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Doctrine of lapse

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Title: Doctrine of lapse  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Indian Rebellion of 1857, Central India Agency, Jhansi State, Princely state, Nagpur Province
Collection: Annexation, British India, Indian Rebellion of 1857, Princely States of India
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Doctrine of lapse

The Doctrine of Lapse was an annexation policy purportedly devised by Lord Dalhousie, who was the Governor General for the East India Company in India between 1848 and 1856. According to the Doctrine, any princely state or territory under the direct influence (paramountcy) of the British East India Company (the dominant imperial power in the subcontinent), as a vassal state under the British Subsidiary System, would automatically be annexed if the ruler was either "manifestly incompetent or died without a male heir".[1] The latter supplanted the long-established right of an Indian sovereign without an heir to choose a successor. In addition, the British decided whether potential rulers were competent enough. The doctrine and its application were widely regarded by many Indians as illegitimate.


  • History 1
  • Doctrine of Lapse before Dalhousie 2
  • Indian Princely States annexed by the British Raj 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5


At the time of its adoption, the British East India Company had imperial administrative jurisdiction over wide regions of the subcontinent. The company took over the princely states of Satara (1848), Jaitpur and Sambalpur (1849), Nagpur and Jhansi (1854), Tanjore and Arcot (1855), Udaipur (Chhattisgarh) and Oudh (1856) under the terms of the Doctrine of Lapse. Mostly claiming that the ruler was not ruling properly, the Company added about four million pounds sterling to its annual revenue by virtue of this doctrine.[2] Udaipur State, however, would have local rule reinstated by the British in 1860.[3]

With the increasing power of the East India Company, discontent simmered among many sections of Indian society and the largely indigenous armed forces; these rallied behind the deposed dynasties during the Indian rebellion of 1857 also known as the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. Following the rebellion, in 1858, the new British Viceroy of India, whose rule replaced that of the British East India Company, renounced the doctrine.[4]

The princely state of Kittur was taken over by the East India Company in 1824 by imposing a 'Doctrine Of Lapse'. So it is debatable whether it was actually devised by Lord Dalhousie in 1848, though he arguably did make it official by documenting it. Dalhousie's annexations and the doctrine of lapse had caused suspicion and uneasiness among most ruling princes in India.

Doctrine of Lapse before Dalhousie

Dalhousie applied the Doctrine of Lapse vigorously for annexing Indian princely states, but the policy was not solely of his invention. The Court of Directors of the East India Company had articulated this early in 1834.[5] As per this policy, the Company annexed Mandvi in 1839, Kolaba and Jalaun in 1840 and Surat in 1842.

Indian Princely States annexed by the British Raj

See also


  1. ^ Keay, John. India: A History. Grove Press Books, distributed by Publishers Group West. United States: 2000 ISBN 0-8021-3797-0, p. 433.
  2. ^ Wolpert, Stanley. A New History of India; 3rd ed., pp. 226-28. Oxford University Press, 1989.
  3. ^ Rajput Provinces of India - Udaipur (Princely State)
  4. ^ Wolpert (1989), p. 240.
  5. ^ S.N.Sen, ed. (2006). History of Modern India. New Age International (P) Ltd. p. 50.  
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