Wajid Ali Shah succeeded to the throne of Oudh when its glory days were already passed. The British had annexed much of the kingdom under the treaty of 1801, and had impoverished Oudh by imposing a hugely expensive, British-run army and repeated demands for loans. The independence of Oudh in name was tolerated by the British only because they still needed a buffer state while their presence in the East and South, and the remnants of the Mughal Empire to the North. Wajid Ali Shah was most unfortunate to have ascended the throne of Oudh at a time when the British East India Company was determined to grab the coveted throne of prosperous Oudh, which was “the garden, granary, and queen-province of India.”
In different circumstances perhaps, he might have succeeded as a ruler because he had many qualities that make a good administrator. He was generous, kind and compassionate towards his subjects, besides being one of the most magnanimous and passionate patrons of the Fine Arts. When he ascended the throne, he took keen interest in the administration of justice, introduced reforms, and reorganized the military department, but gradually sank into a life of pleasures surrounded by courtesans, singers, dancers, and eunuchs.
Wajid Ali Shah was widely regarded as a debauched and detached ruler, but some of his notoriety seems to have been misplaced. The main case for condemnation comes from the British Resident of Lucknow, General Sleeman who submitted a report highlighting maladministration and lawlessness supposed to be prevailing there. This proved to be the trigger the British were looking for, and formed the official basis for their annexation. Recent studies have, however, suggested that Oudh was neither as bankrupt nor as lawless as the British had claimed. In fact, Oudh was for all practical purposes under British rule well before the annexation, with the Nawab playing little more than a titular role. The army was composed mostly of British officers, while the purse strings were firmly under the control of the East India Company.
Awadh was known as the granary of India and was important strategically for the control of the Doab, the fertile plain between theGanga and the Yamuna rivers. It was a wealthy kingdom, able to maintain its independence against threats from the Marathas, theBritish and the Afghans. The third Nawab, Shuja-ud-Daula fell out with the British after aiding Mir Qasim, the fugitive Nawab of Bengal. He was comprehensively defeated in the Battle of Buxar by the East India Company, after which he was forced to pay heavy penalties and cede parts of his territory. The British appointed a resident in 1773, and over time gained control of more territory and authority in the state. They were disinclined to capture Awadh outright, because that would bring them face to face with the Marathas and the remnants of the Mughal Empire
Lucknow’s rise to growth and fame begins with its elevation as capital of Awadh by Nawab Asaf-Ud-Dowlah. He was a great philanthropist and gave Lucknow a unique and enduring legacy. The architectural contributions of these Awadh rulers include several imposing monuments. Of the monuments standing today, the Bara Imambara, the Chhota Imambara, and the Roomi Darwaza are notable examples. One of the more lasting contributions by the Nawabs is the syncretic composite culture that has come to be known as the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb.
In 1798, the fifth Nawab Wazir Ali Khan alienated both his people and the British, and was forced to abdicate. The British then helpedSaadat Ali Khan to the throne. Saadat Ali Khan was a puppet king, who in the treaty of 1801 ceded half of Awadh to the British East India Company and also agreed to disband his troops in favor of a hugely expensive, British-run army. This treaty effectively made the state of Awadh a vassal to the British East India Company, though it notionally continued to be part of the Mughal Empire in name until 1819.