Governor-General of India (or, from 1858 to 1947,
the Viceroy and Governor-General of India) was the
head of the British administration in
India, 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
The officer had direct control only over
Fort William, but supervised other British East India Company
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
. The Governor-General headed the central
Government of India which administered the Provinces of British India, including the
Punjab, Bengal, Bombay, Madras, 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.
of Viceroy was abandoned when India and Pakistan 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
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
member of the UK
, 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
. 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
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
After the Indian Rebellion of
, 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
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
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
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
Regulating Act, however, granted them additional powers relating to
foreign affairs and defence. The other Presidencies of the East India
Company (Madras, Bombay and Bencoolen) 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
, Lieutenant Governor
or Chief Commissioner
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 Mysore, the
Maharaja(Scindia) of Gwalior, the Maharaja of Jammu and
Kashmir and the Gaekwad (Gaekwar)
Maharaja of Baroda.
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
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
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
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
"king"). Wives of Viceroys were known as Vicereines (from the
, 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
India during the period of British rule, however, were
King George V and Queen Mary, who attended the Delhi durbar in 1911.
When the Order of the Star of
was founded in 1861, the Viceroy was made its Grand
Master ex officio
. The Viceroy was also made the ex
Grand Master of the Order of the Indian Empire
its foundation in 1877.
Most Governors-General and Viceroys were peers
. Of those that were not, Sir John Shore
was a baronet
, and Lord
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
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.
Governor-General of Fort William resided in Belvedere House,
Calcutta until the early nineteenth century, when Government
House was constructed.
Government House served as the
Governor-General's residence during most of the nineteenth
In 1854, the Lieutenant Governor of
Bengal took up residence there. Now, the Belvedere Estate houses the National
Library of India.
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 Delhi in
Thereafter, the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, who had
hitherto resided in Belvedere
, 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 Bengal, and is referred to by its Hindi name Raj Bhavan.
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
Bhavan," is used by the President of India.
Throughout the British administration,
Governors-General retreated to the Viceregal Lodge (see
Rashtrapati Niwas) at
Shimla each summer
to escape the heat, and the government of India moved with
The Viceregal Lodge now houses the Indian Institute of Advanced
List of Governors-General
- 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.
- Association of Commonwealth Archivists and Record
Managers, (1999). "Government Buildings - India"
- Forrest, G.W., CIE, (editor), Selections
from The State Papers of the Governors-General of India - Warren
Hastings (2 vols), Blackwell's,
- Encyclopædia Britannica ("British Empire" and
"Viceroy"), London, 1911, 11th edition, Cambridge University Press.
- James, Lawrence, Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British
India London: Little, Brown & Company, 1997, ISBN
- Keith, A. B. (editor), Speeches and Documents on Indian
University Press, 1922.
- Oldenburg, P. (2004). "India." Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. (
- mountbattenofburma.com - Tribute & Memorial website to
Louis, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma