Book Review: The English Maharani by Miles Taylor

Book Name: The English Maharani

Author: Miles Taylor

Publisher: Penguin Random House India

Genre: Non-fiction

Rating: 4/5

Book Blurb: Queen Victoria was at the head of the Raj, Britain’s Indian empire, for much of her long reign. Passionately involved, she intervened in Indian politics, commissioned artists and photographers to record a landscape and people that she never saw herself, sent her sons as ambassadors to the subcontinent, and surrounded herself with the trappings of the Indian conquest, from the Koh-i-Noor diamond to her own Indian troop escort and servants.

Indian politics and society were in turn fundamentally reshaped by her influence: maharajas vied for her favour, missionaries used her as a tool for conversion and Indian reformers turned to her as a symbol of justice and equality. She also became an object of fascination and veneration: hundreds of popular biographies and tributes emerged from the vernacular printing presses, and her two jubilees of 1887 and 1897 were celebrated with unprecedented gusto.

In this new and original account, Miles Taylor charts the remarkable effects India had on the queen as well as the pivotal role she played in India. Drawing on official papers and an abundance of poems, songs, diaries and photographs, Taylor challenges the notion that Victoria enjoyed only ceremonial power and that India’s loyalty to her was without popular support. On the contrary, the rule of the queen-empress penetrated deep into Indian life and contributed significantly to the country’s modernisation, both political and economic.

In this subtle portrayal of Victoria’s India, Taylor suggests that the Raj was one of her greatest successes.

Review: The English Maharani is a meticulously researched historical work on Queen Victoria and explores her role in shaping India and the general political scenario that prevailed at the time in the sub-continent.

It explores the spread of evangelical church in India and the unwitting role played by the empress. The Queen often comes across as a figurine with little to no information about her distant lands. The conversion of many Indian exiles such as Duleep Singh and Gouramma also served to display the evangelical aspirations of the British empire for India.

“Queen Victoria was an unwitting accomplice of the evangelical mission in India in the late 1830s and 1840s. Missionary publications detailing the onward march of the Christian church in India were sent to her and to Prince Albert.”

However, as she found her foothold and made friends with some female royal rulers of India, (following the 1857 revolution) she became interested towards the cause of Indian women. This helped and perhaps led to a later rise in royal female leaders acting as reformists.

The book also explores her relationship with Indian servants such as Abdul Karim and Rafiuddin Ahmad. The Queend’s fondness for her munshi generated a bit of a scandal at the royal household.

The book shows Queen Victoria as a humane person who perhaps was thrust with a lot of responsibility at a very young age but handled them well.

Much of the information is already available with the masses but this book is an important historical account. There is little peak into her personal life and affairs which would have been a welcome addition.

The book concludes that there are two versions of the Empress and rightly so- one version depicted her as the reformist furthering the cause of gender and reform in India while the other looked upon her as a monarch (or usurper) furthering the cause of Christianity in India. The reality is perhaps somewhere in between these two extremes and a bit greyish.

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