Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary by Anita Anand

Our very first featured non-fiction book is Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary - a dazzling new biography by Anita Anand.

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Acclaimed journalist and author Anita Anand tells us about extraordinary life of princess-turned-revolutionary Sophia Duleep Singh.

I'm often asked in interviews, just how did you find Sophia? The truth is, she found me.

It was 2010 and I was on maternity leave with my son Hari. Lots of you will recognise 'first baby stealth mode' - I felt like I had won the Olympics every time I got him off to sleep, and I tried everything I could to keep things as silent as possible. The TV was out of bounds, as was the radio. I even disconnected our doorbell for a few months… I know, I know – excessively bonkers.

Reading seemed safe enough so that's what I did. You name it, I read it - newspapers, magazines, flyers, local papers, cereal packets, the lot! During those stolen moments, a photograph in a local magazine caught my eye, and took my breath away.

It showed a suffragette selling newspapers outside Hampton Court. Her fierce eyes were clearly spoiling for a fight, and she made a striking image - but that wasn't what saved her from the recycling. Although she was dressed like a well-heeled English Edwardian, something jarred: the picture was black and white - but I could tell her skin was as brown as mine. Who was she? Why did I not know about a British Asian suffragette? The answers would lead me to uncover the story of a remarkable woman.

Her name was Princess Sophia Duleep Singh and she would be my constant companion for the next 4 years. Born in 1876, Sophia was the youngest daughter of the last Maharajah of Punjab, a monarch who once possessed the legendary Kohinoor diamond.

She was also Queen Victoria's goddaughter and lived at Hampton Court Palace, where she bred champion dogs and played competitive hockey. Sophia scandalised and titillated high society by becoming one of the first women in England to ride a bicycle in public and she was regularly featured in the pages of women's magazines. In short, she was a paparazzi princess.

But all that changed in 1909. Emmeline Pankhurst and her devoted band of suffragettes were turning England upside down in their efforts to win women the vote. Despite her great privilege and position, Sophia became an ardent and committed member of Emmeline's army.

She fought with police, battling in the midst of violent riots. She threw herself at the Prime Minister's car and refused to pay her taxes, daring the authorities to arrest her. 

The one-time darling of the upper classes was now denounced by the establishment. Her actions led to clashes with Winston Churchill and King George V, and ultimately she was deliberately erased from history. 

It has been my great pleasure to put her back. I thought of her and her sister suffragettes a lot when I cast my vote in May - we owe them so very much.

What the critics said 

"Anita Anand has produced a ground-breaking work that at last tells the important story of Sophia Duleep Singh: unflinching princess-in-exile, doughty moderniser, and tenacious suffragette." Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire

"A fascinating and elegantly written life of one of the unknown giants of women's suffrage" Katie Hickman, author of Daughters of Britannia

About the author

Anita Anand has been a radio and television journalist for almost twenty years. She is the presenter of Radio 4's Any Answers, and has also presented The Daily Politics, The Sunday Politics and Newsnight.

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Last updated: over 1 year ago