DCSIMG

Lives and times

Princess Sophia Alexandra Duleep Singh (1876-1948), a suffragette, was born on 8 August 1876 probably at Elveden Hall, Norfolk, the fifth of six children of Maharaja Duleep Singh (1838-1893), exiled by the British at the annexation of the Punjab, and his first wife, Bamba Muller (d 1887). Her father, a Sikh convert to Christianity (who later re-embraced Sikhism), was a naturalised British citizen, living on a pension of £25,000 per annum.

An Indian princess, brought up as a member of the British aristocracy, Princess Sophia (pictured, second from left) nonetheless 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. Her chief activity, however, was campaigning to win votes for women in Britain through the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) and the Women's Tax Resistance League (WTRL). She had been converted to the views of the WSPU at the home of Una Dugdale, and she became an active campaigner between 1909 and 1914, both nationally and locally, in the Richmond and Kew branch as well as the Kingston and District branch of the WSPU. Her sister Princess Catherine Duleep Singh was an active member of the Esher and Molesey branch of the WSPU.

Princess Sophia took a prominent part in the first deputation to parliament on 18 November 1910, "black Friday", heading the deputation with Mrs Pankhurst, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and others. She played an active role in publicity campaigns, in July 1911 driving in the first cart in the parade of "press carts" delivering copies of Votes for Women to various pitches in London. An energetic fund-raiser, in April 1911 she contributed cake and sweets for the opening of the Pankhursts' Streatham teashop.

It was as a tax resister, however, that Sophia Duleep Singh, the sole Indian member of the WTRL, made her greatest impression. Taking her stand on the principle that taxation without representation was tyranny, she registered her defiance on several occasions. Refusal to pay taxes and fines levied could lead to goods being impounded by the bailiffs under "distraint" and sold by public auction to recover sums due. In May 1911, at Spelthorne petty sessions, her refusal to pay licences for her five dogs, carriage and manservant led to a fine of 3. In July 1911, against arrears of 6s in rates, she had a seven-stone diamond ring impounded and auctioned at Ashford for 10. The ring was bought by a member of the WTRL and returned to her. In December 1913 she was summoned again to Feltham police court for employing a male servant and keeping two dogs and a carriage without licence. Her refusal to pay a fine of 12 10s resulted in a pearl necklace, comprising 131 pearls, and a gold bangle studded with pearls and diamonds, being seized under distraint and auctioned at Twickenham town hall, both items being bought by members of the WTRL. Such actions were a means of achieving publicity. Her high-profile stand was thus significant, and an important contribution to women's struggle before the First World War.

In 1915 Sophia Duleep Singh was part of the 10,000-strong women's war work procession led by Emmeline Pankhurst. After the death of Mrs Pankhurst in 1928 she joined the Suffragette Fellowship, remaining a member until her death. Her commitment to the women's cause continued, as demonstrated by the fact that in the 1934 edition of Women's Who's Who she listed "Advancement of Women" as her only interest. She died of cardiac failure on 22 August 1948 at her home, Hilden Hall, Tylers Green, Chepping, Buckinghamshire; she was cremated at Golders Green on 26 August.

 
 
 

Back to the top of the page