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The Governor-General of India (or, from 1858 to 1947, the Viceroy and Governor-General of India) was the head of the British administration in Indiamarker, and later, after Indian independence, the representative of the monarch and de facto head of state. The office was created in 1773, with the title of Governor-General of the Presidency of Fort Williammarker. The officer had direct control only over Fort William, but supervised other British East India Company officials in India. Complete authority over all of British India was granted in 1833, and the official became known as the Governor-General of India.

In 1858, the territories of the East India Company came under the direct control of the British Crown. The Governor-General headed the central Government of India which administered the Provinces of British India, including the Punjab, Bengalmarker, Bombaymarker, Madrasmarker, the United Provinces, and others. However, much of India was not ruled directly by the British government: outside the provinces of British India there were hundreds of nominally sovereign princely states or "native states", whose relationship was not with the British government, but directly with the monarch. To reflect the Governor-General's role as the representative of the monarch to the feudal rulers of the princely states, from 1858 the term Viceroy and Governor-General of India (known in short as the Viceroy of India) was applied to him.

The title of Viceroy was abandoned when Indiamarker and Pakistanmarker gained their independence in 1947, but the office of Governor-General continued to exist in both new dominions until they adopted republican constitutions in 1950 and 1956 respectively.

Until 1858, the Governor-General was selected by the Court of Directors of the East India Company, to whom he was responsible. Thereafter, he was appointed by the Sovereign on the advice of the British government; the Secretary of State for India, a member of the UK Cabinet, was responsible for instructing him on the exercise of his powers. After 1947, the Sovereign continued to appoint the Governor-General, but did so on the advice of the Indian government, rather than the British one.

Governors-General served five-year terms, but could be removed earlier. After the conclusion of a term, a provisional Governor-General was sometimes appointed until a new holder of the office could be chosen. Provisional Governors-General were often chosen from among the provincial Governors.


Many parts of India were governed by the East India Company, which nominally acted as the agent of the Mughal Emperor. In 1773, motivated by corruption in the Company, the British government assumed partial control over the governance of India with the passage of the Regulating Act. A Governor-General and Council were appointed to rule over the Presidency of Fort William in Bengalmarker. The first Governor-General and Council were named in the Act; their successors were to be elected by the East India Company's Court of Directors. The Act provided for a five-year term for the Governor-General and Council, but the Sovereign had the power to remove any of them.

The Charter Act, 1833 replaced the Governor-General and Council of Fort William with the Governor-General and Council of India. The power to elect the Governor-General was retained by the Court of Directors, but the choice became subject to the Sovereign's approval.

After the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the East India Company was abolished, and its territories in India were put under the direct control of the Sovereign. The Government of India Act 1858 vested the power to appoint the Governor-General in the Sovereign. The Governor-General, in turn, had the power to appoint all lieutenant governors in India, subject to the Sovereign's approval.

India and Pakistan acquired independence in 1947, but Governors-General continued to be appointed over each nation until republican constitutions were written. Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma remained Governor-General of India for some time after independence, but the two nations were otherwise headed by native Governors-General. India became a secular republic in 1950; Pakistan became an Islamic one in 1956.


The Governor-General originally had power only over the Presidency of Fort William in Bengal. The Regulating Act, however, granted them additional powers relating to foreign affairs and defence. The other Presidencies of the East India Company (Madras, Bombay and Bencoolenmarker) were neither allowed to declare war on nor make peace with an Indian prince without receiving the prior approval of the Governor-General and Council of Fort William.

The powers of the Governor-General in respect of foreign affairs were increased by the India Act 1784. The Act provided that the other Governors under the East India Company could not declare war, make peace or conclude a treaty with an Indian prince unless expressly directed to do so by the Governor-General, or by the Company's Court of Directors.

While the Governor-General thus became the controller of foreign policy in India, he was not the explicit head of British India. This status only came with the Charter Act 1833, which granted him "superintendence, direction and control of the whole civil and military Government" of all of British India. The Act also granted legislative powers to the Governor-General and Council.

After 1858, the Governor-General functioned as the chief administrator of India and as the Sovereign's representative. India was divided into numerous provinces, each under the head of a Governor, Lieutenant Governor or Chief Commissioner or Administrator. Governors were appointed by the British government, to whom they were directly responsible; Lieutenant Governors, Chief Commissioners, and Administrators, however, were appointed by and were subordinate to the Governor-General. The Governor-General also oversaw the most powerful princely rulers: the Nizam of Hyderabad, the Maharaja of Mysoremarker, the Maharaja(Scindia) of Gwalior, the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmirmarker and the Gaekwad (Gaekwar) Maharaja of Barodamarker. The remaining princely rulers were overseen either by the Rajputana Agency and Central India Agency (which were headed by representatives of the Governor-General), or by provincial authorities.

Once India acquired independence, however, the Governor-General's role became almost entirely ceremonial, with power being exercised on a day-to-day basis by the Indian cabinet. After the nation became a republic, the non-executive President of India continued to perform the same functions.


The Governor-General was always advised by a Council on the exercise of his legislative and executive powers. The Governor-General, while exercising many functions, was referred to as the "Governor-General in Council."

The Regulating Act 1773 provided for the election of four counsellors by the East India Company's Court of Directors. The Governor-General had a vote along with the counsellors, but he also had an additional vote to break ties. The decision of the Council was binding on the Governor-General.

