ICSE Revision Notes for The First War of Independence, 1857 Class 10 History

Chapter Name

The First War of Independence, 1857

Topics Covered

  • Causes of First War of Independence, 1857
  • Disrespect shown to Bahadur Shah Zafar
  • Treatment given to Nana Saheb
  • Absentee sovereignty of the British
  • Main Events of the Revolt of 1857
  • Consequences of the 1857 Revolt
  • Limitations of the Revolt of 1857

Related Study

*Note: The First War of Independence, 1857. Only the Causes (political, socio-religious, economic and military) will be tested. [The events, however, need to be mentioned in order to maintain continuity and for a more comprehensive understanding.]

Political causes of the First War of Independence

• The British tried to expand their political, territorial and economic power in India by four ways:

  1. Outright wars
  2. Subsidiary Alliance
  3. Doctrine of Lapse
  4. Pretext of Alleged misrule

1. By outright wars:

  • To expand their territorial power in India and to safeguard their economic and political interest British waged many wars. 
  • The Battle of Buxar established British as masters of Bengal, Bihar and Odisha.
  • Anglo-Mysore Wars caused annexation of most of territory of the Mysore State.
  • After Third Anglo-Maratha War the Peshwa’s entire dominions and all Maratha territory north and south of Narmada river were acquired by the British.
  • After Second Anglo-Sikh war Punjab was annexed by the British.

2. By subsidiary alliance:

  • Subsidiary alliance was introduced by Lord Wellesley. 
  • Subsidiary alliance was an agreement between the British East India company and the Indian Princely states by virtue of which these states lost their sovereignty to the British.

Terms of the rulers who agreed to Subsidiary Alliance:

  1. Accepted British as supreme power.
  2. Surrendered their foreign relations to East India company and agreed not to enter into any alliance and not to wage wars.
  3. Accepted a British resident at their headquarters and agreed not to employ any European in their service without consulting the company.
  4. Agreed to maintain British Troops at their own cost.
  5. Virtually** lost their independence.

3. By using Doctrine of Lapse:

  • Lord Dalhousie the governor-general of India annexed many states at that time by the Doctrine
  • of Lapse.
  • Doctrine of Lapse states that if an Indian ruler dies without a male heir his kingdom would “lapse”, that is it would come under the company’s territory in India.
  • Satara, Sambalpur, Jaitpur, Udaipur, Nagpur and Jhansi were annexed under this.

4. On pretext of Alleged Misrule:

  • In 1856, Lord Dalhousie annexed Awadh on the pretext of alleged misrule. He declared that Awadh was being misgoverned and British rule was needed to ensure proper administration.
  • Hardship faced by people of Awadh after its annexation:
    1. They had to pay higher land revenue and additional taxes on food, houses and ferries.
    2. The British confiscated the estates of the taluqdars or zamindars. The dispossessed taluqdars became the opponents of the British rule.
    3. The dissolution of the Nawab of Awadh’s army and administration threw thousands of nobles, officials and soldiers out of the jobs.

Disrespect shown to Bahadur Shah Zafar:

  1. Bahadur Shah Zafar, the Mughal ruler, was under the protection of the company and received a pension from the British. The name of the Mughal King was removed from the coins minted by the company.
  2. In 1849. Lord Dalhousie announced the successor of Bahadur Shah Zafar would not be permitted to use the Red Fort as their palace. They were required to shift to a place near Qutub Minar.
  3. In 1856, Lord Canning announced that after the death Bahadur Shah, his successors would not be allowed to use the imperial titles with their names and would be known as mere princes. This feeling hurt the feeling of Muslims.

Treatment given to Nana Saheb:

  1. Saheb was the adopted son of BajiRao 2, the 12th and the last Peshwa. The British refused to grant Nana Saheb the pension they were paying to BajiRao.
  2. Nana Saheb was forced to live at Kanpur far away from his family seat at Poona.
  3. This was widely resented in Maratha region Nana Saheb had inherited wealth from the former Peshwa, which he utilized in sending emissaries to different part of the country for generating awareness among Indian against British policies.

Absentee sovereignty of the British:

Absentee sovereignty means that India was being ruled by the British government from England at a distance of thousand miles. This was resented by the Indians as they felt India’s wealth was being drained to England while other ruler like Mughals who conquered India had in course settled here.

1. Social-religious causes:

  • The reforms such as abolition of Sati (1829) and introduction of the Widow remarriage act (1856) was not welcomed by the masses.
  • Telegraph poles erected to hang those who were against British rule and the railway compartment allowed the high caste and low caste to sit in the same compartment they believed it was introduced to defy their caste and practices.
  • Fear regarding the western education:
    • The western system of education was introduced in various schools.
    • The Bengal government established an English class in the Calcutta Madrasa, which was a Muslim institution. Later, English classes were introduced in Benaras Sanskrit College.
    • The shifting of emphasis from oriental learning to western education was not received well by the people especially the Pandits and Maulvis.
    • They started suspecting that aim of western education was not to promote literature and sciences but to encourage their children to become Christians.
  • Law of property:
    • The religious disabilities act of 1850 changed the Hindu Law of property.
    • It enabled a convert from Hinduism to other religions to inherit the property of his father. The Hindus regarded this as an incentive to give up their religion.

