THE LOYAL MAHARAJAH
Jagatjit Singh Bahadur
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