India in 1947: Partition in Colour – Channel 4


It would have been nice if, to mark the 75th anniversary of “Freedom at Midnight”, one of our TV channels had shown a programme focusing on everything that India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have achieved since independence.  But no.  Instead, we have to rake over whether or not Nehru was having it off with Edwina Mountbatten, and slag off Mountbatten, Nehru and Jinnah for not making a better job of an impossible situation.   Don’t get me wrong: the violence and the refugee crisis that followed partition was horrific.   But something focusing on the more positive aspects of independence, and the 75 years since then, would have been a lot more welcome.  The colourised pictures were interesting to see, but only really formed a backdrop for the negative narrative.

No-one got a good press in this, but, as I’ve said, it was an impossible situation by 1947.  I’m not sure that anyone could have done much better, and I’m not sure how helpful it was just to go on about the alleged faults of the three main leaders.  Gandhi, incidentally, was completely ignored.

Mountbatten was slagged off over the partition plan, but the programme claimed that he had nothing to do with it anyway, and it was all the work of the civil service.   Both Mountbatten and Nehru were slagged off for having a close personal relationship and leaving Jinnah out in the cold.  Or, rather, out in the heat, when the others took off to the Hills.  And of fiddling the border decisions to suit India.

Jinnah didn’t get a very good press either.  It was pointed out that Islamic fundamentalists tried to assassinate him because they were so angry about partition.   But other Muslims didn’t want to be a minority in a mainly Hindu India.  Jinnah was in a no-win situation: they all were. The programme also talked about complaints regarding the borders, but, wherever the borders had been, a lot of people would still have felt that they had to move.

Even the British Army came in for criticism.   Excuse me, but how were 50,000 troops supposed to deal with violence on such a scale? And the head of the Boundary Commission was criticised for having dysentery.  Oh, and for not being “an Alpha Male”.

The one person who got a tiny amount of praise was Edwina Mountbatten, but they were far more interested in her relationship with Nehru than in her work with refugees.

The narrators did concede that, by mid-1947, the fear and violence were out of control, and there wasn’t much that anyone could have done to improve things.   But they just seemed determined to be negative about everything.   The programme didn’t even point out that Freedom at Midnight created the world’s largest democracy.

And it said nothing that we haven’t heard a hundred times before.  I’d far rather have seen a programme about how India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have progressed since 1947, and I’d really have liked to have heard just one word of positivity.   This was almost 100% negativity.  Two hours of negativity.


A Suitable Boy – BBC 1


I really enjoyed this. OK, it was all a bit cheesy and obvious – you just knew from the title that any boy our heroine met would be anything other than suitable – but it’s Sunday night drama, not a documentary.  Sunday night drama is meant to be entertaining, and this was.

Andrew Davies, adapting Vikram Seth’s book, appears to have rediscovered some measure of self control, so we didn’t get any bare bottoms bobbing along a beach.  Instead, we got wonderful Indian architecture, scenery and music, and an amusing if rather unoriginal storyline about Lata, a spirited young woman whose mother was determined to find her a suitable husband, and who met someone thoroughly *un*suitable instead (although I gather that more suitors will turn up in later episodes).  There was also an unsuitable woman, with whom Lata’s brother-in-law became involved.  And the background (I refuse to describe the 1950s as “history”) was very much there too, with the Hindu-Muslim tensions, this being set in Northern India only a few years after partition, much in evidence.

Northern India is the land of princes and rajas and, whilst our characters weren’t in that league, they were still from the wealthier echelons of society, and close to the powers that were, although we were told that they’d come down in the world a little.  So a lot of the scenes were rather glossy and glamorous, which always works well in the Sunday 9pm slot 🙂 .   Escapism.  I need escapism.  I definitely need escapism!

It began with the wedding of Lata’s sister.  We saw Lata chatting away to her new brother-in-law’s brother, and I did wonder if they’d get together; but, instead, he took up with a much older singer.  Lata’s mother was desperate to find her a suitable husband; but she, being a thoroughly modern miss at university, was determined that she wasn’t being pushed into an arranged marriage.  Yes, OK, it was a bit cliched, but it was a drama, and they usually are a bit cliched.  Lata duly met a handsome young chap at university … but, needless to say, it turned out that he was a Muslim, whereas she was a Hindu.

