The Last King in India
Wajid Ali Shah
An affectionate biography of a much-maligned king who had the misfortune to be on the throne when the East India Company decided to usurp him.
The Last King in India is the story of an extraordinary man whose memory still divides opinion sharply today. Was he, as the British described him, a debauched ruler who spent his time with ‘fiddlers, eunuchs and women’ instead of running the kingdom? Or, as most Indians believe, a gifted poet whose works are still quoted today, and who was robbed of his throne by the East India Company?
Somewhere between the two extremes lies a complex character, a man who married over 350 women, who directed theatrical events lasting a month and who built a fairytale palace in Lucknow. Wajid Ali Shah was written out of the history books after his kingdom was annexed in 1856. Some even thought he had been killed during the mutiny the following year. But he lived on in Calcutta where he spent the last thirty years of his life trying to recreate his lost paradise. He remained a constant problem for the government of India, with his extravagance, his menagerie and his wives — in that order. For the first time his story is told here using original documents from Indian and British archives and meetings with his descendants.
Rosie Llewellyn-Jones (PhD) graduated from SOAS in Urdu and is now an acclaimed historian of the colonial history of India from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. She has published extensively on this period and her particular interest is in the political interaction between the British and their Indian subjects. She is also Secretary to the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia and editor of its journal Chowkidar.
‘…a compelling book, by perhaps the world authority on 19th-century Lucknow.’ — Andrew Robinson, History Today
‘A great deal of research has gone into this book … Rosie Llewellyn-Jones presents an honest and balanced portrayal of the legendary emperor who was often misunderstood and has remained an enigma extraordinaire even today.’ — The Hindustan Times
‘Rosie Llewellyn-Jones, the greatest living authority on Nawabi Lucknow, has written a wonderful appreciation of the most under- appreciated of its Nawabs. She shows how Wajd Ali Shah should be remembered as one of the most important cultural catalysts of his day, and brings back to life the memorable last days of the great city whose ebullient creativity he represented. A cause for celebration.’ — William Dalrymple, author of The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty and Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan
‘Rosie Llewellyn-Jones has produced the richest picture of the last king of Awadh we have had so far. Focusing on his interactions with the British, she shows him to be a considerable man of the arts but also a man who treated his numerous wives badly. Llewellyn-Jones is the leading historian of Lucknow; this book is a major addition to her achievement.’ — Francis Robinson, Professor of the History of South Asia, Royal Holloway, University of London
‘A deeply researched and brilliantly told story of the legendary last Nawab of Awadh, as he valiantly sought to recreate his lost world as a pensioner of the English on the outskirts of Calcutta for the last thirty years of his amazing life. An excellent read.’ — Shahid Amin, Professor of History, Delhi University
‘In this pioneering biography of Muhammad Wajid-‘Ali Shah, Dr Rosie Llewellyn-Jones treats the many complex characters and events of a turbulent period in Indian history with her usual skilled analysis and originality. In assembling new information from private, state, and colonial records, she succeeds in drawing critical attention to the colourful life of a controversial ruler. In doing so, this major study deserves commendation.’ — Saqib Baburi, Department of the Study of Religions, School of Oriental and African Studies
‘Rosie Llewellyn-Jones paints a vivid and poignant portrait of the wonderfully eccentric but woefully misunderstood last king of India, Wajid ‘Ali Shah. A meticulously researched and illuminating book.’ — John Zubrzycki, author of The Mysterious Mr Jacob and The Last Nizam
‘This is the most thorough account in English to date of the much mythologised King Wajid Ali Shah of Awadh, which uses intensive archival research to trace the complex political chess game in which he was engaged by the British East India Company and which led to his ultimate deposition.’ — Justin Jones, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford
‘A fascinating and insightful book. It’s not just history or biography, it’s also a fruitful investigation into the mind and character of a monarch who was not quite a monarch but who had his own ideas of how to conduct himself in a world which was fast becoming alien to him and to practically every colonial subject in India. Rosie Llewellyn-Jones reinstates Wajid Ali Shah into the realm of modern history. She presents him without pity or patronisation and he comes out as a remarkable person, for all his real or imagined flaws of character.’ — Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, critic, poet and fiction writer.
‘Rosie Llewellyn-Jones’ book … is an attempt to recover Wajid Ali Shah as a historical figure instead of the symbol that he has become. Llewellyn-Jones, it has to be said, is well-placed to write this account. Celebrated as “the greatest living authority on Nawabi Lucknow,” she has authored a number of works on the city … [She] does a deft job in sympathetically portraying a much maligned and misunderstood individual. For that reason alone, The Last King in India is well worth a read.’ — DAWN (Pakistan)