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Unit 1
Lord Wellesley and Subsidiary Alliance

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of the unit, the learner will be able to :

  • describe the system of subsidiary alliance
  • identify Lord Wellesley’s aggressive interference in the internal affairs of the states.
  • analyze the expansion of British rule in India
  • explain how Indian states lost their independence.


Lord Wellesley’s administration had made the English East India Company the master of India. In the six years of his administration he made it clear that the Company’s primary interest was no longer commercial. In India he achieved a number of successes during the first years of his administration. He claimed that an all India paternalistic despotism was necessary to impose stability on the Indian States. Lord Wellesley intended to bring all Indian states under British control. He also took advantage of the disunity among the Indian states and for him it was easy to bring these states into his system of subsidiary alliances. He also interfered in the internal affairs of the Maratha empire and obtained a subsidiary alliance with the Peshwa.

Key Words

Wellesley, Expansionist Policy, System of Subsidiary Alliance, Anti-British Alliance, Treaty of Rajghat

2.1.1 Wellesley

Under the governorship of Lord Wellesley, who arrived in India in 1798 at a period when the British were engaged in a global battle for survival with France, the British Empire in India underwent a significant expansion. The British had up to that point adhered to the principle of consolidating their successes and resources in India and expanding their territory only when it was possible to do so without endangering the main Indian powers. The timing was right, according to Lord Wellesley, to subjugate as many Indian states as possible. Mysore and the Marathas, the two biggest Indian empires, had lost influence by 1797. India’s political environment was favourable for an expansionist agenda because it was simple and profitable to be aggressive. Additionally, Britain’s commerce and industrial classes wanted to see their country grow strong and powerful in India.

2.1.2 Subsidiary Alliance

Wellesley used three strategies to accomplish his political goals: the Subsidiary Alliance structure, direct conflict, and annexation of formerly subjugated monarchs’ lands. Even though the custom of providing an Indian ruler with a paid British force was relatively old, Wellesley gave it a clear shape by using it to subject the Indian States to the Company’s supreme authority. The ruler of the allying Indian State was required to accept the permanent stationing of a British military within his territory and to pay a stipend for its upkeep under his Subsidiary Alliance arrangement. All of this was reportedly done for his safety but was actually a way for the Indian monarch to pay tribute to the Company. In certain cases, the ruler ceded some of his land in lieu of making a yearly subsidy payment. The Subsidiary Treaty also frequently stipulated that the Indian ruler would consent to the posting of a British Resident to his court, that he would not hire any Europeans without British consent, and that he would not engage in negotiations with any other Indian rulers without first seeking the Governor’s approval. In return, the British agreed to protect the king against his adversaries. Additionally, they promised not to meddle in the internal issues of the ally state, but they rarely followed it. Subsidiary Alliance- Disaster for Indian States:

When an Indian state signs a subsidiary alliance, it is essentially handing away its independence. It lost the ability to defend itself, maintain diplomatic ties, hire foreign expertise, and arbitrate disputes with its neighbours. In fact, the Indian king lost all remaining authority over foreign affairs and bowed down to the British Resident who meddled with the government’s day-to-day operations. Additionally, the mechanism had a tendency to cause the protected state’s internal degradation. The British-provided supplementary army came at a very high expense that was actually much more than the state’s means of support. Payment of the arbitrarily fixed and artificially inflated subsidy always caused the state’s economy to suffer and left its citizens in poverty. The armies of the protected states were disbanded as a result of the system of subsidiary alliances. Millions of soldiers and officers lost their inherited means of support, causing suffering and degradation throughout the nation. Furthermore, since they no longer feared their citizens, the leaders of protected regimes often neglected and oppressed them. They were completely shielded by the British from both local and international foes, so they had no reason to be excellent rulers. Subsidiary Alliance – Advantage to the British

The British, on the other hand, greatly benefited from the Subsidiary Alliance arrangement. At the expense of the Indian states, they could now sustain a sizable army. Since every conflict would take place in the territory of either the British ally or the British enemy, they were allowed to fight wars far from their own borders. They were in charge of the protected ally’s defence and foreign policy, and they had a strong force stationed right in the middle of their territory. As a result, they had the ability to topple the ally and grab their territories at any time by claiming they were ineffective. The British viewed the Subsidiary Alliances system as “a strategy of fattening allies as we fatten oxen, until they were worthy of being devoured,” in the words of a British writer. Subsidiary Alliance with Nizam

In 1798, Lord Wellesley signed his initial subsidiary agreement with the Nizam of Hyderabad. The British promised to defend his state from Maratha incursions, thus the Nizam was required to remove his French-trained soldiers while maintaining a supplementary army of six battalions. Another pact was signed in 1800 that enlarged the subsidiary force and required the Nizam to give the Company a portion of his holdings instead of money. Alliance with the Nawab of Awadh

compelled to ratify a subsidiary treaty. The Nawab was forced to give the British approximately half of his empire, which included Rohilkhand and the area between the Ganga and the Jamuna, in exchange for a larger subsidiary force.

