Airing on BBC Four this Sunday (12th August at 21.00) The Stolen Maharajah: Britain’s Indian Royal is a documentary about the last Maharajah of the Punjab, Duleep Singh, who was wrenched from his mother’s arms as a child in the 1840s and put into the care of an official of the British Empire.
Growing up in a colonial enclave in India, the boy king abandoned his Sikh religion and signed away his ancient kingdom to the British – decisions he would come to bitterly regret.
He moved as a teenager to Britain, where Queen Victoria became his godmother. Duleep Singh lived most of his adult life here as a supremely wealthy English country gentleman, part of the British social elite.
But, in time, his relationship with Britain turned sour. This documentary retraces the journeys of Duleep Singh and his family: from the royal palaces of the Punjab, to royal palaces in Britain, to his own English country estate, Elveden in Suffolk, to bohemian Paris.
The programme uses recently re-discovered letters by Singh, letters and diaries written by those whose knew him, extraordinary photographs and surviving artefacts.
The producers interview historians to get at the motives and inner life of Duleep Singh as he set out to recover his Sikh heritage and turn his back on his colonial past and reveal a story from the age of Empire about someone whose life was defined by those historic forces.