India Office Archive details ‘Colonial Loot’ in Royal Collection

The India archive has detailed how priceless items from colonies are now part of the royal jewellery collection as trophies of conquest.

India Office Archive details 'Colonial Loot' in Royal Collection f

"I shall go straight to their stables.”

The India archive has revealed the extent of “colonial loot” in the royal jewellery collection.

When King Charles III celebrated his 70th birthday, an exhibition showcasing his favourite pieces from the royal collection was launched.

Among the sculptures, paintings and other exhibits was a gold girdle inlaid with 19 emeralds once used by an Indian maharajah to decorate his horses.

A 46-page file in the archives of the India Office details an investigation, apparently commissioned by Queen Mary, the grandmother of Elizabeth II, into the imperial origins of her jewels.

The 1912 report explains how priceless pieces were extracted from India as trophies of conquest and later given to Queen Victoria.

The items are now owned by the monarch as property of the British crown.

A journal records a tour in 1837 of the Punjab area in India by the society diarist Fanny Eden and her brother George, the governor-general of the British Raj at the time.

They visited Ranjit Singh, the maharajah in Lahore, who had signed a “treaty of friendship” with the British six years earlier.

In her journal, Eden said Singh wore hardly any precious stones but his entourage were covered in them.

The maharajah had so many jewels that “he puts his very finest jewels on his horses, and the splendour of their harness and housings surpasses anything you can imagine”.

Eden later admitted in her journal: “If ever we are allowed to plunder this kingdom, I shall go straight to their stables.”

Twelve years later, Singh’s heir Duleep was forced to sign over the Punjab to the British East India Company.

As part of the conquest, the company did indeed plunder the horses’ emeralds, as well as Singh’s most precious stone, the Kohinoor diamond.

The Kohinoor now sits in the crown of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, which is on display at the Tower of London.

It has become a symbol of Britain’s tortured relationship with its imperial history.

India Office Archive details 'Colonial Loot' in Royal Collection

Journalist Anita Anand co-wrote a book titled Kohinoor. She said it was “a beautiful and cold reminder of British supremacy during the Raj”.

Anand said: “Its facets reflect the fate of a boy king who was separated from his mother.”

The stone too was “taken far away from his home, recut and diminished”.

Anand added: “That is not how India sees itself today.”

Buckingham Palace is aware of the sensitivities surrounding looted artefacts.

After the Indian government said that if Queen Consort Camilla wore the Kohinoor at Charles’ coronation would elicit “painful memories of the colonial past”, the palace announced she would swap it for a less contentious diamond.

But the Kohinoor was not the only jewel taken from Singh’s treasury.

The Guardian reported that a “short necklace of four very large spinel rubies” was later identified as the Timur ruby.

Research by Susan Stronge in 1996 concluded it is likely that it was never owned by Timur, a Mongol conquerer. And it is a spinel, a red stone similar to, but chemically distinct from, a ruby.

In a 1969 documentary, Elizabeth II was shown handling it.

She was never pictured wearing the item but she may have another of the Lahore treasures, identified as “a pearl necklace consisting of 224 large pearls”.

In her 1987 study, Leslie Field described “one of the Queen Mother’s most impressive two-row pearl necklaces… made from 222 pearls with a clasp of two magnificent rubies surrounded by diamonds that had originally belonged to the ruler of the Punjab”.

In 2012, Elizabeth II attended a gala festival at London’s Royal Opera House wearing a pearl necklace with a ruby clasp.

It was speculated that they were Ranjit Singh’s pearls but Buckingham Palace did not confirm or deny it.

Indian MP Shashi Tharoor said:  “We have finally entered an era where colonial loot and pillage is being recognised for what it really was, rather than being dressed up as the incidental spoils of some noble ‘civilising mission’.

“As we are seeing increasingly, the return of stolen property is always a good thing.

“Generations to come will wonder why it took civilised nations so long to do the right thing.”

Dhiren is a journalism graduate with a passion for gaming, watching films and sports. He also enjoys cooking from time to time. His motto is to “Live life one day at a time.”

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