Princess Sophia Alexandrovna Duleep Singh was born in England in 1876, the youngest child of the Maharajah Duleep Singh. I came across this fascinating gentleman while seeking a maharajah for the story (our maharajah is a constructed character, although the existence of one as a suitor to Maudi Darrell and the presentation of a queen’s emeralds is true. Pictures painted of Maharajah Duleep Singh influenced me in the style of dress at the time).
Maharajah Duleep Singh’s own story led me off down a rabbit hole – he was manipulated by the force of the British Raj into surrendering his kingdom of the Punjab while a child of eleven. All his lands and property were purloined in perpetuity and that fabulous Koh-i-Noor diamond was sent to London for Her Majesty. (At the time of India’s independence in 1947, they began demanding the return of the jewel. What do we think about treasures being stolen by a corporation – in this case the East India Company? Initially the diamond was worn as a brooch by Queen Victoria, who claimed to be uncomfortable sporting it because of the manner it was nabbed. After her death the diamond of over 100 carats was set into the crown, where it remains to this day).
This theft of the amazing jewels that were so abundant during the belle époque is a theme of the Ruby Redlick series. At the time, massive wealth was possessed by aristocratic ladies (as well as courtesans). Where did all that treasure disappear to during the World War, particularly the indescribable fortune belonging to the Russian Tsar? More on that to come.
Sophia’s father, the Maharajah was forced to live in England where he became something of a pet to Queen Victoria. Sophia was the monarch’s goddaughter and was given a grace and favour apartment within Hampton Court Palace. Like her father, she came to despise the empire and believe she was kept in England to prevent any uprising of her people in India.
She turned militant and joined the WSPU in 1909 as a suffragette, following a visit to her homeland. Sophia was a radical, selling the suffragette newspaper outside the palace, and refusing to pay any tax to a rogue government. Her biggest complaint was that she could never get herself imprisoned as the scandal would reflect badly on the monarchy and so I have done something to fulfill her wish in The Music Hall Murder.
Her sister, Bamba, did study medicine and so the information Sophia shares with Ruby regarding poisonous native plants is within the realm of possibility. It’s interesting that the maze at Hampton Court is constructed entirely from poisonous yew.
A young Mahatma Gandhi did visit London in this era before he became renowned in his home country for leading the resistance, and was impressed by the stoic refusal to submit, and the hunger strikes endured, by the suffragettes.
More will be added to Princess Sophia’s story as the timeline of the book series catches up.