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.