Bourbons of India

The Bourbons of India are an Indian family who claim to be legitimate heirs of the House of Bourbon, descended from Jean Philippe de Bourbon, Count of Clermont-en-Beauvaisis, an exiled French noble who served in Mughal Emperor Akbar's court. The family is also known as "Bourbon-Bhopal", a name derived from the city of Bhopal in central India where their last few generations resided and worked in the pre-independent Indian Bhopal State Royal Court.


Traveller and photographer Louis Rousselet wrote in Le Fils du Connétable (Rousselet 1882)[1][2] when he had visited Isabella de Bourbon, known in the Court as Bourbon Sirdar, and got struck by her "European type".[1][3] This is his account of his surprise to find a Bourbon Princess in Bhopal:

When everyone was seated, the priest said to me, "On hearing of your arrival I should have hastened to come and see you for it is long since I had the pleasure of meeting fellow countryman, but I was compelled to delay my visit for a reason you will easily understand. I reside here in the capacity of chaplain in Madame Isabelle de Bourbon, a Christian princess who holds the first place of the kingdom after the Begum. This lady greatly hoped that you would have gone to see her soon after your arrival, and she waited for you impatiently. Being only her servant, I was myself obliged until she herself, authorize me to seek you. Today I am sent by her to tell you that she will expect you tomorrow at her palace, at whatever hour you may choose to appoint."

I listened to the priest while he spoke, but without being able to believe my ears. My wanderings had doubtless been fruitful of many unexpected events, but to arrive at Bhopal and find a French priest, chaplain to a Christian princess, and to hear that this princess was the most important personage in the kingdom, and bore the name of Bourbon, this seemed to me to verge on the fabulous and I looked on the worthy ecclesiastic, asking myself whether there were not some mystifications under it all. However, at last I agreed to accept the invitation of the mysterious princess, and he left us to carry the news to her.

When he was gone, I questioned the Bhopal's nobles who were present, and they confirmed the words of the priest. The princess now some sixty-six summers; she was called Bourbon Sirdar, or Princess Bourbon. It was also true she was very rich, possessed important fiefs, and held high rank among the vassals of the crown. My curiosity was greatly excited, and the next morning I mounted the elephant, accompanied by Schaumburg, and proceeded to the residence of the princess.

Kincaid's account of Jean de Bourbon's exile and settlement in India reads:

In the latter half of the sixteenth century, about the year 1560, Jean Philippe de Bourbon, who was a member of a branch of the Bourbons sailed for India, having, tradition relates, been obliged to leave France because he killed a relative of high position in a duel. He landed at Madras, a priest and two friends accompanying him. The two latter died on the voyage, and the priest remained at Madras, but John Philip Bourbon, sailing on to Bengal went thence to Delhi and sought an interview with the Emperor Akbar. On hearing of the high rank of the exile, the Emperor sent for him, and being interested in his story, treated him with much favour and distinction, eventually appointing him to a post at his Court. Not long afterwards the Emperor being much pleased at his courtly bearing and conduct, and desiring to retain his services, offered him in marriage to the Lady Juliana, sister of the Emperor's Christian wife, who on account of her skill and her knowledge of the European system of medicine, had charge of the health of the imperial ladies. This marriage was duly solemnised, whereupon the Emperor conferred upon his brother-in-law the title of Raja of Shergar and placed the imperial seraglio under his care and the Lady Juliana was included in the select band of the imperial sisters. The honourable office conferred on the Bourbons remained in the possession of the family until the sack of Delhi by Nadir Shah in the year 1737.

Colonel William Kincaid, Kincaid 1887[4]

More detailed accounts can be found in Malcolm 1824, pp. 341,[5] Kincaid 1908[5] and Kincaid 1946 (both written by Charles Augustus, William Kincaid's son[6]), and Diver & Diver 1942, pp. 170 et seq. The family held the position of Governor of the Imperial Seraglio until the fall of Delhi after the invasion of Nadir Shah in 1739[7] when Francis II (1718-1778) moved to their principality of Shergar to be the last Raja of Shergar. He was attacked by the troops of the Raja of Narwar in 1778 (General Sir John Malcolm 1823) and died alongside most of the family . His surviving son Salvadore II and his two sons moved to Gwalior and finally to Bhopal.