The aftermath of partition was always there, with a lot of talk about building a temple next to a mosque, and riots breaking out towards the end of the episode.  Without wanting to get political, these are issues which still haven’t been resolved – and how I wish they could be.  The juxtaposition of the tensions and the unrest with the rather soapy storylines about the meddling mother and the unsuitable romance might not have worked, but it did.

I thought it was a very good first episode.  Yes, it was kind of obvious, but Sunday night dramas are!

Just a bit of a rant, though.  You’d think that the Whinge Brigade would be pleased that the BBC were showing a drama with an entirely South Asian cast; but no, they are whingeing about everything.  It doesn’t show the lives of poor people. Well, that’s because it’s about two wealthy families.  Pride and Prejudice does not show the lives of poor people.  Coronation Street and EastEnders do not show the lives of the aristocracy.  Things are about what they’re about.  The characters are speaking English.  That’s because it’s a BBC drama.  Did the characters in the adaptation of War and Peace speak Russian?  No.  Did the characters in the adaptation of Les Miserables speak French?  No.  And, the piece de resistance, it’s “Orientalist”, because characters are wearing saris and playing sitars.  WTF?  Would they prefer characters in 1950s India to be wearing Dior’s New Look and listening to Frank Sinatra?  What is it with these people?  If you show an interest in Indian culture, in the lovely clothes and lovely music, it’s “Orientalist” and “cultural appropriation”.  If you don’t, you’re a white supremacist.  Put a sock in it, FFS!  What on earth is wrong with appreciating a different culture?  Surely it’s good that we can appreciate different cultures.  I know these people moan about anything, but what on earth is the problem with Indian characters in a series set in India wearing Indian clothes and playing Indian music?

Oh well.  Let’s ignore the moaners.  I really enjoyed this, and I’m sure that a lot of other people did too!  And we need all the enjoyable telly we can get at the moment!!

Trevor McDonald’s Indian Train Adventure – ITV


From plastic recycling plants to maharajas’ palaces, and a visit to the lovely city of Udaipur (where my Facebook profile photo was taken!), travelling on a train which was carrying four tonnes of food (for eating, not selling) and provided passengers with TVs. Fruit, spices, camels, elephants … and Trevor McDonald’s got more charisma than John Beecham will ever have! What’s not to like? Oh, and apparently you can travel the entire length of India by rail for the equivalent of £12. But not on the Maharajas’ Express, which Trevor was on. That’s a seriously luxurious train. And it stops at some seriously exciting places. How can I get a job presenting programmes like this?!

Next week, we’re getting the Taj Mahal and the rats’ temple. Been to both 🙂 . Let’s just say that the Taj Mahal was the better of the two! Even the rats’ temple was fascinating in its way, though. Everything about India is fascinating, and Trevor’s trying to show a lot of different aspects of it in this two-part railway journey series.

He started off in Mumbai, visiting a plastic recycling plant. It doesn’t sound that interesting, but it actually was – India recycles far more plastic than we do, and it was indicative of how fast the Indian economy is growing and developing.

There’s been a huge population shift from the countryside to the cities in recent years, but much of the economy is still agriculture-based, and it was sad to see, on the next stop, in Pachora, how badly the farmers there have been affected by drought. We tend to associate drought with Africa, and India with monsoons; but things are really bad there, after several years with below average rainfall. It was a stark reminder of just how dependent we all are on weather conditions, and how all the industrial and technological development in the world can’t, at present, really do anything to bring relief from drought: there are just no irrigation systems powerful enough to give the land there the water it needs. It’s not good.

