Did Victoria forbid Ranjit Singh's kin from having kids?
DIPANKAR DE SARKAR
An Indian-origin writer has made the startling claim that Queen Victoria forbade the wife of the only married grandson of Maharaja Ranjit Singh from having children so that the British Raj could tighten its grip on Punjab.
Mr Peter Bance, a specialist in the history of Sikhs in Britain, writes about the reported instruction by Queen Victoria in his latest book, Sovereign, Squire & Rebel, a biography of Duleep Singh, son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
Equally remarkable is the claim he makes in an interview with IANS that Queen Victoria may have been motivated by the desire to ensure that Britain's hold over the massive and profitable Sikh kingdom remained unchallenged by any future Sikh royal descendant.
The Sikh kingdom, among the fiercest opponents of the British Raj, is today among the few -- if not the only one -- of the erstwhile major Indian kingdoms without any direct royal descendants. Duleep Singh had six children from his first marriage and two from his second. All eight, including four who were married, died without issue, a fact that the writer says fanned his curiosity.
In his book, the Londonbased Bance says Queen Victoria gave the instruction to Lady Anne Alice Blanche -- the aristocratic English wife of Duleep Singh's eldest son Prince Victor Albert Jay -- in the summer of 1898. Lady Anne was the youngest daughter of the 9th Earl of Coventry.
The reported instruction came 12 years after the British army physically stopped a disgruntled and rebellious Duleep Singh from returning to India from England, where he had been taken as a 12-year-old boyking after being converted to Christianity.
Like his father, Prince Victor too had tried to visit India in 1898 -- if only to spend his honeymoon with Lady Anne, who had taken the name of Princess Victor Duleep Singh -- but they too were stopped by the British in Colombo.
On their return, they attended a ball thrown by Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace on July 8, 1898, where invitees included Prince Victor's sister Princess Sophia, younger brother Prince Frederick and several other royals visiting from India.
"The ball was soon followed by a request from Queen Victoria for a private audience with Princess Victor at Buckingham Palace, where she received the most distressing and chilling of orders," says the book.
"She was told by the Queen that she must not have any children with the Prince and that she must live abroad with her husband. Princess Victor followed that command faithfully all her life."
Mr Bance, a Sikh, said he obtained the startling piece of information from a close "Coventry family source" of Lady Anne, who died in 1956.
"This person, who told me not to mention his name, asked Lady Anne once, `why didn't you have any children?' and that was when Lady Anne spoke about Queen Victoria's instructions.
"Of course Lady Anne, being an aristocrat herself, went by those instructions." Mr Bance said the main reason why Queen Victoria would have given such a harsh command was the nascent Indian nationalism that had showed in Duleep Singh -- otherwise a thorough "English" country gent -- throughout the late 1880s. Mounting expenses for the upkeep of the family would have been an additional factor. "There is no doubt that the family was always a thorn on the side of the British establishment,"
said Mr Bance, who has being researching the life of Duleep Singh since 1996.