Sophia Duleep Singh
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2018: Royal Mail honours her with stamp
Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s granddaughter, Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, has been honoured with a Royal Mail stamp for her rights activism. A photograph showing Sophia, daughter of Bamba Mueller and maharaja Duleep Singh, the last ruler of the Sikh empire, selling copies of the Suffragette newspaper in 1913 outside Hampton Court Palace has been used for a stamp to commemorate this heroine of the British movement to get equal voting rights for women.
The £1.57 stamp is one of eight issued by Royal Mail to “mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act (in the UK) where for the first time women won the right to vote in parliamentary elections”. The stamps will be released for public use on February 15. This is the first time a person of Sikh background has been featured on a Royal Mail stamp.
Sophia was the youngest of maharaja Duleep Singh’s five surviving children. Born in the UK in 1876 during her father’s lifelong exile, she had Queen Victoria for godmother, and was brought up as “a thoroughly anglicised aristocrat”, till she swapped English high society for the Suffragettes, much to the consternation of the royal family and the British government of the day.
Sophia’s journey from the toast of fashionable parties to a revolutionary was wrought over many years Her admiration for Lala Lajpat Rai, and his death after being lathicharged by the British played a significant role in her volte-face.
2023: blue plaque
LONDON: An Indian princess who became famous for playing a leading role in the British suffragette movement is to be honoured with a blue plaque outside one of the homes she lived at in Britain.
Sophia Duleep Singh was born into Punjabi royalty in 1876 as a daughter of Maharaja Duleep Singh, the last ruler of the Sikh Empire. She was the granddaughter of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, founder of the Sikh Empire. But her father had been deposed at the age of 10 by the British when the East India Company annexed Punjab at the end of the Second Anglo-Sikh War in 1849. He had moved to Britain aged 15 in 1854 where he was naturalised as a British citizen. He was close to Queen Victoria, who became Sophia’s godmother. It was he who, as a child, had signed over the Kohinoor to Queen Victoria in 1849 as part of the Lahore Treaty.
English Heritage, which aims to award about 12 plaques annually, has announced that Sophia will be honoured with a blue plaque this year though the date is yet to be confirmed. Her father already has a blue plaque in Holland Park where he lived from 1881 to 1886.
Sophia was brought up in Suffolk mixing in the highest echelons of British society and indulging in aristocratic pursuits such as shooting and riding.
After her parents died, in 1896, Queen Victoria gave her Faraday House, then part of the Hampton Court Estate, as a grace-and-favour residence. This is the building the plaque will be erected on. For most of her life, she had felt like a pointless socialite but it was a trip to India in 1907, where she met Indian freedom fighters, which brought her alive and turned her into a revolutionary. She became a dedicated member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and the Women’s Tax Resistance League (WTRL). She refused to pay taxes and was fined for keeping dogs and a carriage without a licence.
On November 18, 1910, known as "Black Friday”, Sophia, along with suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, led 300 women to Parliament demanding the right for women to vote. They were met by police and many of them were assaulted and over 100 were arrested. Finally in 1918 women in Britain aged above 30 were given a qualified right to vote.
Like her father Sophia supported the Lascars Club, which supported Indian seamen and sailors stranded in London, and she also visited Indian troops at Brighton hospital during the First World War.
The blue plaques scheme celebrates the link between significant figures of the past and the buildings in which they lived and worked. Several other Indian figures have blue plaques on buildings where they lived in London, including Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Dadabhai Naoroji.