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GIFTS FROM THE NAWABS OF ARCOT

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October 11, 2021
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Royal Collection Trust
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People
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Shah Alam II 1759–1806

GIFTS FROM THE NAWABS OF ARCOT

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The South Asian ruling dynasty with whom George III and George IV had the closest relationship was the Wallajah Nawabs of the Carnatic on the Coromandel Coast at the southernmost end of the subcontinent (modern-day Tamil Nadu). Their provincial capital at Arcot lay just 65 miles west of Fort St George in Madras. In the mid-eighteenth century the surrounding area became a microcosm of the struggle between British and French companies, both of which had key trading ports along the southern shores. Clive took Arcot from the French-backed Nawab in 1751, but wars against the French and their allies continued to rage until the fall of the French capital at Pondicherry (Puducherry) in 1763.[39] The East India Company replaced the defeated Nawab with a British ally, Muhammad Ali Khan (1717–95) (fig. 17) whose descendants, the Wallajah dynasty, governed the Carnatic as a British protectorate until 1855. The Georgian monarchs’ collection of works of art from Tamil Nadu included a beautifully illuminated Quran scroll (cat. no. 68) and drawings of Hindu temples (cat. nos 69–70). This was fitting, given that the Muslim Wallajah Nawabs actively supported the holy shrines both of Islam and the state’s majority Hindu population. In return for British military support in the Carnatic Wars, Muhammad Ali Khan accumulated vast debilitating debts to the Company, and in 1761 he appealed to George III to ‘direct the East India Company to pay that respect to my government, as may enable me to support myself with the honour and dignity as my predecessors […] have done’.[40] The King assured the Nawabs of his support, and in the decades to follow many letters and gifts were exchanged between Arcot and Windsor and a close, epistolary friendship developed. When Clive returned to England in 1767, he delivered separate letters and gifts from Muhammad Ali Khan to the King and Queen (including two ‘diamond drops worth £12,000’[41]) in addition to the unanswered letter from Shah Alam II.[42] They replied with letters of thanks, the King’s assuring the Nawab that ‘our protection [...] shall never be wanting to you & your family’.[43] The King was critical of the ‘fleecing’ of the subcontinent by nabobs like Clive, whom he particularly abhorred.[44] In 1769 he sent Sir John Lindsay as ‘His Majesty’s Plenipotentiary to India’ to cultivate relationships with its rulers. More importantly he hoped Lindsay would ‘endeavour to maintain Peace in India agreeable to the express stipulations of the 11th Article of the Treaty of Paris’, which had ended the war between Britain and France in America.[45] George III clearly viewed the Company’s wars against the French in southern India as having national significance and being as important as those being fought in America. He thought such conflicts should be avoided at all costs. In a letter to the King, Lindsay wrote that he had not intended to announce his plenipotentiary powers to the East India Company Governor and Council on his first arrival in Madras, but when he heard they intended to assist Hyder Ali in his wars against the Marathas, he offered ‘the assistance of his Majesty’s name and the sanction of his authority’ in negotiating peace treaties. ‘But’, he informed the King, ‘they totally refused to cooperate with me.’[46] The Company even failed to assist in the delivery of George III’s letter to the Nawab. Lindsay complained that ‘the government and Council declined giving me any assistance in delivering His Majesty’s Letter to the Nabob with the ceremony usual in that country’,[47] but assured the King that he himself delivered it in ‘as becoming a manner could be under the present circumstances’.[48] In reply to this letter, Muhammad Ali Khan wrote a very poignant message to Queen Charlotte in which he described the recent death of his wife. He informed her that ‘while alive she frequently made mention of your Majesty, and … left from her own Jewels, to be presented in her Name to your Majesty, a Cluster consisting of a Brilliant set round with other Diamonds […] with a polished Emerald Drop scallop’d on the surface & the edge’.[49] These jewels were subsequently included in Queen Charlotte’s will with a separate note by her daughter, Princess Mary, drawing attention to the ‘large Emerald in the Shape of a Shell’ that had been sent from one of the Nawab’s wives.[50] These, and the other jewels sent from the Nawab, known collectively as the ‘Arcot diamonds’, were all sold after Queen Charlotte’s death.


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Ismail Mazari

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Very good information.

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