THE LOYAL MA­HARA­JAH

Ja­gatjit Singh Ba­hadur

BBC History Magazine - - Victoria’s Indians - Miles Tay­lor is pro­fes­sor of mod­ern his­tory at the Univer­sity of York. Be­tween 2008 and 2014 he was direc­tor of the In­sti­tute of His­tor­i­cal Re­search

1872–1949

The Bri­tish em­pire in In­dia held sway over more than 500 princely states. The loy­alty of th­ese states to the crown un­der­pinned the se­cu­rity of the Raj down to in­de­pen­dence in 1947. From Vic­to­ria’s ac­ces­sion to the throne in 1837 on­wards, In­dian princes show­ered the queen with gifts, memo­ri­als and other ex­pres­sions of al­le­giance.

In re­turn, after the great re­bel­lion of 1857– 58, the Bri­tish ne­go­ti­ated treaties that guar­an­teed the in­de­pen­dence of th­ese princely dy­nas­ties. The princes were also drawn into the Bri­tish hon­ours sys­tem, par­tic­u­larly through the new Or­der of the Star of In­dia (1861). With the speedy pas­sage af­forded by the Suez Canal (opened 1869), In­dian princes be­gan to visit Bri­tain. From the Pun­jab, the Ma­hara­jah of Kapurthala led the way in 1870, but died at Aden be­fore he could get to meet the queen. His successor, Ja­gatjit Singh Ba­hadur, the next Ma­hara­jah of Kapurthala, made amends 20 years later, com­ing over for the open­ing cer­e­mony of the Im­pe­rial In­sti­tute in Lon­don in 1893, presided over by the queen. Then, in Oc­to­ber 1900, cir­cum­vent­ing all the pro­to­col that sur­rounded the age­ing queen, he trav­elled to Bal­moral to visit her once again, one of the last for­eign dig­ni­taries to see her be­fore her death three months later.

Queen Vic­to­ria never vis­ited In­dia – the fur­thest east she trav­elled was Tus­cany in Italy. And although three of her sons and one grand­son toured In­dia in her life­time, she her­self only knew In­dia sec­ond­hand – well enough, though, as it turned out to make it a sig­nif­i­cant part of her state­craft.

But if Vic­to­ria could not go to In­dia, then In­dia could come to her. In this way, In­di­ans at Vic­to­ria’s court brought the em­pire to life for the monarch. What­ever your thoughts on the im­pact of Bri­tish im­pe­ri­al­ism on the sub­con­ti­nent, Vic­to­ria was gen­uinely in­ter­ested in the lives of her In­dian sub­jects.

Ja­gatjit Singh Ba­hadur was one of the last for­eign dig­ni­taries to meet Queen Vic­to­ria, trav­el­ling to Bal­moral in Oc­to­ber 1900

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