Maharajah Duleep (or Dalip) Singh. Born 6 September 1838 - Died 22 October 1893)
Duleep Singh had the most dramatic life. It always amazes the VV that so few people know about the last Maharajah of Lahore.
Duleep was but eleven years old when, in 1849, at the end of the Second Anglo Sikh war, the boy maharajah was deposed. His rule had been a short one, but those years were full of turbulence with many royal relatives being openly slaughtered or meeting their ends in the most suspicious circumstances.
His mother's brother, Jawahar Singh, who acted as Prime Minister and aided the widow's regency during her son's minority, was murdered in front of the child's eyes when the two had been riding an elephant and the troops around them suddenly attacked - when Jawahar was bayonetted to death.
Jind Kaur - the mother of Duleep Singh
Duleep had been snatched to safety, but chaos was imminent with much fighting within the Sikh army's ranks. The treasury was being drained, not to mention those plans then being made to remove Duleep from his Golden Throne and set one of his father's grandsons there. For that very reason, his mother, Jind - along with her lover, the Sikh general, Lal Singh - contacted the British in India and secretly plotted to instigate the First of the Anglo-Sikh wars, thus preventing a coup being forced from within when her enemies were forced to unite and fight against the British threat.
Raja Lal Singh
Her scheming met with great success. The Resident appointed then to act for the British in Lahore was a man called Henry Lawrence - and he of an enlightened mind to allow the Sikh generals and aristocrats to work alongside him and his staff while running the court and territories.
But when Jind began to meddle again, wanting more power for herself, she only ensured her downfall. She was separated from her son while he was diverted with a toy and then taken to play in the Shalimar Gardens. His mother was left to wail in distress, 'You have been very cruel...for ten months I kept him in my womb...in the name of God, your worship...restore my son to me. I cannot bear the pain of this separation. Instead you should put me to death.'
The Maharajah, Ranjit Singh
It may well have been that such intervention allowed the boy maharajah's survival - unlike several of his relatives. For many powerful men in Lahore had long claimed that Duleep had no right to his throne, never being a legitimate son at all of the Maharajah Ranjit Singh.
Ranjit had been a diminutive man with a pock marked face and drooping eye. But he was charismatic and strong, being known as the Lion of Punjab. He ruled that state for many years through his iron will and military strength, which included the employment of European mercenaries. He could be charming, but ruthless. It was a popular saying that Ranjit would cut off the ears and nose of any who looked at his harem of wives. It was also said that Duleep was born after a liaison between one of Ranjit's male lovers and his low-born, but lovely wife. It was said that the elderly king preferred to watch than to 'do the deed'.)
The Maharani, Jind Kaur at the height of her power and beauty - with her son, Duleep
However, Ranjit recognised Duleep and a powerful faction supported his claim. And so, in 1843, (following the suspicious death of his half-brother, Maharajah Sher Singh in an 'accident' with a shot gun - and that after Sher himself had succeeded to the Golden Throne when another brother, Nau Nihal, had died before his reign could begin - on the day of his father's cremation, when some masonry 'fell' from the gate beneath which he was then passing) Duleep Singh was crowned Maharajah with his mother acting as regent.
Such minority rule was perilous. The British found Jind to be corrupt. When she fomented for war once more things did not go so well for her. In 1849, at the end of the second Anglo Sikh war, the boy maharajah was forced to submit and Dalhousie, India's Governor General, refused to hear Henry Lawrence's plea that another Sikh government should rule alongside the British Resident.
Dalhousie's extreme solution was one of annexation, taking exclusive British control of 80,000 square miles of the Punjab. Having deposed its ruler he claimed everything the state then owned as a debt incurred in the cost of war. He took as ransom the Koh-i-nor diamond, the kingdom's sovereign symbol. He auctioned off all the court's possessions - but he did allow the boy, Duleep, to retain his royal title, also receiving a pension from the British East India Company as a means of showing some recompense for the wealth that had been lost.
