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The Royal family own an extensive collection of paintings and photographs showcasing the history of their line. Among them is a black-and- white image taken at Elveden Hall on 4th December 1877.
It features the future King Edward VII posing on the porch surrounded by dukes, lords and, of course, their host – the man who had transformed the Georgian property into a veritable palace.
Each man is wearing hunting tweeds, making it difficult to distinguish one blueblood from the next. However, a closer examination reveals that the owner of Elveden stands out by virtue of the fact that he is Asian. The Maharaja Duleep Singh looks every inch the quintessential English gentleman he had been groomed to be, but behind this picture of the gentry at play lies a story of kidnap, plunder and lost identity.
Born in 1838, Duleep was crowned maharaja of what was then the immensely powerful Sikh kingdom of Lahore at the tender age of five. It stretched across much of modern-day Pakistan and north-west India. His widowed mother, Maharani Jindan Kaur, ruled as his regent and twice went to war with the British East India Company, whom she knew were hungry for the riches of the land. Finally in 1848, Duleep was deposed and Maharani was dragged screaming from his court and imprisoned. The 10-year-old was effectively kidnapped, being made a ward of the British government and removed from all Sikh influences.
In exchange for the retention of his now honorary title and a pension, he was made to sign a treaty that handed over all property, including the world’s most valuable diamond, the Koh-i-Noor (now part of the Crown Jewels), to Queen Victoria. For her it was the supreme symbol of conquest.
The Maharaja Duleep Singh and, above right, his one-time home, Elveden Hall, near Thetford. Main image: Andy Abbott
An army doctor and his wife, John and Lena Login, were made Duleep’s guardians. Login, a devout Christian, was determined to transform him into what he viewed as a role model for Indians and his Anglicisation began. The Logins taught him how to think and speak like them. Most of all, he was encouraged to read the Bible. Separated from all he knew and loved, the infant sovereign craved an emotional anchor and was quickly seduced. At the age of 15, he chose to convert to Christianity – the ancestral ruler of the greatest Sikh kingdom was no longer a Sikh.
Aged 16, Duleep came to Britain for a supposed two-year educational trip. He never lived in India again. On 1st July 1854,
The Elveden prince, befriended by British royalty - then exiled
to France
Kim Smith recalls how the kidnapped Maharaja Duleep Singh found solace in West Suffolk before his eventful life took a final, sad turn

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