Photo Credit: India Tribune
An Exchange is Made
Said to have once hung on the neck of the Sun God himself, the large and mediocre Koh-i-Nur ("Mountain of Light") diamond was given as a gift to Queen
Having spent an unknown number of centuries in the hands of the Mughals, possibly even housed secretly in the great Peacock Throne, the diamond was seized in 1739, by Nadir Shah of
Persia. It remained in Afghanistan, passing through the hands of several Persian rulers, until Shah Shuja was defeated by Mahmud.
From prison, Shah Shuja sent the stone with his family to
Punjab, where they found sanctuary. Shah Shuja’s wife, Queen Wafa Begum, secured her husband’s release from prison by gifting the large jewel to Ranjit Singh, who hired a jeweler to facet and set into an armlet. He had hoped that the new cuts would release the radiance he believed existed within the stone. However, the diamond remained hopelessly devoid of brilliance. Greatly disappointed, Ranjit Singh beheaded the jeweler responsible for faceting and setting it.
After his death in 1843, Ranjit Singh left a vacuum of power in
India. This, of course, resulted in fighting among his successors, one of whom was nine-year-old Duleep Singh. It also opened the door for Britain to finally gain a foothold in the sought-after Indian territory
After a six-year attempt to dominate the region, the British defeated the Sikhs and Afghans, abdicated the Sikh treasury under the 1849 Treaty of Lahore, and carried the Koh-i-Nur (also called Koh-i-Noor) and Duleep Singh back to
England in victory.
|Duleep Singh, Queen Victoria's Sketch|
Photo Credit: London Evening Standard
Under Her Majesty's Wing
Duleep Singh enjoyed an allowance paid by the state. He accompanied Victoria and Albert on many family trips and played with the royal children frequently. He and
Prince Albert, who dabbled in photography, spent many hours together developing pictures in the castle dark room. Always one for sentimentality, Queen Victoria had a portrait of him commissioned, and he returned the favor by wearing a miniature of his beloved queen around his neck.
Despite her ministrations and affections, Duleep did indeed return to his former “barbarian” ways. He suffered a severe bout of mental illness in the 1880s, replete with delusions of reclaiming his seat of power in
India. These unfortunate delusions prompted him to travel to Russia, where he allied himself with some nefarious characters in an attempt to start an Anglo-Russian war. Of course, Victoria was absolutely furious and considered his actions a serious betrayal of her trust and affection for him.
|Queen Mother's Crown|
Koh-i-Noor, front center Maltese cross
Photo Credit: Bizcovering
An Unfortunate End
He did secure a final meeting with the queen two years before he died. She agreed to meet him at her hotel on the
Riviera while she was on holiday. Duleep spent their entire time together regaling her with all of his misfortune and woe. Queen Victoria was said to have been glad for the opportunity to forgive him, but she was clearly distressed by the meeting.
Throughout her reign, the Koh-i-Noor diamond remained a source of both pride and guilt for Queen
Victoria. She did wear it for her son, Prince Arthur's, wedding in 1879; however, she was known to avoid any appearance of flaunting the jewel. She felt a deep sense of chagrin at conquering the Indian territories, and I’m sure her affection for Duleep played a role in her restraint in wearing the gem.
Although there have been campaigns lodged by the Sikhs for the return of the “Mountain of Light” to its country of origin, the Koh-i-Noor diamond remains a part of the British Crown Jewels and is kept in the Tower of London.
1. Rappaport, Helen. Queen Victoria: A Biographical Companion. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2003.
2. All About Gemstones. "Diamond Mines of the World: India's Diamonds of Golconda." Accessed August 6, 2012. http://www.allaboutgemstones.com/diamond_mines_golconda.html.
*Clip-art courtesy of The Graphics Fairy