Court of Proprietors at the East India Company
(Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
View more images
In 1858, while the Mutiny was still at large in Bengal, the Crown took the last powers from the East India Company. The immediate consequence was that the Governor-General assumed also the title, Viceroy. He was, effectively the monarch in India.
Not since the Moghuls had there been one man with such authority. This was the most powerful position in the whole empire. As one of them remarked: "It is certainly so that the emperor of China and I govern half the human race but we still find time for breakfast." His autocracy was rarely questioned and he ruled an India whose map was blotched in yellow and red. The red meant absolute rule. The yellow signified states where, nominally at least, the minor and major princes, the chiefs, ruled.
The footings of this power had been laid eighty years earlier when Warren Hastings became the first Governor-General. It was he who began the restructuring necessary for proper rule and developed education, the judiciary, social systems and most of all, the way the states were administered.
In spite of all the colonies scattered about the globe, by the 1870s India had become The Empire. Between 1774 when Hastings was appointed, and 1947 when Mountbatten left India, there were some 57 Governors-General and Viceroys. (Counting varies depending on numbers of stand-in Viceroys included and there were 58 if we cite the interim Viceroy in India between Mountbatten and the declaration of independence; 62 if we include Pakistan, which became a dominion and did not choose independence until 1955).
Some viceroys turned out to be ordinary when compared with grandees like Wellesley, Canning and Curzon. John Shore was, for example, thought immensely forgettable and "as cold as a greyhound's nose".
So important was this throne of power after the Sepoy Rebellion that there was talk that a prince might go to India as Viceroy. When, the imperial capital was moved to Delhi and a magnificent residence built for the viceroy, some considered this sign enough that a son or nephew of the Crown would suit India and Victoria. There was one part of the Establishment who would advise against that: the Cannings, Elgins, Curzons and the others were not going to let some prince stop them having the chance to go to India, to be treated as royalty for four or five years. No wonder Curzon never wanted to retire.Back to top