While Meghan Markel’s revelations into the British Royal family has once again triggered the debate of race in UK, a historian from India has claimed that Meghan is probably not the first woman of colour to be a part of the monarch family. While there is mention of Queen Charlotte’s (1744-1818) black ancestry, Queen Voctoria had her imperial godchildren too, according to the Victorian historian. Dr Priya Atwal took to Twitter amid raging debate about Meghan’s acceptance in the Royal family and spoke about the little-known life of Princess Gouramma of Coorg.
“Princess Gouramma (1841-64) was brought to Britain in 1852 by her father, the deposed Rajah of Coorg. The Rajah campaigned to win back his family wealth from the East India Company, but also asked Victoria to adopt his daughter, believing the Queen would give her a good life (sic),” Atwal wrote. It was Princess Gouramma’s father, Rajah of Coorg, who offered her to the Queen after baptising her with the hope that she would be brought up with “aristocratic guardians and secure her a good marriage”. Victoria readily accepted the idea and adopted Princess Gouramma. But princess of Coorg wasn’t the only one. Queen Victoria had several ‘godchildren’ whom she adopted from
royals from the empire. Duleep Singh and Sarah Bonetta Forbes were among these godchildren of the Queen.
As a historian of Victorian royalty, I am fascinated by some of the parallels between #MeghanMarkle’s current situation and the little known story of Princess Gouramma of Coorg. A thread ⬇️ 1/12 pic.twitter.com/17PftB26cv— Dr Priya Atwal (@priyaatwal) March 7, 2021
But facing racial attacks never stopped for the Queen’s godchildren even after being adopted. Atwal says their lives weren’t easy. Duldeep and Sarah ‘were both feted and treated as racialised others in Victorian Britain’. “And their lives were pored over in a newly-emerging popular press,” Atwal writes. “As I’ve found in my research, for her it was a good way to learn about her new territories and project a benevolent image of her family.”
Victoria took multiple young royals from around the empire as wards/godchildren – inc. Duleep Singh & Sarah Bonetta Forbes. As I’ve found in my research, for her it was a good way to learn about her new territories & project a benevolent image of her family. 5/12 pic.twitter.com/ZJY8ZQc0iO— Dr Priya Atwal (@priyaatwal) March 7, 2021
Gouramma faced a different struggle. She was pressured to become the model Anglicised princess. Even though the Queen had accepted her into the family, she had banned Gouramma from maintaining any contact with her family. The curtailment of ties again had racial undertones. According to Atwal, this was supposedly to prevent her from slipping into “native” or “heathen ways”. “She was moved from foster family to family as her caretakers struggled with the cost and demands of raising a royal ward.” The struggle of a new life was too much for the young princess who even tried to run away many times. It was the unwanted attention and being under scrutiny all the time that added to her woes. “In this I find her parallels with Meghan most intriguing: Gouramma often spoke of dearly wishing for more privacy & living independently – even to become a household maid – so she could be free of scrutiny. Yet her actions were attributed to her “innate Oriental weakness (sic),” Atwal writes.
Meghan too has spoken about the unwanted attention from media that has deprived her of any privacy in personal life. Meghan, who married Prince Harry in 2018, said she told the royal family she was struggling and needed professional help but was told “that I couldn’t, that it wouldn’t be good for the institution.” She even suggested that the Buckingham Palace was “perpetuating falsehoods” about her and Prince Harry. Asked by Winfrey how she felt about the Palace hearing her speak out, Markle replied: “I don’t know how they could expect that after all of this time we would still just be silent if there’s an active role that The Firm is playing in perpetuating falsehoods about us.”