2. Economic causes:

Decline of landed aristocracy: the landed aristocracy which included the taluqdars and the hereditary landlord were deprived of their estate. According to the provision of the Inam commission 20,000 estates were confiscated when the landlord failed to provide evidence like title deeds by which they held the land. These lands then were sold to the highest bidder such lands were bought by moneylenders and merchants. This drove landed aristocracy to poverty.

3. Military causes:

  • Ill-treatment of Indian soldiers:
    • Indian soldiers were as efficient as their British counterparts but they were poorly paid ill-fed and badly housed.
    • British Military authorities forbade the sepoys from wear caste or sectarian marks, beards or turban and they showed disregard for the sentiments of the sepoys.
    • All higher positions in employment were reserved for the British, irrespective of their performance even the Indian soldiers formerly occupying high position in the armies of native princes could not rise above the rank of subedar.
    • The soldiers were required to serve in areas away from their homes without extra payment and additional Bhatta (foreign service allowance). The post office act of 1854 withdrew the privilege of free postage enjoyed by sepoys.
  • General Service Enlistment Act:
    According to traditional belief, it was a taboo for a brahmin to cross the seas. The British Parliament passed the General Service Enlistment Act in 1856. As per this act, Indian soldiers could be sent overseas on duty. The act did not take into account the sentiment of the Indian soldiers. The Brahmin soldiers saw in this a danger to their caste. This led to a feeling of resentment among them.
  • Exposing the British troop:
    • Places of strategic importance like Delhi and Allahabad had no British army and were wholly held by Indian soldiers, besides England was engaged several wars outside India. The Persian the Crimean war and the Chinese war. Indian soldiers felt that British were in difficulty and her safety of her Indian empire was dependent on them.
    • British army major reverses in first afghan war, Punjab wars, Crimean war and the sweeping of British By Santhal tribesman of Bihar and Bengal broke the myth among the Indian soldiers that British was invincible.

4. Immediate Causes

  • In 1856, the British authorities decided to replace the old-fashioned musket by the new “Enfield rifle”.
  • The loading process of the Enfield rifle involved bringing the cartridge to the mouth and biting off the top greased paper with teeth.
  • In January 1857 there was a rumor in the Bengal regiments that the greased cartridge had the fat of cow or pig.
  • The sepoys were now convinced was a deliberate move to defile Hindu and Muslim religion as cow is sacred to Hindus and pig is a taboo to Muslims.
  • So, both the Hindus and Muslim soldier refused to use these cartridges and staged an uprising when they were forced to use it.

Take Note:

  • Landed nobility or landed aristocracy is a category of nobility in various countries over history, for which landownership was part of their noble privileges.
  • The Inam Commission was appointed by the British to look into records and revenue generation in Inam grants (those land grants which were gifted to any person for his extraordinary services before and during the British rule and it was a rent- or tax-free grant)

Main Events of the Revolt

The main centres of the revolt were:


  • The sepoys of Meerut were joined by the local soldiers of Delhi. They killed many British officers and declared Bahadur Shah Zafar as the leader of the revolt.
  • Later General Bakht Khan commanded the Bareilly troops into Delhi and provided leadership to the rebels.
  • After the recapture of Delhi by troops laid by Sir John Nicholson, Bahadur Shah Zafar was found guilty of aiding the rebellion. His sons and grandson were killed and he was exiled to Yangon in Myanmar.

  • On 30 May 1857, a great rising took place in Awadh. Within the next few days, the whole of Awadh was captured by the rebels.
  • The leader of the revolt in Awadh was Begum Hazrat Mahal. After the city was recaptured by the British, Begum Hazrat mahal fled to Nepal.


  • The revolt in Kanpur was led by Nana Sahib. A large number of Englishmen, women and children were captured and killed by the infuriated mob.
  • Nana Sahib was defeated by the British in December 1857. He fled to Nepal where he died.


  • In Jhansi, the revolt was laid by Rani Laxmibai, whose state was annexed by Lord Dalhousie on the basis of the Doctrine of Lapse. She rose against the British and joined the revolt.
  • By June 1857, the English had lost control over many parts of Jhansi. When the English forces under Hugh Rose laid a siege to the fort of Jhansi, Laxmibai valiantly fought against the English troops. When it became impossible for her to hold the fort any longer, she escaped to Kalpi with lightning speed.
  • At Kalpi she was joined by another remarkable Indian leader Tantya Tope, the commander of the forces of Nana Sahib. Both marched to Gwalior.
  • Rani Laxmibai fell to the large number of British troops and was killed while fighting. Tantya Tope managed to escape, but he was later captured and killed by the British troops.

