Lucy explores how British history is a concoction of fibs. She debunks the fibs that surround the 'jewel in the crown' of the British Empire - India.
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People often remember their history lessons
as full of dates and battles,
kings and queens, facts and figures.
The story of the past is open to interpretation and much of British
history is a carefully edited and even deceitful version of events.
You might think that history is just a record of what happened.
Actually, it's not like that at all.
As soon as you do a little digging you discover that it's more like a
tapestry of different stories woven together by whoever was in power
at the time.
In this series,
I'm going to debunk some of the biggest fibs in British history.
In the 15th century,
the story of the Wars of the Roses was invented by the Tudors
to justify their power,
and then immortalised by the greatest storyteller of them all,
Now is the winter of our discontent.
In the 17th century,
politicians and artists helped turn a foreign invasion
into the triumphal tale of Britain's Glorious Revolution.
And in this programme,
I'll discover how in the 19th century a British government coup
in India created the British Raj and was heralded by the Victorians
as the civilising triumph of the Empire.
Queen Victoria got a promotion when she was made Empress of India.
She was now up there with emperors like Alexander the Great
or the Caesars, the most powerful potentates in history.
But Victoria's promotion wasn't just an expression of Britain's
military might. With Victoria as its motherly figurehead,
Britain was cooking up a new imperial vision.
Tyranny and exploitation were things of the past.
This would now be a caring empire,
driven by core Victorian values of honour, respect and justice,
or so the story goes.
With history the line between fact and fiction often gets blurred.
20 years after Victoria became Empress of India,
Britain staged an incredible spectacle.
On the 22nd of June 1897, the nation celebrated her Diamond Jubilee.
Victoria was now the longest-serving monarch in British history.
300,000 people had lined the streets to watch the Queen making
her procession from Buckingham Palace all the way
up here to St Paul's Cathedral.
Every minute of the day was very tightly timetabled.
You could read in the newspapers exactly where she was supposed to be
and when. She was supposed to get here at midday.
Now, all these people had turned out because this was a rare chance
to see the little old lady who'd led the nation
for 60 years of unprecedented peace and prosperity.
But, perhaps even more importantly,
this was a chance to celebrate the best thing that had ever happened
to Britain - its Empire.
Since Victoria's reign began in 1837,
the British Empire had grown to become the largest and most powerful
empire in the world.
In 1897, Victoria ruled over 370 million subjects across the globe.
And the jewel in the Empire's crown was India.
Now, obviously, India brought prestige and
wealth to the British Empire
but it did something else very important as well.
It gave the British the opportunity to show other nations
how imperialism should be done.
Victoria's jubilee was a great excuse
for a national slap on the back to celebrate Britain's imperial ideals
of fair play, justice and honour.
Little mention that the British were invaders in foreign lands,
that India had been won by fighting bloody battles
against Indian resistance.
This history of Victoria's reign was published in jubilee year 1897
and the writer brings the story of Empire right up into the present.
He claims that all the Indian people in London for the jubilee
celebrations were delighted to be here and what's more,
they represented other happy Indians back at home.
"One felt," he writes,
"that each of them represented thousands more who were ready in the
"hour of peril to draw the sword for the motherland and its Queen."
He says that the Jubilee marks the high point of the imperial idea.
Now, you might be thinking, "What a lot of nonsense."
But this vision of India as the jewel in the crown
of a benevolent empire was fervently believed by most Victorians.
It had been carefully crafted since 1858 when the government had taken
formal control of India.
Queen Victoria herself had issued
the new regime's imperial mission statement.
"We British will now wholeheartedly respect our Indian subjects.
"India will share all the benefits
"that have made our tiny island nation great."
A history of aggressive conquest and exploitation was being moulded
into an uplifting story to justify the Empire.
It began here in Kolkata, where the British had made their Indian base
in the late 18th century.
Looking at a map of India, you might think that Kolkata,
or Calcutta as it used to be known,
is a bit of a funny place to choose for an imperial capital.
It isn't bang in the middle like the really ancient city of Delhi -
that was a much better place for dominating the subcontinent.
But when the British first set up shop in the 18th century,
they weren't intending to dominate the subcontinent at all.
They'd come here to get rich through trade and, for that,
Calcutta suited them perfectly.
Calcutta's Hooghly River flows out into the Bay of Bengal and into
convenient sea routes to take goods back to Britain.
But the first Britons to exploit India's riches here weren't members
of the establishment - they were buccaneering,
They where employees of a vast multinational corporation,
the British East India Company.
The East India Company merchants first came to India in 1615
during the reign of Elizabeth I.
Haggling with the local elite,
these wheeler-dealers gained a foothold in Calcutta
and began to dominate trade in the region.
This private company had no imperial ambitions and certainly
no civilising mission.
For them, India was simply a cash cow to be plundered.
Relying on trade deals with the local rulers,
the company men now set about exploiting all the riches that India
had to offer - from silks to cotton to tea to spices.
