The Marquees of Wellesley (1798-1805) – Modern Indian History Notes Part 3

He was a great imperialist and called himself ‘a Bengal tiger’. Wellesley came to India with a determination to launch a forward policy in order to make ‘the British Empire in India’ into ‘the British Empire of India’. The system that he adopted to achieve his object is known as the ‘Subsidiary Alliance’

Political Condition of India at the time of Wellesley’s Arrival

  • In north-western India, the danger of Zaman Shah’s aggression posed a serious threat to the British power in India.

  • In the north and central India, the Marathas remained a formidable political power.

  • The Nizam of Hyderabad employed the Frenchmen to train his

  • The political unrest in the Karnataka region continued and Tipu Sultan had remained the uncompromising enemy of the British

  • The policy of neutrality adopted by Sir John Shore, the successor of Cornwallis, created a kind of political unrest in India and greatly affected the prestige of the English.

  • His non-intervention policy contributed much to the growth of anti-British feelings

  • Further, Napoleon’s move for an Eastern invasion created a fear among English statesmen.

  • Preservation of British prestige and the removal of French danger from India were Wellesley’s twin aims

  • He was also thoroughly convinced that only a strong British power in India could reduce and control the existing tyranny and corruption in Indian states

The Subsidiary System

  • The predecessors of Wellesley concluded alliances with Indian princes like the Nawab of Oudh and the Nizam of Hyderabad

  • They received subsidies from the Indian rulers for the maintenance of British troops

  • Which were used for the protection of respective Indian states

Main Features of Subsidiary Alliance

  • Any Indian ruler who entered into the subsidiary alliance with the British had to maintain a contingent of British troops in his territory.

  • It was commanded by a British officer. The Indian state was called ‘the protected state’ and the British hereinafter were referred to as ‘the paramount power’.

  • Help its ruler maintain internal peace.

  • The protected state should give some money or give part of its territory to the British to support the subsidiary force.

  • The protected state should cut off its connection with European powers other than the English and with the French in particular.

  • The state was also forbidden to have any political contact even with other Indian powers without the permission of the British.

  • The ruler of the protected state should keep a British Resident at his court and disband his own army.

  • He should not employ Europeans in his service without the sanction of the paramount power.

  • The paramount power should not interfere in the internal affairs of the protected state.

Benefits to the British

  • Wellesley’s Subsidiary System is regarded as one of the masterstrokes of British imperialism.

  • It increased the military strength of the Company in India at the expense of the protected states.

  • The territories of the Company were free from the ravages of war thereby establishing the stability of the British power in India

  • Under the system, expansion of British power became easy. Thus Wellesley’s diplomacy made the British the paramount power in India.

Defects of the Subsidiary System

  • Introduction of anarchy because of the unemployment of thousands of soldiers sent away by the Indian princes.

  • The freebooting activities of disbanded soldiers were felt much in central India where the menace of Pindaris affected the people.

  • Further, the subsidiary system had a demoralizing effect on the princes of the protected states.

  • Safeguarded against external danger and internal revolt, they neglected their administrative responsibilities.

  • They preferred to lead easy-going and pleasure seeking lives.

  • As a result, misgovernment followed. In course of time, the anarchy and misrule in several states had resulted in their annexation by the British.

  • Thus, the subsidiary system proved to be a preparation for annexation.

Enforcement of the Subsidiary System


  • Hyderabad was the first state which was brought under Wellesley’s Subsidiary System in 1798.

  • It fixed the amount to be paid annually at Rs.24 lakhs for the subsidiary force.

  • In accordance with the treaty, all the French troops in Hyderabad were disbanded and replaced by a subsidiary British force.

  • A new treaty was concluded in 1800 by which the Nizam ceded large territories to the Company and this constitutes the famous Ceded Districts


  • The threat of invasion by Zaman Shah of Afghanistan was the pretext for Wellesley to force the Nawab of Oudh to enter into a subsidiary treaty

  • The Nawab gave the British the rich lands of Rohilkhand, the lower Doab and Gorakhpur for the maintenance of an increased army which the British stationed in the capital of Oudh.

  • The strength of Nawab’s own army was reduced. For the maintenance of law and order, the British were authorised to frame rules and regulations

  • By this, the British acquired the right to interfere in the internal matters of Oudh.

  • The highhanded action of Wellesley was severely criticized

Tanjore, Surat and the Karnataka

  • Wellesley assumed the administration of Tanjore, Surat and the Karnataka by concluding treaties with the respective rulers of these states.

