London, May 26
Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, the daughter of Maharaja Duleep Singh – the last ruler of the Sikh empire – and the goddaughter of Queen Victoria, was honoured with a commemorative Blue Plaque in London on Friday.
The Blue Plaque scheme, run by the English Heritage charity, honours the significance of particular buildings associated with historical figures. In memory of the British-Indian Princess, it now adorns Faraday House, which was granted to Sophia and her sisters as a grace and favour apartment at Hampton Court Palace southwest of London by Queen Victoria.
“As a political journalist, I thought I knew the story of the suffragettes, and then I found this extraordinary woman and she blew me away,” said Anita Anand, the author of the biography ‘Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary'.
Forgive me… but this is one of the happiest days of my life! Princess Sophia Duleep Singh gets her blue plaque at Hampton Court! And sisters from everywhere come to celebrate her in the blazing sun! Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary. #suffragette #womem pic.twitter.com/ms5rgDMmXU— anita anand (@tweeter_anita) May 26, 2023
“As the last princess of the Sikh Empire, goddaughter of Queen Victoria, society darling and fashion icon, a life of comfort and celebrity was hers for the taking, but she chose a harder path. Using her international fame and influence, putting herself in physical danger, she fought for the right of women to vote. Campaigning with unrelenting ferocity, loyalty and selflessness, she moved the dial,” she said.
Named after another former resident, the eminent English physicist Michael Faraday (1791–1867), Faraday House was Princess Sophia's main residence for over four decades.
Furnished to her luxurious taste, the house – or “Apartment 41” to give it its grace-and-favour title – was Princess Sophia's base during the many years she campaigned as a suffragette for women's voting rights.
Peter Bance, a British Sikh historian, art collector and author of ‘Sovereign, Squire and Rebel: Maharajah Duleep Singh & the Heirs of the Lost Kingdom' who campaigned for the plaque said, “I came upon the story of the princess when I was researching her father Duleep Singh at a time when no one had heard about her. It was as if her story had been erased from history. But once a forgotten princess, she has now become an icon.” Uniquely spanning the very different worlds of the British court and the movement for women's suffrage in the early 20th century, Sophia Duleep Singh made full use of her royal title and public persona.
“I remember my godmother Princess Sophia telling me about the suffragettes and how women weren't always allowed to vote as we walked through the gardens at Hampton Court together. And then, as a child, I made a solemn vow to her that I would always exercise my right to vote, and I always have,” said Drovna Oxley, goddaughter to Princess Sophia.
The princess, who died aged 71 in August 1948, dared the authorities to punish her as she shrewdly chose which political protests to attend, ones they could not ignore. Her residence at Faraday House was not without controversy as reflected in a much-publicised photograph of her selling ‘The Suffragette' paper outside Hampton Court Palace, which led to her eviction from the property being discussed in court and government circles.
The idea was eventually dismissed as it would have dragged the Crown into the parliamentary suffrage debates of the time. Faraday House was also raided by bailiffs seeking redress for her non-payment of taxes after she joined the Women's Tax Resistance League (WTRL) in 1911.
“Princess Sophia was a fascinating and important figure, but her story was not at all well known in the decades following her death. I'm delighted that interest in her has grown in recent years. English Heritage hopes that our blue plaque will help ensure that she's firmly established in the pantheon of great campaigners for women's suffrage,” said Anna Eavis, Curatorial Director at English Heritage.
Duleep Singh was the last Maharaja of Punjab as the son and heir of Maharaja Ranjit Singh who was exiled to England as a teenager in 1854. He shared a close bond with Queen Victoria until he grew critical of the British Empire in later life.
It was on his request that the Queen agreed to be the godmother of his daughter Sophia and went on to grant use of Faraday House to the family for the rest of their lives even as her relationship with their father soured.
During her life, Sophia maintained a strong connection with India and her ashes were taken to India by her sister Bamba in 1949.
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