Doctrine of Lapse – Complete Notes

The Doctrine of Lapse is a significant chapter in the history of British colonial rule in India. It was a policy adopted by the British East India Company during the 19th century, primarily aimed at consolidating and expanding their territorial control in the Indian subcontinent.

This policy had far-reaching implications for the princely states of India and played a crucial role in shaping the course of Indian history. In this article, you will discover information about the Doctrine of Lapse, including its origins, implementation, and consequences, all of which are essential topics for UPSC aspirants.

What was the Doctrine of Lapse?

The Doctrine of Lapse was a contentious policy enforced by the British East India Company during the 19th century in India. According to this doctrine, if the ruler of a princely state passed away without a natural heir or had not adopted a legitimate heir, the state would automatically come under the control of the British government, effectively lapsing into British territory.

Key Principles

The key principles of the Doctrine of Lapse were as follows:

  1. Lack of a Natural Heir: If a princely state’s ruler did not have a biological (natural) heir to succeed them, the British authorities would use this as a justification for annexation.
  2. Lack of an Adopted Heir: Even if a ruler had adopted an heir, the British often questioned the legitimacy of the adoption and used it as a pretext for annexation if it did not meet their criteria.
  3. Alleged Mismanagement: The British authorities also claimed the right to annex a state if they believed it was being mismanaged, often using subjective standards to assess the quality of governance.
  4. Ruler’s Behavior: The behavior and actions of a ruler were sometimes considered, and if the British deemed a ruler to be acting against British interests, this could lead to the annexation of their state.
  5. Impact on Adopted Sons: Under this policy, the adopted son would also be denied any privileges, such as pensions and titles, that his father might have previously received.

Motives Behind the Doctrine of Lapse

The following points show the hidden motives behind the Doctrine of Lapse:

  • To ensure better administration in princely states.
  • To avoid political instability and civil unrest in cases of unclear succession.
  • To standardize governance across various states under British control.
  • To extend British territorial control and safeguard strategic interests.
  • To bring modernization, infrastructure development, and legal reforms to princely states.
  • To prevent the fragmentation of states into smaller, less viable entities.
  • To increase revenue for the British government to support colonial administration and development.

Who Introduces the Doctrine of Lapse?

The Doctrine of Lapse was formulated and implemented by Lord Dalhousie, who served as the Governor-General of India from 1848 to 1856. This policy was introduced under the pretext of ensuring the more efficient administration and preventing the misuse of power by native rulers.

Further, Lord Dalhousie believed that the British government had the right to annex any princely state if it lacked a legitimate heir or was deemed to be misgoverned.

Annexations Under the Doctrine of Lapse

Doctrine of Lapse UPSC

The Doctrine of Lapse policy, enforced by the East India Company, resulted in the annexation of several princely states. Here are the key states that were annexed:

  • Satara
  • Sambhalpur
  • Jaitpur
  • Baghat
  • Udaipur
  • Jhansi
  • Nagpur
  • Awadh

1. Satara (1848)

  • The kingdom of Satara was founded during the third Anglo-Maratha War in 1818.
  • In 1848, the British annexed Satara because Appa Sahib, the monarch, passed away without a male heir.

2. Sambalpur (1849)

  • Sambalpur was ruled by the Marathas until 1817.
  • After the third Anglo-Maratha War, Raja Narayan Singh was crowned as the ruler.
  • In 1849, the British annexed Sambalpur because Raja Narayan Singh had no male heir.

3. Jaitpur (1849)

  • Jaitpur was originally established as a division of Panna State in 1731 by Jagat Rai, the son of the renowned Bundela Rajput leader Chhatrasal.
  • In 1765, the state of Ajaigarh was separated from Jaitpur.
  • By 1807, Jaitpur had become a British protectorate following the British annexation of Central India.
  • The principality of Jaitpur was eventually seized by the British in 1849. This occurred after the demise of Khet Singh, the state’s final monarch, who died without leaving an heir.

4. Baghat (1850)

  • In 1739, after the death of Mahindar Singh, Baghát was considered a lapsed state by the British.
  • A pension of Rs. 1,282 was assigned to the royal family.
  • Subsequently, the state of Baghát was formally annexed to British India.

