What are the essential principles of the Subsidiary Alliance system?


The Subsidiary Alliance system was used by Wellesley to bring Indian states within the orbit of British political power.

The system served the dual purpose of asserting British supremacy in India and at the same time of saving India from menace of Napoleon. The system played a very important part in the extension of Company’s dominions. A typical subsidiary treaty was negotiated on the following terms and conditions.

(a) The Indian State was to surrender its external relations to the care of the company and was to make no wars. It was to conduct negotiations with other states through the company.


(b) A bigger state was to maintain an army within its territory commanded by the British officers for the preservation of public peace and the ruler was to cede territory in full sovereignty for the upkeep of the force. A smaller state was required to pay tribute in cash to the company.

(c) The state was to accept a British Resident at its capital.

(d) The state was not to employ Europeans in its service without the consult of the company.

(e) The company was not to interfere in the internal affairs of the state, and


(f) The company was to protect the state concerned against foreign enemies of every sort or kind. Wellesley did not invent the Subsidiary system.

The system was perhaps first used by Dupleix who had lent European troops to the Indian princes at the expense of the latter. Ever since the governorship of Chine, the system had been applied with more or less insight by almost every Governor and Governor- general of India. Wellesley’s special contribution was that he greatly developed and elaborated the system and applied it in case of every Indian state.

The earliest subsidiary Treaty negotiated by the Company was with the Nawab of Oudh in 1765 in which the company undertook to defend the frontiers of Oudh on condition of the Nawab defraying the expenses of such defense. A British Resident was stationed at Lucknow. The first time the company insisted that the subsidiary state should have no foreign relations was in the treaty with Nawab of Carnatic concluded by Cornwallis in 1787.

Later, Sir John Shore in the treaty with the Nawab of Oudh, 1798 insisted that the Nawab was not to hold communications with or admit into his service other European nationals. The demand for surrender of territory in commutation of cash money was the next logical step.


As the monetary demands of the company were very high which the state found unable to pay, Wellesley made it a general rule to negotiate for surrender of territory in full sovereignty for the upkeep of the subsidiary force.

The subsidiary system was the Trojan horse tactics in empire building. It disarmed the Indian state and threw British protectorate over them. The Governor General was present by proxy in every Indian state that accepted the subsidiary Alliance. Thus, it deprived the Indian princes of means of prosecuting any measure or of forming any confederacy against the British.

It enabled the Company to maintain a large standing army at the expense of Indian princes. The company got its armies stationed at Hyderabad, Poona, Gwalior, and paid by foreign subsidies. The army was constantly maintained in a state of perfect equipment and was prepared for active services in any direction at the shortest notice.

This force could have been directed against any of the principal states of India without the hazard of disturbing the tranquility of the company’s possessions and without requiring any considerable increase to the permanent military expenses of the Government of India.


The stationing of the company’s troops in the capitals of the Indian princes gave English the control of strategic and key positions in India without arousing the jealousy of other European nations.

By this system the company threw forward her military considerably in advance of its political frontier and thus kept the evils of war at the distance from the sources of her wealth and power. In case of actual war the war theatre was always away from the Company’s territories, and this saved her territories from the devastations that usually accompany wars.

The system moreover helped the company to effectively counteract any possible French moves in India. The Company required the subsidiary ally to discuss all Frenchman from his service.

The company became the arbiter in interstate disputes. All avenues of direct contact between Indian States and foreign powers were closed. The officers commanding the subsidiary force were very well paid.


The British Residents had considerable influence in affairs of Indian states. This placed great patronage into hands of Company’s authorities in India.

The Company .acquired territories in full sovereignty from Indian states and expanded her dominions in India. By the treaty or 1800, Nizam surrendered all the territories gained from Mysore in 1792 and 1799. In 1801, the Nawab of Oudh was made to surrender half of the dominions comprising Rohilkhand and Lower Doab.

Thus, the treaty provisions directly and indirectly facilitated to the growth of the company’s political power. In later stages of its evolution the Treaty was used by the Governor-generals like Dalhousie for outright overexertion of territories as in the case of Awadh.

Dalhousie also used it to acquire Berar from Nizam of Hyderabad thus further strengthening political and economic clout of company. Even in post 1857 decades, the subsidiary system was used as tool to form a confederacy of Indian states over which the British monarch had a supreme role.

It may be concluded that the subsidiary Alliance was an optimistic tool for the company for its expansionist policy on one side and a counteracting measure against France on the offer. In both these aims, the Treaty proved to be a marvelous success and put the company as the paramount political power in India.

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