The doctrine of lapse was a policy of annexation initiated by the East India Company in the Indian subcontinent about the princely states, and applied until the year 1858, the year after Company rule was succeeded by the British Raj under the British Crown.

Elements of the doctrine of lapse continued to be applied by the post-independence Indian government to derecognise individual princely families until 1971, when the recognition of former ruling families was discontinued under the 26th amendment to the Indian constitution by the Indira Gandhi's government.

The Doctrine

According to the doctrine, any Indian princely state under the suzerainty of the East India Company (EIC) (the dominant imperial power in the Indian subsidiary system), would have its princely status abolished (and therefore be annexed into British India) 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.[2] In addition, the EIC decided whether potential rulers were competent enough. The doctrine and its applications were widely regarded as illegitimate by many Indians, leading to resentment against the EIC.

The policy is most commonly associated with Lord Dalhousie, who was the Governor General of the East India Company in India between 1848 and 1856. However, it was articulated by the Court of Directors of the East India Company as early as 1847 and several smaller states had already been annexed under this doctrine before Dalhousie took over the post of Governor-General.[3] Dalhousie used the policy most vigorously and extensively, though, so it is generally associated with him.


At the time of its adoption, the 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), Bhagat (1850), Udaipur (1852), Jhansi (1854), Nagpur (1854), Tore and Arcot (1855) under the terms of the doctrine of lapse. Awadh (1856) is widely believed to have been annexed under the Doctrine of Lapse. However, it was annexed by Lord Dalhousie under the pretext of mis-governance. Mostly claiming that the ruler was not ruling properly, the Company added about four million pounds sterling to its annual revenue by this doctrine.[4] Udaipur State would have local rule reinstated by the EIC in 1860.[5]

With the increasing power of the East India Company, discontent simmered among many sections of Indian society, included disbanded soldiers; these rallied behind the deposed dynasties during the Indian Rebellion of 1857, also known as the Sepoy Mutiny. Following the rebellion, in 1858, the new British Viceroy of India, whose rule replaced that of the East India Company, renounced the doctrine.[6]

The princely state of Kittur ruled by Queen Chennamma was taken over by the East India Company in 1824 by imposing a 'doctrine of lapse'. So it is debatable whether it was devised by Lord Dalhousie in 1848, though he arguably made 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 vigorously applied the lapse doctrine for annexing Indian princely states, but the policy was not solely his invention. The Court of Directors of the East India Company had articulated this early in 1834.[7] As per this policy, the Company annexed Mandvi in 1839, Kolaba and Jalaun in 1840 and Surat in 1842.

Impact of the Doctrine of Lapse

The Doctrine of lapse was widely considered illegitimate by many Indians. By 1848, the British had immense power in India, since they were the de facto rulers of territories such as Mysore, Bengal, Odisha, Bihar, as well as the princely states of Rajasthan, Sind, Patiala, Carnatic, Bombay, Nabha, Kapurtala and many others.[8]

The rulers of the remaining provinces which had not been annexed yet by the British did not stand a chance against their mighty forces. Not willing to spend huge amounts of money and soldiers, the Indian rulers had no option but to give in to this policy. This caused increased resentment against the British Empire in India, which was one of the causes of the Uprising of 1857.[9]

Princely states annexed under the doctrine

Princely State Year Annexed
Angul 1848
Arcot 1855
Awadh 1856
Assam 1838
Banda State 1858
Guler 1813
Jaintia State 1803
Jaitpur 1849
Jalaun 1840
Jaswan 1849
Jhansi 1853
Kachar 1830
Kangra 1846
Kannanur State 1819
Kittur 1824
Kodagu 1834
Kozhikode (Calicut) 1806
Ballabhgarh 1858
Kullu State 1846
Kurnool 1839
Kutlehar 1825
Makrai 1890
Nagpur 1853
Nargund State 1858
Punjab 1849
Ramgarh State 1858
Sambalpur 1850
Satara 1848
Surat 1842
Siba 1849
Tanjore 1855
Tulsipur 1854
Udaipur 1852

In independent India

After Indian independence in 1947, the Indian government continued to recognize the status of former princely families though their states had been integrated into India. Members of the former ruling families were granted monetary compensation in the form of privy purses, which were annual payments in support of the grantees, their families, and their households. In 1947, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel proposed the unity of India under the government's rule.

In 1964, Maharaja Rajendra Prakash of Sirmur, the last recognized former ruler of Sirmur State, died without either leaving male issue or adopting an heir before his death, though his senior widow subsequently adopted her daughter's son as the successor to the family headship. The Indian government, however, decided that in consequence of the ruler's death, the constitutional status of the family had lapsed. The doctrine of lapse was likewise invoked the following year when the last recognized ruler of Akalkot State died in similar circumstances.[10]

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. ^ Majumdar, RC (1957). The Sepoy Mutiny and The Revolt of 1857. Calcutta: Srimati S. Chaudhuri. p. 7. Retrieved 5 June 2022.
  3. ^ Olson, James Stuart; Shadle, Robert (1996). Historical Dictionary of the British Empire - Volume 2. Westport, Connecticut, USA: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 653. ISBN 978-0-313-27917-1. Retrieved 5 June 2022.
  4. ^ Wolpert, Stanley. A New History of India; 3rd ed., pp. 226-28. Oxford University Press, 1989. However,
  5. ^ Rajput Provinces of India - Udaipur (Princely State)
  6. ^ Wolpert (1989), p. 240.
  7. ^ S.N.Sen, ed. (2006). History of Modern India. New Age International (P) Ltd. p. 50. ISBN 978-8122-41774-6.
  8. ^ ((Buist, George. “Annals of India for the Year 1848.” Indian Culture, 1849.))
  9. ^ Swan, O. B. (2020). Inspired History - Class 8. ORIENT BLACK SWAN.
  10. ^ Succession to the Gaddis of Sirmur and Akalkot (Report). Government of India. 1967. Retrieved 13 September 2021.