Political pensioner (Ofer Abarbanel online library)

political pensioner enjoys a pension awarded due to his or political career or significance.

UK domestic politicians

By the Political Offices Pension Act 1869, pensions were instituted for those who had held political office. For the purposes of the act, political offices were divided into three classes:

  1. those with a yearly salary of not less than £5,000;
  2. those with a salary of less than £5,000 and not less than £2,000;
  3. those with a salary of less than £2,000 and more than £1,000.[1]

For service in these offices there may be awarded pensions for life in the following scale:

  1. a first class pension not exceeding £2,000 a year, in respect of not less than four years service or its equivalent, in an office of the first class;
  2. a second class pension not exceeding £1,200, in respect of service of not less than six years or its equivalent, in an office of the second class;
  3. a third class pension not exceeding £800 a year, in respect of service of not less than ten years in an office of the third class.[1]

The service need not be continuous, and the act makes provision for counting service in lower classes as a qualification for pension in a higher class. These pensions are limited in number to twelve, but a holder must not receive any other pension out of the public revenue, if so, he must inform the treasury and surrender it if it exceeds his political pension, or if under he must deduct the amount. He may, however, hold office while a pensioner, but the pension is not payable during the time he holds office. To obtain a political pension, the applicant must file a declaration stating the grounds upon which he claims it and that his income from other sources is not sufficient to maintain his station in life.[1]


These pensions were not awarded on grounds of justice, contract or socio-economic merits, but as a political decision, in order to take a politically significant person and/or his dynasty (often deemed a potential political danger) out of the picture by paying him or her off, regardless of seniority.

In the history of the British Empire, the term applies to the following overseas native former ruling houses of princely states who saw their feudal territories annexed by the East India Company before it transferred power in British India to the Crown in 1858.

Although politically important members could be relocated or exiled, they retained throughout India and until the end of the Raj a hereditary right to their former princely rank and titles (in several cases including a gun salute) as well as a monetary “political pension” in the form of a privy purse. Only a few years after India’s independence in 1947, the nationalist government of the Indian Union ‘persuaded’ most of these princely heirs to relinquish their annual pensions on so-called patriotic grounds. For those who continued to receive the payments, the sums were reduced to a pittance through not compensating for inflation.

Muslim pensioners :

  • the imperial Mughal family, Paramount ruler of India as Padshah-i-Hind, in or near Delhi (pension discontinued after 1857)
  • the heirs of its failed Muslim fundamentalist challenger, Tippu Sultan’s Mysore-based Khudadad empire
  • the Prince of Arcot (formerly Nawab Subadar of the Realm of the Carnatic)
  • the Nawab of Awadh (Oudh), formerly the Mughal emperor’s hereditary prime Minister
  • the Nawab of Kurnool
  • the Nawab of Masulipatam, head of a younger branch of the nawabs of Banganapalle
  • the Nawab of Murshidabad (in fact the dynasty of the former Nawab Nazim of greater Bengal; in West Bengal)
  • the Nawab of Surat

Seven Hindu thrones, at least three held by the Rajput Bhonsle family :

  • the Maharaja of Assam (not the whole present constitutive state)
  • the Maharaja of Nagpur
  • the Raja of Kolaba, Angria (Angre) dynasty
  • the Raja of Satara, had even earlier lost all real power to his chief minister, the Peshwa, who had become the hegemon of the Mahratta confederation
  • the Raja of Tanjore
  • the Raja of Coorg
  • the Peshwa of the Maratha Confederacy (pension discontinued 1857)

Only one Sikh pensioner :

  • Punjab’s last ruling Maharajah, Duleep Singh.


Similar ‘golden cage’ arrangements were often made later by other (not only British) governments. An extreme case was the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, for whom the Italian island of Elba was turned into an operetta ’empire’ until his escape, Cent Jours revolt and miserable banishment to St. Helena.

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