After that, it was on to Udaipur – with Trevor reminding us that the princely states of India were never part of the British Raj. In 1947, the year of independence, there were well over 500 princely states, some big, some small, covering over 40% of the sub-continent. They all became part of either India or Pakistan. The princes were originally supposed to get an annual payment and be entitled to keep their private property and titles, but later governments didn’t stick to that agreement. Trevor met one of the sons of the present Maharana of Udaipur (although I seem to remember that there’s some sort of succession dispute between two brothers there?), and later met the present Mahajara of Jodhpur, and it was clear that neither of them were overly happy with the way things had gone.

Having said that, they’ve still got their wonderful palaces, many of which are now heritage hotels. The one which Trevor visited in Jodhpur is said to be the most luxurious hotel in the world. He was welcomed by dancers, and had rose petals strewn at his feet! Sadly, places like that are a bit out of my price range , but some of the hotels we went to did give us some very pretty garlands when we arrived, and the security guards were very good about posing in their glamorous uniforms with sad female tourists like me! Incredible palaces – so big, and imposing, and beautiful. The Maharaja of Jodhpur’s even got his own train, although sadly it doesn’t run any more.

There was lots of food in the programme, as well. Those wonderful fruit and spice stalls you see everywhere in India. Such glorious colours! And the food on the train looked amazing. Apparently the train driver will even slow down if the chef asks him to, so that nothing gets spilt! It’s the most expensive luxury train in the world. Two restaurants and a bar. Plates containing real gold. The price wasn’t mentioned, but I’m guessing that this journey costs just a bit more than £12. And tea with maharajas and princes to boot. As I said, how can I get a job presenting programmes like this?!  A brilliant hour’s TV, and another episode to come!

Beecham House – ITV


Finally, a period drama set in India before 1857/58, and indeed even before 1803!   But, so far, it’s not really living up to the hype.  On the plus side, we got all the glorious colour of India – elephants, camels, lush gardens, and the wonderful colourful clothes and amber and pink buildings of beautiful Rajasthan (except that it was supposedly set in Delhi!).  We got mystery, and we got political and romantic intrigue.  On the minus side, I’d had a horrible feeling that Gurinder Chadha and William Dalrymple would badly mishandle the history, and they did – it gave a very misleading impression of what was going on.  Also, the characters’ behaviour didn’t ring true – a respectable young single woman going round to a strange bloke’s house for tea, and touching his arm?!  – and the bare-chested scything scene was such a rip-off of Poldark that I just had to laugh.  Mixed feelings about this – but it was only the first episode, so let’s see how it goes.

The scenery and the sets were stunning.  Was the City Palace in Jaipur used for the scenes with the emperor?  It certainly looked like it.  Such an amazing place!  The French mercenary bloke who used to be in Mr Selfridge was based at the glorious Amber Fort, near Jaipur, and Beecham House and the neighbouring home owned by the bloke who used to be in Ackley Bridge were filmed at two of the beautiful Rajasthani palaces which are how heritage hotels.  And the hills, the lakes, the gardens, the animals, the gorgeous clothes … it was definitely a feast for the eyes.  It was supposed to be in Delhi, though, not Rajasthan!   Well, OK, we did get to see a bit of the Red Fort!

The basic idea is that John Beecham has left the East India Company because he doesn’t approve of it, and has bought himself a palace in India, where he intends to settle down and earn his living by trading (although he presumably has plenty of money already), and be part of the local community.   Now, this sort of idea can work very well – think Dances With Wolves.   Admittedly that was made before the days of snowflakes screeching about “cultural appropriation” and “white saviours” and so on, but, in the 18th century, British attitudes towards India and relationships between the British and the Indians were very different from how they were in the days of the Raj, and I was hoping that this was going to show that, in a positive way.  However, given that Gurinder Chadha ruined Viceroy’s House by bizarrely claiming that Britain partitioned India as some sort of anti-Soviet plot, and William Dalrymple, however detailed his research and in-depth his knowledge may have been, ruined The Last Mughal by claiming that evangelical Christians were responsible for all the evils of the world, I should have known I was being over-optimistic!

