Today in History: Rani of Jhansi, Rebel Queen

Born on 19 November, 1835 to a Brahmin Maratha family, Manikarnika lived a very unique and adventurous life.  Her father Moropant Tabme was a court advisor, and her mother, Bhagirathi, was a woman of education. Her mother passed when she was very young and her father raised her in unconventional ways by encouraging her to ride elephants and horses and teaching her weapons, war fighting, fencing and sword fighting.  Being raised later in life by two supporters of the Indian Revolution,  she learned early in life to not be a quiet or reserved girl.  As was custom for her time, Manikarnika was married to King of Jhansi at the age of 14 and had one son together who died at four months old.  In an effort to maintain their kingdom with under British Rule and to avoid the ‘Doctrine of Lapse‘ rules,  Lakshmiba adopted her husband’s cousin on the day before her husband’s death, but the Governor-General Lord Dalhousie did not accept the adoption and claimed the kingdom as his own.  Rani of Jhansi argued bitterly against the move but was eventually paid out and sent away from her throne.

Rani settled into a fort maintained by the British and attempted to ignore the injustices happening around her.  After some rumors of the British using bullets soaked in pigs blood reached her, however, Rani became incensed and capitalized on an opportunity to mutiny when an organized rebel unit attacked the British fort she was in by joining the rebel force mid attack and slaughtering the British forces.  An army doctor, Thomas Lowe, wrote after the rebellion characterising Rani as the “Jezebel of India … the young rani upon whose head rested the blood of the slain”.

This started a fierce battle between Lakshmi Bai and the British that lasted over six months.  The Queen organized and equipped a professional force that fortified and defended themselves against the well trained British military.  She and her troops were able to maintain their fortifications against the British without replacements or reinforcements until 16 June, 1858, when General Rose attacked her fort unrelentingly killing “any Indian over the age of 16”.  The Rani of Jhansi defended herself valiantly all the way until her death, so fiercely so that at one point she strapped her son to her back during a sword fight so she could fight with two swords.  She received a fatal wound, which she succumbed to in hiding after her escape.  Her son lived another 20 years

Commander of British Army, Hugh Rose, called her “the most dangerous of all Indian leaders”

Twenty years after her death Colonel Malleson wrote in the History of the Indian Mutiny; vol. 3; London, 1878 “Whatever her faults in British eyes may have been, her countrymen will ever remember that she was driven by ill-treatment into rebellion, and that she lived and died for her country, We cannot forget her contribution for India.”

 

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