At first, Duleep remained in the Punjab, in the care of Doctor John Login, a British Army officer who had served with the Bengal Army. Login took the boy from Lahore to live at the Futteghar hill fort - well away from those who might yet seek to use him as political pawn. There, he was reported as being a most engaging young fellow who won the hearts of all he met. He enjoyed painting and hawking, and whenever becoming downhearted he could generally be diverted by trips to horse races, or firework displays, or even magic lantern shows. When becoming great friends with an English boy, who went by the name of Tommy Scott, Duleep professed a keen desire to convert to Christianity, and he often requested that he be allowed to visit Queen Victoria.
Duleep sketched by Queen Victoria
Once such a visit was arranged Duleep then remained in England. Victoria and Albert became very fond of the pleasantly engaging youth. They even took the prince along on family trips to Osborne House where Duleep was said to be great friends with the other royal children - and was often painted by the Queen who doted upon her 'beautiful boy'.
Duleep Singh, as painted by Winterhalter
She also commissioned his portrait to be made by the artist, Winterhalter. It was while Duleep was posing for that in the White Room at Buckingham Palace that Victoria approached one day with her hands hidden behind her back. She then told the Maharajah to close his eyes and hold out his hands, into which she placed the Koh-i-nor - the Punjab's sovereign symbol.
Duleep was said to have been confused by such a demonstration. The diamond had also been reduced , its facets recut in the Western style, rather than the original Moghul design. As if this was not insult enough, the young prince felt obliged to show his loyalty to the Queen, or else be suspected of treachery. And so, he offered the diamond back, placing it in Victoria's hands, saying, 'It is to me, Ma'am, the greatest pleasure thus to have the opportunity, as a loyal subject of myself tendering to my sovereign, the Koh-i-nor.'
Illustration of the Koh-i-noor, before and after it was recut.
Duleep in western dress
Despite living in fine country houses and indulging his love for hunting, Duleep was disappointed when his wish to study at Cambridge was deemed to be unacceptable - even though Prince Edward went there and often regaled his Indian friend with tales of his freedoms in that place. But it was thought best to keep Duleep away from the influence of men who might seek to corrupt his Christian faith or lure him into rebellious ways.
It was also frowned upon when the young Duleep then fell in love and expressed an earnest desire to marry his guardian's daughter. The maharajah might well be the toast of society parties, but a mingling of the races, that simply was going too far!
Little wonder that the prince began to resent his loss of autonomy. Even in his twenties, at the time when his mother died (Jind by then having been allowed to come to London to live with her son), it was only after a long campaign with letters printed in The Times, that he was finally allowed to return her remains to India, and there to scatter her ashes in the tradition of her Hindu faith.
It was while on this journey with Jind's remains that Duleep travelled to Egypt and visited a Christian mission school where he met the girl he was to wed. Bamba (the name means pink) was the bastard daughter of a German banker and an Ethiopian woman, rumoured to be a whore. But her origins meant nothing to Duleep (who perhaps was aware of the tales of his birth, and who - so all the gossips said - was also at that time engaged in a bet with Doctor Login's wife that he could not find a wife to wed within a six month period. Perhaps the doctor's wife presumed that this might be the safest way to divert Duleep's mind from her daughter).
When he returned to England, he brought a new wife upon his arm with the marriage reported in The Times. The popular young couple lived in great splendour in Elveden Hall where the interior was sumptuously designed to echo Indian places, while the extensive Suffolk estate allowed the prince to carry on with his great love of hunting.
Sepia photograph which was sold at Christies in 2004, which shows Duleep Singh in a shooting party along with his friend Edward, the Prince of Wales.
Although the couple's first child was to die, Queen Victoria became god mother to the next - a boy who was named as Victor, who was christened at Windsor Castle, of whom the Queen wrote in her diaries, 'I never beheld a lovelier child, a plump little darling with the most splendid dark eyes, but not very dark skin.'
