In 1876 Sophia Duleep Singh was born into Indian royalty. Her father, Maharajah Duleep Singh, was heir to the Kingdom of the Sikhs, one of the greatest empires of the Indian subcontinent, a realm that stretched from the lush Kashmir Valley to the craggy foothills of the Khyber Pass and included the mighty cities of Lahore and Peshawar. It was a territory irresistible to the British, who plundered everything, including the fabled Koh-I-Noor diamond. Exiled to England, the dispossessed Maharajah transformed his estate at Elveden in Suffolk into a Moghul palace, its grounds stocked with leopards, monkeys and exotic birds. Sophia, god-daughter of Queen Victoria, was raised a genteel aristocratic Englishwoman: presented at court, afforded grace and favor lodgings at Hampton Court Palace and photographed wearing the latest fashions for the society pages. But when, in secret defiance of the British government, she travelled to India, she returned a revolutionary. Sophia transcended her heritage to devote herself to battling injustice and inequality, a far cry from the life to which she was born. Her causes were the struggle for Indian Independence, the fate of the lascars, the welfare of Indian soldiers in the First World War – and, above all, the fight for female suffrage. She was bold and fearless, attacking politicians, putting herself in the front line and swapping her silks for a nurse's uniform to tend wounded soldiers evacuated from the battlefields. Meticulously researched and passionately written, this enthralling story of the rise of women and the fall of empire introduces an extraordinary individual and her part in the defining moments of recent British and Indian history.
As a ward of the British government born in exile, Indian princess Sophia Duleep Singh embodied a curious mix of East and West and an equally intriguing combination of patriotism and socially conscious rebelliousness. Journalist and BBC personality Anand writes a sympathetic biography that reads almost like a novel, illustrating how a forbidden trip to India changed the fashion-conscious party devotee into a woman seeking fulfillment in a society that relished her royal status and position as Queen Victoria's goddaughter, but punished her for the color of her skin. While deeply involved in the early 20th-century militant suffrage movement, she also raised funds and helped nurse wounded Indians sent to England to recover during WWI. Anand successfully shows how the inner struggle between her native English culture and her Indian heritage wore on Sophia, resulting in depression and loneliness. Emmeline Pankhurst and a young Winston Churchill make appearances during Sophia's suffrage efforts, but it's Gandhi's evolution that adds depth to Sophia's transformation, humanizing both in the process. One part glittering socialite, one part activist, and entirely unique, Sophia adds a previously unexplored facet to the tumultuous progressive era that remade the Western world.