While British historians called it the Sepoy Mutiny, Indian historians named it the Revolt of 1857 or the First War of Indian Independence.


Causes of the Revolt:

British policy of expansion through the Doctrine of Lapse and direct annexation

Rani Lakshmi Bai’s adopted son was not permitted to sit on the throne of Jhansi.

Satara, Nagpur and Jhansi were annexed under the Doctrine of Lapse.

Jaitpur, Sambalpur and Udaipur were also annexed.

The annexation of Awadh, on grounds of misgovernment, was greatly resented. The Nawabs of Awadh had always been loyal to the British.


Rapid spread of Western civilization in India.

An Act in 1850 changed the Hindu law of inheritance enabling a Hindu who had converted into Christianity to inherit his ancestral properties.

The missionaries were allowed to make conversions to Christianity all over India.

The abolition of practices like sati and female infanticide, and the legislation legalizing widow remarriage, were threats to the established social structure.

The social discrimination faced by the Indians due to the British attitude of racial superiority also led to much resentment.


The economic exploitation by the British and the complete destruction of the traditional economic structure caused widespread resentment among all sections of the people.

The peasants suffered due to high revenue demands and the strict revenue collection policy.

Artisans and craftsmen were ruined by the large-scale influx of cheap British manufactured goods into India which, in turn, made their hand-made goods uneconomical to produce.

India was transformed into a supplier of raw materials and a consumer of goods manufactured in Britain.


Indian soldiers formed seven-eighth of the total British troops in India.

They were considered inferior to British soldiers.

An Indian sepoy was paid less than a European sepoy of the same rank.

All the higher army posts were reserved for the British.

The order that forbade the sepoys from wearing caste and sectarian marks hurt their sentiments deeply.


Immediate Cause of the Revolt

The Revolt of 1857 eventually broke out over the incident of greased cartridges.

A rumour spread that the cartridges of the new Enfield rifles were greased with the fat of cows and pigs.

This greased cover had to be bitten off before the cartridge could be loaded into the rifle.

As the Hindus consider the cow sacred and the Muslims do not eat pig’s meat, both these communities were enraged at such a blatant attempt to harm their religion.

The first soldier to protest against using the greased cartridges was Mangal Pandey.

He belonged to the 34th Infantry stationed at Barrackpore.

He was hanged to death on 8th April. On 9th May, 85 soldiers in Meerut refused to use the new rifle and were sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment.


Events occurred during the revolt-

The Meerut Mutiny (May 9, 1857) marked the beginning of the Revolt of 1857.

On May 10, they marched to Delhi.

In Delhi the mutineers were joined by the Delhi sepoys and the city came under their control.

Next day, on 11th May, the sepoys proclaimed the ageing Bahadur Shah Zafar the Emperor of Hindustan.

Delhi was recaptured on 20th September 1857 by John Nicholson.

Bahadur Shah Zafar was captured and later deported to Rangoon where he died in 1862.

His sons were shot dead.

There were six main centres of revolt namely Kanpur, Lucknow, Bareilly, Jhansi, Gwalior and Arrah in Bihar.


Lucknow was the capital of Awadh.

Begum Hazrat Mahal, one of the begums of the ex-king of Awadh, took up the leadership of the revolt.

Finally the British forces captured Lucknow.

Begum Hazrat Mahal escaped to Nepal.


The rebels were defeated by General Havelock in Kanpur.

In Kanpur the revolt was led by Nana Saheb, the adopted son of Peshwa Baji Rao II.

He joined the revolt primarily because he was deprived of his pension by the British.

He captured Kanpur and proclaimed himself the Peshwa.

Kanpur was recaptured by the British after fresh reinforcements arrived.

Nana Saheb escaped.

But his brilliant commander Tatya Tope continued the struggle.

Tatya Tope was finally defeated, arrested and hanged.


In Jhansi, the twenty-two-year-old Rani Lakshmi Bai led the rebels when the British refused to accept the claim of her adopted son to the throne of Jhansi.

She fought gallantly against the British forces.

But she was ultimately defeated by the English.

Rani Lakshmi Bai escaped.

Later on, the Rani was joined by Tatya Tope and together they marched to Gwalior and captured it.

Sindhia, a loyal ally of the British, was driven out.

Rani Lakshmi Bai died, fighting to the very end.

Gwalior was recaptured by the British.

At Jhansi Hugh Rose suppressed the revolt.


In Bihar the revolt was led by Kunwar Singh.


Khan Bahadur Khan proclaimed himself as the Nawab and led the revolt there.


Causes of the Failure of the Revolt –

The revolt was highly localized and restricted to North India.

Regions beyond the river Narmada in the south remained largely undisturbed.

The revolt failed to embrace all the sections of the society.

Many of the native rulers and the big zamindars refused to join the revolt against the British.

They extended an active support to the British to suppress the revolt.

Modern educated Indians were suspicious of the rebels.

They feared the opposition of the rebels in bringing about social reforms.

The revolt was poorly organized and lacked coordinated planning amongst the leaders.

The rebels lacked a common cause and had different goals.

At most places the rebels were encouraged to revolt against the local zamindars and money-lenders and did not have a larger goal to pursue.

They lacked a spirit of nationalism.

The British had better resources and succeeded in suppressing the revolt.

The British had vast resources at their disposal and were helped by the modern means of transport and communications.

They also had the services of capable generals as Havelock, Outram, and Lawrence available who could plan the suppression of the revolt well and win back their lost regions.



The revolt marked the end of the East India Company’s rule in India.

India now came under the direct rule of the British Crown.

This was announced by Lord Canning at a Durbar in Allahabad in a proclamation issued on 1 November 1858 in the name of the Queen.

The Doctrine of Lapse was abolished.

The right to adopt sons as legal heirs was accepted.

The native rulers were assured of the safety of their territory, rights and honour if they cooperated with British.

A policy of divide and rule was actively pursued to keep the Hindus and Muslims divided.

The army was re-organized to strengthen British control over the country and avert any further rebellions in future.

The number of British soldiers was increased and all the higher posts and key positions were filled up by the British.