Back to John Beecham, first.  One big difference between India in the 1790s and India in the days of A Passage to India, The Jewel in the Crown etc was that relationships between white British men and Indian women were much more acceptable in earlier times – and John B turned up with his mixed race baby.  What an absolutely gorgeous baby!  Well, twins, playing him.  Big smiles for the camera!  But no sign of the mother.  So this was all meant to be very mysterious.   There’s also a mysterious brother whom we haven’t met yet, but the preview of the second episode showed him smoking opium and surrounded by half-naked girls.  Two brothers who are completely different – nothing like a good cliché!  The cliché of “nabobs” at this time – think Jos Sedley in Vanity Fair – was that they were all complete prats, whereas John is supposed to be all brooding and into Indian culture and generally a big hero.  Who can cut down trees without having his shirt on, like Ross Poldark.

And, by the end of the first episode, two women were after him.  The first one was his neighbour’s daughter’s governess.  He asked her round for tea.  On her own.  She went.  Touched his arm.  Used his first name.  I know these are Georgians rather than Victorians, but even so!   The other one was a childhood friend, who’d travelled out there with his mother, apparently purely in the hope of bagging him because his mother had told her he was a good catch.  I was hoping that Lesley Nicol, as the mother, would have a good part, maybe a bit of battleaxe; but she was a real trope, dressed entirely in black (if she’s in mourning, we weren’t told) and whingeing about the weather. An old pal of John’s had also travelled out with them, reasons unknown.

I was assuming that the household staff’d play a big part in it all – although maybe that was all the “Delhi Downton” talk in the media – but they haven’t had much to do yet.  Nor have the neighbours: we barely saw them.  However, we did see a lot of the aforementioned French mercenary – who looks even better in military uniform than he did dressing Mr Selfridge’s windows.  Now, to be fair, he is a mercenary, but the programme definitely gave the impression that the French were allied with the Mughal emperor against the East India Company.   Rubbish.  The French were barely involved in India after the Seven Years’ War.  And they did have rather a lot else on their minds in 1795!

Furthermore, there wasn’t a single mention of the Marathas, who’d been fighting the Mughals for years.  By this stage, the emperor was only really a client king under their protection.  Nor was there any mention of the recent wars between the Mughals and the Sikhs.  Nor did they raise the fact that Mughal rule meant that an Islamic dynasty was ruling over a mainly Hindu population.  It was quite ironic, really – Chadha and Dalrymple were so busy being anti-British that they ended up demeaning Indian history instead, with this Eurocentric impression of events as being all about the French trying to help the Indians keep the British East India Company out of Delhi, instead of showing the relationships and conflicts between different groups of Indians.

Incidentally, Delhi is full of stunning buildings dating from both the British Raj and the Mughal era.  It does not have snowflakes wanting to show how politically correct they are by campaigning for them to be pulled down.  Just a thought.

I’m not defending the East India Company.   In fact, as the programme mentioned, Governor-General Warren Hastings had just been impeached on a number of charges – although he was acquitted.  I first got into Indian history in the late 1980s, when two of Britain’s best-known sports personalities were Scottish rugby union players Gavin and Scott Hastings, and I still want to call Warren Hastings either “Gavin” or “Scott” because the names got a bit mixed up in my head, but that’s beside the point!   But making out that 18th century Indian history was all about the Mughals versus the British East India Company is nonsense, and rather insulting to India.

Oh well.  There’s more to come.  We haven’t met the brother yet.  And I believe that there’s also an Indian princess, who may be the mother of the cute baby.  It was only the first episode – and it had been so hyped up that it would have been very difficult for it to have lived up to expectations.   I do very much hope it gets better, because this is a period of history that, because there’s so much focus on the Raj era, tends to be overlooked.  It deserves better.    Maybe the series will get better!


The Twentieth Wife and The Feast of Roses – Indu Sundaresun


Everyone’s heard of the Taj Mahal. Most people will know the term Mughal/Moghul/Mogul, but probably in connection with either a local takeaway or as a term for a successful businessperson.  Not many people, even in the Indian subcontinent, will have heard of the Empress Nur Jahan.  And I’m not sure how familiar most people in the UK are with the history of the Moghul Empire, because no-one teaches us much about pre-colonial Asian history.  Novels about royal families are a brilliant place to start learning about an unfamiliar period in history – especially when they involve such an interesting character as the Empress Nur Jahan, or Mehrunnissa.  If you want something to learn about Northern India, or even if you just want a good read about something different, give Indu Sundaresun’s books a go.