This band of merchant adventurers stopped at nothing in their pursuit
Playing by their own rules, they reneged on trade deals,
they refused to pay tribute to local rulers,
and, when they didn't get their way, resorted to violence.
With their sharp trading practices,
today these men seem little more than pirates.
But the company didn't describe themselves as a bunch
of bloodthirsty and avaricious merchants.
No, these men were British and honourable to the core.
The company's official title made this explicit.
They called themselves the Honourable East India Company.
And they went to great lengths to engineer a facade
of British respectability.
And they built monuments like this -
an almost exact replica of the Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields
in Trafalgar Square.
In fact, St John's Church also housed the East India Company's
first council chambers where these Anglo-Indian merchants could discuss
their real interests - making money.
And they were quite successful.
By the late 18th-century they were like independent rulers
of large parts of India,
with their own private army of Indian foot soldiers or sepoys.
As the company grew in power,
it still had its pretensions to that word, "honourable".
But a rather different insight can be found inside St John's -
a picture by Johann Zoffany, the company's go-to portrait painter.
-So, Jayanta, we're standing in a Christian church.
We're looking at a painting of the Last Supper.
That's not such a surprising thing to find.
No, it's not, except that Jesus and all the others present here
are actually members of the fashionable Anglo-Indian society
in Calcutta in the late 18th century.
So real people sat to have their pictures painted?
Yes, Jesus in the middle is a Greek bishop named Father Parthenio.
To his left,
the lady figure is actually the police sergeant of Calcutta
in the late 18th century, named WC Blacquiere,
who was a transvestite and who was very famous for stalking
and rounding up criminals while dressed as a woman.
Hang on, you can't just say that.
Are you saying that St John is a transvestite policeman?
Here it is, that's Zoffany's funny take on this.
OK, and who else?
This bearded guy sitting on the right foreground with this dagger
showing up on his waist, he's a Judas here,
he's actually an auctioneer named William Tulloh.
He looks pretty unhappy.
He looks pretty pissed, playing Judas here.
All the others, they're all company men, powerful and influential.
Isn't this bordering on sacrilege though?
You've got to be pretty arrogant to depict yourself as an apostle?
I guess you can say that but that arrogance comes from
the actual power wielded by these people because they're not only
making money doing commerce but they are also ruling the roost
in politics and administration.
They called themselves the Honourable East India Company.
-They weren't honourable from our point of view today at all.
How do you explain that?
Well, it's part of this self image which the British created for
themselves in order to feel good about their enterprise,
which was really about commerce and moneymaking.
And they were actually portrayed by fairly influential intellectuals
at that time as honourable, like David Hume,
whose volumes on the history of England portrays these people
as very honourable, holding up the British values.
Hume actually says somewhere in those volumes that the reason
why they could transform themselves so quickly from a trading enterprise
into such a powerful political entity
was the strength of their character.
Endorsed by the likes of David Hume,
the company men ruled India with little accountability.
And the British government was happy as long as the money kept rolling in
because the British East India Company profits enriched
the British economy by £67 billion a year in today's money.
But not everyone was impressed.
In 1756, the local ruler of Bengal, Siraj ud-Daulah,
led an uprising against the East India Company.
He captured Calcutta and locked a group of company men
in a tiny prison called the Black Hole.
Many died of suffocation.
The British government would join the company to take terrible revenge
but only after presenting this event as a savage assault on Britain.
The Black Hole of Calcutta was about to enter the history books.
To the memory of the 123 persons who perished
in the Black Hole prison.
Now, British people will have heard of the Black Hole of Calcutta,
but what really was it?
Now, the only account of a survivor, or first-hand account of that
is from a British general called John Holwell who was in that room.
What sort of detail does he give us in his account?
John Holwell is fairly graphic in his details.
I have an extract here from the Chambers's Edinburgh Journal.
This is Holwell's quote.
"The first effect of their confinement was a continued sweat,
"which soon produced intolerable thirst,
"succeeded by excruciating pains in the chest
"with difficulty of breathing, little short of suffocation."
So this is a very graphic, horrific, dark story that he's telling.
True, this is very horrific.
But what we know is that, at that time,
it suited the British narrative,
so they could not just come about and slaughter the natives,
but their retribution, as ruthless and brutal as it was,
had to be justified by some pre-existing
Indian savagery or barbarism.
It was more than two centuries later in the 1960s that Indian historians
began to question Holwell's account for the first time.
And the first one who did that very significantly was a historian named
RC Majumdar who wrote a book in 1962 where he raised two questions.
One is that if it was so dark and so cramped in that little black hole,
then how could Holwell write such a graphic description with such
excruciating and horrific details.
The other question was that if the room was so small then there was
no way you could cram together 146 people in there.
Even if Holwell were true about people dying of suffocation,
it couldn't have been more than 60 or 70 people, not more.
We don't know. Majumdar was a nationalist historian,
so his account was also very subjective.
