BRITISH EXPANSION AND
Magnitude of British Achievement That a handful of Englishmen could
conquer and rule over an ancient civilization for almost two centuries baffles
analysis and defies easy explanation. The century from 1757 to 1857
witnessed the English East India Company conquer and annex, or extend its
indirect rule over, each of the princely states.
The Company’s influence and power enabled it to bring under its direct rule,
some 2.5 million square kilometres or one million square miles, amounting to
over sixty per cent of the Indian subcontinent containing over seventy-five
per cent of its population.
In other words, British India came to consist of three-fifths of Indian territory
containing over three-quarters of its population, while Princely India
accounted for the remaining two-fifths territory, having only one-quarter
The British, in the wake of their conquest of an indigenous state, often
decided not to annex all of its territories. Instead, they left part or all the
conquered state under its existing dynasty, albeit under their indirect rule.
The British mostly recognised the political legitimacy of Indian rulers.
Therefore, the British took each decision to annex some portion of Indian
territory individually and after much debate.
Explanations and Justifications Each British decision to annex an Indian
state kept in mind the legal ‘justifications’ for the act, with an eye on both
European and Indian public. The conditions, attitudes and official policies of
the British towards the Indian states changed over the 1757-1857 period.
Further, the conditions and policies of the states themselves also changed
overtime. With all these changes came different British explanations for, and