In the days when the sun never set on the British Empire, there was only one woman who made Queen Victoria quake in her lace-up boots: Jind Kaur, the powerful Maharani of the Sikh Empire. And believe me, she more than earned her nickname “The Messalina of the Punjab.” Just like that tragic Roman empress, Jind Kaur lived through eye-searing luxury, vicious captivity, and one infamously stunning betrayal.
Jind Kaur Facts
1. She Had Humble Beginnings
Jind Kaur’s humble beginnings showed few hints of the infamy she would achieve. Born in 1817 in the Sikh Empire, she was the daughter of the overseer of the royal kennels. Sure, it was a cushy job that provided Jind and her siblings with a comfortable life, but it was hardly glamorous. Yet even from a young age, her family knew she was destined for much, much more—and they had a scandalous way of getting her there.
2. Her Father Had Big Dreams For Her
Jind Kaur obviously didn’t have an awkward teenage phase, because by the time she was 18 years old, she was so incredibly beautiful that her father Manna Singh was convinced she could snag herself a powerful groom. In fact, he was sure she could snag the most powerful groom: The Maharaja of the Sikh Empire, Ranjit Singh. Then again, Manna didn’t exactly leave it up to chance.
3. She Had A Cinderella Story
Before long, Jind’s father was dropping little “hints” to Ranjit whenever he saw him about how unbelievably gorgeous his young, nubile, and single daughter was. Until one day, it all fell into place. The ruler took the bait, sending a ceremonial arrow and sword to Jind’s village as a proclamation of his intention to marry her. From then on, nothing was the same.
4. Her Groom Was Scary
Jind didn’t have a say in her choice of husband—especially since that husband was a freaking Maharaja—but she also couldn’t have known what she was getting into. Besides being nearly 40 years her senior, Ranjit Singh was also tough as nails, having fought in battles from the tender age of 10. Yet when it came to her new married life, that was the least of Jind’s worries.
5. She Had Stiff Competition
The Maharaja was nearing his twilight years, but he’d taken many wives and mistresses over the course of his prime. So many, in fact, that the number of his official spouses could be anywhere from 20 to 46. One thing was certain, though: Jind was his final wife, and the teenager soon found out that she had a lot to prove in the royal palace.
6. She Had A Dysfunctional Family
In reality, Ranjit Singh’s household was more like a snake pit, writhing with petty differences and old grudges. His first wife, Mehtaub, was a political match and had despised him from day one. Meanwhile, his second wife, Datar, had been his firm favorite and had ruled the roost before passing in 1818. But when it came to this soap opera, that was just the beginning.
7. She Had One Royal Job
Sure, tales of Jind’s beauty had intrigued Ranjit, but he had an ulterior motive for marrying her. The Maharaja’s son and heir was sickly, and he worried about the strength and longevity of his bloodline. In Jind, Ranjit saw one last opportunity for a robust heir. Gee, thanks. Still, Jind Kaur was not a woman to walk away from a challenge—and she certainly wasn’t going to lose, either.
8. She Did Her Duty Perfectly
Three years after her marriage to the Maharaja, Jind gave birth to a boy she named Duleep. So yeah, while some historical consorts struggled for years to give their husbands that coveted male heir, our girl Jind got it on the first try. Only, before she could celebrate this “accomplishment” for too long, catastrophe came to visit.
9. She Lost Her Husband In The Blink Of An Eye
Jind gave birth to Duleep in the nick of time, because the Maharaja’s health had been failing since long before they were married. During the 1830s, he suffered a stroke as well as a slew of other ailments, likely brought on by his alcoholism and failing liver. In June 1839, when Jind’s boy was barely a year old, the Maharaja passed—and with his death came a chilling ritual.
10. Her Husband’s Funeral Was Gruesome
In some ways, Jind was lucky to make it out of her husband’s funeral alive. On the day of the Maharaja’s funeral, four of his Hindu wives and seven Hindu concubines performed the ritual of sati, where they threw themselves on his funeral pyre and voluntarily perished. Since Jind was Sikh, she was exempt from this honor killing…but her future was still full of danger.
11. Her Son Became Ruler
For the next few years, Jind tried to fly under the radar with her son Duleep as the empire fell into various infighting. Then, in 1843, destiny knocked on her door. After the assassination of the current Maharaja, the imperial military proclaimed that Jind’s five-year-old son was the new ruler. You’d think that Jind would have been happy about this, but you’d be wrong.