Additionally, the Nawab lost his independence, even inside the portion of Avadh that he took with him. Any instructions or recommendations given by the British government regarding the internal management of his State must be obeyed. British officers were to take charge of and oversee the restructuring of his police force. His own army was essentially abolished, and the British were free to station soldiers anywhere they pleased in his state.

Third Anglo-Mysore war

Wellesley dealt with Mysore, Carnatic, Tanjore, and Surat even more harshly. Of course, Tipu of Mysore would never consent to a subsidiary treaty. Instead, he never accepted the fact that he had lost half of his land in 1792. In preparation for the inescapable conflict with the British, he never stopped working to fortify his soldiers. He started talking about forming an alliance with France during the French Revolution. In order to form an anti-British alliance, he sent emissaries to Afghanistan, Arabia, and Turkey.

Fourth Anglo-Mysore War

Before French assistance could reach Tipu, the British troops struck him in 1799 and decimated him in a quick but bloody conflict. Tipu continued to reject offers of humiliating peace agreements. “Better to die like a soldier, than to live a miserable life depending on the unbelievers, in the list of their pensioners, rajas and nabobs,” he proclaimed with pride. On May 4, 1799, he died; a hero’s death while defending his city, Seringapatam. To the very end, his troops remained loyal to him. The British and the Nizam, who was an ally of the British, received about half of Tipu’s domains. The descendants of the original rajas from whom Haidar Ali had usurped power received the reconstituted kingdom of Mysore. The new Raja was forced to sign a special subsidiary alliance pact authorising the governor-general to assume control of the state in an emergency. In actuality, the Company was pushed to completely depend on Mysore. The Fourth Anglo-Mysore War had a significant impact on completely eliminating the French challenge to British Supremacy in India.

Lord Wellesley & Carnatic, Tanjore,Surat State

In 1801, Lord Wellesley coerced the puppet Nawab of Carnatic into signing a new treaty that required him to relinquish his country to the Company in exchange for a sizable annuity. The Carnatic was now annexed to the regions taken from Mysore, including the Malabar, to create the Madras Presidency as it existed until 1947. Similar events occurred in Tanjore and Surat, where the monarchs’ lands were seized when they abdicated.

Lord Wellesley & Marathas

The Marathas were the only significant Indian power that was still independent of British rule. Wellesley now shifted his attention to them and actively meddled in their private matters. During this period, the Maratha Empire was a coalition of five powerful leaders. However, they were all embroiled in a bloody fratricidal war and unaware of the genuine threat posed by the swiftly approaching stranger.

The Peshwa and Sindhia had frequently accepted Wellesley’s offers of a subsidiary alliance. However, Nana Phadnis had avoided the trap because of his keen vision. When Holkar defeated the united troops of the Peshwa and Sindhia on October 25, 1802, the day of the important festival of Diwali, the cowardly Peshwa Baji Rao II fled into the arms of the English and on the crucial final day of 1802, at Bassein, signed the Subsidiary Treaty. Wellesley was mistaken in one way: the proud Maratha leaders would not just give up their long heritage of independence. The triumph had been a little too simple. But even in this dangerous situation, they refused to cooperate against their common foe. Gaekwad assisted the British while Holkar watched as Sindhia and Bhonsle fought the British. Bhonsle and Sindhia took care of Holkar’s wounds while he took up arms. In addition, the Maratha commanders did not adequately prepare for battle since they miscalculated the enemy’s greatly enhanced strength.

The Second Anglo Maratha War

The united troops of Sindhia and Bhonsle were defeated by the British armies under the command of Arthur Wellesley in the South at Assaye in September 1803 and at Argaon in November. On November first, Lord Lake defeated Sindhia’s army at Laswari and took control of Aligarh, Delhi, and Agra. The blind Indian Emperor once more received a pension from the Company. The Maratha allies were forced to file a peace suit, and both joined the company as subsidiary allies. They gave over a portion of their lands to the British, allowed British citizens to use their courts, and made a vow not to hire any Europeans without first getting permission from the British. The coast of Orissa and the regions between the Ganga and the Jamuna came under total British rule.

