giovedì 14 gennaio 2016

Intriguing India - Part III: The Last Days of the Empire and the Queen's First Visit in 1961

After the first two posts in our series exploring the relationship between the British Monarchy and India (which can be found here and here), it's now time to take a look at the years before and around the Partition, and the role played by the Queen in the early days of the Commonwealth.

Queen George V and Queen Mary, as recalled in our previous post, paid just one visit to the Subcontinent, on the occasion of the 1911 Delhi Durbar. Their son, Edward VIII, who reigned for just under a year in 1936, despite formally holding the title of Emperor of India, was never crowned and had far more serious constitutional troubles to think about in his short reign to even think about overseas tours, so a visit to India as sovereign was always going to be off the cards for him.
He did, however, visit between 1921 and 1922 when Prince of Wales. It was during this visit that he took part in a spot of tiger hunting, something we can all safely guess won't feature in the official program of the 2016 tour! :)


The present Queen's parents were, of course, the last Emperor and Empress of India, as British India became the two separate countries of India and Pakistan in 1947, during the reign of George VI. After Edward VIII's abdication in December 1936, it was initally envisaged that his successor would visit India and have his own Durbar. However, the Indian National Congress passed a motion calling for a boycott of any such visit. In a speech in October 1937, the King said: "I am looking forward with interest and pleasure to the time when it will be possible for Me to visit My Indian Empire".
It was a time of momentous historical change, and the King and Queen eventually never did get a chance to make this visit. Hugo Vickers, in his biography Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, recalls the Queen's regret at not visiting India.
The connection with the country remained strong, however. For the wedding of Princess Elizabeth in 1947, several gifts of Indian provenance were delivered to the happy couple, including a somewhat unusual piece of lace homespun by Mahatma Gandhi himself with the words "Jai Hind", which means "Freedom to India". Queen Mary was told to be less than impressed with the gift, mistaking it for a loincloth of the type Gandhi used to wear and reportedly remarking: "Such an indelicate gift. What a horrible thing."
Other gifts of Indian provenance included a diamond and platinum Cartier necklace presented by the Nizam of Hyderabad (a piece that has already been loaned to the Duchess of Cambridge in February 2014 and could likely make a reappearance on the tour), plus a number of rarely, if ever seen pieces of jewellery, for which we only have the succint description available in the official Royal Wedding gift list published at the time, including two pairs of jewelled anklets set with brillants and enamel drops mounted as a necklace, presented by the Dominion of India and an antique Rajput headpiece of gold set with pearls, rubies and diamonds, presented by Maharao Raja of Bundi and that has subsequently been mounted as a brooch.
The first of three official visits paid by Queen Elizabeth II to India came early in 1961, for a six-week tour of both India and Pakistan. Leaving behind the cold and gloom of London, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh departed from Heathrow Airport on 21 January 1961 and were seen by (a very glamourous) Princess Margaret, her husband the Earl of Snowdon and the Queen Mother:
As the first visit from a reigning British monarch after the Independence, it was a historic occasion and Her Majesty received a warm welcome. At Ramlila Grounds in Delhi the Queen addressed a crowd estimated to number a quarter of a million people, to this day still one of the best-attended public speeches of all times. True to her style, the Queen spoke a few words in Hindi to express her thanks, to the delight of the crowd:
The 1961 tour provided some fabulous photo opportunities - riding a gaily decorated elephant in Benares:


Posing in front of the Taj Mahal with the Duke of Edinburgh, decades before the iconic Princess Diana photograph:

A lot of fab 1960s fashion:

With India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Another tiger hunt took place during the 1961 tour. Discovering this material while I was researching this post came as quite a surprise to me, and it just goes to show how far environmental sensibilities have come in just a few decades. I suspect this time around there will be a strong focus placed on conservation, one of the Duke of Cambridge's strongest personal interest:

Carefully examining a gigantic floral garland presented to her in Madras.

Attending a fashion show organized by the wives of diplomats at the Central Cottage Industries in Delhi.
On the first evening of the visit, President Rajendra Prasad gave a State banquet in the Queen's honour, for which she wore the pearl-encrusted evening dress by Norman Hartnell seen below. The dress was made of fine lace, richly embroidered with pearls, sequins and bugle beads in a design of lotus flowers - the national flower of India (again, I can very well see the Lotus Flower - or Papyrus - tiara worn on tour by the Duchess should a tiara-wearing occasion arise!). As you can see, the dress originally had a train falling from the shoulders, but this was subsequently altered and made into a matching bolero jacket. The Queen is seen wearing Queen Alexandra's Kokoshnik tiara, her ruby and diamond floral bandeu necklace (part of the Greville bequest and a wedding present from her parents) and Queen Mary's ruby cluster earrings:

Leaving the glitz and glamour of the 1960s behind, we'll be back very soon with a new post covering the other two official visits made by the Queen to India, in 1983 and 1997! See you very soon! 

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