Exhibition explores Queen Victoria’s India connection


A statue of Queen Victoria outside Kensington Palace.
A statue of Queen Victoria outside Kensington Palace.

by AMIT ROY THE curator of a new exhibition on Queen Victoria at Kensington Palace, Polly Putnam, has been honest about not sanitising the nature of British rule in India. For example, a caption to images of starving Indians taken from the Illustrated London News of 1877 could not be more blunt: “It is clear that British involvement in India was fundamentally exploitative. Food and profits were directed away from India towards Britain, which contributed to famines across the region. Between 1876 and 1878, an estimated 5.5 million people died from hunger in British territories.” “However, Victoria’s relationship with India was a complex one and she had much personal sympathy towards the Indian people,” the caption does add. The exhibition, which opened on May 24, marks the 200th anniversary of Victoria’s birth at Kensington Palace and will run until January 20, 2020. It is in two interlinked parts – Victoria: A Royal Childhood and Victoria: Woman and Crown. The first tells of Victoria’s upbringing until she became queen at the age of 18 in 1837. She was subjected to Kensington Palace rules. “The Princess is not to have her own bedroom; she is to sleep in the same room as her mother, the Duchess (of Kent),” was one rule. “She is not allowed to walk down the stairs unaccompanied,” and “She is to have a simple diet, only eating roast mutton,” were others. Her governess, Baroness Lehzen, introduced the book where Victoria had to describe her own behaviour. Comments that the self-aware royal put down ranged from “good” to “naughty and vulgar” to “Very Very Very Very Horribly Naughty!!!!!” Although her mother’s first language was German, Victoria was brought up as an English girl. She was also taught drawing, and later as Queen, she would sketch not only Maharaja Duleep…

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