Was he trying to make the British look really bad?
-Massagers of the truth?
But we don't know the real truth that happened.
At the time, the facts, what really happened in the Black Hole,
didn't matter to the company or the British Government.
They simply wanted to regain control,
so a horror story was very useful in whipping up
public support back home.
And when the East India Company under General Robert Clive
took their revenge, Clive's troops were reinforced by the might
of the British Army at Government expense.
Clive was victorious - he was given a peerage
and immortalised in the colonial narrative.
He was now Clive of India.
But British faith in the East India Company had been shaken.
The problem was that the company had stopped making a profit.
Re-establishing control of Calcutta
and Clive's other military manoeuvrings
had cost an awful lot of money.
The company had had to borrow money from the Government, a lot of it.
People at home were beginning to ask, was it worth it?
The company's honourable status was in doubt.
While it was being bankrolled millions by the Government,
company men like Clive were getting rich
and throwing their money around.
For many they were no longer seen as the best of British but more like
oriental tyrants - corrupt and abusing their power.
Clive had amassed a personal fortune of £4 million in today's money.
This immediately made him one of the richest men in the country.
But he wasn't alone - there were other ex-East India Company men
coming back to Britain with these huge piles of cash
and they were ready to splash it about on buying property and power.
This is Sezincote in Gloucestershire,
purchased in 1795 by a company man, Colonel John Cockerell.
After his death it was then embellished with this extravagant
Indian facade by his brothers, also company men, Charles and Samuel.
The Cockerell family created a fantasy mini version of India
here in the middle of the Cotswolds.
From the inside the house seems like a fairly standard Palladian villa.
But on the outside it's been given this fantastical Mughal coating.
There are Muslim architectural features,
like the green dome on the top and the minarets,
and these very distinctive deeply overhanging eaves.
But then again there are also Hindu features in the architecture such as
the octagonal columns each side of the door and, at the top
of the columns, a little decoration of a lotus flower.
But then again on top of that,
there are the architectural jokes in the corners above the arch up there.
Well, we've got some Union Jacks.
With its mashed up Muslim and Hindu features,
a visitor from Georgian India would have thought there was something
a bit odd about this place.
But imagine what the Gloucestershire neighbours must have thought.
To them, it must have looked totally alien.
Like many company men, the Cockerells had come back
with delusions of grandeur to match their wallets.
But to the old establishment,
these men were now seen as corrupt upstarts with ideas
above their station.
And in the popular press they were satirised by cartoonists
like James Gillray and labelled as nabobs,
a perversion of the title nawab, an Indian ruler.
Andrea, what was the problem with these East India men
coming back to Britain? Why were they so disliked?
Well, part of it was a little bit of wealth envy.
They were coming back with massive fortunes,
buying their way into local society, throwing their money around,
but it went a lot deeper than that.
The main concern, really, was how they had got their money.
So if we look at this cartoon, for example,
it shows a sort of typical nabob being carried through a sea
of dead Indian bodies, clutching onto his moneybags.
He's got £4 million in each hand.
He is weighed down by his riches.
-And although he's got dying,
drowning Indian people in the water,
he's really bothered about not getting his slippers wet, isn't he?
This was the concern that these nabobs were coming back
having spent their time in India simply concerned with profit,
so they're concerned that this money must be being acquired through sharp
trading practices, through corruption, blackmail, speculation,
profiteering, all of these kinds of dark arts that are seen to be closer
to robbery than to fair trade.
How did the political establishment fight back against this?
Well, the main way they fought back was by impeaching
the Governor-General, Warren Hastings.
We can see here, this is a very famous political cartoon of the time
which shows the political adversaries Edmund Burke
and Charles James Fox
uniting to try and take down Warren Hastings.
This is Warren Hastings,
a western ruler of Bengal wearing Indian turban, clothing.
He's got his little slippers on again,
and he is riding upon a strange creature.
I believe it's a camel.
Doesn't look much like a camel.
A slightly stylised camel.
He is representing the
East India Company at this point, is he?
The bigger concerns here are not so much about Hastings as a person
but about what the East India Company is doing,
how governance is being carried out in India. But of course all of that
is a little bit dry for capturing
public opinion and public enthusiasm.
And Burke realises that to have this debate he needs to go for a target
and that target is Warren Hastings.
By company standards,
Hastings wasn't the shadiest character by any means,
but he was high profile, the perfect scapegoat for the Government.
He was charged with tyranny, robbery, corruption and blackmail.
The trial dragged on for seven years.
In the end it was impossible to make all the charges stick
to one individual. Hastings was acquitted.
But the show trial had worked.
The East India Company had been discredited.
The government was waking up to the dire situation in India.
In future, company men would be kept in check.
In 1784, the Government passed an act.
It's full title makes it pretty clear what it was all about.
It was an act for the better regulation of the affairs
of the East India Company.
The cosy relationship between the company
and the British establishment was on the turn.
