Ms. Anand tells the little known story of Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, daughter of the Maharajah Duleep Singh and goddaughter of Queen Victoria. She grew up in the height of luxury at Elveden Hall, only to see her family’s fortunes take a turn for the worst when her father abandoned his family and gambled away their fortune. Her mother turned to alcohol and solitude after her father’s disappearance, and her brother succumbed to typhoid fever at an early age. Her father died ill and lonely in Paris, estranged from the family and the British government. Quite surprisingly for someone who depended so entirely on the generosity of the British monarch, Sophia became a devoted suffragette. Shy at first, Sophia became a fierce and committed activist, refusing to pay licenses and fines and having some of her valuable objects seized and sold at auction. Sophia was present with Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst in November 1910, a march on parliament known as “Black Friday”.
Rebelliousness, or at least a drive for the unconventional, seems to have run in the family as Sophia’s sister, Bamba, returned to India and devoted herself to the Indian nationalist movement, a cause Sophie herself eventually joined. Sophia’s other sister, Catherine, lived with a former governess in Germany, a committed relationship Sophia described as “intimate”. During World War I, Sophia became a Red Cross Nurse and treated Sikh soldiers.
This is a closer look at two complex forces: a woman who matures into a brave and devoted supporter of causes close to her heart and the British government who aggressively and sometimes violently pursued their holdings in the Punjab. Sophia faced the loss of her income, prison, and fines, and endured financial hardship and tight scrutiny by the British overlords. This is a darker side of the British Empire that seems to rarely be told. Simply fascinating.
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