But Victor's father's skin was dark and beneath it his soul remained India. It was often remarked by those who were somewhat less than enamoured of the Prince that, at the time of the Indian Mutiny, when many of those who had been his friends when he lived in the hill fort of Futteghar had been most horribly slain, the Prince did not utter one word of remorse. Even so, the Queen defended him, asking how he could be seen to take sides.
But he was more biased than she thought. He no longer believed himself to be well compensated for what he'd lost. He even began to write to the Queen requesting the return of the Koh-i-nor - not only for what the stone represented, but also because of its value, having been judged, even in those times, to be well above £3 million.
Eventually he went so far as to renounce the Christian faith and re-embrace his Sikh beliefs. In these decisions he was influenced by Russian and Irish dissidents who also hoped to use Duleep against Victoria's Empire - enabling a Russian invasion of the British who ruled in India, marching by way of Afghanistan which bordered the Punjab territories.
Duleep in middle years
All such plots were doomed to fail. Duleep's intentions were soon exposed when followed by British Government spies. The Maharajah was then exiled from both England and India, though Bamba and her children were allowed to remain in their English home while Duleep became a nomad, taking an English mistress in tow and living out the last days of his life on the European continent.
He and Victoria did speak again when, before he suffered a fatal stroke at the age of fifty-six, she invited him to meet with her when visiting the French town of Grasse. There, against the wishes of her political advisers, she privately pardoned the middle-aged man with his bloated belly and balding head - the man who she had once adored as being her 'beautiful boy'. And no doubt she still felt some sense of guilt for the tragic fate of Prince Duleep - even being known to say, 'I always feel so much for these poor deposed Indian Princes!'
The sad and somewhat humble grave of the deposed Maharajah, Duleep Singh
When she heard of the prince's death, Victoria, the mother of Empire, reclaimed her prodigal Indian son. She insisted on having his mortal remains returned to Elveden again where she gave him a Christian burial. His grave has now become a place of pilgrimage for all those Sikhs who wish to honour the memory of the last Maharajah of Lahore.
And, these days, those pilgrims have more to see than a stone in an English cemetery. There is, in the town of Thetford, a statue to honour Duleep Singh, shown in his full Sikh ceremonial dress, sitting astride a life-sized horse, and upon the plaque beneath it says -
"BRINGING HISTORIES AND CULTURES TOGETHER"
THIS PLAQUE COMMERORATES THE OFFICIAL UNVEILING OF THIS MONUMENT BY
H.R.H THE PRINCE OF WALES, K.G.K.T. ON 29TH JULY 1999.
IN 1843 MAHARAJAH DULEEP SINGH SUCCEEDED HIS FATHER TO THE THRONE OF THE
SOVEREIGN KINGDOM OF PUNJAB. HE WAS DESTINED TO BE ITS
IN 1849 FOLLOWING THE CLOSELY FOUGHT ANGLO-SIKH WARS THE BRITISH
ANNEXED THE PUNJAB. DULEEP SINGH WAS COMPELLED TO RESIGN HIS SOVEREIGN
RIGHT AND EXILED. IT WAS AT THIS TIME THAT THE KOH-I-NOOR DIAMOND,
LATER TO BE INCORPORATED INTO THE CROWN JEWELS, PASSED TO THE BRITISH.
DULEEP SINGH EVENTALLY CAME TO BRITAIN AND SETTLED AT ELEVEDEN ESTATE IN
SUFFOLK. HE WAS A CLOSE FAVOURITE OF QUEEN VICTORIA, AND BECAME A
PROMINENT LOCAL FIGURE IN EAST ANGLIA.
LATER IN LIFE HE ANNOUNCED HIS INTENTION TO RETURN TO HIS BELOVED
PUNJAB BUT WAS NOT ALLOWED TO DO SO. HE DIED IN PARIS ON OCTOBER 22ND
1893 HAVING RE-EMBRACED THE SIKH FAITH AND WHILST STILL ENGAGED IN A
STRUGGLE TO RECLAIM HIS THRONE.
TO THIS DAY THE SIKH NATION ASPIRES TO
REGAIN ITS SOVEREIGNTY