Wellesley now shifted his focus to Holkar when the Peshwa turned into an unhappy puppet in their hands but Yeshwant Rao Holkar proved to be more than a match for the British. Holkar’s ally, the Raja of Bharatpur, inflicted significant losses on Lake, who futilely attempted to breach his fort, as he battled British soldiers to a standstill. Furthermore, Sindhia started to consider working with Holkar after putting his long-standing animosity towards the Holkar family. On the other hand, the East India Company’s shareholders learned that their approach of expanding by war was expensive and lowered their earnings. Debt for the Company rose from £17,000,000 in 1797 to £31,000,000 in 1806. Additionally, Britain’s coffers were running out just as Napoleon was reemerging as a serious menace to Europe. British statesmen and the Company’s Directors believed that the time had come to put a stop to future growth, cease wasteful spending, and digest and consolidate Britain’s recent successes in India. Wellesley was consequently sent back to India, and in January 1806, the Company and Holkar signed the Treaty of Rajghat, which returned the majority of Holkar’s holdings to him.

Subsequently, Wellesley’s expansionist strategy had been scrutinised. Nevertheless, it had led to the East India Company rising to the top of the Indian power structure. Tipu was putting on weight the entire time. He also requested assistance from the French. But in 1799, he waged a bloody battle and perished before the French aid could reach him.

The Peshwa (Poona), Gaekwad (Baroda), Sindhia (Gwalior), Holkar (Indore), and Bhonsle were among the five groups that made up the Marathas during this period (Nagpur). These factions were at war all the time even if Peshwa was the official leader. Holkar defeated Peshwa Baji Rao II, who then signed the convention of Subsidiary alliance. Even then, the British would only have been able to overcome them if they had united as one. But even in the face of immediate peril, they remained divided. So, one or more factions watched and the others engaged in battle with the British and fell to them one by one. However, Wellesley’s expansionist approach cost the government too much money. He was therefore called back from India.


  • Lord Wellesley who came to India in 1798
  • By 1797 the two strongest Indian powers, Mysore and the Marathas, had declined in power
  • The Indian States were compelled to accept the permanent stationing of a British force within his territory and to pay a subsidy for its maintenance
  • The system of Subsidiary Alliances also led to the disbandment of the armies of the protected states
  • The British controlled the defense and foreign relations of the protected ally.
  • Lord Wellesley signed his first Subsidiary Treaty with the Nizam of Hyder-abad
  • Lord Wellesley forced a new treaty upon the puppet Nawab of Carnatic
  • The Marathas were a confederacy of five factions namely the Peshwa (Poona), Gaekwad (Baroda), Sindhia (Gwalior), Holkar (Indore), and Bhonsle (Nagpur)

Objective type questions

  1. When did Lord Wellesley come to India?
  2. Who were the two strongest Indian powers, who had declined in power by 1797?
  3. Which were the three methods Wellesley relied on?
  4. When did the Nawab of Avadh was forced to sign a Subsidiary Treaty?
  5. With whom Lord Wellesley signed his first Subsidiary Treaty?
  6. Which was described as “a system of fattening allies as we fatten oxen, till they were worthy of being devoured”?
  7. Who proudly declared that it was “better to die like a soldier, than to live miser-able dependent on the infidels, in the list of their pensioners, rajas and nabobs.”?
  8. Who were the only major Indian powers left outside the sphere of British control?
  9. Which were the five factions of the Maratha Confederacy?
  10. Who was forced to sign a Subsidiary Treaty in 1801?

Answer to Objective type questions

  1. 1798
  2. Mysore and the Marathas
  3. The system of Subsidiary Alliances, outright wars, and assumption of the terri-tories of previously subordinated rulers
  4. 1801
  5. Nizam of Hyderabad in 1798
  6. The system of Subsidiary Alliances
  7. Tipu Sultan
  8. The Marathas
  9. The Peshwa (Poona), Gaekwad (Baroda), Sindhia (Gwalior), Holkar (Indore), and Bhonsle (Nagpur)
  10. The Nawab of Awadh


  1. Discuss the nature of Wellesley’s expansionist policy
  2. How subsidiary alliance acted as a disaster for Indian States?
  3. Detail the consequences of the Second Anglo Maratha War

Suggested Reading

  1. Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, From Plassey to Partition, Orient Longman pvt ltd, New Delhi, 2004.
  2. S.Gopal(ed.), Modern India, NCERT, New Delhi, 1971.
  3. Barbara D. Metcalf and Thomas R.Metcalf, A Concise History of Modern India, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2006.
  4. Ishita Banerjee-Dube, A History of Modern India, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2014.
  5. Bipan Chandra, History of Modern India, Orient Black Swan, India, 2018.
  6. R.C. Majumdar, History of the Freedom Movement in India, Vol.I, Firma K.L. Mukhopadhyay,Calcutta, 1971.