5. Udaipur (1852)

  • Udaipur was annexed in 1852.
  • Later, Lord Canning reversed the annexation, designating it as a protected ally.

6. Jhansi (1853)

  • Gangadhar Rao was the raja of Jhansi.
  • After his death in 1853, the rani adopted Damodar Rao as her son.
  • The British rejected Damodar Rao’s claim and annexed the state.
  • The famous Battle of Jhansi, led by Rani Laxmi Bai, played a crucial role in the Indian Revolution of 1857.

7. Nagpur (1854)

  • The Maratha Bhonsle Maharajas of Nagpur were significant rulers within the Maratha Confederacy.
  • They expanded their rule over extensive territories in central and eastern India during the 18th century.
  • Following the conclusion of the Third Anglo-Maratha War in 1818, the Bhonsle Maharaja of Nagpur entered into a subsidiary alliance with the British.
  • This alliance resulted in Nagpur transitioning from Maratha rule to becoming a princely state under British suzerainty.

8. Awadh (1856)

  • In 1856, the British annexed Awadh, citing the need to protect the population from Nawab’s corrupt rule.
  • Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was deposed by British officials due to his despotic rule.

These annexations significantly altered the political landscape of India and contributed to the tensions that eventually led to the Indian Mutiny of 1857.

Effects of the Doctrine of Lapse

The annexation policy of the ‘doctrine of lapse’ had far-reaching and predominantly negative effects on the Indian subcontinent. It faced strong opposition from Indian rulers due to its consolidation of power and control in the hands of the East India Company.

  1. Annexation of Princely States:
    • The implementation of the Doctrine of Lapse resulted in the annexation of several princely states. These states lost their sovereignty and became part of the British Empire.
  2. Expansion of East India Company’s Dominion:
    • The acquisition of these princely Indian states significantly expanded the territory, revenue, and power of the East India Company. It further strengthened British colonial rule in India.
  3. Loss of Autonomy and Colonization:
    • Princely states annexed under the Doctrine of Lapse lost their freedom to govern independently. They were gradually transformed into British colonies, subject to British laws and administration.
  4. Resentment Among Indian Princes:
    • The policy generated widespread resentment among Indian princes from various states. They perceived the annexations as a direct threat to their authority and privileges.
  5. Indian Mutiny and Revolt:
    • The discontent and anger caused by the Doctrine of Lapse, among other grievances, played a significant role in sparking the Indian Mutiny of 1857, also known as the Sepoy Mutiny. This widespread rebellion had profound consequences for the Indian subcontinent.
  6. Denial of Pensions:
    • Nana Sahib, whose foster father passed away, was denied a pension by the British under the Doctrine of Lapse, contributing to his hostility towards British rule.
  7. Denial of Succession and Conflict:
    • Specific instances of the Doctrine of Lapse, such as the denial of succession to the adopted son of Jhansi ki Rani (Rani Lakshmibai), led to major conflicts and disputes. These conflicts exacerbated tensions between Indian rulers and the British.
  8. Resistance and Opposition:
    • The altered perception of the British, their interference in Indian internal affairs, and the loss of independence led to a wave of opposition. Both afflicted monarchs and other kings and queens began to actively oppose British rule.
  9. Role of Nana Sahib and Rani of Jhansi:
    • Figures like Nana Sahib and Rani of Jhansi played significant roles in the rulers’ rebellion against the British, as their personal experiences with the Doctrine of Lapse fueled their resistance.


In conclusion, the Doctrine of Lapse was a controversial policy employed during British colonial rule in India. It allowed the British to annex princely states without male heirs, ostensibly for governance improvements, but often for territorial expansion.

This policy triggered significant resistance, including the Indian Mutiny of 1857, and remains a pivotal aspect of India’s colonial history.

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What is the Doctrine of Lapse?

The Doctrine of Lapse was a British colonial policy that allowed the annexation of princely states in India if they lacked a male heir or were perceived to have ineffective leadership.

Who implemented the Doctrine of Lapse?

The Doctrine of Lapse was primarily implemented by Lord Dalhousie, who served as the Governor-General of India from 1848 to 1856 during the British colonial period.

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