The merry band of merchants were now depicted as rather too merry.
Drunkards who'd succumbed to the vices of the Orient and grown
too close to the locals and their culture.
Take, for example, the rather fabulously-named
James Achilles Kirkpatrick.
This is his memorial in St John's Church.
He was a Lieutenant Colonel for the company and he had a Muslim wife
and Muslim children.
There was a boy, Ghulam Ali, and a girl, Noor-un-Nissa.
He was obviously perfectly happy with the situation.
But not everybody was.
Shortly before Kirkpatrick's death,
his children came to live in England.
And there they were given new names for their new life.
Here's the record of their baptism.
Ghulam Ali became William George
and Noor-un-Nissa became Catherine Aurora.
Must have been confusing for the poor kids.
As the enforced conversion of his children from Islam to Christianity
reveals, some company men like Kirkpatrick
had more enlightened views about race and religion than
the British establishment. At the end of the 18th century,
the Government began to think that the company was growing degenerate,
corrupted by the influence of native religions.
The most dangerous of all - Hinduism.
Hindus made up 90% of the 250 million-strong Indian population.
The British called the country India but its ancient native name
Land of the Hindus.
Ever since the British had arrived in India they'd struggled
to understand Hinduism with its, to them, exotic gods and goddesses,
more than a million of them, and its confusing caste system.
But at least the earlier visitors in the 18th century had had a go
at appreciating it. For example, the Scottish historian William Robertson
thought that Hinduism expressed the sophistication of Indian culture.
He wrote that the Indian people had made more progress towards
civilisation than any other people.
Robertson's opinions reflected a certain 18th-century view
of India's culture as exotic, fascinating, even praiseworthy.
By the 19th century, though, many British people reviled Hinduism.
The ancient custom of sati, for example,
of burning a man's widow after his death seemed shocking.
It had been East India Company policy not to rock the boat,
not to interfere with native beliefs.
But now the British establishment was taking a very different view.
Historians were now totally disrespectful of Indian culture.
In fact, they were horrified by it.
For example, James Mill wrote a wildly successful history of India
and he doesn't have a good word to say about Hindus.
He thinks they're full of antisocial passions and malignity,
but at the same time, they're cowards.
"This people run from danger with more trepidation and eagerness
"than has been ever witnessed in any other part of the globe."
The funny thing was that James Mill had never been to India.
He probably hadn't even met a Hindu.
And then we have the evangelical historian Charles Grant.
He too thinks that the natives are extremely depraved
but Mr Grant has a solution.
He thinks it's the introduction of our light and knowledge
among that benighted people,
especially the pure, salutary, wise principles of our religion.
Grant's history became a Bible for missionaries and James Mill's,
well, that became the standard textbook
for any young company official going out to India.
In fact, Mill was even employed back in Britain to oversee the education
of new recruits.
The anti-Hindu propaganda in these history books helped justify
the Government's assault on the East India Company.
It opened the way for more direct meddling in the affairs of India.
The British Government claims that they were protecting company men
from further pollution by immoral practices.
And in 1811, when the Government gave missionaries the licence
to preach in India,
they thought the natives would be grateful for their conversion
But in 1857 that comforting fiction went up in flames.
In March of that year,
resistance to the British erupted amongst the Indian soldiers.
Over the next 15 months,
bitter fighting broke out with heavy military and civilian casualties
on both sides. India became a bloodbath.
The East India Company's hold on the country was falling apart.
This is the Enfield Pattern 1853 rifle.
It was a state-of-the-art weapon.
It had performed very well for the British Army in the Crimean War,
so when the East India Company's army needed new guns in 1856,
this is the model they chose.
Unfortunately, they were shooting themselves in the foot.
The problem was the cartridges.
They were lubricated with tallow,
that's animal fat, either pork or beef.
To load the gun you have to bite the end off the cartridge like this.
And out comes the powder.
Now, that's not very nice for anybody to have to do
and the majority of the soldiers in the East India Company army
were either Hindus or Muslims.
To them it was sacrilegious because for Hindus the cow is a holy animal
and Muslims are forbidden to eat pork.
As wave after wave of rebellion spread across the subcontinent,
the cartridges became a rallying point for Indian resistance to the
British and their disregard for Indian religions and culture.
For the Indian soldiers,
this business of the cartridges was important because it was tangible,
it focused their grievances.
For the British though, it was used to bolster the fiction
that this was a purely military matter.
It wasn't part of wider discontent, this was simply an Indian mutiny.
By describing the uprising as a mutiny, a military matter,
the British were trying to control the story.
Like the Black Hole incident 100 years before,
the situation seemed to call for swift, sharp retribution.
If this was painted as soldiers disobeying orders,
or a military mutiny, then a brutal response was justified.
This is Barrackpore, just outside modern Kolkata
In Hindi, Barrackpore means the City of Barracks
and in 1857 this was the site of an East India Company army base.
