Princess Sophia Alexandra Duleep Singh (8 August 1876 – 22 August 1948) was a prominent suffragette and accredited nurse in the United Kingdom. During the early twentieth century. She was one of several South Asian women who pioneered the cause of women’s rights in Britain. Although she is best remembered for her leading role in the women’s Tax Resistance League, she also participated in other women suffrage groups, including the Women’s Social and Political Union
Sophia Duleep Singh was the fifth child of six children of the Maharaja Duleep Singh and Maharani Bamba Müller born in Elveden, Norfolk, 1876. Sophia was the goddaughter of Queen Victoria and enjoyed the many privileges that came with that recognition, including a lavish residence. But her childhood was tumultuous.
Her father threw away his money living a life of splendor and was in a mountain of debt. With the downturn in the personal fortunes and the political tension in Govt., Maharaja left Elevaden and England as well, forever with his family for India but he was stopped and arrested at Adan by the Indian Govt. His family was sent back to England but he chose not to go back. With all this, Sophia’s mother turned to alcoholism, which claimed her life and she died of kidney failure in 1887. Sophia never went to school and, according to a biography released in January 2015, she would often ask other children’ what it was like’
After the death of Maharaja, her father in 1893 in a very poor state at Paris, France, his estate was sold to Edward Ceil Guinness. Bamba Muller died much before in 1887. In 1896, Sophia Zinda Duleep Singh was given the very grand, three-story Faraday House opposite Hampton Court Palace by Queen Victoria, her god-mother, along with an allowance of £200 for the upkeep of the house and also a set of keys to the Royal Palace Garden. She lived at Faraday House, Hampton Court, Middlesex, and like her sisters, inherited the sum of £23,200 after the death of her father. In the beginning, she had lived lavishly, spent her time enjoying luxury, became a fashion icon and was often spotted in most of the fashionable evening wear of the time at many parties reserved only for the highest aristocracy in England. She became an enthusiastic photographer, bred dogs for no apparent reasons, participated in dog shows and became the devoted members of the Ladies’ Kennel Association.
Sophia’s life until 1907 was all about this till she made a fateful trip to India, rebelling against the Empire and attending what was one of the world’s largest parties at the time – the Delhi Durbar. It was here that she realized the actual situation in India, the poverty and helplessness of her people under the rule of the British. Accustomed to being treated like nothing sort of royalty in England, Sophia, being of Indian origin, was subjected to ridicule and mistreatment at the hands of British officers in India, giving her a more accurate picture of how Indians were suffering.
Even though British government agents kept an eye on Sophia and her family, they loosened their hold on her when her father Duleep Singh died in 1893. She used that loophole to visit India with her sister, and also included Amritsar and Lahore in the trip. This was the trip that turned her into one of the most outspoken suffragettes in the movement demanding women’s right to vote. Princess Sophia became a firebrand like her father and a leading figure fighting for the voting rights of women in England.
She had joined the Women’s Social and Political Union and became an active campaigner at the Richmond, Surrey, branch of the WSPU. On 18 November 1910, she took part in the first deputation to the House of Commons, ‘Black Friday’, joined the Tax Resistance League (WTRL). She refused to pay taxes on the principle that women should not have to pay taxes when they did not have the vote to determine the use of those taxes means ‘No Vote no tax’ This stance led to various fines, even her jewelry was impounded but then bought back in the auction by members of the WTRL. These actions created a high profile stand for the women’s movement. Princess Catherine Duleep Singh her sister, was also an active member of the Esher and Molesey branch of the WSPU.
An Indian princess brought up as a member of the British aristocracy, Princess Sophia none the less retained a sense of Sikh family heritage and pride in Indian culture. This involved her in the patronage of Indians in Britain, and her generous assistance was instrumental in establishing the Lascar Club in London‘s East End.
Sophia was highly involved in the patronage of Indians in Britain, such as in the establishment of the Lascars Club in the East End of London. She was a strong supporter of Indian sailors and seamen who were often stranded in London. She was also involved in bringing attention to the contribution of Indian soldiers.
During the First World War, Princess Sophia visited wounded Punjabi troops in the Indian army and gave them mementos as a granddaughter of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. She visited Indian soldiers at many of the south coast hospitals and worked as a nurse herself. Many soldiers were greatly honored to meet the granddaughter of the great Ranjit Singh.
She organized Flag Days to raise money for wounded soldiers on 19 October 1916 at Haymarket – Sophia also entertained Indian soldiers who were part of a peace contingent at her home in Hampton Court in September 1919.
She kept her links with the family of Takhur Singh Sandhanwalia who served his father faithfully and offered to adopt Pritam Singh as her son. Like her sisters and brothers, Princess Sophia was not able to speak Punjabi and during her visits to these soldiers in India in 1907 and 1924, she had to speak with the people through a translator.
Sophia joined the Suffragette Fellowship led by Mrs. Pankhurst after World-I and appointed as a President of the Committee until the end of her life. Sophia was not the only Indian suffragette. An Indian women’s group took part in the 1911 coronation procession of 60,000 suffragettes. She was a committed campaigner for women’s rights and an active fundraiser, she was often seen selling the newspaper The Suffragette outside Hampton Court Palace.
In 1935 Sophia Duleep Singh lent the Museum for her brother, Prince Frederick Duleep Singh’s collection of Stuart relics. During the Second World War, Sophia evacuated London and her home in Hampton Court to live in the village of Penn in Buckinghamshire, in a bungalow named ‘Rathenrae’.
. She died of cardiac failure on 22 August 1948 at her home, Hilden Hall, Tylers Green, Chepping, Wycombe, Buckinghamshire; she was cremated at Golders Green on 26 August.
The daughter of Duleep Singh, the last Sikh Maharaja, Sophia was brought up in England, far away from the land of her ancestors. Though the history of her ancestors is long and glorious, she did not bother about Log kia khenge, forged her own independent place among the several stories of heroism and changed the history related to an early 20th century of England.