To be honest, I had never heard of Princess Sophia and her role in British politics and history. The story is remarkable in that a royal princess, who was given a home by Queen Victoria, supported the rights of women to be able to vote
Sophia Duleep Singh- Early Years
She was born in 1876 to the last Maharajah of the Sikh empire in the Punjab (India). Her father at the age of 15 came under the power of the British in India. He was forced to give up his title and move to England to live on an English estate. On this estate, now transformed into a Mughal palace, Sophia was born. Beneath her nursery leopards were housed and parrots flew in aviaries.
Her Unhappy Father
Sophia’s father began to regret the loss of his lands and blamed the British for taking advantage of him at the age of 15. He set sail for India, determined to become the Maharajah again complete with all his lost properties. However, his gambling and drinking resulted in him occurring debts. Sophia’s mother succumbed to alcoholism and her father died later without ever having reached India. He died in a Paris hotel. Queen Victoria knew Sophia’s father from the time he arrived in Britain. She often photographed him in his native costume. Now, years later, she rescued Sophia and offered the 17-year-old princess a home at Hampton Court Palace.
Sophia the Activist
The princess was an extreme activist that forced King George V to state, “Have we no hold on her?” The king certainly had reason to want to stop a person of royalty from embarrassing his rule. Sophia had thrown herself in front of the prime minister’s car and paid bail that allowed suffragettes to be released from prison. What made a princess who could have lived a life of idle luxury turn to radical activism? On two trips to India with her sister in 1903 and 1907. Princess Sophia witnessed extreme poverty. She was sympathetic to Indian nationalists who wanted the British to leave India.
Sophia: a Proud Suffragette
The poverty of India and Colonialism were two factors that spoke of British male domination. It was the same male domination that was keeping British women from voting. The suffragettes had chained themselves to railings and were force-fed in prison. Now, on “Black Friday,” November 18, 1910, the suffragettes were determined to fight and fight hard! Marching with Emmeline Pankhurst, Princess Sophia marched with around 300 women. Women standing on the sidelines noticed the small dark-skinned princess. She had been on the cover of ladies’ magazines and often in the news. Outside the House of Commons, a police line forced Sophia and Emmeline to a gate where they watched in horror as their fellow suffragettes were beaten. The Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, did not want any of the women imprisoned. For five hours the women struggled against the police. Sophia broke through the police line when she saw a police officer wrestling with a woman. The struggle was to continue for several years.
Sophia Always in the Thick of the Action
The King in February 1911 addressed Parliament and Princess Sophia gathered with her suffragettes sisters outside the Prime Minister’s office in Downing Street. She was dressed like an aristocrat with a wide-brimmed hat hiding her face. As Prime Minister Asquith got into his car, Sophia pulled a banner from her muff that stated “Give Women the Vote.” She shouted suffragette slogan but again, being so prominent a person, she was not arrested.
World War I and a Suffragette Truce
Princess Sophia obeyed Emmeline Pankhurst’s ceasefire and put on a nurse’s uniform to care for the injured troops. She also raised money for Indian troops who were not equipped for the cold weather of Europe.
Sophia lived to see women get the vote. She died in 1948. She was a remarkable woman and a pleasure for me to blog.
Princesses Bamba, Catherine and Sophia at the sisters’ presentation at Buckingham Palace in 1894