The first member of the royal family to visit India was Edward when he was Prince of Wales in 1875. The purpose of the tour was to establish and strengthen diplomatic links with the independent rulers of Indian Subcontinent who were not under the British crown. He visited more than 21 places over 8 months and met over 90 rulers and the gifts mounted up.
The Queen’s Gallery has an exhibition called Splendours of the Subcontinent of the gifts showered on him by the Indian rulers he visited. The gifts are fabulous, beautiful and intricately made, often of precious metals and stones. However, the instruction had gone out ahead of Edward’s tour that gifts were not required and if given only local crafts should be offered. The British were concerned that the gifts Edward had to give in return would not be rich enough so hoped this instruction would solve the problem. Have a look at what he received…
The gifts do showcase the skills of the local craftsmen in each area he visited, as requested, but you can see the elaborate designs, the precious metals and stones used, the exquisite designs – the very best they could offer to the visiting representative of the Queen. I do wonder what Edward gave in return!
Edward was popular on his tour partly because he adopted Indian court culture when welcoming each ruler to his tent rather than imposing British ways. There were super elaborate canopies with chandeliers, peacock feather ceiling fans, rose water to start the meeting and mouth fresheners at the end. He also visited their courts to show respect.
While on the tour Edward was not impressed by the way locals were treated by British officials and wrote the following in a letter home: “Because a man has a black face and a different religion from our own, there is no reason why he should be treated as a brute.” A refreshing view which seems ahead of its time.
The tour was a great success and partly as a result, Parliament gave Queen Victoria the title Empress of India. The gifts were put on display on his return at what is now the Victoria and Albert Museum and over 30,000 people rushed to seem these treasures in the first week that they were on display, such was the excitement around them! The gifts toured the UK and led to shops stocking Indian inspired object and textiles, as they continue to do. Now you too can marvel at them as they dazzle in their cases in the Queen’s Gallery
For more information about the exhibition and the Queen’s Gallery check their website: https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/whatson/event/868528/Splendours-of-the-Subcontinent
Full disclosure: As is customary in the tourism business, I was invited by the Royal Collection to review this exhibition. This has not influenced my views on the exhibition.