• The appointment of Richard Colley Wellesly at Governor- General marks an epoch in the history of British India.
  • He was a great imperialists and called himself ‘a Bengal tiger’.
  • Wellesly 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 hos object is known as the ‘Subsidiary Alliance’.

Political condition of India at the time of Wellesly’s Arrival

  • In the 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 army.
  • The political unrest in the Karnatak region continued and Tipu Sultan had remained the uncompromising enemy of the British.
  • Moreover, the policy of neutrality 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 statesman.
  • It was in this light that Wellesly moulded his policy.
  • Preservation of British prestige and removal of French danger from India were Wellesly’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 sates.
  • Therefore, he reversed the nonintervention policy of his predecessor and formulated his master plan namely the ‘Subsidiary Alliance’.

The Subsidiary system

  • The predecessors of Wellesly 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.
  • Wellesly enlarged and consolidated the already existing system.
  • However, his originality was revealed in its application.

Main features of Subsidiary Alliance

  1. 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’.
  2. It was the duty of the British to safeguard that state from external aggression and to 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.
  3. 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.
  4. The ruler of the protected state should keep a British Resident at hos court and disband his own army. He should not employ Europeans I his service without the sanction of the paramount power.
  5. The paramount power should not interface in the internal affairs of the protected state.

Benefits to the British

  • Wellesly’s subsidiary system is regarded as one of the master- strokes 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.
  • The position of the British was strengthened against its Indian and non- Indian enemies.
  • Under the system, expansion of British power became easy.
  • Thus Wellesly’s diplomacy made the British the paramount power in India.

Defects of the Subsidiary system

  • The immediate effect of the establishment of subsidiary forces was the introduction of anarchy because of the umemployment 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.
  • Safeguards 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.
  • Furthermore, the British collected very heavy subsidies from the protected princes and this had adversely affected their economy.

Enforcement of the Subsidiary system


  • Hyderabad was the first state which was brought under Wellesly’s subsidiary system in 1798.
  • The treaty concluded in 1798 was an ad hoc measure.
  • 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 treat of invasion by the Zaman Shah of Afghanistan was the pretext for Wellesly to force the Nawab of Oudh to enter into a Subsidiary treaty.
  • Accordingly, the Nawab have the British the rich lands of Rohilkhand, the lower Doab and Gorakpur 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 authorized to frame rules and regulations.
  • By this, the British acquired the right to interfere in the internal matters of Oudh.
  • Although the company obtained a fertile and populous territory, which increased its resources, the highhanded action of Wellesly was severly criticized.

Tanjore, Surat and Karnatak

  • Wellesly assumed the administration of Tanjore, Surat and the Karnatak by concluding treaties with the respective rulers of these states.
  • The Maratha state of Tanjore witnessed a successive dispute.
  • In 1799, Wellesly 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 Wellesly 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 Karnatak has been suffering for a long time by the double government.
  • The Nawab, Umadat- ul- Umara was as incompetent ruler for his extravagance and misrule.
  • He died in the middle of 1801 and his son, Ali Hussain became the Nawab.
  • Wellesly asked him to retire with a liberal pension leaving the treaty with Azim- ud daulah, the nephew of the deceased Nawab in 1801.
  • Accordingly the entire military and civil administration of the Karnatak came under the British.

The Fourth Anglo- Mysore War (1799)

  • The circumstances which led to the Fourth Mysore war can be summarized as follows:
  • Tipu Sultan wanted to avenge his humiliating defeat and the terms imposed on him by the British.
  • He also aimed at making Mysore a strong state.
  • Tipu worked continuously to secure help to fight British imperialism.
  • He took efforts to seek the help of the 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.
  • The tree of Liberty was also planted.
  • Later, when Napoleon came to power, Tipu received a friendly letter from Napoleon (who was in Egypt at that time).
  • It was at this juncture that Wellesly reached Calcutta with a mind already filled with fear of Napoleon.
  • Therefore, he prepared for a war against Mysore.
  • As a part of his strategy, Wellesly tried to revive the Triple alliance of 1790 with the Marathas.
  • Though his proposal was not accepted by the Marathas, they promised to remain neutral.
  • However, a subsidiary alliance with the Nizam was concluded by the British and as a consequence, the French force at Hyderabad was disbanded.
  • Wellesly set out to persuade Tipu to accept a pact of subsidiary alliance and wrote letters requesting the Tipu to dismiss the French, to receive an English envoy, and to make terms with the companyand its allies.
  • Tipu paid scant attention to Wellesly’s letters and thus fourth Anglo- Mysore war started.
  • The war was short and decisive.
  • As planned, the Bombay army under General Stuart invaded Mysore from the west.
  • The Madras army, which was led by the Governor- General’s brother, Arthur Wellesly, forced Tipu to retreat to his capital Srirangapattinam.
  • Although severly 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 Wellesly.
  • He restored Hindu rule at the central part of the kingdom.
  • 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.
  • Purnaiya, the previous minister, became Diwan.
  • The remaining parts of the kingdom were divided between the British and the Nizam.
  • The whole of Karara, Wynad, Coimbatore, Dharmapuri and Srirangapattinam were retained by the British whereas the Nizam was given the areas around Gooty and a part of Chitoor and Chitaldurg districts.
  • A British resident was stationed at Mysore Tipu’s family was sent to the fort of Vellore.