All the members of the Bourbons of Bhopal were known at the Bhopal Court by Muslim names. They were the most influential and wealthiest family in Bhopal, second only to the royal family themselves. The most prominent members of the family were Balthazar of Bourbon- Shazad Masih (1772-1829), son of Salvadore II. He became prime minister in 1820 until he was poisoned by Afghan nobles in 1829.[8] Masih married an English lady, Isabella Johnston, the princess that French traveler Rousellet met. Their son, Sebastian of Bourbon-Mehrban Masih (1830-1878) was appointed prime minister (1857) to the Begums and built one of the most beautiful palaces in Bhopal, the Shaukat Mahal,[9] and the Catholic Church of Bhopal, on land bequeathed by his mother Princess Isabella (died 1852).[10] Eventually, the family fell out of favour during the last two reigns.

After Indian independence, the new Indian state abolished the old jagirs (land entitlements) in 1948, and royal and noble status in 1971. Deprived of any privileges, the family joined the ranks of the working bourgeoisie.[1][11] The Bourbons of Bhopal are certain that their direct ancestor Jean Phillipe was the secret son of the Constable of France and his wife Duchess Suzanne, according to family oral traditions. Though there are no records of Jean Phillipe of Bourbon in official family genealogy of the House of Bourbon, Prince Michael of Greece, in his book Le Rajah Bourbon (Michel de Grece 2007) gives a very plausible explanation to this and he does believe this branch of the Bourbons to be the oldest branch of the family. There are other different accounts of Jean de Bourbon's possible lineage. One has the constable survive the sack of Rome and eventually marry a Mughal princess named Alaïque, Jean Philippe's mother. Another possible candidate is a member of the Bourbon-Busset branch, reported lost at sea in 1580,[12] though the dates do not match.

Balthazar Napoleon lV de Bourbon, the current head of the family of Bourbons in India, is the son of Salvadore de Bourbon (1917–1978), who claimed the lineage in his memoir Les Bourbons de l'Inde, (de Bourbon 2003) which was edited by Lucien Jailloux and published posthumously with a preface written by historian of India and member of L'École Française d'Extrème-Orient Jean Deloche.[1][11][13][14][15][16]

Salvadore de Bourbon's work is based upon 19th century articles by people such as Claude Sosthène Grasset d'Orcet writing in La Revue britannique (d'Orcet 1892), Gabriel Ferrand writing in La Revue de Paris (Ferrand 1905), and Colonel William Kincaid's Historical sketch of the Indian Bourbon family (Kincaid 1883).[17] The story goes that Jean Phillippe (simply "Jean de Bourbon" in some accounts[18]), the secret son of Charles de Bourbon, Duke of Bourbon, the so-called "Constable of Bourbon", arrived in the court of Mughal emperor Akbar in 1560, relating a tale of his journey there that included pirates, kidnapping, and an attempt to sell him in a slave market in Cairo. Prince Michael of Greece has incorporated this into a historical novel, Le Rajah Bourbon (Michel de Grèce 2007), whose publication spurred a renewed interest in this claim to the French throne.[11][14][15]

Claim to the Throne of France

The current Head of the Bourbon-Bhopal family is Balthazar Napoleon IV de Bourbon, a lawyer by profession.[19] De Bourbon's claim of link to the Bourborns of France was endorsed by Prince Michael of Greece in his historical novel, Le Rajah Bourbon (Michel de Grèce 2007). The novel, described as "an amalgam of conjecture and research", offers a speculative biography of De Bourbon's purported ancestor Jean Philippe de Bourbon. According to the novel, Jean Philippe was a nephew of King Henri IV, which would make Balthazar Napoleon the eldest in line to the French Throne.[20][21] The author states that he completely believes in his theory, although he does not have absolute proof of it.[22]

In 2008, Prince Michael favoured a DNA test, "perhaps from a surviving lock of Bourbon hair", to verify De Bourbon's claim of kinship.[23] De Bourbon stated that he was ready to undergo the DNA test, but that he wanted to know "if the original samples will be available for matching since there were frequent inter-marriages among European royal families."[24]

