Where Light and Shadow Meet
Never the Twain Shall Meet (1876)
Chapter 3 “Never the Twain Shall Meet” (1876)
“Taxation without representation is a tyranny.”
When Jack let go of Rose’s hand and disappeared into the icy depths of the Atlantic Ocean, Titanic fans let out a collective gasp. Those of a less romantic bent were left wondering why the elderly Rose consigned the Le Coeur de la Mer, The Heart of the Ocean, diamond to a watery grave. The non-celluloid counterpart to the fabulous blue gem reveals another tragic tale.
Princess Sophia Alexandrovna Duleep Singh was the granddaughter of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, the legendary one-eyed “Lion of the Punjab,” who ruled the Sikh Empire that extended from the Khyber Pass in the west to Kashmir in the north to Tibet in the east. He rode through his lands with the storied Koh-I-Noor diamond strapped to his sleeve. A century later, the gem became the prized possession of Ranjit Singh. After his passing, at which time several of his wives burned themselves on his funeral pyre, the next maharaja was his son, Duleep Singh. The British seized control and forced the eleven-year-old to relinquish his kingdom to the crown. Four years later, Duleep left for exile in England where he converted from Sikhism to Christianity. Queen Victoria said of her subject, “I always feel so much for these poor deposed Indian princes.” Her pity did not extend to returning his lands or the Koh-I-Noor.
The king without a kingdom married Bamba Müller, a Cairo born illegitimate daughter of a German merchant and an Abyssinian slave who placed their child in a missionary ward. In compensation for the confiscation of his birthright, Queen Victoria provided a 2.5-million-pound annual stipend in contemporary currency. The money led to Elveden Hall, a Suffolk estate transformed into a Mogul palace. Sophia was the fifth of his six surviving children, and the Singhs lived in great luxury; gardens held ostriches, leopards, and Indian hawks. Queen Victoria became Sophia’s godmother and gifted the child a sumptuously dressed doll known as “Little Sophie.” The Prince of Wales was a regular visitor. A presentation for debutantes at Buckingham palace ensured Sophia’s social standing.
The idylls of the Punjab Princess came with an expiration date. Her parents’ marriage ended due to her father’s promiscuity, gambling, and opulent lifestyle. Unable to pay his exorbitant debts, Duleep-who referred to Queen Victoria as Mrs. Fagin after the criminal in Oliver Twist- dedicated himself to wrestling back his stolen kingdom. Foiled in his attempt to return to India by the British government, Duleep ran off with Ada, a hotel chambermaid, leaving his family in dire financial circumstances. When he heard of his wife’s death, he sent a telegram to his oldest son, “Heartbroken-will write next week.” The deposed royal passed away at age fifty-five, destitute, in a Paris hotel, a casualty of the Raj. In nobles oblige, Queen Victoria installed her seventeen-year-old goddaughter in “a grace and favor” residence opposite Hampton Court Palace. The shy Sophia was content to dress in the latest Parisian fashions, breed her prized Pomeranians, and participate in the bicycle craze.
Camelot Queen (1929)
What Rabbit Will Emerge? (1813)
Fractured Fairy Tale (1947)
The Emerald Castle (1926)
When Dorothy journeyed along the yellow brick road, she chanted, “Lions, tigers, bears, oh my!” Twenty-six years later, a contemporary queen treads a path of purple whose chant could well be, “Castles, corgis, crowns, oh my!” The modern monarch has a life that rivals the marvels of Oz.
For the irony file, the world’s longest reigning royal was not slated to become Her Most Excellent Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her Other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. At the time of Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor’s birth, as her father, Prince Albert, was a second son, the mantle of monarchy belonged to her uncle Edward, the Prince of Wales. Because the princess was never supposed to be queen, her, along with younger sister, Margaret, childhood was relatively typical, insofar as typical entailed having King George V as your grandfather. The calm shattered in 1936 when her uncle Edward VIII repudiated his ermine robes after 325 days to wed American Wallis Simpson. A shocked footman relayed the news to the young princesses. Margaret asked her ten-year-old sister, “Does that mean you will have to be the next queen?” “Yes, someday,” Elizabeth replied. “Poor you,” Margaret responded. Only the arrival of a baby brother would have altered her fate.
Margaret’s negative comment regarding the crown originated with her father who had sobbed when he and his mother discussed the abdication, partially as he dreaded his stutter would be on public display. Nevertheless, he accepted the role of King George VI, and, along with his wife, Elizabeth, moved with his family to Buckingham Palace. As any excursion into London resulted in a media frenzy, normalcy would never be their norm. In 1933, the king gifted Elizabeth with Dookie, a corgi which helped her cope with the pressures of her station. (She has owned at least thirty of the breed). Queen Mary, who always wore a tiara to dinner even if she and her husband dined alone, drilled protocol into her granddaughter.
In 1940, with the outbreak of war, the close-knit family were often separated as the king and queen sent their daughters to Windsor Castle, about twenty miles away from the capital, and therefore not a likely target during the Blitz. The girls remained in their sheltered enclave for five years. A perk during the war time austerity was a thatched-cottage playhouse, the Y Bwthyn Bach, a present from the people of Wales, that had perks such as a heated towel rack, an electric fireplace, French dolls, and eight fur coats. In 1945, Elizabeth enlisted in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Services as No 230873 second subaltern Elizabeth Windsor. Photographs of her, alongside the military, became staples in Allied propaganda.
Following Germany’s defeat, in Buckingham Palace, Elizabeth became reacquainted with her third cousin, Prince Philip Mountbatten, who she had first met at age thirteen at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. At that time, she had been mainly enthralled at Philip’s agility in jumping over tennis nets. Upon their reunion, the seventeen-year-old was still taken with the twenty-two-year-old who had spent the war years as a naval lieutenant on a British destroyer that had been under danger of bombardment by German Stukas. Their match seemed improbable: she was the daughter of King George VI; he was the nephew of the deposed king of Greece; the Windsors were the lords of majestic castles; his family were exiles. Despite their differences, romance blossomed: Philip’s terms of endearment for Elizabeth were Lilibet, Sausage, or Darling. The prince proposed, and the twenty-year-old princess accepted without consulting mum and dad. During their 1947 wedding, the crowned heads of Europe and the world’s most powerful poli
Can We Talk? (1933)
Shakespeare’s clowns were the stand-up comics of the Elizabethan world. Their role: mock the pompous and puncture the pretentious. Paradoxically, the fools were the wise men of the era. As Regan observed in King Lear, “Jesters do oft prove prophets.” Stephen Sondheim’s 1970s song that showcases our need for humor ends, “Quick, send in the clowns/Don’t bother/They’re here.”