The Indian uprising began here,
as did the British decision to call it a mutiny.
I'm going to see the statue of an Indian soldier who is said to have
started the rebellion, Mangal Pandey.
It was 29th of March 1857.
He came out of his barracks with his red coat, the hat,
but significantly not the pantaloon but the traditional Indian dhoti.
So the top half was British and the bottom half was Indian?
That might be indicative of something, you know.
-Something is going on.
-That I'm going to revolt against the British.
-And what happened?
-Then one of the British officers came forward
but Mangal Pandey shot him but he missed.
A second British officer came and he ordered sepoys to come out to help
them but most of the Indian sepoys, they didn't come out to help him.
Nobody came, the other sepoys didn't come.
No, they didn't come. Then the third officer,
who was the commanding officer,
he came and he called the sepoys to come out or he will shoot them.
Then the sepoys came but when Mangal Pandey saw that
then he shot himself.
He was injured seriously and he was arrested and after that
he was hanged under this banyan tree.
It sounds to me like this really was, technically, a mutiny.
He broke the rules of being a soldier.
Yeah, in the British eyes of course he did,
but from the Indian point of view this was a just thing,
it is the result of the colonial exploitation
of India by the British.
And when did Indian historians themselves start to come out
with their own version of what happened?
It was a person called VD Savarkar who wrote a book
in the early 20th century and the name of the book is
First War of Independence.
Now here also it was not Indian mutiny or Indian revolt -
Indian war of independence.
Still now, in school books and textbooks in the colleges,
Mangal Pandey is regarded as the first martyr
of the Indian independence movement.
Do you think that this whole event, call it a mutiny, a war,
whatever you like, it's a really fascinating case study
-for historians, isn't it?
-Sure, it is. It is.
You have to see the whole thing in the perspective of the time.
Visiting Barrackpore today with the crumbling ruins of the military
barracks around the cherished memorial to Mangal Pandey,
history is on the side of the sepoys.
But in 1857 it was a very different story.
Back then, today's heroic freedom fighter was portrayed by the British
establishment as a drug-crazed villain disobeying orders,
the ringleader of a mutiny.
As the resistance quickly spread across the country,
"Remember Mangal Pandey," became the Indian resistance cry.
And for the British, Pandey became a byword for mutineer.
The killing on both sides was ferocious.
For the British, the crisis point came in June 1857 when Indian rebels
at Cawnpore killed over 200 British women and children.
They then dumped their bodies in a well.
Once again the British began whipping up a frenzy for vengeance.
The scene at the Cawnpore slaughter was deliberately left untouched
to provoke the bloodlust of the relief forces.
For instance, we have this shoe that survives and it was found
near the well at Cawnpore.
So the story goes that this little shoe fell off the foot of a dead
little boy as his body was being thrown down the well for disposal.
-Do you see this as a sort of prop for telling
a particular story about what happened on that day then?
I'd certainly think so. I think if this was a soldier's boot
it wouldn't have had the same impact. It's a child's shoe.
It's a really powerful thing to see, isn't it?
It's emotive, it's telling you they're not just attacking our men,
they're attacking our women and our children.
It goes further with another object that is linked to the same incident.
A lock of hair that is in our collection.
Have a quick read of the caption.
The little note says, "Hair of the murdered women and children,
"over 200 of them."
But another account tells us of the Highlanders that arrived at the well
of Cawnpore and vowed to themselves that for every strand of hair
that we find, a mutineer shall die.
-Oh, my goodness.
-The message was revenge.
Justification for revenge.
The message was received loud and clear and the British retribution
was merciless. To show people at home that vengeance had been done,
it was then graphically recorded.
This watercolour is a depiction of mutineers being blown away.
They're tied to the mouths of cannons and then blown to pieces.
So the cannonball is about to come out through the middle of him?
Quite gruesome. You see typically reports saying the head goes up,
the arms go to the side and the legs fall.
Why were they killed in such an inhumane manner?
It was something used by the Mughals in the 1600s which was really aimed
at punishing Hindu people so that they wouldn't have a body in their
afterlife and therefore couldn't go through the reincarnation cycle
that they believed in.
So the scattering of the physical remains of the person,
this ensured a kind of double death in this life and for all
-future lives to come.
That's one of the reasons why this is probably painted and it was a way
of stamping authority and showing victory.
By the time the British finally crushed the rebellion in July 1859,
conservative estimates say that 11,000 British
and over 100,000 Indians had died.
The British were victorious but India was in turmoil.
Since the unrest had started,
the Government had begun to realise that India couldn't be held
by brute force alone.
Britain needed to start winning over Indian hearts and minds.
The Government decided to begin a new chapter
for British rule in India.
In 1858, the East India Company were told...
MUSIC: Dance Of The Knights by Sergei Prokofiev
Now when the Government had intervened previously
in the business of the East India Company,
it had been with the aim of moderating its affairs,
sometimes there'd been a bit of a slap on the wrist but this time it
was different. This was a full-on, asset-stripping annihilation
of the East India Company.
