East India Company. He did once capture Madras, but was finally defeated and died early. His son Tippu took over as Sultan and continued his feud with the English.

Tippu was a bigoted ruler, who believed in the superiority of Islam. This was the flaw in his character and spelled his doom as the Hindus and Christians were opposed to his rule. This was the man who was to cross swords with the First Duke of Wellington, who later rose to great heights as a soldier. He led the coalition against Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The Duke won his military spurs in India fighting Tippu Sultan, who he vanquished in 1799.

The Duke was in India from 1796-1803, before he went back to England. His brother was the Governor of Madras Presidency and that was one reason he opted to serve time in India.

Storming the bation of Tippu

Storming the bation of Tippu

Early life of Duke and arrival in India

The First Duke of Wellesley was from an aristocratic background. He was born in 1769 and died in 1852. This was a period of great glory for him, but the start was the 4th Anglo-Mysore war in 1799. Later he vanquished the Marathas at the Battle of Assaye in 1803. These battles in the Deccan known as the Carnatic wars cemented his military reputation and he rose the ladder to become a Field Marshal and Commander in Chief of the English army.

The Duke joined the army in 1786 as an ensign and by 1796 was a Colonel, when he was sent to India. The English in India at that time faced a great threat from the French who had allied with the Sultan of Mysore Tippu. One of the first aims of the Duke on his arrival was to break the power of Sultan Tippu.

He was greatly helped in social matters by the Hindus and Christians who had been persecuted by the Sultan. He had forcibly carried out conversions and had circumcised thousands on pain of death. The younger women were handed over to his Muslim nobles as concubines. This greatly rankled the Hindus and Christians whose women were carted away to service the harems of the Muslim noblemen. His atrocities reached a peak in Malabar and Coorg where he reportedly destroyed over 8000 temples and churches. In a way, Tippu Sultan had by his deeds alienated vast numbers of people in his realm by his sectarian approach. The English thought these acts were a godsend as he signed his death warrant.

The Duke on arrival refurbished and retrained the local Madras Regiment, which is still a part of the Indian army. With a better trained and armed local army aided by English soldiers, a decision was taken to finish Tippu Sultan once and for all,

3 Pounder Canon used by Tippu

3 Pounder Canon used by Tippu

Painting of the Death of Tippu

Painting of the Death of Tippu

The 4th Anglo-Mysore War

In December 1798, orders were received to march on Seringapatam the capital of Tippu Sultan. The English marshaled 3 armies for this with one army advancing from Bombay aided by the Nizam of Hyderabad and 2 armies advancing from Madras. The Duke of Wellesley was in command of one of the armies from Madras. The British in all had about 26000 troops, mainly from the Madras Regiment and in addition 4000 ethnic English soldiers; they were also aided by 16000 troops from the Nizam of Hyderabad.

Tippu had about 30,000 troops as well as highly fortified defenses which had been planned by his French advisors. The English army in those days on the march was an unwieldy force as it carried goats, sheep, shopkeepers, attendants, comfort women and cooks, and laundrymen. This unwieldy force was spread over 18 sq. miles and the army covered about 10 miles in a day. The duke himself had 30 attendants and in modern parlance, they would have been sitting ducks.

Tippu displayed poor military acumen as he allowed the army to march from Madras. His best course was to venture out and attack while the army was marching, but he did nothing and thus showed that he lacked the military and strategic sense. By sitting inside his fort waiting for the English to attack, Tippu showed that he was a soldier who had not even a rudimentary knowledge of the Principles of War. He was brave but bravery is not a substitute for military knowledge and art of war.

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Death of Tippu


Having missed the opportunity of attacking the English on the march, Tippu was boxed inside his fort. The English laid siege to it and it was now a matter of time. On 4 May 1799, orders were given for assaulting the fort and a massive thrust was launched. The Duke himself planned the assault that saw one side of the fort being breached. This was enough as the English force entered the fort. Tippu was advised to run away through the many secret tunnels, but he preferred to stay and fight. He was shot dead on 4 May and the entire fort and palace were then looted by the English. Four tigers kept as pets by Tippu were also shot dead.

Lord Wellesley was appointed Governor of Mysore and consolidated English rule. This was the stepping stone of success for him and he followed up by vanquishing the Marathas in the 3rd Anglo Maratha war. He had done enough and in 1803, he was called back home. Greater honors in the military and political field awaited him at home.

Crypt at st paul where Duke is burried

Crypt at st paul where Duke is burried

Last Word

There are many romantic notions about Tippu Sultan and he has also become a political pawn. A dispassionate analysis shows that apart from being a poor general without much knowledge of the intricacies of the war, he also failed in drumming support among the populace by his rabid communal approach. His destruction of Temples and Churches and forcible conversions, as well as the abduction of girls for Muslim harems, alienated vast numbers of people against him. He never stood a chance against the Duke and was resoundingly defeated.


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 27, 2020:

Tom, interesting information

tom on September 27, 2020:

tipu sultans army was destroyed by river flooding in ,other wise kerala would have been ruined,in mysore non muslims were not discriminated, poorneah and mir sadiq betrayed him ,great grand daughter of tipu sultan was spy nur inayat khan

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on November 14, 2015:

Thank you DDE

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on November 14, 2015:

Interesting and informative thank you

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on November 13, 2015:

Thank you Ali Khan for commenting. It's nice to make a friend from Karachi. My ancestors stayed in Lahore

StormsHalted from Pullman, Washington, United States on November 12, 2015:

you seem to have a quite biased viewpoint about Tipu ............

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