Some other centres of the revolt were Bareilly and Arrah (Bihar). In Bareilly, the revolt was led by Khan
Bahadur Khan, and in Bihar, the revolt was led by Kunwar Singh, an old zamindar. Maulvi Ahmadullah
led the revolt in Faizabad.

Consequences of the Revolt

The revolt of 1857 was brutally suppressed by the British. The revolt brought far-reaching effects on
India’s socio-political life. These were:
End of the Company’s Rule
  • The power to govern India was transferred from the Company to the British crown.
  • The Board of Directors and the Board of Control of India were abolished and the office of the Secretary of State for India was created. He was to look after the formulation of the British policies in India. His salary and allowances were to be paid from Indian revenues.
  • The Governor General in India now came to be known as the Viceroy of India.
  • Lord Canning became the first viceroy of the country.
Proclamation of Queen Victoria
The Proclamation of Queen Victoria promised the following:
  • To follow a policy of non-intervention in social and religious matters of the Indians
  • To treat the European and Indian subjects equally
  • To grant pardon to all Indians who had taken part in the revolt except those who were guilty of murdering the British citizens.
  • To work for promoting Indian industries
End of Mughals and Peshwaship
After the revolt, the sons and grandson of Bahadur Shah Zafar were shot dead. The Mughal Empire in India came to an end after the death of Bahadur Shah Zafar. After Nana Sahib fled to Nepal after the revolt, the institution of Peshwaship also came to an end. Two of the most formidable enemies of the British were thus destroyed during the revolt.
Relations with the Princely States
The British abandoned the Doctrine of Lapse and the Subsidiary Alliance System. The loyalty of the Indian princes during the revolt was rewarded.
Policy of Divide and Rule
As both Hindus and Muslims had participated in the revolt, the British began to follow the policy of divide and rule. They not only created a rift between the Hindus and the Muslims but also between castes and various groups.
Racial Discrimination
The British subjected Indians to insult and humiliation. Indians were dubbed as unworthy of trust. Railway compartments, parks, hotels and clubs were reserved exclusively for the British.

Changes in the Structure of Army

  • The strength of European troops in India was increased.
  • European soldiers were posted in key strategic locations.
  • Artillery was placed under British control.
  • Discriminations on the basis of caste, region and religion were practised in the recruitment of soldiers in the army to prevent another anti-British uprising.
  • Newspapers, journals and nationalist publications were prevented from reaching the soldiers to avoid any kind of mutiny.
Rise of Nationalism
The revolt of 1857 and its brutal suppression by the British paved the way for the rise of the Indian
National Movement. The heroic struggle of the Indian leaders such as Rani Laxmibai, Nana Sahib and
Tantya Tope continued to inspire millions of Indians to fight against the British rule in India.

Limitations of the Revolt of 1857

  • The revolt was not widespread in nature. The western, eastern and southern parts of India remained unaffected by the revolt. The English received the help of the soldiers of the Rajputana, Punjab and Sind in crushing the revolt.
  • The Indian rebels were not armed with modern weapons. They lacked in organisation and planning.
  • On the contrary, the English soldiers were armed with modern weapons and ammunition.
  • Many rulers did not participate in the revolt. The Sindhias of Gwalior, the Nizam of Hyderabad, the Holkars of Indore and the rulers of Patiala remained unaffected by the revolt.
  • Many zamindars and moneylenders did not support the uprising of 1857.
  • Many sections of educated Indians did not support the revolt as they believed that India could be modernised only under British rule.

Nature of the Revolt

  • A revolt is an uprising which occurs because of the unjust or unfair policies of the rulers. Many historians have written about the nature of the revolt of 1857.
  • According to most British historians like P. E. Roberts, this revolt was purely a military revolt which was mainly fought by the Indian sepoys. However, according to many Indian historians, the revolt was more of a national uprising against the unjust and selfish policies of the British rulers.
  • Veer Savarkar termed the revolt of 1857 as the ‘First War of Indian Independence’. According to him, the revolt was not limited to only the Indian sepoys, as many peasants, zamindars and rulers
  • participated in the revolt.
  • We can say that the revolt was much more than the mutiny of Indian soldiers. It had spread to many parts of north and central India. Although the revolt has also been termed the First War of Indian Independence, it has to be taken into account that it did not affect large parts of western, eastern and southern India. Further, the idea of nationalism or independence till now had not touched Indian hearts and minds. Many soldiers from Punjab had helped the English in crushing the revolt. Therefore, the revolt can be more suitably termed an Indian uprising which was directed against the unjust and unfair policies of the British rule in India.

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