The Downfall of India's Princely States

November 2023 9781805260530 352pp, 16 b&w illus
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In July 1947, India’s last Viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten, stood before New Delhi’s Chamber of Princes to deliver the most important speech of his career. He had just three weeks to convince over 550 sovereign princely states—some tiny, some the size of Britain—to become part of a free India. Once Britain’s most faithful allies, the princes could choose between joining India or Pakistan, or declaring independence. 

This is a saga of intrigue, brinkmanship and broken promises, wrought by Mountbatten and two of independent India’s founding fathers: the country’s most senior civil servant, V.P. Menon, and Congress strongman Vallabhbhai Patel. What India’s architects described as a ‘bloodless revolution’ was anything but, as violence engulfed Kashmir and Indian troops crushed Hyderabad’s dreams of independence. 

Most princes accepted the inevitable, exchanging their power for guarantees of privileges and titles in perpetuity. But these dynasties were still led to extinction—not by the sword, but by political expediency—leaving them with little more than fading memories of a glorified past.


‘[A] gripping history – exhaustively researched, and written with all the pace and tension of a thriller – of how the fate of the princely states would be determined in the face of independence and Partition.’ — The Telegraph

Dethroned is set to become a classic on the end of India’s and Pakistan’s aristocracy.’ — The Spectator

‘[A] highly readable, balanced account [of how]… the twilight of the princes was a turning point in history, an event comparable in scale to the unification of Italy in 1861, or of Germany ten years later.’ — TLS

‘A thoroughly entertaining account of decline and fall.’ — Literary Review

‘A full, even-handed account of the political and constitutional saga of the princely states.’ — The Critic

‘Journalistic flair shines through in Dethroned.’ — The Week

‘This is a serious book dealing with an important subject and the author’s best book to date.’ — Asian Affairs

‘Deeply researched and persuasively presented.’ — News 18 

‘An absorbing account … Zubrzycki is a master storyteller and writes engagingly and with insight about the princes who played a crucial though perhaps under-appreciated role in shaping the destiny of a democratic India.’ — The Round Table

‘A lively portrait of an extraordinarily complex moment.’ — The Sunday Morning Herald 

‘In the grand tapestry of Indian history, Dethroned stands as a seminal work that reshapes our understanding of Indian decolonisation.’ — International Journal of Asian Studies

‘Engagingly written, meticulously researched and peppered with delicious anecdotes. Zubrzycki deftly captures the political intrigue involved in this epoch-defining negotiation at independent India’s founding moment—a must-read for anyone interested in contemporary Indian history, or even just in brilliant writing!’ — Shashi Tharoor MP, author of Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India

‘Zubrzycki lifts the veil on the turbulent period in Indian history when Nehru and Patel—determined to stop the Balkanisation of India—cajoled, arm-twisted and sometimes used blatant force to bring the princely states onside. What plays out is a game of chess with the highest of stakes between two countries, with 563 pieces on the deck, leaving fault lines that burn even today.’ — Shrabani Basu, journalist, historian and author of Victoria & Abdul

‘Delivered with verve, narrative pace and a delicious sense of irony. I felt, at times, as if I were reading a crime thriller.’ — Ian Copland, Emeritus Professor of History, Monash University, and author of The Princes of India in the Endgame of Empire, 1917–1947

‘This story of the Indian princely states from 1947 to their loss of privileges in 1971 fills an important gap in Indian history, shedding new light on controversies which continue to this day.’ — Andrew Lownie, author of The Mountbattens: Their Lives and Loves

‘Zubrzycki tells this almost unknown story in masterly fashion. Dethroned is well-researched, lucidly written and highly revealing.’ — Rosie Llewellyn-Jones, author of Empire Building: The Construction of British India, 1690–1860

‘Zubrzycki’s talents as a writer and historian shine in this fresh and fast-paced book. He confidently portrays the colourful characters and complex events that left volatile legacies for the twenty-first century.’ — Robin Jeffrey, Visiting Research Professor, National University of Singapore

‘This important account of the momentous breakup of British India and the achieving of independence makes for fascinating reading—a narrative impressively narrated.’ — Jim Masselos, Honorary Associate in History, University of Sydney

‘A captivating story of political intrigue and expediency in a race against time. In the tragedy of the princely demise few players are blameless, as the writer weighs the pride and obduracy of the rulers against the ruthlessness of British and Indian politicians.’ — Caroline Keen, author of A Judge in Madras: Sir Sidney Wadsworth and the Indian Civil Service, 1913–47


John Zubrzycki PhD has worked in India as a foreign correspondent and diplomat. His books with Hurst are Dethroned; The House of Jaipur; and Empire of Enchantment, chosen by William Dalrymple as a Book of the Year. He is also the author of The Shortest History of India.  

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