  • The Maratha state of Tanjore witnessed a succession dispute

  • In 1799, Wellesley concluded a treaty with Serfoji

  • In accordance with this treaty, the British took over the administration of the state and allowed Serfoji to retain the title of Raja with a pension of 4 lakhs of rupees.

  • The principality of Surat came under British protection as early as 1759.

  • The Nawab of this historic city died in 1799 and his brother succeeded him.

  • The change of succession provided Wellesley with an opportunity to take over the administration of Surat.

  • The Nawab was allowed to retain the title and given a pension of one lakh of rupees.

  • The people of Karnataka had been suffering for a long time by the double government.

  • The Nawab, Umadat-ul-Umara was an incompetent ruler noted for his extravagance and misrule.

  • He died in the middle of 1801 and his son, Ali Hussain became the Nawab. Wellesley asked him to retire He refused

  • The entire military and civil administration of the Karnataka came under the British

The Fourth Anglo-Mysore War (1799)

The circumstances which led to the Fourth Mysore War

  • Tipu Sultan wanted to avenge

  • He also aimed at making Mysore a strong state.

  • He took efforts to seek the help of France, Arabia, Kabul and Turkey.

  • He corresponded with the Revolutionary French Government in July 1798.

  • At Srirangapattinam, a Jacobian Club was started and the flag of the French Republic was hoisted

  • When Napoleon came to power, Tipu received a friendly letter from Napoleon (who was in Egypt at that time).

  • Wellesley tried to revive the Triple Alliance of 1790 with the Marathas.

  • Not accepted by the Marathas, they promised to remain neutral.

  • Subsidiary Alliance with the Nizam was concluded by the British and as a consequence, the French force at Hyderabad was disbanded.

  • Wellesley set out to persuade Tipu to accept a pact of subsidiary alliance and wrote letters requesting the Tipu to dismiss the French,

  • Tipu paid scant attention to Wellesley’s letters and thus the Fourth Anglo-Mysore war started

  • Although severely wounded, he fought till his capital Srirangapattinam was captured and he himself was shot dead

Mysore after the War

  • With the fall of Tipu Sultan, the kingdom of Mysore fell at the feet of Wellesley.

  • He restored Hindu rule at the central part

  • A five-year-old boy, Krishnaraja III, a descendant of the dethroned Hindu Raja, was enthroned at Mysore, which became the capital almost after two hundred years.

Wellesley and the Marathas

  • Nana Fadnavis provided the leadership to the Marathas

  • His death in 1800 removed the last great Maratha leader.

  • Peshwa Baji Rao II, despite his stately appearance and immense learning, lacked political wisdom.

  • The infighting among the Maratha leaders proved to be self-destructive.

  • Peshwa Baji Rao II was in great danger, so he fled to Bassein where he signed the Treaty of Bassein with the British in 180

  • It was a subsidiary treaty and the Peshwa was recognized as the head of the Maratha kingdom.

  • The British troops marched under the command of Arthur Wellesley towards Poona and restored the Peshwa to his position.

The Second Maratha War (1803-1805)

  • Daulat Rao Scindia and Raghoji Bhonsle took the Treaty of Bassein as an insult to the national honour of the Marathas.

  • Arthur Wellesley captured Ahmadnagar in August 1803 and defeated the combined forces of Scindia and Bhonsle at Assaye near Aurangabad.

  • The Treaty of Deogaon was signed between Bhonsle and Wellesley.

  • The former signed the subsidiary treaty which forced him to give up the province of Cuttack in Orissa

  • Scindia signed a subsidiary treaty with the British. It is known as the Treaty of Surji –Arjungaon.

Estimate of Wellesley

  • An unscrupulous annexationist and an advocate of forwarding policy,

  • Wellesley was one of the greatest empire-builders that England had ever produced.

  • Wellesley converted the British Empire in India to the British Empire of India

  • He located the weak spots of the Indian powers and applied his political technique (namely Subsidiary Alliance).

  • He rightly deserves to be called the maker of the erstwhile Madras Presidency and the creator of the Province of Agra.

  • Sir George Barlow was the next Governor-General for two years (1805-07)

  • The Vellore Mutiny of 1806 took place during his administration.

  • He was succeeded by Lord Minto (1807-13) who concluded the Treaty of Amritsar with Ranjit Singh of Punjab in 1809.

  • The Charter Act of 1813 was passed during this period.

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