March 21, 2023
In the aftermath of the second Anglo-Sikh War in 1849, the Maharaja of Lahore, Duleep Singh, the then 11-year-old boy king of the Sikh Empire, notoriously surrendered the Koh-i-noor diamond following defeat at the hands of the East India Company. Four years later, the Company would exile Singh to England, where he mingled with British aristocracy, including Queen Victoria. Victoria would write of the Maharaja: “Those eyes and teeth are too beautiful.”
In 1893, the last Sikh maharaja, then 55, after decades of womanizing and revelry while moving in high society, would drink himself to death in a shabby Parisian hotel room — a city to which he’d eloped in 1886 with his chambermaid. Singh’s wife, Bamba Müller, and their five adult children had stayed behind in England. Müller would die the following year.
Of the couple’s three daughters, two — Princess Sophia Alexandrovna and her elder sister Princess Catherine Hilda Duleep Singh — would become key forces in the fight for women’s suffrage in Britain. But it was Catherine, a persona non grata in Nazi Europe, who also rescued over a dozen Jewish refugees. Though Sophia’s work in women’s suffrage was well documented, historians would only get to know Catherine’s story in more recent decades. Today, we can’t seem to forget her heroic show of solidarity.