Suzerainty (pronEng|ˈsjuːzərəntiRP or IPA|/ˈsjuːzəreɪnti/RP) (/ˈsuːzərənti/ GA) is a situation in which a region or people is a tributary to a more powerful entity which allows the tributary some limited domestic to control its foreign affairs. The more powerful entity in the suzerainty relationship, or the head of state of that more powerful entity, is called a suzerain. The term suzerainty was originally used to describe the relationship between the Ottoman Empire and its surrounding regions. It differs from sovereignty in that the tributary has some (limited) self-rule. A suzerain can also mean a feudal lord, to whom vassals must pay tribute. It is similar to the notion of hegemony.

Although it is a concept which has existed in a number of historical empires, it is a concept that is very difficult to describe using 20th- or 21st-century theories of international law, in which sovereignty either exists or does not. While a sovereign nation can agree by treaty to become a protectorate of a stronger power, modern international law does not recognize any way of making this relationship compulsory on the weaker power.

The word is often spelled "suzerainity", though this has come to be considered incorrect.



Historically, the Emperor of China saw himself as the center of the entire civilized world, and diplomatic relations in East Asia were based on the theory that all rulers of the world derived their authority from the Emperor. The degree to which this authority existed in fact changed from dynasty to dynasty. However, even during periods when political power was distributed evenly across several political entities, Chinese political theory recognized only one emperor and asserted that his authority was paramount throughout the entire world. Diplomatic relations with the Chinese emperor were made on the theory of tributary states, although in practice tributary relations would often result in a form of trade under the theory that the emperor in his kindness would reward the tributary state with gifts of equal or greater value.

This system broke down in the 18th and 19th centuries in two ways. First during the 17th century, China was ruled by the ethnically Manchu Qing dynasty which ruled a multi-ethnic empire and justified their rule through different theories of rulership. While not contradicting traditional Han Chinese theories of the emperor as universal rule, the Qing did begin to make a distinction between areas of the world which they ruled and areas which they did not. The system also broke down as China faced European powers whose theories of sovereignty were based on international law and relations between equal states.

One way European states attempted to describe the relations between the Qing Dynasty and its outlying regions was in terms of suzerainty, although this did not at all match the traditional Chinese diplomatic theory.


The claims of both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China to Tibet are based on the principle of "succession of states", as the Mongol Yuan.Grunfeld, A.T., [ "Reassessing Tibet Policy"] , saying: "Mongol conquests in the 13th century made Tibet part of a Mongol-ruled Chinese state, and four centuries later the ethnic Manchu Q’ing dynasty further incorporated Tibet into China." ] and Manchu Qing Dynasties had exercised authority over Tibet. [Grunfeld, A.T., "The Making of Modern Tibet", p256-257] ["The Catholic Encyclopedia" (Volume XIV, 1912 edition): [ Tibet] and [ China] ] ["Encyclopaedia Britannica" (1911 edition): [ Tibet] and [,_Asia China] ]



Following India's independence in 1947, a treaty signed between the Chogyal and the then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru gave India suzerainty over Sikkim in exchange for it retaining its independence. This continued until 1975, when the Sikkimese monarchy was abrogated in favour of a merger into India. Sikkim is now one of the states of India.


India no longer looks after the external, defence, communications, and foreign affairs of Bhutan. However India provides substantial support to the Royal Bhutan Army and guarantees its support against external aggression. This is one of several situations in international politics where two sovereign states agree to have the more powerful administer the defense of the weaker.Fact|date=March 2007


Located in the Arabian Sea, Lakshadweep is a Union Territory of India off the coast of the south western state of Kerala. The Amindivi group of islands (Amini, Kadmat, Kiltan, Chetlat and Bitra) came under the rule of Tipu Sultan in 1787. They passed on to British control after the Third Anglo-Mysore War and were attached to the South Canara district. The rest of the islands became a suzerainty of the Arakkal family of Cannanore in return for a payment of annual tribute. After a while, the British took over the administration of those islands for non-payment of arrears. These islands were attached to the Malabar district of the Madras Presidency. In 1956, the States Reorganisation Act separated these islands from the mainland administrative units, forming a new union territory by combining all the islands.

outh African Republic

After the First Boer War (1880–81), the South African Republic was granted its independence, albeit under British suzerainty. During the Second Boer War (1899–1902), the South African Republic was annexed as the Colony of the Transvaal, which existed until 1910, when it became the Province of Transvaal in the Union of South Africa.

econd World War

Despite being occupied by the Axis powers, several Western and Asian countries were allowed to exercise self-rule. Several states were created in order to facilitate their occupation, including Vichy France, Manchukuo, the Empire of Vietnam, the Independent State of Croatia in Croatia and the Lokot Autonomy in Central Russia.

Other countries

In modern geopolitics, it is common for larger countries to look after the defense and foreign relations of nearby smaller countries. Usually, this differs from traditional suzerainty in that the lesser party retains the right to abrogate the arrangement following a referendum. Some prominent examples include:
*Italy/San Marino
*Italy/Vatican City
*New Zealand/Niue
*New Zealand/Cook Islands
*New Zealand/Tokelau
*England/Isle of Man until 1765
*United States/Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Republic of Palau (governed now by Compacts of Free Association)

Historically suzerain

(to the Ottoman Empire):
*Principality of Serbia


* Garver, John W. "Protracted Contest: Sino-Indian Rivalry in the Twentieth Century". Seattle: U of Washington P, 2001.

ee also

*Associated state

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Suzerainty — Su ze*rain*ty, n. [F. suzerainet[ e].] The dominion or authority of a suzerain; paramount authority. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • suzerainty — late 15c., from O.Fr. suserenete; see SUZERAIN (Cf. suzerain) …   Etymology dictionary

  • suzerainty — [so͞o′zə rin΄tē, so͞o′zə rān΄tē] n. pl. suzerainties [Fr suzeraineté < MFr suserenete] the position or power of a suzerain …   English World dictionary

  • suzerainty — suzerain ► NOUN 1) a sovereign or state having some control over another state that is internally autonomous. 2) a feudal overlord. DERIVATIVES suzerainty noun. ORIGIN French, from sus above and souverain sovereign …   English terms dictionary

  • suzerainty — noun 1. the position or authority of a suzerain under the suzerainty of... • Hypernyms: ↑dominion, ↑rule 2. the domain of a suzerain • Hypernyms: ↑domain, ↑demesne, ↑land …   Useful english dictionary

  • suzerainty — noun Etymology: French suzeraineté, from Middle French susereneté, from suserain Date: 1823 the dominion of a suzerain ; overlordship …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • suzerainty — /sooh zeuh rin tee, rayn /, n., pl. suzerainties. 1. the position or authority of a suzerain. 2. the domain or area subject to a suzerain. [1815 25; < F suzeraineté, MF suserenete, equiv. to suseren SUZERAIN + ete ITY] * * * …   Universalium

  • suzerainty — noun A relation between states in which a subservient nation has its own government, but is unable to take international action independent of the superior state. See Also: suzerain …   Wiktionary

  • suzerainty — su|ze|rainty [ˈsu:zəreınti US rənti, reınti] n [U] formal [Date: 1800 1900; : French; Origin: suzerainté, from an unrecorded Old French suserain ruler , from sus up + erain (as in soverain sovereign )] the right of a country or leader to rule… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • suzerainty — su|ze|rain|ty [ suzərənti, suzə,reınti ] noun uncount VERY FORMAL the right of one country to partly control another country …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

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