The main character in these two books is, as I said, Nur Jahan, or Mehrunnissa (1577-1645), the twentieth and favourite wife of the Emperor Jahangir. Her niece Arjumand, known as Mumtaz Mahal, married Jahangir’s son, the future Emperor Shah Jahan, who famously had the Taj Mahal built as Mumtaz’s mausoleum after she died giving birth to their fourteenth child.  It’s ironic that the publishers are marketing these books, along with Shadow Princess, which is about Jahan and Mumtaz’s eldest daughter, as “the Taj Mahal trilogy”, because Indu Sundaresun is keen to make the extremely good point that Mehrunnissa, who exercised political power and was a patron of the arts, at a time when it was very rare for a woman to do so, is all but forgotten, whereas Mumtaz, who didn’t actually do very much other than repeatedly conceive and give birth, has achieved immortality because of a beautiful building.

Shadow Princess is well worth a read as well.  It shows, amongst other things, the battles between several brothers, resulting in one brother having the others murdered, and also makes the point that, romantic as the Taj Mahal seems now, people at the time weren’t actually all that thrilled about vast amounts of taxpayers’ money being spent on an elaborate royal tomb.  It also shows the shift in attitudes from Jahangir and Shah Jahan’s keenness to incorporate elements of different religions into the life of an Islamic court to Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan’s successor’s, destruction of Hindu temples and fiscal discrimination against his Hindu subjects.

Just to go off the point slightly, on a recent trip to Northern India I found it interesting that most of the major buildings in older parts of Delhi, and of course the Taj Mahal in Agra, were built by the Islamic rulers of a predominantly Hindu state, and that most of the newer buildings in Delhi were built under the British Raj, but that there’s absolutely no thought of pulling them down or complaining that they’re symbols of oppression or discrimination.

Anyway, to get back to the point, Mehrunnissa is the star of the first two books. They’re written in a way that makes them very easy to get into but at the same time conveys a huge amount of information about the Mughal court and the Mughal Empire, everything from life in the harem/zenana, including the rivalries between the various different wives, to political machinations within the court, to wars with rival powers.  And the romance between Mehrunnissa and Salim/Jahangir, of course!

In brief, Mehrunnissa is born, on the road in what’s now Afghanistan, to a Persian noble family fleeing to Hindustan. They’ve got so little at the time that she’s almost abandoned at birth, but her father rises to become one of Emperor Akbar’s Grand Viziers, and Mehrunnissa goes to live at court.  The romantic version of events, which is the one shown in these books, is that she and Jahangir took a shine to each other from early on.  Spoilsports now say that this never actually happened.  Oh well.  Whatever, she was married off, unhappily, to a Persian soldier, by whom she had one daughter – whom she later married off to one of Jahangir’s sons, hoping (in vain, as it turned out) that her daughter would become Empress in turn.  After he died, she married Jahangir.

By that point, she was in her thirties. Women at the Mughal court were generally considered past their sell-by date by then, but she was the one who had the Emperor’s affection when there were plenty of younger models he could have gone for instead.  Go Mehrunnissa!   And, at a time when women were not expected to exercise power, and bearing in mind that she was only part of the royal family by marriage, she was pretty much the power behind the throne.  Jahangir was a little too fond of booze and opium.  She sat with him when he held court, issued coinage in her own name, dealt with the various Western powers looking to establish or increase their influence in what’s now India, was involved in consultations with ministers, and raised an army to fight a rebellion – even riding into the thick of things on a war elephant.

She is brilliant!   Rags to riches.  Well, OK, not quite, but her family were in dire straits when she was born.  Bagging the emperor when everyone would have expected him to be more interested in some silly young thing.  Wielding political power at a time when women weren’t supposed to.  And commissioning a tomb for her father which is generally agreed to have been the inspiration for the Taj Mahal.  Not to mention taking care of hundreds of orphans, mostly girls.  She should be right up there amongst the female icons of history.