It was immediately stripped of all power.
The company's top dog, the Governor-General,
was evicted from his palatial residence and sent home
to be replaced by a new Government representative, the Viceroy.
The new age of the Raj was dawning.
The Government now had to prove that the regime in India really had
changed and was already weaving an imperial narrative to do just that.
To avoid accusations of corruption or self-interest,
power wasn't transferred directly to Parliament.
Instead, it was vested in the person of Queen Victoria herself.
Victoria eagerly got in on the act.
She made a public proclamation to the world that the new regime
had swept away all the bad practices of the old East India Company.
"We will respect the rights, dignity and honour of the native princes.
"Everyone of any religious faith shall alike enjoy
"the equal and impartial protection of law.
"We will respect land inherited from ancestors.
"Our earnest desire is to stimulate the peaceful industry of India,
"to promote public works and improvements.
"Their prosperity will be our strength."
Victoria's proclamation was a masterstroke.
It transformed a government coup into a moral mission
to improve the lives of all Indians.
The new declaration distanced the British establishment from any
involvement in the East India Company's atrocities.
Britain's image as a plundering nation was now being repackaged
for both Indian audiences and those back home.
In this 18th-century image,
Britannia is taking things from the Empire.
She's saying, "Mmm, jewels. I want them."
And even her lion is looking greedily at the ropes of pearls.
But in the 19th-century image,
the relationship is the other way around.
In this picture, Victoria is giving something
to her grateful imperial subject.
Look, this lucky fellow is about to get a present and this,
as the title of the painting puts it,
is the secret of England's greatness.
Britain's new imperial mission statement was clear.
The Empire would take responsibility for the welfare
of its Indian subjects. They would no longer be subjugated
and exploited, but respected and rewarded.
That would smooth things over.
In 1861, a new knightly order was created -
the Order of the Star of India.
When the Indian princes were made Knights Commander of this order,
they were supposed to feel like
they'd joined the British establishment -
a bit like school prefects getting given a badge.
But they were also given at this point a medal showing the head
of Queen Victoria. Now, hang on.
Human representations can be offensive to Muslims,
as many of the princes were.
Once again, the British were merrily misunderstanding
their Indian subjects.
In reality, the replacement of East India Company rule
with a British Raj offered only a veneer of change.
Beneath the surface, the British Government
was continuing to exploit India's riches.
But this message, that the Empire was now all about civilisation,
was very powerful.
And in 1868, this imperial manifesto gained another powerful champion -
the new Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli.
He coined the phrase, "The jewel in the crown,"
to emphasise his view of India's importance for the Empire.
Disraeli was highly ambitious.
Partly for himself, yes, but also for Britain and for the Empire.
He thought that Britain shouldn't just maintain its Empire,
it should expand.
And that for this purpose, a figurehead like an empress
would be awfully useful.
In 1876, Disraeli engineered the Royal Titles Act,
giving his imperial jewel some extra sparkle.
Queen Victoria would become the Empress of India.
This was a very clever move on Disraeli's part.
Ever since Albert had died in 1861, Victoria had been in mourning.
She had rather withdrawn from the world and her people thought
that she had forgotten about them,
almost that she had been shirking her responsibilities.
But now she was back in the limelight.
The imperial narrative now had a powerful yet maternal leading lady.
Disraeli enjoyed his own promotion too,
as the delighted Victoria made him an earl.
But Victoria's elevation didn't have unanimous approval.
Many thought the title of empress stank of autocratic rule.
It was against the principles of constitutional monarchy.
And besides, what would the Indian population think?
Disraeli and his supporters needed to spin a story to prove that
Victoria's promotion was best for Britain, best for India,
best for the Empire.
What was needed was a party, and that's exactly what they got.
Lord Lytton, who was Queen Victoria's newly-promoted
representative in India, expressed the opinion that Indians
would go mad for a bit of bunting.
There were immense cultural differences,
but both Indians and the British revelled in pageantry and spectacle.
Celebrations were to be held across India and there would be one
It was decided that the celebrations weren't to be in Calcutta, but here,
in Delhi. Because this wasn't just a party,
this was a cleverly crafted statement of propaganda.
The choice of Delhi was highly symbolic.
For centuries, Delhi had been the capital of the great ruling
Indian dynasty, the Mughals.
It was still full of magnificent buildings signifying their power.
By situating themselves amidst all this grandeur,
the British were claiming that they were the natural successors
to a mighty empire.
Delhi had also played a central role in the so-called mutiny.
The rebels had made their stand alongside the last Mughal emperor,
here in his Red Fort.
By holding the celebrations in Delhi,
the British were reminding the Indians of their dominance.
The British couldn't deny that they were foreign interlopers,
but they now hammered home the message that they were a benign
force for good.
To appeal to the Indians, the entire event took the form of a durbar,
a tradition where Mughal emperors held court with their subjects.
