Friday Hoyden: Princess Sophia Duleep Singh

“Taxation without representation is a tyranny… I am unable to pay money to the state, as I am not allowed to exercise any control over its expenditure.” – Princess Sophia’s response in court, on charges of refusing to pay licence fees and rates.

With the movie Suffragette about to come out (can’t wait, but not until Christmas for us Downunder), now is a great time to look at a member of the movement who was not included in the movie but should have been, and then should definitely get one all of her own.

B&W photo of young Indian woman in traditional dress.

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh

Sophia Duleep Singh was one of the most stalwart and prominent figures in the British Votes for Women movement.

Her background was Punjabi on her father’s side, German and Abyssinian on her mother’s. However, she was born in Britain, and made it her home. In 1896, Queen Victoria, who was Sophia’s godmother, gave her Faraday House in Hampton Court as a ‘grace and favour’ home, and it is here that she lived for most of her adult life (Making Britain).

She became a key figure in the campaign for women’s suffrage, and was a close friend and ally of the Pankhursts. Present at all the major rallying events, and often to be seen selling copies of The Suffragette near her home, she was particularly instrumental to the ‘no taxation without representation’ strand of the suffragettes’ civil disobedience strategies. After the death of Emmeline Pankhurst in 1928, Sophia was elected to replace her as President of the Suffragette Fellowship, an organisation of which she remained a member for the rest of her life.

This from the British Library website:

“Daughter of Maharaja Duleep Singh, was a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union. She campaigned for votes for women nationally as well as locally in Richmond and Kingston-upon-Thames. She was often seen selling the newspaper The Suffragette outside Hampton Court Palace where she lived – her father had been close to Queen Victoria, and the family were given the use of the Palace’s apartment rooms.On 18 November 1910, known as ‘Black Friday’, she led a 400-strong demonstration to parliament together with Mrs Pankhurst. As clashes broke out between the police and protestors, over 150 women were physically assaulted. Sophia was not the only Indian suffragette. An Indian women’s group took part in the 1911 coronation procession of 60,000 suffragettes. Sophia also belonged to the Women’s Tax Resistance League, whose slogan was ‘No Vote, No Tax’. Her refusal to pay tax led to her prosecution several times and some of her valuable possessions were impounded. A committed campaigner for women’s rights and an active fundraiser, she was often seen selling the newspaper The Suffragette outside Hampton Court Palace.”

There is something utterly charming about the letter, held by the British Library, to Lord Crewe from a staffer getting clearance to respond to a complaint about the Princess:

‘Sir William Connington telephoned to me about this picture which appeared in this week’s Suffragette. He asked “if anything could be done to stop her.” We have no financial hold over the Dhuleep Singh Princesses, but of course it is for the King to say whether her conduct is such as should call for her eviction from The Lodging she now enjoys in Hampton Court by his Majesty’s favour.’

Newspaper clipping showing woman in Edwardian dress selling newspaper next to a sign reading "Suffragette Revolution!"

The newspaper image in question

A more extensive history, with some wonderful historic material, can be found at A Little History of the Sikhs.

A excellent site for school students is History’s Heroes, which has stacks of information and resources about the Princess, including historic context and prompts for further thought and projects.

There is a biography by Anita Anad, Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary. I just ordered one, and when it arrives, I’ll begin work on the screenplay.

Categories: gender & feminism, history, social justice

Tags: , ,

5 replies

  1. I would totally go see a movie about her…


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