12. She Had Powerful Enemies
Jind had learned a few things about power, survival, and the game of thrones while serving as the Maharaja’s wife, and she had dark suspicions about her newfound “luck.” It seemed obvious to her that the army had chosen Duleep because, as a literal toddler, they thought he would be easy to control. Well, Jind Kaur was having none of that, and she came up with an ingenious plan.
13. She Could Play The Game Of Thrones
Over the next few months, Jind used her considerable charms and shrewd senses to defend the rights of her son as ruler, fighting with the various adult committees to place more true power in his chubby little hands, and pleading with them to “ensure that he was not a king with an empty title.” But she wasn’t doing this out of the goodness of her maternal heart, oh no…
14. She Earned Power For Herself
Apparently, the Maharani had had enough of living in the shadows as a younger wife, and she was grabbing onto this opportunity with both hands. Because for every inroad she made for her son’s power, she actually put influence in her own hands. Before long, Jind had become Regent for her son and had taken control of the entire government.
Darn, girl. And then the trouble really started.
15. Her Stepson Tried To Topple Her
Jind’s court might have looked lavish and generous, but at its heart, it had a shrill, bitter streak. Almost the minute that Jind secured her power, her fellow wives and stepsons came out of the woodwork hoping to grab a piece of it, chief among them Duleep’s half-brother Pashaura Singh. Sensing danger, Jind reacted the only way she knew how.
16. She Promoted Her Own Brother
In order to protect herself against her many and growing enemies, the new Regent cleaned house, replacing and punishing many of her corrupt advisors. In particular, she sacked her old vizier and put her older brother, Jawahar, in his place, certain that her loyal sibling would defend her to the end. Sadly, she was a little too right about this.
17. She Was In The Middle Of A Family Feud
In July 1845, Pashaura Singh decided to make his big gambit for the throne, attacking a fort and declaring himself the true Maharaja of the Punjab. Although Pashaura quickly surrendered to Jind’s forces after a short skirmish, he’d made his point. For Jind’s brother Jawahar, it was the final straw—and the consequences would go down in infamy.
18. Her Brother Was A Murderer
Certain that this usurper would never stop trying to take his baby nephew’s throne, Jawahar had his men capture Pashaura for themselves, and then strangle the rogue royal so that he could never cause trouble again. In one version of history, this would be a triumphant political play. But for Jind and her brother, it became a notorious tragedy.
19. The Army Turned On Her Family
When word got out that the vizier of the empire was going around offing royal princes—even troublesome, ambitious ones—the Sikh army was none too happy. For over a week, they ominously insisted on an audience with Jawahar, all while Jind and her brother tried to negotiate for mercy. But 10 days later, they could negotiate no more, and had to meet a terrible fate.
20. She Tried To Save Her Brother
On September 21st, 1845, Jind accompanied her sibling to his meeting. She did everything in her power to keep him safe, including escorting him with a whole line of elephants and placing her young royal son right beside him. It was all supposed to show whose side Jind was really on, but it didn’t change things one bit. In fact, it only made it more horrific.
21. Her Brother Died In Front Of Her
When the army spotted Jind, Jawahar, and the little Maharaja, they broke up the trio in an instant, tearing the boy away and dragging Jind off to the side. They then toppled Jawahar from his elephant and got a gruesome revenge, spearing him 50 times while Jind watched, devastated, from the sidelines. It was one of Jind’s darkest hours, and it hardened her right down to her core.
Unfortunately, she’d need every ounce of this steel for the next sharp twist of fate.
22. She Had Traitors In Her Midst
In December 1845, Britain busted into Jind Kaur’s life and started a world of trouble. The English absolutely routed Jind’s people during the Anglo-Sikh War, and then had the audacity to promote one of Jind’s traitorous courtiers, Tej Singh, for his greasy “help” during the conflict. Fiery to a fault, Jind lashed out—and paid a heartbreakingly high price.
23. The British Threw Her In Prison
When the high-ranking British Resident Harry Lawrence then commanded Jind and her son to turn the slimy Tej Singh into a Raja, Jind point blank refused, unwilling to give the traitor any more accolades. The response was swift and brutal. Like a villain in a fairy tale, Lawrence imprisoned Jind in a fortress and stripped her of her money. If only he had stopped there.
24. She Begged To See Her Child
Jind was imprisoned for months on end, and during this time, Lawrence refused to let the Maharani have access to her young son, no matter how much Jind pleaded with him to see Duleep. As she once wrote to the Brit, “He has no sister, no brother. He has no uncle, senior or junior. His father he has lost. To whose care has he been entrusted?” The answer to that question was almost too horrible to be true.
