Queen Victoria and the Indian rebellion of 1857-8

Université Paris IV-Sorbonne, en partenariat avec l’Institute of Historical Research (University of London), le Groupe d’histoire intellectuelle (Université Paris 8-Vincennes-Saint-Denis) et le CREA (Université Paris Ouest-Nanterre-La Défense)

Maison de la Recherche, 28 rue Serpente, Paris 6e (salle D040)

Jeudi 24 octobre à 17h30: Miles Taylor (Institute of Historical Research, Londres), “Queen Victoria and the Indian rebellion of 1857-8”

Abstract : News of the revolt in India reached London in July 1857 just as Queen Victoria was meeting with members of the royal family of Awadh, whose court at Lucknow was to lie at the centre of the uprising against British rule in 1857-8. It was a coincidence little noted at the time, or since. It is an encounter which tells us a great deal about the wider role of Queen Victoria in the Indian revolt, and, conversely, about the changing place of India in Victoria’s own statecraft. On the eve of the famous ‘mutiny’, the Queen was perceived as a court of final appeal – the last resort for Indian rulers at odds with the East India Company. At the same time, Victoria was a Christian queen within a European culture infused with a heightened sense of religious difference and superiority. By the mid-1850s she had come to stand for much of the evangelical Protestant ideology of British India. Religiosity suffused Anglo-Indian relations by 1857. Britain’s intervention with France in the Crimea in defence of Christian minorities together with the war against the Shi’a Shah of Persia in 1856, demonstrated Britain’s willingness to fight in the name of religion. Inevitably, as the revolt in India came to turn on a clash of religious cultures, so Queen Victoria became invoked not for her tolerance but for her Protestant zeal. In this way, Victoria, far removed from the scene of battle, symbolised many of the tensions over which the rebels were battling.

The revolt also proved a turning-point for Victoria herself. Throughout 1857 and 1858 India consumed the energies of the Queen. With Albert and her cousin George, the Duke of Cambridge and recently appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Forces, she pressed the cabinet of Lord Palmerston for a faster and more resolute military response from Britain. She sought out her own channels of information about the unfolding events – from returning officers and widows who passed through her court, from specially commissioned artists and photographers, and from her own private correspondents in India. Once the rebellion was suppressed, Victoria and Albert turned their attention to the post-war settlement – the transfer of the government of India from the East India Company to the Crown. As the legislation enacting the new arrangements made its way through Parliament in 1858, the royal couple intervened to ensure that royal prerogative was upheld. And when the cabinet of Lord Derby came to write the Proclamation explaining the transfer of power to the peoples of India, it was the Queen and her consort who changed fundamentally the tone and text of the document in ways which ensured it would become known as the ‘Magna Carta’ of Indian liberties.

Miles Taylor has been Director of the Institute of Historical Research, University of London since 2008. His previous books include The Decline of British Radicalism, 1847-60 (OUP, 1995) and Ernest Jones, Chartism and the Romance of Politics, 1819-69 (OUP, 2003). His most recent book is (ed.), The Victorian Empire and Britain’s Maritime World, 1837-1901 (Palgrave, 2013) and he is currently completing Empress: Queen Victoria and India for Yale UP.

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Cite this blog post
Bertrand Lefebvre (2013, October 18). Queen Victoria and the Indian rebellion of 1857-8. AJEI - Association Jeunes Études Indiennes. Retrieved May 19, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/axga