Biography of Madhav Rao Peshwa I

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Biography of Madhav Rao Peshwa I

Madhav Rao Peshwa I

Madhav Rao Peshwa I was the son of Nanasaheb Peshwa (Balaji Bajirao). He was born on 14th February, 1745 and became the 4th Peshwa of Maratha Empire.


In June 1761 Madhav Rao, the second son of Balaji Bajirao, succeeded as the Peshwa. As he was only 16 years of age, it was decided that Raghunath Rao, the eldest member of the Peshwa family, was to become the Regent. The Regent became the de facto ruler of the state that surfaced a power struggle.

Observing the un-steadiness in the Maratha family, Salabat Jang, the Nizam of Hyderabad, invaded Maratha territories to avenge the defeat and humiliation suffered at Udgir in 1759-60. Raghunath Rao defeated him in January 1762, but did not humiliate him as the former wanted allies in the struggle for power with the Peshwa Madhav Rao.

Battle of Rakshasbhuvan and overthrow of Raghunath Rao

In 1762-63, fortunes swung in both directions before the overthrow of Raghunath’s regency. In November 1762, the Peshwa’s supported by Gopalrao Patwardhan and Malhar Rao Holkar, were defeated in two battles by the combined forces of Raghunath Rao, the Nizam and Janoji Bhonsle. However, in the battle of Rakshasbhuvan in August 1763, the Peshwa came out victorious.

But Madhav Rao made the mistake of not crushing Raghunath Rao completely. In 1765 Raghunath Rao demanded the partition of the Maratha state between himself and the Peshwa, and also instigated the Peshwa’s officers to defy his orders. Raghunath Rao’s ambition and conspiracies were finally settled with his imprisonment. Janoji Bhonsle was also humbled and in the agreement at Kanakapura. On March 23, 1769, he surrendered territories worth Rs. 8 lakhs and remained a loyal vassal till his death in 1772.

Expansion of Maratha Empire

Although Madhav Rao was engulfed in the civil war between 1762 and 1769 and could make his position secure in that very year, he did not lose opportunity to expand his arms in the Karnatak and north India. After the battle of Rakshasbhuvan in 1763, Madhav Rao crossed the Krishna and encroached upon Haider’s territory. Early in 1765 Raghunath Rao was given the charge to subdue Haider.

The Marathas had seized Honnali, Kumsi, Anantapur and Chitaldurga. But being harassed by Nizam Ali and the English merchants in the Konkan, peace was concluded in March 1765.

Haider surrendered several Maratha districts, including Bankapur, gave up all claims on the Nawab of Savanur, and agreed to pay Rs. 30 laths as tribute.

Haider Ali knew that the treaty was not the end for either the Marathas or for himself. Both were ambitious. War renewed in January 1767.  The forts of Sira and Madgiri and few others fell to the Marathas. Seeing Nizam Ali advancing to join the Marathas, Haider approached for peace. Peace was concluded in May 1767.

But Madhav Rao had to renew the war against Haider Ali in 1769, when the latter stopped paying the arrears of tribute to the Peshwa and had levied contributions upon some of the polygars of the Maratha country. Tribute was realised from Chitradurga, Harapanahalli and some other places, and also from the Nawab of Savanur.

It looked as if the Marathas were trying to get control over entire India. The Marathas, led by Trimbak Rao, secured a decisive victory on March 7, 1771 at Moti Talav, near the city of Seringapatam. However, the Marathas could not enforce any permanent gain owing to the financial crisis of the Peshwa and his failing health.

Madhav Rao did not lead personally any campaigns in the north, nor could he Control the selfishness and jealousies of the Maratha generals. By the beginning of 1772, however, the Marathas had succeeded in re-occupying Malwa, Bundelkhand, in exacting tribute from the leading Rajput Rajas, in almost crushing the Jats and the Rohillas, and in occupying Delhi and establishing the fugitive Emperor on his ancestral throne.

Death of Madhav Rao Peshwa

The premature death of Peshwa Madhav Rao on November 18, 1772, removed an able commander in the most demanding situation. The Peshwa had perceived the importance of holding the Maratha house together and it was desirable under the circumstances after 1761, but he was too lenient in accomplishing so formidable a task. The handling of Raghunath Rao, when he was conspiring most dangerously with all the enemies of the Marathas, was a pointer to the up-coming fortune of the Marathas.

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