25. Queen Victoria Kidnapped Her Son
After hemming and hawing about what to do with the young Maharaja with the troublesome mother, the English decided to all but kidnap Duleep. In 1854, when Duleep was just 15 years old, the British exiled him to their own country, making him an honored guest of Queen Victoria but keeping him in (lavish) captivity all the same. And still, they weren’t through with tormenting Jind.
26. She Was A Pauper Princess
While the British kept her away from her son, the Maharani had to fight for her life. Because of her mistreatment, she became a “rallying point for rebellion,” and the Brits grew terrified she would bring about their doom. In response, they moved her from prison to prison, and took her jewelry from her so she wouldn’t have any bartering power to escape. But do you think this stopped her? Heck no.
27. She Made A Great Escape
In 1849, Jind Kaur earned her nickname “The Messalina of the Punjab.” After plotting for nearly a year, she escaped her cell by disguising herself as a servant, then somehow managed to trudge through 800 miles of heavy forest, all the way to Nepal, in order to ask for sanctuary. She was finally where the British couldn’t touch her…and she let them know it in the best way possible.
28. She Left A Letter Behind
After making the harrowing, lengthy journey to Nepal, Jind made sure to show the British a token of her “gratitude” for stealing her son and keeping her behind bars for years. When soldiers entered her cell after she had secreted herself away, they found a note lying on the cold, damp floor. Its contents are worthy of a fist-pump.
29. She Taunted Her Captors
See, even while she was plotting her escape, Jind made sure to take the time to taunt the British. Jind wrote to them, “You put me in a cage and locked me up. For all your locks and your sentries, I got out by magic…I had told you plainly not to push me too hard – but don’t think I ran away. Understand well, that I escape by myself unaided…don’t imagine I got out like a thief.”
Only, this sneering note wasn’t the only thing Jind left her captors.
30. She Gave A Legendary Insult
Besides the letter, Jind scattered coins on the floor for the men to find, as if to impress upon them that although they and their country had taken so many of her precious heirlooms from her, she still had plenty of money to spare on their sorry selves. Still, though Jind was finally away from the malicious British authorities, they only found new ways to punish her.
31. Her Son Tried To Contact Her
Although Jind remained in Kathmandu for over a decade, she could never forget about her precious only son, who had now started growing roots in the United Kingdom without her. Indeed, Duleep was so content in Britain that when he turned 18, he wrote to Jind in Nepal, suggesting she come over and they reunite at long last. This is where the immense tragedy kicked in.
32. She Was Public Enemy Number One
See, Duleep’s letter to his mother never reached her—and the reason why is chilling. Although Jind had escaped the clutches of the British occupiers in India, they still kept close tabs on her. Fearful of her vengeance and influence, they intercepted Duleep’s letter before it could even get to Nepal. And this was only the beginning of her nightmare.
33. The Government Kept Her In The Dark
After realizing that his missives weren’t reaching his long-lost mother, Duleep tried for years to get in contact with her in some way. At one point, he even sent his own courier, but the British government still steadfastly blocked the man from getting to the rebellious Maharani. Fed up, Duleep finally took matters into his own hands.
34. She Changed For The Worse
Pushed to his wit’s end, Duleep sent an undercover letter to a British officer in Kathmandu, practically begging for news of his mother. The response he got back was heartbreaking. The years had not been kind to Jind, and the man reported that she was “much changed, was blind and had lost much of the energy which formerly characterised her.”
It couldn’t possibly have been what Duleep was hoping to hear, and he resolved to meet his mother once and for all.
35. She Had A Heart-Wrenching Reunion
In 1861, Jind finally had her long-awaited reunion with her kidnapped son. After deciding that the half-blind, middle-aged woman was no longer planning on restoring her son’s throne, the British allowed Duleep to travel to Calcutta to link up with his mother and bring her back to England with him. It was everything they both had been dreaming of—but it was nothing like either of them imagined.
36. She Had The Army On Her Side
In the first place, Jind’s meeting with her son in Calcutta, which took place at Spence’s Hotel, was no peaceful reunion. It just so happened that while both the Maharani and Maharaja were in the city, a Sikh regiment was returning back from the battlefield, and word quickly got around that the erstwhile royals were in town.
What happened next wasn’t pretty…at least for the British.
37. She Almost Started A Riot
If the British thought Jind was no longer a threat to their occupation, her mere presence at Spence’s Hotel proved them wrong. Way wrong. Thousands of armed Sikh soldiers surrounded the hotel and performed demonstrations in honor of their monarchs inside, much to the chagrin of British officials in the city. It got so tense, they eventually had to take drastic action.
