Tipu Sultan (1750-1799) was a Moslem ruler of Mysore. He was the most powerful of all the native princes of India and the greatest threat to the English position in southern India.

Tipu was born at Devanhalli, the son of Haidar Ali. Himself illiterate, Haidar was very particular in giving his eldest son a prince's education and a very early exposure to military and political affairs. From the age of 17 Tipu was given independent charge of important diplomatic and military missions. He was his father's right arm in the wars from which Haidar emerged as the most powerful ruler of southern India.

In 1782, when Haidar died during the Second Anglo-Mysore War, Tipu was very effective in bringing the west coast under his control. After his accession, he continued the war until the English were forced to make peace with him.

Mysore was now too strong and, under Tipu's efficient and dedicated administration, was growing too much in power for his neighboring states to feel secure. The Marathas in the northwest, joining the Nizam in the north, became embroiled with Tipu in 1785. They were defeated, but Tipu gave them very lenient peace terms in the vain hope of winning their friendship against the English, who he knew would resume hostilities with him as soon as they could. Simultaneously, he continued his friendly overtures to the English. Isolated from his neighbors in India, he also sent embassies to France and to the Caliph at Constantinople to gain their support, but little real benefit came of it.

By 1790 the East India Company, much better organized than ever before and now directly supported by the British government, was dead set on subjugating Tipu. Allying with the Marathas and the Nizam, it put all its might into an expedition against Mysore. Tipu lost half of his kingdom.

Despite this reduction in his territory, Tipu recuperated with such rapidity that he was still considered a very dangerous rival by the English. In 1799 the East India Company, again joined by the Marathas and the Nizam, attacked Tipu. Pushed back to his capital and besieged, the brave sultan fell, fighting to the last; Mysore fell into English hands.

Tipu's power rested not only on his large, excellent army but on the great prosperity of the state he developed through humane and systematic agrarian and mercantilistic policies. Fearing God, exerting himself for his subjects, and indulgently forgiving transgressions, he firmly wiped out all stubborn disloyalty to the state without partiality to caste or creed.

Further Reading on Tipu Sultan

Still useful is L. B. Bowring, Haidar Alí and Tipú Sultán (1893). Mohibbul Hasan Khan, History of Tipu Sultan (1951), is sympathetic and well balanced. For background information P. E. Roberts, History of British India (1921; 3d ed. 1952), and Percival Spear, India: A Modern History (1961), are recommended.

Additional Biography Sources

Ali, B. Sheikh. Tipu Sultan: a study in diplomacy and confrontation, Mysore: Geetha Book House, 1982.

Sharma, H. D. (Hari Dev). The real Tipu: a brief history of Tipu Sultan, Varanasi: Rishi Publications, 1991.

Jalaja Caktitacan. Tippu Sultan, a fanatic?, Madras: Nithyananda Jothi Nilayam, 1990.