“Paramountcy is a thing of gradual growth…… shaped partly by conquest, partly by treaty and partly by usage”. Elucidate in the context of distinct stages of British Evolution. (250 Words/15Marks)

Mentor’s Comment:

The answer is simply asking about the establishment of British domination in India through different methods adopted by them. Introduction should mention about the general ideas of British Paramountcy.

Further, the evolution of British Paramountcy, through different methods such as policy of ring fence, sub-ordinance isolation and union and their various modified versions etc. with their complete ideas and way of adoption consecutively should be mentioned. Examples of states annexed will add boost in points.

Conclusion should talk about how all the methods adopted was engrossed with the ideas of dominance the exploitation.

Model Answer:


  • The British evolved the concept of Paramountcy through a combination of various methods, including outright annexation through wars and subsidiary alliance system through treaties. The evolution of British Paramountcy over the two century period can be seen in three distinct stages.


First Phase:

  • The first stage saw the policy of ‘Ring Fence’ or Non-interference between 1757 and 1813. During this period they tried their best to live within a ring fence. In other words, they tried to consolidate their position in a particular area by refraining from interference in the affairs of others.
  • They followed this policy mainly because of the existing ground realities. It is because, though the British were one of the strongest powers in India at that time, they were not yet powerful enough to take on all the Indian powers or even some of them simultaneously. However, gradually the English started emerging as the controlling power in India during this first phase.

Second Phase:

  • The second period of 45 Years (1813-58) saw the adoption of the policy of Sub-ordinate isolation. During this period, they emerged as the paramount power and claim supremacy over all the native states. However, they did not claim Princely India as part of their territory in India.
  • Further, within this period there was gradual shift from the policy of sub-ordinate cooperation to the policy of annexation as per the growing need of British Imperialism. In the 21 years of this period (1834-58) the policy of subordinate cooperation gave way to the policy of annexation.
  • Announced by the Court of Directors for the first time in 1834 and repeated by them again in 1841, this policy was applied by all the Governor Generals from William Bentinck to Dalhousie. Though there were several precedents before Dalhousie, he implemented the policy of annexation most vigorously and enthusiastically by even developing doctrines such as the doctrine of lapse and maxim of the good of the governed (Maladministration of government).
  • During this reign of 8 years he annexed Punjab through a war. Further under the doctrine of lapse he annexed as many as 10 states starting with Satara and ending with Nagpur. In the case of Awadh, which was the last annexation by the British in India, he came up with the excuse of Mal-administration or mis-governance.

Third Phase:

  • After the 1857 revolt, the British adopted the new policy of Sub-ordinate union which was continued till 1947. The 1857 revolt made the British to replace the policy of annexation with the policy of preserving the native states. During the revolt a vast majority of native rulers not only remained loyal but also helped the British in suppressing the revolt.
  • Thus, the British learnt a very important lession from the revolt that preserving the native state would serve them much better than annexing these state. From now onwards, the British would also justify their new policy by stating that now they are empire in India consisting of not only British India but also princely India.


  • Hence, there is no meaning to annex something which already belongs to them. Equally important reason for unwillingness to annex any more territory was fact that there was no more useful land to be annexed in India.
  • This new policy of sub-ordinate union was outlined by the Queen’s proclamation of 1858 and formally implemented by the Government of India Act of 1858. The native rulers were now promised perpetualness in written for loyalty as well as efficiency. Out of 562 native rulers at that time as many as 160 were given special permissions to go for adoption due to the failure of naturally born male successors.
  • Further, in the two famous cases of Baroda (1874) and Manipur (1881), the English shown their unwillingness to annex any native state. But in both cases they intervened to show that they would not tolerate either disloyalty or inefficiency.


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