These formal ceremonies were accompanied by lavish festivities
with vibrant musical processions
leading to the final audience with the emperor at his fort.
In 1877, the British created their own durbar spectacular
with an extraordinary mishmash of Indian and British pageantry.
When the durbar of 1877 happens,
the idea of a durbar is retained but it is given a spin.
I'm saying that the durbar of 1877 reminds me a little
of the chicken tikka masala, which incidentally I ate
-for the first time when I went to England.
It is not something that featured in Indian menus
until quite recently. So the idea of chicken tikka masala is an invention
based on three staples taken from an Indian diet
but turned and transformed into a completely unrecognisable dish.
How did the British go about reinventing this tradition?
For example, the shehnai players that would have traditionally
accompanied a royal procession in Mughal India were replaced
by a fanfare of Wagner
and I would imagine that the 88,000 people who had gathered to watch
the spectacle and the 63 maharajas who had come from different parts
of the country to be a part of the durbar
had possibly never heard Wagner play.
Lots of things were invented.
For example, look at these.
Many of the rulers did not really have their own heraldry,
their own insignia.
This is completely a figment of somebody's imagination.
So this is a brand-new coat of arms, invented for the ruler of Hyderabad?
-He's lucky, he's got a lovely little tiger.
He does indeed. These seem to me very Anglo-Saxon images.
Because the tradition of heraldry, that is a western European thing.
What have the other ones got, then?
This is Jodhpur.
He has been given some pigeons.
These are falcons.
And what looks like a tiger but I am not sure what that is.
This is again an invented tradition.
These are things that were invented for the occasion.
In 1877, with Wagner trumpeting out over the spectacle,
the durbar was a resounding success story.
It was spun so cleverly that few commented on its vast costs
at a time when famine was ravaging India.
The money could have been spent on saving the five and a half million
Indians who died from starvation.
But, no, this was the climax to the positive story that the Raj
was a wonderful new age of Empire.
At the finale, a proclamation was read out.
It was from the Queen.
"We trust," it began...
She is using the royal we.
"..that the present occasion may tend to unite in bonds
"of close affection, ourselves and our subjects.
"That from the highest to the humblest,
"all may feel that under our rule the great principles of liberty,
"equity and justice are secured to them.
"This is the object of our Empire."
Every action was now heralded as part of the civilising narrative.
Train stations and railways would modernise this ancient,
disconnected territory as never before.
And new educational institutions would offer every Indian subject
the chance to improve his or her lot.
Educating the natives was a key part of the mission of Empire,
at least according to Thomas Babington Macaulay,
politician and historian.
Macaulay thought Indian schoolboys ought to study British history
because that would show them how a society could and should develop.
Britain showcased the triumphant march of progress.
Macaulay first expressed his educational policies in the 1830s.
He thought that with a good dose of education,
Indians could not only better themselves,
but help the British run the country.
Of course, they'd have to get the right sort of education -
not Indian, but British.
Macaulay thought that there was less valuable historical information
to be collected from all the books ever written in Sanskrit
than you would find in an English prep school textbook.
Macaulay believed that a native could only be called learned
or honourable if he had learnt his Milton, his Locke,
and his Isaac Newton.
Giving Indians British educational opportunities became
a key enterprise under crown rule.
It was central to the repackaging of the Empire.
But for the people of India,
the new educational policy exposed the civilising claims of the British
to be something of a sham.
The Indians, the educated Indians,
they had started realising that they had been sort of tricked
by the British imperialists because while the Queen,
the proclamation of the Queen, had spoken of equality,
there remained a lot of discrimination between the British
and the Indians, insofar as jobs were concerned.
What sort of jobs where these educated Indians hoping to get?
They wanted to hold important posts in the civil services.
Moreover, they wanted to hold important positions
in the realm of law.
But here there was a bar.
Indian judges, they were never allowed to try a European offender.
The European offender was exclusively tried by a British judge
or a European judge.
So we have the rhetoric of Empire - very clear.
But the reality is quite different.
It was definitely different.
There was a glass ceiling and beyond that limit the Indians
could not cross over.
In 1883, there was a move to smooth over the cracks.
CP Ilbert, a member of the Calcutta Law Council,
put forward a motion to give Indian judges the right to try
British individuals. But that didn't go down very well either.
It disturbed the Anglo-Indian community because they shuddered
at the very thought of their trial under an Indian, a brown judge.
So there was a white mutiny against the Ilbert bill
and ultimately the bill was defeated.
Would you say that the Ilbert bill then was the last straw
for educated Indians? They got fed up with the Empire.
Yes. That was the last straw on the camel's back.
For many newly educated Indians,
the rejection of the Ilbert bill was evidence that Victoria's
proclamation was little more than a pack of lies.
The imperial mission was having a rough ride in India.
But one person remained true to the new story
of a benign British Empire.