38. The British Begged Her To Leave
With Jind Kaur and Duleep Singh’s reunion causing near rioting in the street, the Governor-General, Lord Canning, made one last request of the Maharani and Maharaja. He begged them—as a special favor to him—to get the heck out of Calcutta on the very next boat they could, lest they ignite true unrest. Luckily for the British, the royals listened. But that doesn’t mean they forgave.
39. Her Son Was A Stranger
Of all the things the British took from Jind, nothing was as precious as the time they had stolen from her motherhood. When she finally met Duleep again, they had been apart for over 13 years and were all but strangers to each other. In his early 20s, Duleep was now robust and handsome, while Jind was in her 40s and clinging to a faded beauty.
More than anything, mother and son just wanted to spend time together—but nonetheless, they had one final revenge for the British.
40. She Got Her Jewels Back
Even as Duleep arranged for his mother to go to her new home in England, he stalked the streets of India with a single-minded mission. Duleep couldn’t get back the days, months, and years that the British had taken from his mother, but he could get back the jewelry that they had forced her to relinquish. Before long, he had negotiated the jewels’ return from “safekeeping” in a treasury.
Once he had the precious baubles, he put the next step of his plan into action.
41. She Was Immortalized In Art
Upon reaching Britain, Duleep surprised his mother by putting the jewels back in her hands. She was so overjoyed that she put them on immediately, parading them around for her new acquaintances. Then, a few months later, Duleep had the matriarch sit while wearing her heirlooms so that the famous English portraitist George Richmond could immortalize her (and her shiny, bright diamonds) in art.
42. Her Son Was A Changed Man
Once Jind settled into her new country, she had a hard time believing her eyes. Her son Duleep had spent his formative years in England and Scotland, and he had picked up more than a few habits from his oppressors, such as his conversion to Christianity and a love of dressing like a Highlander, the latter of which earned him the nickname “The Black Prince of Perthshire.” Jind was none too happy about that.
43. She Revealed Everything To Her Son
In truth, Duleep’s memories of his mother and his palaces back in India kept him from fully embracing Victorian society, and his reunion with Jind increased his suspicions of Britain. After all, once the two were finally together, Jind could tell him vivid stories of his home, of his life with her, and of his true heritage. Before he knew it, she had produced a sea change in him.
44. Her Son Was Brainwashed
With the help of Jind’s stories, as well as his own maturing opinions, Duleep Singh’s admiration of England soon transformed into complex criticism. He came to believe that the British brainwashed him, and eventually converted back to his mother’s religion of Sikhism. Many years on, he even petitioned Queen Victoria herself to right the injustices he faced.
45. She Moved Into An English Castle
After a few months acclimatizing to England, Jind Kaur and Duleep Singh moved into Mulgrave Castle in Yorkshire. It was supposed to be a happily ever after—but tragedy still seeped in. For a long time, Duleep tried to set his mother up with a separate household on the same estate, but her response to these efforts was heartbreaking.
46. She Couldn’t Leave Her Son
Every time Duleep tried to give Jind a little bit of independence in her daily life, the Maharani absolutely refused. She had spent far too long without her son by her side, and she couldn’t bear the thought of ever being separated from him again, even if he was only a couple of houses away. Nonetheless, there was still one thing even Jind Kaur couldn’t bulldoze her way through.
47. She Deteriorated Fast
Although Jind still had a lively mind and a sharp curiosity, her years of imprisonment and the stresses on her body and psyche had taken their toll. After just two years in England with her son, her health was beginning to fail her—and now that she had achieved nearly everything she had been striving for, Jind would separate herself from her beloved son forever.
48. She Went Too Soon
On August 1, 1863, the house attendants woke to find that the great Jind Kaur, the fearless Messalina of the Punjab, had passed in her sleep at the age of only 46. While this was far too young to go, it was likely a much more peaceful end than Jind thought she would ever see. So of course the British had to go and deal her one final insult.
49. Her Final Wishes Were Forbidden
There was just one problem when it came to Jind’s passing: She wanted to be cremated according to Indian custom, and Britain had banned this process at the time. Determined to give his mother the end she deserved and wanted, Duleep asked the government if he could transport her body to the Punjab to cremate it. The answer was a resounding no—so then he had to get really creative.
50. Her Son Went To Great Lengths To Please Her
While some sons would give up at this point, Duleep probably knew that his mother’s ghost would haunt him forever if he dared get lax on her last wishes. Instead, to accommodate all the political wrangling, Jind Kaur’s corpse lay in a chapel for almost a full year before Duleep finally got permission to go to Bombay and perform the cremation. Now that’s dedication.