Singh, Duleep (1838–1893), maharaja of Lahore
by Amandeep Singh Madra

Singh, Duleep (1838–1893), maharaja of Lahore, was born in Lahore on 6 September 1838, the youngest son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780–1839) and Rani Jindan Kaur (1817–1863). With the death of Ranjit Singh came chaos and mayhem as his prized Khalsa army, the lynchpin of his control of the Punjab, became a law unto itself and gave its support to a chain of successors. Each in turn was murdered until, on 16 September 1843, Duleep Singh was declared maharaja. Duleep Singh's early years as ruler of the Punjab were filled with all that the court could provide. He was tutored in Persian and Gurmukhi—the language of the Sikh holy scriptures. He loved falconry and learned to hunt and shoot—a pastime that he continued to enjoy throughout his life.

By 1845 the Khalsa army clamoured for long overdue payment from the child-maharaja. They themselves were in total disarray, with the British provocatively camped on the Punjab's southern border. The scene was set for the First Anglo-Sikh War (1845–6). Following the defeat of the Khalsa army in 1846 Duleep Singh's kingdom was reduced to half its former size, and a British resident installed in Lahore. Within two years a Sikh revolt led to the Second Anglo-Sikh War (1848–9). By the time of the Sikh surrender in March 1849 the British had entered Lahore and removed Duleep Singh from the Punjab to the town of Fatehgarh in the North-West Provinces of India. The conditions of surrender required Duleep Singh to resign his title to the sovereignty of the Punjab, the confiscation of state property, and the surrender of the famous Koh-i-noor diamond to Queen Victoria. In return Duleep Singh was granted a pension provided he ‘remain obedient to the British Government’.

Fatehgarh, famed for its Christian missionary activity, was where Duleep Singh was converted to Christianity in 1853. This act, although facilitated by his guardians, was none the less more rapidly accomplished than even they had expected. A year later, in May 1854, he arrived in England and quickly gained a royal audience, becoming an immediate success with Queen Victoria.

Between 1854 and 1861 the maharaja lived variously in London, in Mulgrave Castle, Yorkshire, and in Castle Menzies, Perthshire, becoming famous for his love of the country and game-shooting. He joined the Carlton Club and became a freemason.

In January 1861 Duleep Singh returned to India to rescue his mother from political exile. For the next two years they were inseparable, but in 1863 she suddenly died. Again the maharaja returned to India, this time to cremate the maharani. He did not return home alone. In Cairo, on 7 June 1864, he married Bamba Müller (1848–1887), a part-Ethiopian, part-German girl from a local mission school. He took her home to his newly acquired home at Elveden, Suffolk. In 1865 they had a son, who died when only one month old. Between 1866 and 1879 they had six further children, who were brought up as royalty in the sprawling estate. Duleep Singh loved Elveden and rebuilt the church, cottages, and the school. His fame as a shooter of game was revived in the grounds of the great estate.

Amid European glamour, the spirit that had tasted sovereignty was hibernating somewhere in the mind of Duleep Singh. Prompted initially by his mother, then by his cousin Thakur Singh Sandhanwalia, and finally by the supposed prophecies of the tenth Sikh guru, Duleep Singh began a battle with the British government asserting the illegality of the annexation of the Punjab, and he demanded to be reinstated as maharaja. In 1886 he tried to return to India to place himself as the prophesied head of the Sikh people, but was arrested at Aden. Here he was received back into the Sikh faith.

Duleep Singh was to spend his last six years in Paris leading a crusade to return himself to the throne of Lahore. In his proclamations he signed himself ‘the lawful sovereign of the Sikh nation’ and the ‘implacable foe of the British government’. He conspired with Russian and Irish revolutionaries to take the Punjab through the Khyber pass, the scheme relying on the British being weakened by a mass revolt of Punjabi and Irish soldiers. The grand plan was never to materialize. He was dogged by conspiracy, then in 1887 his most powerful Russian ally, Mikhail Katkov, died, and with him went any chance of Russian support.

In Paris, on 20 May 1889, Singh was married for a second time, to Ada Douglas Wetherill (1869–1930), a young Englishwoman. They had two daughters, Alexandra Duleep Singh (b. 1887), born before the marriage, and Ada Irene Helen Duleep Singh (1889–1926), born after. With his health deteriorating, he initiated a reconciliation with Queen Victoria, who responded with a full pardon through the secretary of state on 1 August 1890. Within years his health broke down completely, and on 22 October 1893 he suffered a fatal ‘apoplectic fit’ in the modest Hôtel de la Tremoille, Paris. His body was taken back to his beloved stately home, Elveden, to be buried next to his first wife and youngest son in the graveyard of St Andrew's and St Patrick's Church, on 28 October.

Of Duleep Singh's eight children who survived infancy, Princess Bamba Sofia Jindan Duleep Singh (1869–1957) settled in Lahore, where she died. Victor Albert Jay Duleep Singh (1866–1918) held a commission in the 1st (Royal) Dragoons and married a daughter of the earl of Coventry. , who like his brother was educated at Eton and at Cambridge, also held an army commission and saw service in France during the First World War. Edward Alexander Duleep Singh (1879–1893) died while still a schoolboy. The princesses and were both educated at Somerville College, Oxford, and Sophia later ruffled feathers at the India Office by defiantly selling The Suffragette newspaper outside Hampton Court. All Duleep Singh's children died without issue.



H. Singh, ed., The encyclopaedia of Sikhism, 2nd edn, 1 (Patiala, 1995) · C. Campbell, The maharajah's box (2000) · M. Alexander and S. Anand, Queen Victoria's maharajah (1980)


BL OIOC, personal and family corresp. and papers, MS Eur. E 377 · Royal Arch., letters |  BL, letters to W. E. Gladstone and related papers, Add. MSS 44468–44508, passim · Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Lord Kimberley, MSS Eng. a 2013–2014; b 2047–2049; c 3933–4514; d 2439–2492; e 2790–2797


G. Beechy, oils, 1852, priv. coll. · E. Becker, photograph, 1854, Royal Collection · F. X. Winterhalter, oils, 1854, Royal Collection [see illus.] · carte-de-visite, c.1877, Maharajah Duleep Singh Centenary Trust · Spy [L. Ward], lithograph, NPG; repro. in VF (18 Nov 1882) · photograph, Sothebys

Wealth at death  

£7219 13s.: 1894, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

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Duleep Singh (1838–1893): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/41277