Jagatjit Singh (1872-1949) ruled the princely Indian state of Kapurthala from the age of six in 1877 and was the longest serving Maharaja in the history of the British Raj. He was also one of the most widely travelled kings of his generation with a particular fondness for England and France. His liberal upbringing under the tutelage of English academics made the Raja particularly close to his British overlords and led to a progressive reign that saw audacious building projects and a largely contented, peaceful populace.
The Raja assumed absolute power in 1877 but this did not curtail his wanderlust. At the conclusion of his reign, he had visited most European countries, North, Central and South America, Egypt, China, Japan, Siam and Java. He spoke English, French, Sanskrit, Hindi, Persian and Urdu fluently and was personally acquainted with most of his fellow monarchs around the globe. The Raja is known to have visited Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, Emperor Hirohito of Japan, Emperor Franz Josef of Austria, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, King Victor Emanuel of Italy, King Leopold II of Belgium, King Alfonso XIII of Spain, King Gustav of Sweden and King Haakon of Norway.
A contemporary British diplomat visiting Kapurthala describes the Raja thus: ‘the most charming of hosts possessing a sense of quiet humour which rendered him inimitable as a raconteur. His was the best-administered and progressive state in India’. The Raja had a special relationship with Queen Victoria with whom he stayed at Windsor and Balmoral on numerous occasions. He attended the wedding of the heir presumptive the Duke of York (the future King George V) and The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. He was honoured at King George V’s Coronation Delhi Durbar with the title Maharaja in 1911 and was also conferred with the French Legion d’Honneur.
The Maharaja was a great favourite of King George V’s consort Queen Mary with whom he would dine privately at Buckingham Palace. Because he was an Anglophile, the Maharaja sent his five sons to public school in England then on up to Oxford or Cambridge. His only daughter Rani Amrit Kaur married the Raja of Mandi and was the first woman in Indian history to hold a cabinet ranking serving as Minister of Health. Both the Maharaja’s third and fourth son died in the prime of their life in their twenties. Less is known of the Maharaja’s six wives.
Like many Indian potentates, the Maharaja of Kapurthala was entitled to marry several times and on the sixth occasion could not resist the allure of Eugenia Maria Grossupovai; the daughter of a Czech count and an actress. They married in 1942 and the new consort was rechristened Rani Tara Devi Sahiba. The marriage was unhappy and the pool lady leapt to her death in Delhi in 1946. Despite his relatively late marriage to a European dolly bird, the Maharaja was no playboy. He was the Indian Representative to the League of Nations on three occasions in the 1920s and was the only Indian ruler to attend the conference at Versailles post World War One.
Winston Churchill said of the Maharaja ‘the impress of his charming personality and cultivated taste was apparent, particularly in the capital of the State which has been embellished with handsome palaces and public buildings’. Landmark buildings constructed in the capital city of Kapurthala include the Royal Palace modelled on Versailles, the Grand Moorish Mosque and the Royal Courts of Justice. Because he reigned for so many decades, the Maharaja of Kapurthala was looked upon as the father of the Indian rulers even though his state was relatively minor in the hierarchy. Many Anglophile Indian Rajas and Princes were indeed playboys and killed themselves with excess alcohol and dissipated behaviour. Apart from his sixth wife’s suicide, the Maharaja of Kapurthala’s life was relatively free of scandal.