By 1757, the English East India Company had transformed itself from a trading company into a major military and political force, vying with local rulers for a controlling stake in India. By the 1840s, most of the regional powers had fallen under British control, either as a result of military defeat or through uneasy consent in the spirit of self-preservation.
British rule in India was known as the Raj (“rule”). The British government eventually took direct control over areas previously administered by the East India Company, now known as “British India,” and indirect control over the remaining territory. As the largest, wealthiest, and most productive colony of Britain’s empire, India became known as the “jewel in the crown.”
Incorporated into the hierarchy of the empire, Indian rulers were recognized by the British only as “princes” or “native chiefs,” rather than “kings.” But although they were guaranteed their rights and the sovereignty of their borders, the British continued to interfere in the day-to-day running of their states, limiting royal authority and even deposing rulers they considered unsuitable.
The maharajas adapted to the new British imperial regime in various ways, yet they were not mere puppets of the Raj. They continued to maintain order within their states, tax their subjects, allocate revenue, and patronize cultural activities in a way that fused traditional royal duty with Western models of governance.