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Lafayette L1854
Neg. Date: 06-01-1899

copyright V&A

Shri Sir Nripendra Narayan, Maharaja of Cooch Behar (1862–1911)

Succeeded his father at the age of one, ruled over a state in West Bengal of 1,307 square miles with approximately half a million people. At the time, his principality was a semi-independent state in British India. Judged by the number of gun salutes a state was allowed, Cooch Behar was in the 5th rank of importance among the British-Indian statelets. The Maharaja was praised by the British for setting up a model administration and attempting to make it more representative of the people.

Seen here in the dismounted review order uniform of a British officer of the 6th (Prince of Wales's) Bengal Cavalry, the Maharaja was an ardent supporter of the monarchy who had seen recent active service on military campaigns in British India – as reflected in the three bars attached to his India Medal. The Maharaja was also a frequent visitor to London and the court. His international repute as a sportsman also served to present him to the British public as the ideal example of the Indian princely caste.

The maharajas, as keenly as European royalties, were much devoted to matters of precedence and the Maharaja was assured by King Edward VII, in 1908, that “the rank of Indian princes when they are received in England... should take precedence over dukes and other members of the English aristocracy."

The Maharaja had first met Daisy when she was fourteen at Newlands, one of her parents’ homes. During Daisy’s visit to India in 1896, her husband Hans Heinrich went off to Hyderabad and Madras in search of big game, and she accepted an invitation to visit Cooch Behar, where she and the Maharaja quickly became fond of each other. Daisy stayed at the royal palace in Cooch Behar – an enormous building said to be modelled after Buckingham Palace. The Maharaja was 33 at the time and his marriage was strained possibly as he “is not faithful to [the Maharani] when he goes to England & travels about, but is a very good friend to her & tells her everything.” Daisy’s diary entries from this visit — artless, chatty and excited — fail to notice that she herself might be at the centre of this love triangle, even though she candidly admits that “The Maharaja calls me Lady Eve, as ‘Eve’ as he says was the first woman who tempted man.”

During this stay in Cooch Behar, the Maharaja (whom Daisy nicknamed “Lion”) wrote letters to Daisy in which he claimed “I love you better than anything or anyone in the whole world” and that “I am leading a double life which I hate, & which makes me sometimes feel mad,” and Daisy admitted in her diary that “I am simply a female devil & yet I like to feel his fingers in mine or his hand stroking my head.” It should be remembered that flirting was an accepted pastime, and many royal women’s memoirs of the period talk at great length about making their aides-de-campe (particularly the handsome Russian military men) fall in love with the writer. Daisy was no exception, and her diary mentions her own flirtations with Captains Grimston and Morley – the latter so in love with Daisy that he had to be “dosed with brandy” when he took leave of her.

Even though Daisy confessed in her diary that she sometimes imagined herself married to the Maharaja and was sure that one day he would ask to kiss her and that “of course I shall say no, but diary shall I own [confess], I would like him to do it & not ask.” The relationship between Daisy and the Maharajah appears to have come to a dramatic climax on 3 April 1896. While running from the Maharaja, Daisy fell and badly bruised her face, leading her spend a week with her head and face covered with a double white veil “like a harem lady.” Unaware that she was not asleep, the Maharaja a few times entered her bedroom and, as Daisy recounts in her diary “it was no nice when he used to kneel down by my bed & stroke my forehead, talk a little & pray.”

The name of the Maharaja’s state was made famous in the German-speaking world after 1928 when Berthold Brecht, in his Dreigroschenoper, and with the popularity of the opera in Europe and the United States, the name Cooch Behar became synonymous with “the ends of the earth”:

Soldaten wohnen,
Auf den Kanonen,
Vom Cap bis Cooch Behar.

The Maharaja, who visited the Lafayette studio again in 1902 for another series of poses in a variation of the same uniform but with turban, represented to the British the Indian martial spirit in his most elegant form. He died suddenly during a later visit to Britain, at Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex, 18th September 1911 leaving four sons and three daughters. The report of his death in The Times noted him as a man of extreme affability and theorised that it had been his devotion to manly sport that had led to his early demise “while still on the sunny side of 50.”