Subsidiary alliance

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The subsidiary alliance, in South Asian history to describe an alliance between princely states and the British East India Company.

It was framed by Lord Wellesley, British Governor-General in India from 1798 to 1805. Early in his governorship, Wellesley adopted a policy of non-intervention in the princely states, but he later adopted the policy of forming subsidiary alliances, which played a major role in the expansion of British rule in India.

In a subsidiary alliance, princely rulers were not allowed to have an independent armed force. They were to be protected by the East India Company but had to pay for the subsidiary forces that the company was to maintain for protection. If Indian rulers failed to make the payment, part of their territory was taken away as penalty. For example, the Nawab (ruler) of Awadh was forced to give over half of his territory to the company in 1801, reason provided by British officer was Maladministration. Hyderabad was also forced to cede territories on similar grounds.

By the late 18th century, the power of the Maratha Empire had weakened and the Indian Subcontinent was left with a great number of states, most small and weak. Many rulers accepted the offer of protection by Wellesley, as it gave them security against attack by their neighbours.


  • An Indian ruler entering into a subsidiary alliance with the British would accept British forces within his territory and to pay for their maintenance.
  1. The ruler would accept a British official (resident) in his state.
  2. The ruler who entered into a subsidiary alliance would not join any alliance with any other power or declare war against any power without the permission of the British.
  3. The ruler would dismiss any Europeans other than the British and avoid employing new ones.
  4. The ruler would let the British rule on any conflict any other state.
  5. The ruler would acknowledge the East India Company as the paramount power in India.
  6. The ruler would have his state be protected by the Company from external dangers and internal disorders.
  7. If the rulers failed to make the payments that were required by the alliance, part of their territory would be taken away as a penalty.
  8. Indian rulers have to maintain British troops in his state.


Indian rulers under British protection surrendered the control of their foreign affairs to the British. Most subordinate disbanded their native armies and instead maintained British troops within their states to protect them from attack, but that became increasingly unlikely in most parts of India as British power grew.

The Nawab of Awadh was the first to enter into such an alliance after the Battle of Buxar in 1764. Tipu Sultan of the Kingdom of Mysore refused to do so, but after the British victory in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War, Mysore was forced to become a subsidiary state. The Nizam of Hyderabad was the first to accept a well-framed subsidiary alliance. After the Third Anglo-Maratha War, Maratha ruler Baji Rao II also accepted a subsidiary alliance.

Other states Tanjore (1799), Bhonsle (1803), and Indore (1817) adopted the system.

See also[edit]


  • George Bruce Malleson: An Historical Sketch of the Native States of India in Subsidiary Alliance with the British Government, Longmans, Green, and co., 1875, ISBN 1-4021-8451-4
  • Edward Ingram: Empire-Building and Empire-Builders: twelve studies, Routledge, 1995, ISBN 0-7146-4612-1