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Unit 3
Dalhousie and the Doctrine of Lapse

Learning Outcomes

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

  • understand how Lord Dalhousie implemented his policy of annexation through Doctrine of Lapse
  • grasp how the Doctrine of Lapse became a major cause of the Great Revolt of 1857
  • explain how the English East India company maximized its income as land revenue


Lord Dalhousie was the Governor General from 1848 to 1856, who devised the policy of the Doctrine of Lapse. The Doctrine of Lapse was a policy of annexation extensively applied by the English East India Company until 1859. According to this doctrine, any princely state under the direct or indirect control of East India Company, should the ruler not produce a legal heir, would be annexed by the company. By using his doctrine of Lapse, Dalhousi annexed the territories of Indian rulers who died without a male heir. Indian rulers were constantly pressured to grant concessions to the Company.The rivalry among the Indian rulers prevented the formation of a joint front. During this period, the Company decided to raise its own army in India. The size of the Company’s army steadily increased and created an environment of scare.

Key Words

Doctrine of lapse, The Policy of annexation, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, Appa Sahib, Rani Laxmi Bai

2.3.1 Dalhousie (1848-1856)

In 1848, Lord Dalhousie arrived in India as the Governor-General.His prime aim was to extend direct British rule in India. He believed that British administration was far superior to the corrupt and oppressive administration of the native rulers. He also believed that British exports to the native states of India were suffering because of the maladministration of these native rulers.

He implemented his policy of annexation and its chief instrument was the Doctrine of lapse by which he annexed many small states like Satara in 1848, Nagpur and Jhansi in 1854, etc. This doctrine meant that in the absence of natural heirs, the sovereignty of the dependent state or states created by the British were to lapse to the Company or the paramount power. This was a major cause of the Great Revolt of 1857. He also wanted to conquer Awadh, but his doctrine wouldn’t work there because the Nawab had many heirs. Thus, Dalhousi accused Nawab of having mis-governed the state, and annexed it on that pretext, in 1856.

Several former rulers’ titles and pensions were also rejected by Dalhousie. The Nawabs of Carnatic, Surat, and the Raja of Tanjore lost their titles as a result. The son of former Peshwa Baji Rao II, Nana Saheb, had his pay and pension terminated by Dalhousie.

2.3.2 Doctrine of Lapse

Dalhousie pursued an expansionist strategy with remarkable vigour. As a result, the British Indian empire quickly expanded to its maximum size. The native rulers were portrayed as symbols of violence and bad governance by the British writers in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Dalhousie expressed this sentiment and suggested that India needed to be saved from this political stalemate. The ugliest face of imperialism was concealed behind this, which appeared to be liberal attire. The Industrial Revolution in Britain had just begun. The British bourgeoisie wanted to expand India’s market for industrially polished goods. Dalhousie gave them a helping hand by establishing British sovereignty over the local states. He did this to ensure that British goods could enter the markets of those states.

It further stipulated that an adopted son’s succession could only be legitimate with the approval of the British Government. This specific annexation policy was not created by Dalhousie. The Court of Directors had stated this rule as early as 1834. The Doctrine of Lapse had been used against Mandavi in 1839, Kolaba and Jalaun in 1840, and Surat in 1842 by Dalhousie. Without regard for the Hindus’ religious beliefs or the law, Dalhousie forcefully applied this philosophy.

2.3.3.Annexation of Kingdom of Satara (1848)

In 1848, the Maratha Kingdom of Satara became the Doctrine of Lapse’s first victim. The Satara ruler Appa Sahib passed away in 1848 without a legitimate heir. He had adopted a child just before he passed away, but he had not asked for approval from the Company. Lord Dalhousie deemed this adoption to be invalid, and as a result, the State passed to the company. The successor to Bahadur Shah was required to vacate the famous Red Fort and go to a more modest abode at the Qutab,as Dalhousie announced in 1849.

