Tipu Sultan, born on 20 November 1750, rose to great prominence as ruler of Mysore and one of the greatest enemies facing the British there. His father, Haider Ali (1721-82) was a Muslim of humble origins who rose to become leader of the Mysore army and afterwards deposed the ruling Hindu raja, establishing himself on the throne. Tipu succeeded his father as Sultan in 1782, ruling as a Sunni Muslim over predominantly Hindu citizens. During his 17 years in power, Tipu led Mysore to new heights of economic, cultural and military prowess.
Tipu was a learned ruler and brought his studies to play in government. He owned an extensive library of more than 2,000 volumes, on subjects ranging from Sufism and poetry to sciences and ethics. He studied European economics and introduced measures that enabled Mysore's dramatic economic advancement; he imported sericulture from China; championed superior animal husbandry; and developed Mysore's road networks. Tipu also imported French technology and received French artisans to train local craftsmen. As a result, there were a great many unique objects in Seringapatam's treasury, including the famous automaton, 'Tipu's Tiger', now in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Tipu took on the emblem of the tiger at the start of his reign and the motif was widely used across Mysore: there were painted tigers on the walls of his palace, tiger-headed weapons in his armoury and decorative objects, including the V & A tiger, in his treasury. Tipu's treasury also held a large quantity of jewels, which were the inspiration for Wilkie Collins' 1868 novel The Moonstone, and may well have included the oval gold ring in the present lot.
Tipu's struggle against the British East India Company was almost constant throughout his reign and he proved a brilliant general - defeating the British with particular force at the Battle of Pollilur in 1780. The wars culminated in British victory at the Siege of Seringapatam, 1799, when Arthur Wellesley commanded the third reserve column. After the battle, the British party (led by Wellesley) went in search of Tipu and were led to his body, lying beneath the ramparts near the Water gate of the fort; 'a well-dressed body was dragged out, and Wellesley himself checked the man's pulse: it was Tipoo and he was indeed dead' (R. Holmes, Wellington: The Iron Duke, London, 2003, p. 60).
Though family tradition reports that this ring was taken by Arthur Wellesley from the dead hand of Tipu Sultan, it is surprising that a ring bearing the name of a Hindu god would have been worn by the great Muslim warrior. It is perhaps more likely that the ring was taken from Tipu Sultan's collection. Following the Siege of Seringapatam, there followed a period of disorder and much of the city's wealth was looted. Wellesley was appointed Governor of Seringapatam Fort and wrote to his mother that 'Scarcely a house in the town was left unplundered, and I understand that in camp jewels of the greatest value...have been offered for sale...' (quoted in M. Moiennudin, Sunset at Srirangapatam. After the Death of Tipu Sultan, Hyderabad, 2000, pp. 25-6). It was at this time that 'Tipu's Tiger' was brought back to England and it may also have been then that the present ring was removed from the treasury.