The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia wasformally created in 1932 by King `Abdal-`Aziz b.`Abd al-Rahman b.Faysal AlSa`ud (Ibn Sa`ud). From the Saudicapture of Riyadh in 1902 till thedevelopment and exploitation of Saudioil resources in the 1930s, the Britishmaintained close relations with the Saudiruling family, and they recorded in greatdetail the development of the Kingdomfrom a small sultanate in central Arabiain the early 1900s, to an economically powerful modern state on the eve of theSecond World War.
British relations with Saudi Arabia
British interests in Arabia and the Gulf date back to the earliest East IndiaCompany contacts in the seventeenthcentury. Subsequently, for both economicand strategic reasons, the region wasdrawn into the wider political andeconomic sphere of the British Empire inIndia. British relations with Arab rulerswere generally managed by PoliticalResidents and Agents in the Gulf, whoreported directly to the imperialadministrations in Bombay, Calcutta, or Delhi, and, ultimately, to the India Officein London. British Government policytoward the region was formulated in theIndia Office, where the departmentresponsible for the conduct andsupervision of relations with areasoutside the Indian subcontinent was thePolitical and Secret Department. After the First World War, the involvement of the Foreign Office and Colonial Office inArabian affairs increased anddepartmental responsibilities becamemore complicated. However, the IndiaOffice continued to play an importantrole in British relations with the regionuntil the Second World War.
The emergence of the Saudi State
From 1902, when the future King `Abdal-`Aziz Al Sa`ud (who was known to theBritish as “Ibn Sa`ud”) captured the cityof Riyadh from the rival forces of IbnRashid of Hayl, the British took anincreasing interest in the rapidlychanging affairs of central Arabia.*By 1914 they had already set up a seriesof meetings with Ibn Sa`ud, undertaken by the British Political Agent in Kuwait,Captain W.H.I. Shakespear**. After theAnglo-Saudi Treaty of Darin was signedin December 1915, Britain graduallyabandoned its previous policy of non-involvement in inland Arabian politics.For the next twenty-five years, Britishofficials in the Gulf, London, and Indiaobserved, recorded, and assessed thechanging face of Arabian politics. LocalBritish agents reported on the shifting balance of power in south-west Arabiaduring the First World War, as well as onthe struggle between Saudi and Yemeniinterests, which culminated in the Saudiabsorption of Asir in 1930 and thedelineation of the Saudi-Yemen boundaryin the 1934 Treaty of Taif. Britisheconomic and strategic concerns wereinvolved in the development of the Saudioil industry and the closely relatedevolution of Saudi Arabia’s northern,eastern, and south-eastern boundaries, aswell as the southern Saudi boundary withBritain’s Aden colony and protectorate insouth Yemen. At the same time, in parallel, the extraordinary developmentof a modern Saudi governmentadministration and infrastructure wasrecorded and occasionally advised on byBritish officials and technical experts.The British records, by definition, present events from a mainly British perspective. However, the knowledge andaccomplishment of the civil servants andmilitary officers, combined with theBritish thirst for information and theoccasionally divided loyalties of suchadventurers-cum-officials as CaptainShakespear, Gertrude Bell, and H. St.J.B. Philby, produced a meticulous andsurprisingly balanced account of theemergence of the modern Saudi State.
Provenance and archival background
The India Office Political and SecretDepartment archives now form part of the Oriental and India Office Collections(OIOC, now part of the Asia, Pacific andAfrica Collections), at the BritishLibrary. From 1902 the most importantof the Political and Secret Department’scorrespondence and papers accumulatedin London were registered, indexed, andarranged in files according to subject. Atthe same time, the departmentmaintained its own reference library of confidential handbooks for the restricteduse of its own officials, as did theMilitary and other India Officedepartments. The Political and SecretDepartment papers have now beencatalogued under the OIOC referenceL/PS. From 1902 to 1930 the subjectfiles are located under the referenceL/P&S/10. Around 1930/1931 thedepartment replaced its subject filesystem with a new series of “Collections,” arranged according togeographical area. They are now to befound under the reference L/P&S/12.Material in this IDC Publishers’series isdrawn mainly from “Collection” 1(Arabia), with some relevant additionalmaterial from Collection 30 (PersianGulf).
The Creation of Modern Saudi Arabia
The archives of the Political and Secret Department of the India Office are an outstandingsource for the history of the Saudi state. This is the first time the major files have been madeavailable in their entirety in one series. The material in this collection consists of confidential printed reports, maps, memoranda, and handbooks, together with Political and SecretDepartment policy files describing the wider context of international relations, as well as the practical details of an expanding political administration and social and economicinfrastructure.
Military Report and Route Book.
The ArabianStates of the Persian Gulf, 1939
Simla: General Staff India, 1940
L/P&S/20/C252 (microfiche 59)