Subsidiary Alliance System

Subsidiary Alliance System

GS Paper - 2

The "Subsidiary Alliance" was an agreement between the British East India Company and Indian princely states, granting the British paramountcy over these states.

This treaty played a pivotal role in the consolidation of the British Empire in India. The initial utilization of this system is credited to the French Governor-General Dupleix, while its further development and widespread application across Indian states occurred under the tenure of Lord Wellesley, who served as the Governor-General of India from 1798 to 1805.

Subsidiary Alliance - Ideation

  • After Mir Jafar's success in the 1757 Battle of Plassey, the British East India Company implemented the approach.
  • Robert Clive negotiated terms with Mir Jafar, later included in the 1765 Treaty of Allahabad post the 1764 Battle of Buxar.
  • Richard Wellesley, Clive's successor, initially pursued a non-interventionist strategy with Indian allies.
  • However, he later embraced and developed the subsidiary alliance doctrine.
  • In a February 1804 communication, Wellesley outlined the goals of this policy shift.
  • Lord Wellesley organized the subsidiary alliance in India, with the term coined by French Governor Dupleix.

Characteristics of the Subsidiary Alliance System

  • The ruler of an Allied Indian State needed approval for a permanent British force stationed within his territory, along with paying a subsidy for its maintenance in the subsidiary alliance plan.
  • To enter a Subsidiary Alliance, an Indian king had to disband his military forces and accept British forces in his region.
  • The State was obligated to cover the expenses of the British troops; failure to pay resulted in the loss of land to the British.
  • In return, the British pledged to defend the Indian state from foreign attacks or internal uprisings.
  • Allegedly, the British committed not to interfere in the internal affairs of the Indian state, although this promise was often unfulfilled.
  • Forming alliances with any other foreign country was prohibited for the Indian state.
  • The state couldn't employ foreign nationals without Company consultation; existing foreign hires had to be terminated upon alliance signing to limit French influence.
  • Political ties within Indian states were prohibited without British sanction.
  • British Residents were to be accepted at the state's headquarters.
  • Consequently, Indian kings relinquished control over foreign affairs and the military, losing most autonomy and becoming a British 'protectorate.'

Different Phases of Subsidiary Alliances

  • Initial Phase: The English promised to supply a designated army to native rulers, receiving a fixed payment in return.
  • Intermediate Phase: Committing to a lasting military presence, the English agreed to assist their allies in exchange for an annual stipend.
  • Advanced Phase: The English committed to maintaining a fixed subsidiary force within the ally's borders, providing both assistance and an annual sum.
  • Final Stage (Under Lord Wellesley): The English, led by Lord Wellesley, introduced a policy where a permanent subsidiary force remained within the ally's territory, securing access rather than monetary payment.
  • Essentially, the Subsidiary Alliance policy resulted in a relinquishment of sovereignty, stripping the state of rights in self-defense, diplomatic engagements, hiring foreign experts, and addressing issues with neighboring states.

Consequences of the Subsidiary Alliance System

  • Nizam of Hyderabad (1798):
      • Severed Nizam's connections with the French in 1798
      • Prohibited Nizam from forging alliances with the Marathas without British approval.
      • Nizam of Hyderabad was the inaugural signatory of the Subsidiary Alliance.
  • Mysore (1799):
    • Became a subsidiary state following British success in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War.
    • Transitioned to Company rule after aligning with the subsidiary system.
  • Nawab of Awadh:
    • Lord Clive initiated the subsidiary system in Oudh via the Treaty of Allahabad.
    • British commitment to protect Oudh from adversaries like the Marathas.
    • Company acquired Gorakhpur, Rohilkhand, and the Doab for troop maintenance.
    • In 1801, Wellesley compelled the Nawab of Awadh to formally adopt the Subsidiary Alliance.
    • Later annexed on grounds of mis-governance.
  • Peshwa Baji Rao II (1802):
    • Accepted the Subsidiary Alliance system, leading to the loss of sovereignty.
    • In 1803, various Maratha states, including Bhosle and Scindia, agreed to the policy.
    • The last Maratha Confederation, the Holkars, also complied with the subsidiary alliance's terms.
  • Chronology of Subsidiary Alliances:
    • Hyderabad (1798)
    • Mysore (1799)
    • Tanjore (1799)
    • Awadh (1801)
    • Peshwa (Marathas) (1802)
    • Scindia (Marathas) (1803), Gaekwad (Marathas) (1803)

Benefits for the British in the Subsidiary Alliance System

The British gained advantages in every aspect through the subsidiary alliance.

  • Resource Augmentation for the English Company:
    • The subsidiary system contributed to the growth of the English Company's resources.
    • The financial support and territories provided by Indian States forming subsidiary alliances enabled the English Company to sustain its troops.
  • Enhanced Influence and Military Power:

  • The subsidiary alliances allowed the English Company to extend its military frontier beyond its political boundaries.
  • Despite not administering the States involved, the English Company's influence increased significantly.

  • Reduced Risk of War-related Damage:
    • Battles mostly occurred in the territories of States joining subsidiary alliances, sparing the English Company's territories from war-related damage.
  • Loss of Sovereignty for Indian States:
    • States in the subsidiary system lost sovereignty, unable to establish diplomatic ties without the Company's approval.
    • Their ability to collectively challenge the Company was diminished, making them reliant on the British.
  • Elimination of French Influence:
    • The subsidiary alliances eradicated French influence, preventing their involvement in native rulers' courts.
  • Continued Expansion through Financial Strain:
    • Maintaining the subsidiary force strained the finances of local Indian monarchs.
    • The financial burden led to the surrender of more territory, facilitating the Company's ongoing expansion in India.

Repercussion on Indian Rulers

  • English Appropriation of Lands:
    • Gradual acquisition of fertile and strategically important lands by the English diminished the authority of the original Indian rulers.
    • Imposing the entire financial burden of maintaining the army on the native state's subjects contributed to their impoverishment.
  • Centralized British Power in All State Affairs:

  • While theoretically exempt from internal administration, the English wielded complete control over native rulers in all state matters, contrary to policy claims.
  • Unemployment Resulting in Anarchy:
    • Construction of subsidiary troops led to mass unemployment when Indian rulers disbanded soldiers.
    • Unemployed soldiers, particularly in central India, engaged in freebooting activities, creating a menace like the Pindaris.
  • Erosion of Indian Patriotism:
    • Native kings lost respect, patriotism, and their governing role, facilitating British control.
    • With superior resources, the British defended allied rulers against external threats, preventing subjects from challenging their incapable kings through revolt.
  • Weakened State Authority:
    • British tactics left native rulers and subjects severely powerless, eroding the character and leadership abilities of the ruling class.
    • The British gained complete control over state activities, rendering native rulers and their subjects helpless.


Through his dynamic and strategically devised Subsidiary Alliance policy, Wellesley not only protected India from potential French conquest but also significantly expanded British territories in the region. While European empires were crumbling in the face of Napoleon's might, Wellesley was actively extending the British empire in the East.


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