Suffragette Indian princess commemorated with plaque by English Heritage

A blue plaque honouring a suffragette Indian princess has been unveiled at her former London home.

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, daughter of the last ruler of the Sikh empire, goddaughter to Queen Victoria and a campaigner for female enfranchisement, was commemorated by English Heritage at Faraday House, Hampton Court.

As a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the militant group led by Emmeline Pankhurst, she used her status and wealth as a member of the Punjabi royal family to support the cause for gender equality.

Film director Gurinder Chadha, actress Meera Syal, Professor Helen Pankhurst and Lord Singh were among the guests who attended the ceremony.

Anita Anand, author of Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary, told the PA news agency: “We owe Sophia such a debt of gratitude because without her courage and the courage of women like her you can’t take it for granted that we would have the right to vote in this country.

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh blue plaque
The blue plaque was unveiled at Faraday House (Christopher Ison/English Heritage/PA)

“She was one of those bloody-minded women who never do what they are supposed to do.

Ms Anand added: “Women’s history falls through the cracks and women of colour plummet through them.

“Her fortitude is something that should not be forgotten, and it is only right that we should see it in a plaque so that young girls when they walk past might ask, ‘who was she?’.”

Sophia lived in Faraday House, a grace and favour apartment granted to her by Victoria in 1896, with her sisters Bamba and Catherine.

Her early childhood in Suffolk was turbulent, with her father, Maharaja Duleep Singh abandoning his young family to live in Paris, and her mother Bamba Muller suffering with alcoholism.

In their parents’ absence the sisters grew up in Folkestone and Brighton with their guardian Arthur Craigie Oliphant and his family, before moving to Faraday House as adults.

WSPU member Una Dugdale persuaded Sophia to join the union in 1908, and from 1909 onwards she was active in the Richmond and Kingston-upon-Thames district branches of the suffragette organisation.

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh blue plaque
Writer Anita Anand speaking at the unveiling of the blue plaque (Christopher Ison/English Heritage/PA)

Sophia would sell copies of The Suffragette newspaper at her pitch outside Hampton Court Palace, and once threw a suffragette poster reading “Give women the vote!” at Herbert Asquith’s car at the state opening of Parliament in 1911.

As a member of the Women’s Tax Reform League (WTRL), a movement which refused to pay various taxes, insurances and licence fees under the motto “No Vote , No Tax”, Sophia was summoned to court several times and fined for abstaining from personal licences on jewellery, dogs and a carriage.

Sophia attended “Black Friday” on November 18 1910, when more than 300 suffragettes marched from Caxton Hall to Parliament Square and demanded to see the prime minister.

The demonstration descended into violence when the prime minister refused to see the suffragettes, and police assaulted the women who refused to leave.

Alongside Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Ms Pankhurst, Sophia resisted the police during the fighting, even rescuing one woman from an officer.

Beyond her campaigning for women’s enfranchisement, she also supported the Indian Women’s Education Association in London.

She volunteered during both world wars, nursing Indian soldiers in in the First World War and housing evacuees in the Second World War.

In 1915 she was one of 10,000 women who took part in the Women’s War Work Procession led by Ms Pankhurst.

At her death in 1948 she was outlived by her goddaughter, Drovna, whom she made solemnly promise to always vote as an adult.

A film partly based on her life, Lioness, premiered at Cannes Film Festival this week.