Wellesly and the Marathas

  • The only power that remained outside the purview of the subsidiary system was the Marathas.
  • Nana Fadnavis provided the leadership to the Marathas.
  • He was responsible for the preservation of independence of his country from the onslaught of the British.
  • By extending a helping hand to Cornwallis against Tipu he was able to acquire a large slice of territory as the share of the Marathas from the Kingdom of Mysore.
  • 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.
  • Jaswant Rao Holkar and Daulat Rao Scindia were fighting against each other.
  • The Peshwa supported Scindia against Holkar.
  • Holkar marched against the Peshwa.
  • The combined forces of Scindia and the Peshwa ere utterly defeated.
  • The city of Poona fell at the feet of the victor who did not hesitate to commit all sorts of atrocities, including the torturing of rich hanitants.
  • With rich booty Holkar returned to his capital.
  • Peshwa Baji Rao II was in great danger, so be fled to Bassein where he signed the Treaty of Bassein with the British in 1802.
  • It was a subsidiary treaty and the Peshwa was recognized as the head of the Maratha kingdom.
  • Although it was nominal, the treaty was considered the crowning triumph of Wellesly’s subsidiary system.
  • In accordance with this document, the foreign policy of the Marathas came under British control and therefore any action of the Maratha chiefs against the British was successfully prevented.
  • This is the reason why the Marathas considered the treaty as a document of surrendering their independence.
  • As an immediate response to the Treaty of Bassein, the British troops marched under the command of Arthur Wellesly towards Poona and restored the Peshwa to hus position.
  • The forces of Holkar vanished from the Maratha capital.

The second Maratha war (1803-1805)

  • Daulat Rao Scindia and Raghoji Bhonsle took the Treaty of Basssein as an insult to the national honour of the Marathas.
  • Soon the forces if both the chieftains were united and they crossed the river Narmada.
  • Wellesly seized this opportunity and declared war in August 1803.
  • Arthur Wellesly captured Ahmadnagar in Augudt 1803 and defeated the combined forces of cindia and Bhonsie at Assaye near Aurangabad.
  • Subsequently, Arthur Wellesly carried the war into Bhonsle’s territory and completely defeated the Maratha forces on the plains of Argaon.
  • As a result, the Treaty of Deogaon was signed between Bhonsle and Wellesly.
  • The former signed the subsidiary treaty which forced him to give up the province of Cuttack in Orissa.
  • The campaign of British commander Lord Lake against the forces of Scindia was rather dramatic.
  • Lake triumphantly entered the historic city of Delhi and took Shah Alam, the Mughal Emperor under British protection.
  • Lake was quick in consolidating his conquests.
  • By negotiating with the Raja of Bharatpur, he occupied Agra.
  • Sadly this military engagement proved to be a battle of great slaughter in which thousands if Maratha soldiers perished.
  • Scindia signed a subsidiary treaty with the British.
  • It is known as the Treaty of Surji- Arjungaon
  • During the war against Bhonsle ans Scindia, Holkar remained aloof because he was Scindia’s enemy.
  • However, when Wellesly offered an alliance, Holkar made extreme demands.
  • This made Wellesly to declare war against Holkar.
  • The campaign against Holkar was well- organized but the English generals fir the first time committed blunders.
  • Holkar remained unsubdued.

Estimate of Wellesly

  • An unscrupulous annexationist and an advocate of forward policy, Wellesly was one of the greatest empire- builders that England had ever produced.
  • Wellesly converted the British Empire in India to the British Empire of India.
  • The establishment of British paramountcy in India was his supreme task.
  • He located the weak spots of the Indian powers and applied his political technique (namely subsidiary alliance).
  • By the annexation of Karnatak and Tanjore he paved the way for the formation of the Madras presidency and the creator of the province of Agra.
  • In this manner a great part of the Indian subcontinent was brought under company protection.
  • “He turned the East India company from a trading corporation into an imperial power”.

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