Maharajahii Indiei / The Maharajahs of India (X).

Maharajahii Indiei / The Maharajahs of India (X).

(Ann Morrow, „Highness. The Maharajahs of India”, Cap. 4, „As Plentiful as Blackberries”)

In 1876 the future Edward VII brought back an embarrassment of riches from his tour of India. In holy Benares, cynically called City of Burning, City of Learning, he was given a large double bed of solid silver, a silver palanquin lined with ubiquitous red satin and trimmed with gold, a silver bath and in Gwalior another bed of solid gold. The Barodas gave him a solid silver tea service in a blackwood cabinet, a pearl necklace with a vast emerald pendant set in gold for Queen Victoria, a diamond brooch for Princess Alexandra and a diamond ring for himself. The House of Oudh gave him a pearl and diamond crown with pearl drops.

Instead of silver salvers, in those days the equerries organised gold snuff boxes. But the tiny Gaekwad of Baroda got a sword which almost came up to his shoulders. He was nine at the time and he never did grow very tall. He was also given a gold watch, a medal, and a book of engravings of Windsor Castle and, of course, portraits of royal family. But on the whole, the Prince of Wales gave dictionaries, walking sticks, flasks, field glasses and riding crops.

So the irresponsible ‘Bertie’ brought back tangible proof of the Maharajahs’ devotion to their mother, the Empress of India: emeralds, diamonds, pale pink rubies, sapphires, a serpent bracelet which the present Queen finds a little spooky, a gold crown hung with emerald drops; in all three trunks of jewellery. Solid gold drinking cups, swords with gold scabbards, silver swords and armour inlaid with gold were all loaded at Bombay aboard HMS Osborne and HMS Serapis for the long voyage home.

Ladies-in-waiting had her portmanteaux of gifts from the Indian Princes brought to the Queen’ s private sitting room. A very feminine woman, the Queen warmed to her dear Maharajahs even more as her little hands unclasped one case after another of jewels. Out poured torrents of diamonds and sapphires; indeed her palms could not hold the ruby necklaces, the diamond bracelets, pearl chokers, diamond rings and belts with emeralds the siye of greengages.

She put them on her head, on her wrists and on her chubby fingers at a New Year’ s Day banquet at Windsor Castle in 1877, but her suites of Indian jewellery have never been seen since.

‘Diamonds,’ sniffed one observer on the Prince of Wales’ s tour in 1875, ‘seem as plentiful in India as blackberries in England.’

-to be continued-

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