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Why did the British banish the Kandyan King?


Re: "Indigenous" Kings (& Forces?) of the Empire Glen Robert-Grant Hodgins Jun 12, 2000 19:41 PDT

As a follow-on to Christopher Buyers' excellent tour d'horizon of "indigenous" kings within the Empire, I would like to ask a double-barreled supplementary question on this same topic, and then make a few comments.


Is it fair to say that significant factors in determining which kings survived and which ones were deposed were:


a)     the prior level of cordiality which existed between the Imperial authorities and the kinglet?

b) the time frame in question?; [ie., were there certain periods in the history of the Empire when the dominant philosophy of (liberal?) decision-makers was simply to dispose of these "Oriental Despots"; while at

other times the ruling mindset (of conservative decision-makers?) was to keep the traditional rulers?].



The only case of an indigenous kinglet of which I'm aware in any detail ("not surprisingly", I can hear some Hon Members snickering) is the fate of the (Ceylonese) King of Kandy: after British forces finally defeated him in 1815, he and his entourage were wisked off to Vellore, Tamil Nadu, where he basically lived out the rest of his life in relative obscurity on a government pension.


Although I've certainly never studied this aspect of Kandyan-British relations in any detail, I've always thought that if the Kandyan King had not spent the better part of the previous 12 years waging war against Britain, (including giving Brit forces a thorough thrashing in 1803), that this King might have been allowed to carry-on (after submission) very much like other "indigenous" kinglets around the Empire. In other words, the lead-up to his submission to British will was far from cordial, and this was, at least in part, a determining factor in his disposal.


Secondly, my understanding of the "mindset" of Imperial decision-makers at this time is that it was very much against the idea of "power sharing" (to use an anachronistic term) with local traditional leaders. As always I'm certainly open to correction on this, but I had the impression that by about this time the authorities (which were more often than not the Court of Directors of the HEIC) were becoming rather disillusioned with the course of their dealings with local rulers. To put things in context, by this time the Brits had just completed yet another costly campaign against the likes of Tipoo Sultan (the "Tiger of Mysore"), and a little earlier, against Shivaji and the Marathas. The acquiescence of the Nizam of Hyderabad had also not come easily, and the increasing frustrations of the Bengal (HEIC) government in their dealings with both the Nawab of Oudh and, indeed, the Moghul "Emperor" in Delhi, (both of whom -- as I understand it Imperial authorities viewed as paradigm examples of corrupt, decadent "Oriental Despots", were strained at best.


I guess, in essence, what I'm trying to say is that I had always considered this period -- ie., the run-up to the Mutiny -- was a phase in British Imperial history when (liberal-minded?) decision-makers were generally hostile to the notion of perpetuating indigenous kinglets, and were much more inclined to gobble them up, if possible, whenever the opportunity presented itself. After the Mutiny, however, this mindset completely changed, and suddenly Imperial authorities went out of their way to bolster (indeed, legitimise) such local, petty rulers. Moreover, I would suggest it was this post-Mutiny period (and accompanying mindset) during which many of the indigenous kinglets of Africa and south east Asia came to a formal accommodation with Britain.


Submitted for what it's worth, by a man always interested in hearing other peoples' views.



Glen in (still soggy) Serendib


Glen R. Hodgins

Political, Economic & Security Affairs Adviser

HM's Canadian High Commission for Sri Lanka

"Oliver Castle"

Cinnamon Gardens

Colombo 7, Sri Lanka




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