Yes, the Empress of India was very partial to a chicken tikka.
Victoria may never have visited the jewel in her crown,
but she did create a tiny slice of India on the Isle of Wight.
At her holiday home at Osborne House,
she created a special Indian room, the Durbar Room.
It was put together by Indian craftsmen under the supervision
of Rudyard Kipling's grandfather.
Victoria couldn't go to her durbar, but with her new room,
the durbar had come to her.
And she was far better informed about India than most
of her British subjects.
In the late 19th-century,
most Britons had never met anybody from the subcontinent.
But a growing number of Indians were now making Britain their home.
Britain's first purpose-built mosque was constructed to cater for this
growing Indian population in Woking.
And it is here that I am meeting Shrabani Basu, who has researched
the life of a man who fired up Victoria's passion for India -
Here we have got Abdul Karim looking terribly grand.
What are all these medals that he is wearing here?
Well, she gave him land and titles. He had every title.
Just stopped short of a knighthood, actually.
He is quite the aristocrat in his sort of study.
At ease, looking extremely distinguished, if I might say.
And there is a photo of Queen Victoria there.
And a photo of the Queen on the table there.
Is he just a sort of token gesture to bolster the idea that she is this
benign Empress of India?
It started like that.
He was sent to her as a jubilee present, as a servant,
to stand behind her at table, just look grand and wait on her.
But this relationship developed.
Within a year, he has become her private teacher, her munshi.
For 13 years, he taught her Urdu, and by the end of her life,
she could read and write Urdu.
She loved showing off.
She would invite royalty from India and say a few lines in Urdu.
Is this her own private journal?
This is actually her last entry in her journal.
It is quite moving because it is written two months before her death.
November 7th, 1900, Windsor Castle.
And she writes about the weather,
that she has just got back from Balmoral.
They weren't exactly talking about high politics.
Sounds more domestic.
It is. The journals show a domestic side,
but we know that she took a keen interest in Indian politics
and this is coming from Abdul because of the letters she writes
to the Viceroy in which she asks detailed questions about riots,
tension between Hindus and Muslims, and she even offers some solutions.
She says, "The Hindus have so many festivals. Why can't they just
"postpone one of their festivals so they don't clash during Muharram?"
And the poor Viceroy, Lord Lansdowne, he writes back,
"Postponing a Hindu festival would be like changing
"the day for Christmas."
So she is a little bit naive, but she is trying very hard.
Victoria was taking her symbolic empress role rather too literally.
And the British establishment were not amused.
The doctor, he actually writes that this is all munshi-mania
and it reaches the stage where they actually want to label
the Queen insane and they say, "If you do not stop now
"because of the munshi, we will say you are insane."
And she gives them an earful.
Victoria's munshi-mania reached its peak in 1897,
the year of her Diamond Jubilee.
On the day of the celebrations, Abdul Karim was her honoured guest.
For his dismayed detractors, this was the year of the munshi.
But things would very shortly change.
In 1901, Victoria, Empress of India, died, after 63 years on the throne
at the age of 81.
While the nation mourned her passing,
in recognition that she had nurtured the Empire towards unprecedented
greatness, her beloved Abdul Karim was finally put in his place
by the establishment -
sent back to India, stripped of his honours and gifts.
As Britain entered the 20th century, the Empire was strong.
But the imperial narrative was wearing thin.
Indian resistance to British power was growing,
and even some Britons began to question
the recent history of the Raj.
One historian, who'd formerly been an ardent imperialist,
had this to say.
He said that the Empire treated its subject races with a curious mixture
of good and evil.
The stories of the Black Hole of Calcutta and the Indian mutiny
were being rewritten.
The villains of the Raj were turning into heroes
of a growing nationalist movement.
When the British gave up control of the Indian subcontinent
on August 15th, 1947, Britain lost 80% of its subjects -
nearly 390 million people.
It's jewel in the crown had gone forever,
and as the new Indian flag was raised at the Red Fort in Delhi,
India's first Prime Minister, Pandit Nehru,
spoke of India's tryst with destiny.
"History begins anew for us.
"The history which we shall live and act and others will write about."
A richly embroidered chapter in British history was at an end.
In this series,
I've tried to tell you how stories from history change according
to who is telling them.
But don't think that I've given you the definitive version,
because I promise you that in years to come, a different historian
will be telling you a different tale.
In the final episode, Lucy debunks the fibs that surround the 'jewel in the crown' of the British Empire - India. Travelling to Kolkata, she investigates how the Raj was created following a British government coup in 1858. After snatching control from the discredited East India Company, the new regime presented itself as a new kind of caring, sharing imperialism with Queen Victoria as its maternal Empress.
Tyranny, greed and exploitation were to be things of the past. From the 'black hole of Calcutta' to the Indian 'mutiny', from East India Company governance to crown rule, and from Queen Victoria to Empress of India, Lucy reveals how this chapter of British history is another carefully edited narrative that's full of fibs.