‘Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary,’ by Anita Anand

25berne-master675Suzanne Berne at the New York Times:

Part of a biographer’s job is to rescue forgotten figures, and in “Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary” Anita Anand has salvaged an extraordinary one. Sophia Duleep Singh was a Punjabi princess and Queen Victoria’s goddaughter, a bucktoothed “docile little thing” who went on to become a celebrated London fashion plate and then a steely suffragist.

Her father, Maharajah Duleep Singh, was 11 when the British seized his vast Sikh empire and 15 when he was sent into exile in England. Victoria doted on him, remarking that he “was beautifully dressed and covered with diamonds” (though not the famed Koh-i-Noor, now among her crown jewels), adding, “I always feel so much for these poor deposed Indian princes.” Graciously, she granted him a stipend, which he overspent remodeling an East Anglian pile into the fabulous “Mogul palace” where he installed his bride, the daughter of a German businessman and an Abyssinian slave.

Born in 1876, Sophia spent much of her early years in the English countryside playing with her brothers and sisters “amidst enclosures filled with ostriches, rare parrots and monkeys,” an idyll that ended when the maharajah pillaged the estate to pay his creditors.

more here.