2.3.4 Annexation of Jhansi (1854)

Jhansi rose to prominence as the most well-known of the Princely realms. Raja Gangadhar Rao’s widow Rani Laxmi Bai campaigned for the rights of her adopted son when he passed away. She repeatedly tried to get her right but failed, so in 1857 she rebelled against the British.

The next victims of the Doctrine of Lapse were Jaitpur and Sambalpur (1849), followed by Baghat (1850), Udaipur (1852), Jhansi (1853), and Nagpur (1854). Lord Canning later annulled the annexations of Baghat and Udaipur. The domestic government rejected the idea to acquire the tiny Rajput kingdom of Karauli on the grounds that it was a “protected ally and not dependent”.

2.3.5.Annexation of Avadh (1856)

Since the Battle of Buxar, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, the Nawab of Avadh, had sided with the British. Over the years, they have shown the utmost loyalty to the British. The Doctrine of Lapse could not apply to the Nawab of Avadh because he had numerous heirs. He was finally accused of mismanaging his state and delaying the implementation of reforms. In 1856, Dalhousie thus annexed the state of Avadh.

There was strong opposition to the annexation of Awadh in India. The Company’s troops and Awadh both experienced insurrection as a result of its annexation. The leaders of the native states were in a panic as a result.

Nawab Wajid Ali Shah

The Doctrine of Lapse played a significant role in the uprising against the British, particularly in the states that it victimised. When the citizens, troops, and overthrown rulers of those states banded together to fight the British in 1857, it became abundantly evident what this meant. The adoption was made legal when Crown’s rule was established under the Viceroyalty of Lord Canning.


  • Lord Dalhousie arrived in India as the Governor-General
  • He implemented his policy of annexation and its chief instrument was the Doctrine of Lapse
  • Lord Dalhousie annexed Satara in 1848, Nagpur and Jhansi in 1854, etc.
  • Dalhousie also refused to accept the titles of many ex-rulers or to pay their pensions
  • Doctrine of Lapse had been applied to Mandavi in 1839 to Kolaba and Jalaun in 1840 and Surat in 1842
  • Jaitpur and Sambalpur were the next victims (1849), Baghat (1850), Udai-pur (1852), Jhansi (1853), and Nagpur (1854) also became the victims of the Doctrine of Lapse
  • Dalhousie annexed the state of Avadh in 1856
  • The Doctrine of Lapse became an important reason for unrest against the British
  • During the Viceroyalty of Lord Canning, when Crown’s rule was estab-lished, the adoption was legalised

Objective type questions

  1. Who introduced the Doctrine of Lapse?
  2. What do you mean by Doctrine of Lapse?
  3. Who was the first prey to the Doctrine of Lapse?
  4. Who was Appa Sahib?
  5. Who reversed the annexations of Baghat and Udaipur?
  6. When did Dalhousie annex the state of Avadh?
  7. When did the Doctrine of Lapse apply to Mandavi?
  8. When did Dalhousie announce that the successor to Bahadur Shah would have to abandon the historic Red Fort?
  9. Why did the proposal to annex the little Rajput state of Karauli was disallowed by the home government?
  10. When was the Maratha Kingdom of Satara annexed?

Answer to Objective type questions

  1. Lord Dalhousie
  2. In the absence of natural heirs, the sovereignty of the dependent state or states created by the British were to lapse to the Company or the paramount power.
  3. The Maratha Kingdom of Satara
  4. The king of Satara
  5. Lord Canning
  6. 1856
  7. 1839
  8. 1849
  9. On the ground that it was a “protected ally and not dependent”.
  10. 1848


  1. Analyse the significance of Doctrine of Lapse and how it became a reason for unrest against the British?

Suggested Reading

  1. Ishita Banerjee-Dube, A History of Modern India, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2014.
  2. Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, From Plassey to Partition, Orient Longman, New Delhi, 2004.
  3. Bipan Chandra, History of Modern India, Orient Black Swan, India, 2018.
  4. R.C. Majumdar, History of the Freedom Movement in India, Vol.I, Firma K.L. Mukhopadhyay,Calcutta, 1971.