See also


  1. Times 2006a
  2. The Bourbons
  3. Rousselet & Buckle 1875, pp. 454
  4. Seth 1937, pp. 94
  5. Seth 1937, pp. 95
  6. Tikekar 1992, pp. xvii, 7, and 132
  7. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 8 November 2013. Retrieved 11 May 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. Sharyah Khan: The Begums of Bhopal
  9. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 5 October 2013. Retrieved 2013-05-11.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 28 February 2013. Retrieved 11 May 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. Calle 2007
  12. Decloitre 2010
  13. Tharoor 2007
  14. Telegraph 2007a
  15. Chrisafis 2007
  16. Revise 2007
  17. van Kerrebrouck 2004, pp. 87–88
  18. DublinReview 1887, pp. 281
  19. 'France for better ties with MP'
  20. Bourbon of Indian vintage Archived 18 October 2015 at the Wayback Machine, 10 Jan. 2008, Los Angeles Times
  21. The next King of France? An Indian! Archived 6 August 2017 at the Wayback Machine, 21 August 2007, Manchester Evening News
  22. Found in India the last king of France Archived 6 August 2017 at the Wayback Machine, 2 March 2007, The Guardian
  23. The lost Bourbon, in India Archived 20 February 2018 at the Wayback Machine, 4 March 2007, The Hindu
  24. Heir to France's Bourbon rulers loves India Archived 6 September 2017 at the Wayback Machine, 7 March 2007, DNA India


Further reading



  • d'Orcet, Claude Sosthène Grasset (July 1892). "Les Bourbons des Indes". La Revue britannique (in French): 5–30.
  • de Bourbon, Salvadore (2003). Lucien Jailloux (ed.). Les Bourbons de l'Inde: souvenirs de Salvadore de Bourbon. Mickaël Le Guen, translator. Christian. ISBN 978-2-86496-095-9.
  • Desai, Bharat (15 March 1996). "House of the Bourbons: A Branch of the former French royal family lives with its glorious past and obscure present". India Today. 21 (1). Thomson Living Media India Ltd. pp. 13 et seq.
  • de Warren, Raoul; de Lestrange, Aymon (1990). Les prétendants au trône de France (in French). L'Herne. pp. 135–136. ISBN 978-2-85197-281-1.
  • Diver, Katherine H.; Diver, Maud (1942). "Bhopal". Royal India: a descriptive and historical study of India's fifteen principal states and their rulers (republished by Ayer Publishing, 1971 ed.). Duell, Sloan, and Pearce. ISBN 978-0-8369-2152-6.
  • Ferrand, Gabriel (Septembre 1905–Octobre 1905) [1905]. "Les Bourbons de l'Inde". Revue de Paris (in French): 189–202. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  • Hamid, Razia; Sultan, Rafat (1986). "Bourbons". Nuqoosh-e-Bhopal. Bhopal: Babul Uloom.
  • Khan, Shaharyar M. (2000). "The Bhopal Bourbons". The begums of Bhopal: a dynasty of women rulers in Raj India. I.B.Tauris. pp. 60–66. ISBN 978-1-86064-528-0.
  • Kincaid, Charles Augustus (1908). The Tale of the Tulsi Plant and Other Stories. Bombay: The Times of India Office.
  • Kincaid, Charles Augustus (1 September 1946). "Bourbons of Bhopal". Illustrated Weekly of India.
  • Kincaid, William (1883). Historical Sketch of The Indian Branch of The Bourbon Family : together with a genealogical table from the time that the founder, John Philip Bourbon, landed in India. Sehore.
    • Also published as: Kincaid, William (January 1887). "The Indian Bourbons". Asiatic Quarterly Review: 164–177.
  • Malcolm, John (1824). A memoir of Central India. II. London: Kingsbury, Parbury & Aleen.
  • Maclagan, Edward (1932). "The Indian Bourbons". The Jesuits and the Great Mogul. Burns, Oates & Washbourne.
  • Rousselet, Louis (1879). Les royaumes de l'Inde (in French). Paris: Hachette. pp. 139–143.
  • Rousselet, Louis (1882). Le Fils du connétable (in French). Paris: Hachette.


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