In 1784, the Council was reduced to three members; the Governor-General continued to have both an ordinary vote and a casting vote. In 1786, the power of the Governor-General was increased even further, as Council decisions ceased to be binding.

The Charter Act 1833 made further changes to the structure of the Council. The Act was the first law to distinguish between the executive and legislative responsibilities of the Governor-General. As provided under the Act, there were to be four members of the Council elected by the Court of Directors. The first three members were permitted to participate on all occasions, but the fourth member was only allowed to sit and vote when legislation was being debated.

In 1858, the Court of Directors ceased to have the power to elect members of the Council. Instead, the one member who had a vote only on legislative questions came to be appointed by the Sovereign, and the other three members by the Secretary of State for India.

The Indian Councils Act 1861 made several changes to the Council's composition. Three members were to be appointed by the Secretary of State for India, and two by the Sovereign. (The power to appoint all five members passed to the Crown in 1869.) The Governor-General was empowered to appoint an additional six to twelve members (changed to ten to sixteen in 1892, and to sixty in 1909). The five individuals appointed by the Indian Secretary or Sovereign headed the executive departments, while those appointed by the Governor-General debated and voted on legislation.

In 1919, an Indian legislature, consisting of a Council of State and a Legislative Assembly, took over the legislative functions of the Governor-General's Council. The Governor-General nonetheless retained significant power over legislation. He could authorize the expenditure of money without the Legislature's consent for "ecclesiastical, political [and] defense" purposes, and for any purpose during "emergencies." He was permitted to veto, or even stop debate on, any bill. If he recommended the passage of a bill, but only one chamber cooperated, he could declare the bill passed over the objections of the other chamber. The Legislature had no authority over foreign affairs and defense. The President of the Council of State was appointed by the Governor-General; the Legislative Assembly elected its President, but the election required the Governor-General's approval.

Style and title

The Governor-General (including when he was Viceroy from 1858 to 1947) used the style Excellency and enjoyed precedence over all other government officials in India. He would be referred to as 'His Excellency' and addressed as 'Your Excellency'. From 1858 to 1947, Governors-General were known as "Viceroys" (from the French roi, meaning "king"). Wives of Viceroys were known as Vicereines (from the French reine, meaning "queen"). The Vicereine would be referred to as 'Her Excellency' and would also be addressed as 'Your Excellency'. Neither title was employed while the Sovereign was in India. The only reigning British sovereigns to visit Indiamarker during the period of British rule, however, were King George V and Queen Mary, who attended the Delhimarker durbar in 1911.

When the Order of the Star of India was founded in 1861, the Viceroy was made its Grand Master ex officio. The Viceroy was also made the ex officio Grand Master of the Order of the Indian Empire upon its foundation in 1877.

Most Governors-General and Viceroys were peers. Of those that were not, Sir John Shore was a baronet, and Lord William Bentinck was entitled to the courtesy title "Lord" because he was the son of a Duke. Only the first and last Governors-General Warren Hastings and Chakravarti Rajagopalachari as well as some provisional Governors-General, had no special titles at all.


From around 1885, the Governor-General was allowed to fly a Union Flag augmented in the centre with the "Star of India" surmounted by a Crown. This flag was not the Governor-General's personal flag; it was also used by Governors, Lieutenant Governors, Chief Commissioners and other British officers in India. When at sea, only the Governor-General flew the flag from the mainmast, while other officials flew it from the foremast.

From 1947 to 1950, the Governor-General of India used a dark blue flag bearing the royal crest (a lion standing on a crown), beneath which was the word "India" in gold majuscules. The same design is still used by many other Governors-General. This last flag was the personal flag of the Governor-General only.


Government House served as the Governor-General's residence during most of the nineteenth century.
The Governor-General of Fort William resided in Belvedere House, Calcuttamarker until the early nineteenth century, when Government House was constructed. In 1854, the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal took up residence there. Now, the Belvedere Estate houses the National Library of Indiamarker.

Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley, who is reputed to have said that "India should be governed from a palace, not from a country house," constructed a grand mansion, known as Government House, between 1799 and 1803. The mansion remained in use until the capital moved from Calcutta to Delhimarker in 1912. Thereafter, the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, who had hitherto resided in Belvedere House, was upgraded to a full Governor and transferred to Government House. Now, it serves as the residence of the Governor of the Indian state of West Bengalmarker, and is referred to by its Hindi name Raj Bhavanmarker.

After the capital moved from Calcutta to Delhi, the Viceroy occupied a newly-built Viceroy's House, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. Though construction began in 1912, it did not conclude until 1929; the home was not formally inaugurated until 1931. The final cost exceeded £877,000 (over £35,000,000 in modern terms) more than twice the figure originally allocated. Today the residence, now known by the Hindi name of "Rashtrapati Bhavanmarker," is used by the President of India.

Throughout the British administration, Governors-General retreated to the Viceregal Lodge (see Rashtrapati Niwas) at Shimlamarker each summer to escape the heat, and the government of India moved with them. The Viceregal Lodge now houses the Indian Institute of Advanced Study.

List of Governors-General

See also


  1. The term British India is mistakenly used to mean the same as the British Indian Empire, which included both the Provinces and the Native States.

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