Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary by Anita Anand is a fascinating biography of the life of Sophia Duleep Singh. I started reading it on my flight home from Thailand and finished it whilst travelling on trains on Good Friday and was fascinated to learn about the lives of the last Maharaja of the Sikh empire, and his daughter Sophia.
For those like me who don’t know this part of India’s history, the Maharaja was exiled to Britain at the age of 15 and what started as a close relationship with Queen Victoria soured over time as he learned more about his great heritage and the empire that had been taken from him and his people by the British. This sets the context for the turbulent life of Sophia, growing up in opulence in Britain in the shadow of her increasingly troubled father. As the family’s fortune fell away and her father increasingly reneged responsibility for her and her siblings, Sophia remarkably managed to carve out a purposeful life for herself, being personally involved in some of the great political movements of her time.
The title of the book says it all – Sophia was not a woman content to stick with being, an albeit impoverished, princess. She was an independent woman, who never married or had children, who became a key part of the Suffragette movement, as well as an instigator of support and help to Indian troops during the First World War. She was a woman to be reckoned with, as the royal family and Churchill both found to their irritation it seems. From a life based in a ‘grace and favour’ apartment in Hampton Court Place she refused to be silenced by her precarious financial position and continued throughout her life to speak up and act upon the things she passionately beloved in. She also managed to balance often difficult relationships with her family as she did so.
This is such a fascinating book, in the historical era that it covers, and in telling the story of a remarkable individual who, given her antecedents and her role in the political life of Britain of the time, should really be better known.