The Suffragette Cause
Sophia joined Emmeline Pankhurst and other suffragettes as they descended on the House of Commons, hoping to meet the Prime Minister that year. The police used such excessive force on the women that even Winston Churchill, who was no admirer of the suffragettes, was appalled. Sophia interrupted one particular assault and screamed at the policeman, demanding his name and that of his supervisor. She eventually caught sight of his ID-number. She later wrote, “The policeman was unnecessarily and brutally rough, and Princess Sophia (she wrote in the third person) hopes he will be suitably punished. Princess Sophia Duleep Singh was herself on the Deputation on the 18th and received several bruises on her arm, but she did not find that in her case the police were rougher than necessary.” She did not mention that she was arrested that day.1
In 1911, Sophia was again arrested after she hurled herself at the Prime Minister’s car with a banner with the words, “Give women the vote!” She was released without charge. The suffragettes were beginning to realise that a Princess in their midst could help their cause and begged her to take on a more high-profile role. Sophia preferred a more low-key role, though she did continue her activities. She began selling the suffragette newspaper outside of Hampton Court Palace. By 1914, she was donating almost 10% of her annual income to the cause.
As the First World War began, Sophia could think only of her sister Catherine, who was on the other side of the enemy lines. In addition, Sophia tended to wounded soldiers, including many Indian soldiers, as a Red Cross nurse. The Indian soldiers were in awe. Just as the war was coming to an end, Sophia received the news that her elder brother Victor had died of a heart attack in Paris. She had very little time to mourn him. Luckily, she was able to reunite with Catherine in 1919. Her sister Bamba had married David Waters Sutherland during the war, and it had made her realise that she was now alone in her forties. Her beloved dog had also died and could not be replaced. Financial difficulties began to haunt her and continued cuts made matters worse. She became particularly cruel to her staff if she was in a sad mood. A visit to India would lift her spirits somewhat.
Upon her return in 1925, Sophia seemed resigned to the life of a spinster. She began to spend more time with her siblings, even with her half-sister Pauline. Slowly, she began to enjoy life again. On 12 August 1926, her second brother Frederick suffered a massive heart attack with his sisters by his side. He died three days later. With his death, the Royal House of Punjab became extinct in the male line. Less than two months later, her half-sister Irene was found dead in the Riviera. She had left a note on a nearby rock, explaining what she had done. In a letter to a friend she had written, “Nobody will ever hear of me again, as I am going to commit suicide this afternoon…. I am homeless…. my nerves have prevented me continuing my studies, but I have grasped my object… I have been staying a week at Monte Carlo, but here I only play the fool and lose my pocket-money… Please forgive me for troubling you in such troublesome times, but it is the last time.”2 She left her entire fortune to a charity, which was contested by both Pauline and Bamba. The court ruled in favour of Pauline. Pauline used the opportunity to cut off all ties with her family.
The 1920s were sad times for Sophia, though in 1928 The Representation of the People Bill, enabling women over age 21 to vote on a par with men, was passed in parliament. The following years, Sophia lived quietly at Hampton Court Palace. She spent the first part of the Second World living near her sister Catherine, who had returned to England after the death of her partner Lina in Germany. In 1942, Catherine suffered a heart attack during the night, and Sophia found her sister the following morning. “I found her lying on the floor on her back. It evidently happened when she was getting up. The doctor said it was quite painless and instantaneous and nothing could have been done. A lot of blood on the heart. You can imagine just what an awful shock it was to me.”3 Catherine’s death changed Sophia.
After the Second World War, her sister Bamba was able to visit England again. Then came the troubling news that Sophia had a tumour and that her eye would need to be removed. Sophia refused the surgery. On 22 August 1948, Sophia passed away in her sleep. She was 71 years old. Though she had been a Christian, she requested that her body was to be cremated like a Sikh and for her ashes to be scattered in India.