But she isn’t. Her story ended rather sadly – confined to effective house arrest by her stepson.  As many other strong women have been, she’s been painted by those historians who have written about her as – well, a conniving bitch, not to put too fine a point on it.  And her name isn’t really known much now, even in India and Pakistan.  Whereas the Taj Mahal is one of the most famous buildings in the world, arguably the symbol of India.  I loved the Taj Mahal, and I’m so glad I’ve seen it, and I agree that it’s quite romantic that Shah Jahan loved Mumtaz Mahal so much that he wanted to build such a splendid tomb for her, but … well, it’s a bit strange that the Mughal Empire has been immortalised by the symbol of a marriage and a death.  I suppose it makes a change from triumphal arches and grand palaces, eh?  Anyway, these books shouldn’t be being marketed as “the Taj Mahal trilogy” at all, and it’s rather insulting to Mehrunnissa that they are!

I wasn’t actually looking for a “strong women of history” novel. I just wanted to find out more about the Mughal Empire.  And this book really is a good starting point for that.  But I really did like the character.  And I liked the author’s writing, and will be looking for more of her books if I ever get through my existing book mountain.  We aren’t generally taught much Asian history in British schools and universities, and these books make the Mughal court in the late sixteenth and seventeenth century seem very accessible.  Read and enjoy!

Who Do You Think You Are? (Olivia Colman) – BBC 1


Some episodes of this are better than others; and this, kicking off the new series, was a particularly good one. OK, technically the series started with the Michelle Keegan episode, which was also interesting, but that was shown weeks ago!   The Olivia Colman episode not only included some fascinating “human interest” stories, about the eventful lives of the ancestors of someone who’d said that she hadn’t expected to find too much drama in her family tree, but took us back to the lives of the British in pre-Mutiny India, something we don’t hear nearly enough about.

The Victorians cast a very long shadow, and, given their achievements, rightly so. But that does mean that the attitudes of Georgian times aren’t given enough attention: there can be the idea that the views of “the past” mean the views of the mid to late Victorians.  And Georgian times were very different.  Take Jane Austen’s novels.  Lydia Bennet runs off with Mr Wickham, and lives with him before they’re married.  Maria Rushworth, nee Bertram, leaves her husband and runs off with Henry Crawford.  We hear all about Willoughby’s history of seducing young women – and Wickham wasn’t behind the door in that department either.  Emma’s friend Harriet is “the natural daughter of Someone”.  It’s a long way from the Victorians covering piano legs because even pianos weren’t allowed to show their legs in public!

Then there were attitudes on race and colonialism. It’s a controversial area, and one which it would take hours to go into properly.  But, in the second half of the 19th century, it probably wasn’t very likely that a well-to-do British family would have taken in the mixed race daughter of one of its scions.  The illegitimate mixed race daughter.  Whereas that’s exactly what happened with Olivia Colman’s great-great-great-grandmother, Harriot Slessor – born in a remote part of India in 1807, half a century before the Mutiny, to a British officer and his Indian mistress.

Sadly, her father died when she was only three, and we don’t know what happened to her mother, but Olivia learnt that Harriot’s grandmother had sent for her, paid for her passage to Britain, and given her everything she could. She was nicknamed “India Harriot”: there seems to have been no attempt to cover up her mixed heritage, as there perhaps would have been later on.  Think Anna Leonowens of “The King and I” fame.  OK, what happened to Harriot was only one person’s experience, but it was … well, I was going to say a lovely one, but it was actually rather sad in parts.  Although she was going to a loving family, it was to a strange country and people she didn’t know.  And then her first husband, whom she met on board a ship going back to India, died shortly after their marriage.

