Governors General of India, Part I: Wellesley

From 1798 until 1805, the Marquess Wellesley presided over a great extension of British influence, deliberately seeking to make the King’s Government in Whitehall the real paramount power in the sub-continent. A.S. Bennell begins the first of three studies of British Governors-General in India.

Until 1947, one of the most difficult decisions that had to be made by a British Prime Minister was the choice of a Governor-General or Viceroy of India. The post carried immense prestige, yet remained difficult to fill. To the statesman who had hopes of the highest office at home it was a side-turning that led to the grave of reputations.

To the politician making his way it was a formidable opportunity, but one that rarely led back to the main stream of political advancement. Britain sent a wealth of talent to India. (“We must not lose India by keeping our best people here,” George VI wrote to Churchill in 1943; “but I do not feel that Eden can be spared at present.”)

Yet it was not perhaps the highest talent, and some members of the short list of outstanding Viceroys could be fairly awarded Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ comment on Franklin Roosevelt, “a second-class intellect, but a first-class temperament.”

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