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Title: The residents of the British East India Company at Indian royal courts, c. 1798-1818
Author: Wilkinson, Callie Hannah
ISNI:       0000 0004 7224 8873
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2017
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Generations of historians have looked to Bengal, Bombay, and Madras to detect the emergence of the legal and administrative mechanisms that would underpin Britain’s nineteenth-century empire. Yet this focus on ‘British’ India overshadows the very different history of nearly half the Indian subcontinent, which was still ruled by nominally independent monarchs. This dissertation traces the increasingly asymmetrical relationships between the East India Company and neighbouring Indian kingdoms during a period of intensive British imperial expansion, from 1798 to 1818. In so doing, it sheds fresh light on the contested process through which the Company consolidated its political predominance over rival Indian powers, setting a precedent for indirect rule that would inform British policy in Southeast Asia and Africa for years to come. The relationship between the Company and Indian governments was mediated through the figure of the Resident, the Company’s political representative at Indian courts, and the Residents therefore lie at the heart of this dissertation. Given their geographical distance from British administrative centres and their immersion in Indian political culture, the Residents’ experiences can be used to chart the growing pains of an expanding, modernizing empire, and to elucidate the dynamics of cross-cultural interaction and exchange. Based on the letters and papers of the dozen Residents stationed at major Indian courts, this dissertation shows how practical and ideological divisions within the Company regarding the appropriate forms of imperial influence were exacerbated by mutual suspicions resulting from geographical distance and the blurring of personal and public interests in the diplomatic line. This process was further complicated and constrained by the Residents’ reliance on the social and cultural capital of Indian elites and administrators with interests of their own. The Company’s consolidation of political influence at Indian courts was fraught with problems, and the five thematic chapters reflect recurring points of conflict which thread their way through these formative years. These include: the fragility of information networks and the proliferation of rumours; questions about the use of force and the applicability of the law of nations outside Europe; controversies surrounding political pageantry and conspicuous consumption; ambivalent relationships between Residents and their Indian state secretaries; and the Residents’ embroilment in royal family feuds. Ultimately, this dissertation concludes that the imposition of imperial authority at Indian courts was far from smooth, consisting instead of a messy and protracted series of practical experiments based on many competing visions of the ideal forms of influence to be employed in India.
Supervisor: Morieux, Renaud Sponsor: Cambridge Commonwealth Trust ; Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: India ; Britain ; princely states ; indirect rule ; British empire