Philosophy:Subsidiary alliance

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A subsidiary alliance, in South Asian history, describes a tributary alliance between a Native state and either French India, or later the British East India Company. The pioneer of the subsidiary alliance system was French Governor Joseph François Dupleix, who in the late 1740s established treaties with the Nizam of Hyderabad, and Carnatic[1].

The methodology was subsequently adopted by the East India Company, with Robert Clive imposing a series of conditions on Mir Jafar of Bengal, following the 1757 Battle of Plassey, and subsequently those in the 1765 Treaty of Allahabad, as a result of the Companies success in the 1764 Battle of Buxar. A successor of Clive, Richard Wellesley initially took a non-interventionist policy towards the Native states but later adopted, and refined the policy of forming subsidiary alliances. The purpose and ambition of this change are stated in his February 1804 dispatch to the East India Company Resident in Hyderabad[2]:

His Excellency the Governor-General's policy in establishing subsidiary alliances with the principal states of India is to place those states in such a degree of dependence on the British power as may deprive them of the means of prosecuting any measures or of forming any confederacy hazardous to the security of the British empire, and may enable us to reserve the tranquility of India by exercising a general control over those states, calculated to prevent the operation of that restless spirit of ambition and violence which is the characteristic of every Asiatic government, and which from the earliest period of Eastern history has rendered the peninsula of India the scene of perpetual warfare, turbulence and disorder...

Richard Wellesley, 4th February 1804

In a subsidiary alliance, princely rulers were not allowed to make any negotiations and treaty with any other ruler. They were also 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.The alliance was forced upon rulers so their territories could be annexed by the British


  • An Indian ruler entering into a subsidiary alliance with the British would accept British forces within his territory and to pay for their maintenance.

The ruler would accept a British official (resident) in his state.

  1. 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.
  2. The ruler would dismiss any Europeans other than the British and avoid employing new ones.
  3. The ruler would let the British rule on any conflict with any other state.
  4. The ruler would acknowledge the East India Company as the paramount power in India.
  5. The ruler would have his state be protected by the Company from external dangers and internal disorders.
  6. 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.
  7. 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), Avadh (1801), Peshwa (1802), Bhonsle (1803), and Scindhiya (1804) accepted this alliance.

However, the Holkar State of Indore never accepted the Subsidiary alliance.

See also

  • Salute state
  • Rajputana Agency
  • Client state
  • Indirect rule
  • Unequal treaties (China)
  • Divide and rule (Bengal)


  • 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


  1. Adrian Carton (6 August 2012). Mixed-Race and Modernity in Colonial India: Changing Concepts of Hybridity Across Empires. Routledge. pp. 47–49. ISBN 978-1-136-32502-1. Retrieved 4 June 2018. 
  2. Charles Lewis Tupper (1893). Our Indian Protectorate. Longmans, Green and co. pp. 36–41. Retrieved 5 June 2018.