The Doctrine of Lapse (1848-56)

In this post, we are providing complete notes on The Doctrine of Lapse. This is a part of Complete Notes of Modern History of India. These notes are very helpful in clearing most of the exams like UPSC CSE, State PCS, SSC CGL, CHSL, CPO, FSSAI, ASRB, EPFO, APFC, Railways, DMRC, UGC NET and Other competitive exams. Subscribe to our YouTube Channel for Free videos. Subscribe to our Telegram Channel for all updates. If you are preparing for India’s Top Government Exams then download our App for hundred per cent Exam-oriented Courses and Mock-Tests. Support our Social platforms like InstagramFacebook, LinkedInTwitter.


The Doctrine of Lapse was on annexation policy followed widely by Lord Dalhousie when he was India’s Governor-General from 1848 to 1856. It was used as an administrative policy for the extension of British Paramountcy.

James Andrew Broun-Ramsay, 1st Marquess of Dalhousie, known commonly as Lord Dalhousie, was the Governor-General of India from 1848 to 1856, He had been a famous Scottish statesman.

Now, although he is commonly associated with the Doctrine of Lapse, it was devised 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 Lord Dalhousie took the position of the Governor-General. The policy was used far more extensively by him to expand the territorial reach of the East India Company.

The Doctrine of Lapse was an annexation policy extensively applied by the East India Company in India until 1859. The doctrine stated that any princely state under the vassalage of the company will how its territory annexed should the ruler of the said state fail to produce on the heir. The doctrine and its application were regarded by many Indians as illegitimate.

The Doctrine of Lapse was one of the underlying factors that led to the revolt of 1857.

Features of Doctrine of Lapse

  • According to this doctrine, any princely state under the direct or indirect (as a vassal) control of the East India Company, should the ruler not produce a legal male heir, would be annexed by the company.
  • This was not introduced by Lord Dalhousie even though it was he who documented it and used it and used it widely to acquire territories for the British.
  • As per this, any adopted son of the Indian ruler could not be proclaimed as heir to the kingdom. The adopted son would only inherit his foster father’s personal property and estates.
  • The adopted son would also not be entitled to any pension that his father had been receiving or to any of his father’s titles.
  • This challenged the Indian ruler’s long-held authority to appoint an heir of their choice.

The States That Were Annexed Under This Policy

Satara – 1848

Jaitpur – 1849

Sambalpur – 1849

Baghat – 1850

Udaipur – 1852

Jhansi – 1853

Nagpur – 1854

  • In 1824, before the time of Dalhousie, the princely state of Kittur was acquired by the East India Company by this doctrine.
  • It was as per this policy that Nana Sahib, the adopted son of the Maratha Peshwa Baji Rao II was denied his titles and pension.
  • The final moment straw came when Awadh has annexed to the English East India Company under the terms of the Doctrine of Lapse on the grounds of internal misrule on 7 February 1856 AD. This annexation was one of the reasons for the Revolt of 1857.

Effects Of This Policy

The action of Dalhousie has been challenged on the ground of expediency as well. Of course, Dalhousie succeeded in extending the British Empire but it is wrong to suggest that the subjects of the annexed states felt happy as has been claimed by some British historians. When Nagpur, Jhansi, and Awadh were annexed, Dalhousie claimed that not a murmur was heard beyond the palace walls because the people felt free from the tyrannical rule of their kings. But, the coming events proved otherwise. The subjects of these states supported their rulers against the British in the rebellion of 1857. Thus, the policy of the Doctrine of Lapse endangered the British empire. That is why after the revolt of 1857, the British accepted the right of the Indian rulers to adopt their heirs. Thus, the annexations of Lord Dalhousie on the basis of the Doctrine of Lapse were justified on no grounds – legal, moral, or expediency.

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