Emily Wilding Davison’s funeral took place on June 14, 1913. Even those who felt uncomfortable with recent militancy turned out in great numbers. The guard of honour, suffragettes wearing white dresses and black sashes, escorted her body from Epsom to St George’s church in Bloomsbury, central London. Thousands had come from all over the British Isles, and wreaths had been sent from all over the world. The outpouring of emotion was overwhelming, particularly as the suffragettes prepared to move Emily’s coffin onto the train which would take her remains north, to her family burial plot in Morpeth, Northumberland.
The sight of her coffin galvanised many to continue in their own acts of militancy, and the police were kept busy with numerous outbreaks of violence and vandalism over the weeks that followed. The galleries of Hampton Court were closed after police received a tip-off that militants were going to strike, though nobody knew whether the threat was one of arson, paint-throwing or window-smashing.
Instead of distancing herself from the cause, as the Blathwayts had when militancy began to impact on their home, Sophia once again decided to show the world her support for the WSPU and their tactics. She had dabbled with selling the WSPU newspaper The Suffragette during the spring. Now she began to sell it regularly, and right outside the gates of Hampton Court Palace.
The sight of the Indian princess in her expensive furs with a satchel strapped across her body, sandwich board by her side, waving around a paper and shouting “Votes for Women” caused a scandal at the very highest levels.
William Carrington, Keeper of the Privy Purse and sometime sounding board for the sovereign’s private rages, was forced to take to his writing desk. Carefully cutting out a picture from the most recent copy of The Suffragette, he dropped the smudged picture of Sophia selling her papers into an envelope. Before sealing it, he also dropped in a compliment slip bearing the crest of Buckingham Palace. No words needed to be written, the recipient would know what was expected.
The note was conveyed directly to the Marquis of Crewe, Secretary of State for India. He had already heard a barrage of complaints from the Palace about the woman in the picture. This last act of hers had pushed the King over the edge and he wanted her thrown out of Hampton Court. Crewe circulated the note to his senior civil servants, noting that he had already spoken to George V’s private secretary about Princess Duleep Singh. He did not think it was up to the India Office to do the King’s bidding: “I have shown this to Lord Strathfordham who thinks the Lord Chamberlain is the person to warn the lady that she must not make herself compromised at H Court, or in the immediate neighbourhood. Inform Sir W Carrington of this and of our inability to help,” and he signed off the letter with his customary “C”. After sealing his response, Crewe placed the photo of Sophia, still attached to the Palace stationery, in the file held on the princess by the Political and Secret Department. He also wrote a letter to his private secretary and most trusted aide, Sir Arthur Hirtzel, apprising him of his response. Crewe had been grateful for his guidance.
Hirtzel had already warned the Secretary of State about the oncoming tirade from Buckingham Palace. “Lord Crewe, Sir William Carrington telephoned me about this picture which appeared in this week’s Suffragette. He asked “If anything could be done to “stop her”?” We have no financial hold over the Dhuleep Singh princesses, but of course it is for the King to say whether her conduct is such as should call for her eviction from the lodging she now enjoys in Hampton Court by his Majesty’s favour. May I so reply to Sir W Carrington?”
The King had no desire to personally sanction Sophia’s eviction. The headlines which undoubtedly would have followed if he acted were too ghastly to contemplate.
Sophia was his own grandmother’s ward, and since Queen Victoria had given Faraday House to her, George V felt in no position to take it away. Instead, an even closer watch was kept on the troublesome princess, while the King and his courtiers fumed over her ingratitude.
Sophia became used to fury. She was now surrounded by it every time she left her house. The picture galleries at Hampton Court remained closed for months; all the while Sophia continued to sell her newspaper outside the palace. The loss of visitors to the tourist attraction was crippling local businesses, especially the restaurants and nearby hotels. Traders begged Hampton Court to reopen or else they feared bankruptcy. Sophia with her sandwich board was a constant reminder of the money they were losing and the reason they were losing it.
If Buckingham Palace and the residents of East Molesey had hoped Christmas would bring them some respite from Sophia’s antics, they were wrong. The Daily Mail published a graphic account of her latest suffragette activities on December 30. They even sent a photographer to capture the moment when the princess, swathed in expensive black furs with an ornate feather hat on her head, left Feltham police court. She was not there to support her friends. It was Sophia’s turn to take her place in the dock. Although she had been arrested before, this was the first time she had found herself facing prosecution.
In an article headlined “Princess’s Unpaid Taxes. Fines Upon Four Summonses”, the Mail gave details of the charges against her:
The Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, residing at Hampton Road, Hampton Court, attended at Feltham Police Court yesterday upon summonses for refusing to pay taxes...She employed a groom without a licence, and also kept two dogs and a carriage without payment of the necessary licence. She came to court wearing the badge and medal of the Tax Resistance League and was accompanied by six other ladies including the secretary of the league, Mrs Kineton Parkes.
After the Inland Revenue presented its evidence, her lawyer Leon Castello rose to his feet. Having conferred briefly with his client, Castello informed the judge that on this occasion, the princess would be speaking for herself. When Sophia rose, her voice was steady, although the piece of foolscap paper in her hands trembled a little. The Daily Mail journalist reported two lines of what she said to the court: “When the women of England are enfranchised and the State acknowledges me as a citizen, I shall, of course, pay my share willingly to its upkeep...I don’t say I will pay these fines either.”
Other newspapers, including The Times, printed her speech in full:
I am unable conscientiously to pay money to the state, as I am not allowed to exercise any control over its expenditure, neither am I allowed any voice in the choosing of members of Parliament, whose salaries I have to help to pay. This is very unjustified. When the women of England are enfranchised and the State acknowledges me as a citizen, I shall, of course, pay my share willingly towards its upkeep, if I am not a fit person for the purposes of representation, why should I be a fit person for taxation?
The judge told her he had no interest in her politics and that she risked prison if she continued her refusal. “Mr White (supervisor of taxes) helpfully informed the judge that the princess was convicted of a similar offence in May 1911.” With that, the judge brought down his gavel and fined the princess £12 10s for the unpaid taxes, and gave her until the first week of the new year to pay her dues.
When she calmly told him she had no intention of paying now or in the new year she was told to expect the bailiffs.
A collection of newspaper cuttings about Sophia’s day in court found their way to the desk of the Secretary of State for India again. In one from the Daily Mail, the princess’s words had been underlined in blue pencil. Sighing, Lord Crewe wrote a note to his private secretary: “Dear Hirtzel, Buck Pal will probably write here again full of rage and grief. They read the Mail assiduously there...’ and with that, he added the papers to Sophia’s file.
Excerpted with permission from Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary, Anita Anand, Bloomsbury India.