It was suggested that her mixed heritage made it difficult for her to find a husband in England, so not everyone was as open-minded as the Slessor family were, but she did marry twice, both to white British men. She and her second husband remained in India for many years, and then retired to the Home Counties, where they lived a comfortable life.  He presumably made money in India and was from a comfortable background anyway, and she inherited a considerable sum of money from a great-aunt.  It doesn’t seem to have bothered her family in the slightest that she was illegitimate or that she was of mixed race.  OK, this was only one person’s experience, and doesn’t necessarily typify the attitudes of the time, but I think it’s a very Georgian/early Victorian story, and I think Harriot’s upbringing may well have been very different had she been born sixty years later.   Thankfully for her, she wasn’t.

I’m not knocking the Victorians, but the image we have of the British in India tends to be that of the later Victorians, and of the first half of the 20th century, and it’s not always very positive, especially in today’s socio-political climate. Books like E M Forster’s A Passage to India perhaps have a lot to do with that.  And the pre-Mutiny British in India tend to be seen as idiots, like Jos Sedley in Vanity Fair.  Stories like that of Harriot Slessor can tell us a lot, and show us that maybe we need to rethink some of the common ideas and images about the British in India.  As the lady who showed Olivia round the area where Harriot was born pointed out, there were many relationships between British men and Indian women back then. Obviously there are books like White Mughals, about mixed race romances, about the 18th century, but it’s still the image of the clubs and the hill stations in late Victorian and early 20th century times that dominate.

There was a lot more in this programme, too. Harriot’s second husband’s father, Olivia’s great-great-great-great-grandfather, had accused his first wife of adultery, and then been granted not only a legal separation but the right to remarry – to a woman with whom he already had two children.  The two children born before their marriage were treated exactly the same as those born after their marriage – and this was in a very middle-class family.  Again, very Georgian!

We also heard about Harriot’s grandmother, also Harriot, and how she’d spent a lot of time in Porto, where her soldier husband was based.   From a human interest viewpoint, we heard – how wonderful to be able to read your great-great-great-great-great-grandmother’s letters! – about her sadness at leaving her elderly mother behind in Britain, and her sons at British boarding schools … something else we associate with Victorian and early twentieth century times, and which we need to remember went back well before that.  It was also a reminder of the longstanding bond between England/Britain and the very lovely city of Porto, and the very lovely country of Portugal generally.  Harriot’s husband was in the army, whereas a lot of the Brits based in Porto were there because of the port wine, but that’s another story!

Finally, we learnt that the elder Harriot’s mother had been born in Paris and come to Britain as a Huguenot refugee. That was well into the 18th century, so long after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes and the main wave of Huguenot emigration from France to the British Isles and elsewhere, but that just went to show that the issue of religion in France continued to be an issue even into the 1720s/1730s.  The distant relative who told Olivia about their common ancestor made the point that the Huguenots were the first group of people to be termed “refugees”.  This was right at the end of the programme, and we didn’t hear very much about this lady, but the whole subject of people moving around between England, Scotland, Ireland, France  and Low Countries, over a long period from the middle of the 16th century to the start of the 18th century – in fact, the middle of the 18th  century, if you include the people who left Scotland after Culloden – for religious and political reasons, often linked, is fascinating, and something we don’t hear enough about.

Mostly it was fairly small groups of people, but around 50,000 Huguenots came to the British Isles. Their influence on the textile and cutlery-making industries here, and the watch-making industry in Switzerland, was just immense.  Britain and Switzerland’s gain, and France’s loss.  There was quite a lot of immigration at that time – people moved from the Netherlands to Britain with William of Orange, and they included Jews as well as Protestants.  And, in 1709, 13,000 migrants from Germany – dubbed “the Palatines” as some of them came from the Palatinate – arrived in Britain, claiming that they were refugees, but it turned out that a lot of them were economic migrants, and there were social issues because most of them were poor and unskilled, many of them were Catholics when they’d claimed to be Protestants fleeing persecution.  There was a big row over immigration policy, and the difference between refugees and economic migrants …  some things don’t change!

But the Huguenot immigration does generally seem to have gone really well, and it would’ve been interesting to hear more about Olivia’s Huguenot ancestor.  However, you can only fit so much into an hour’s episode, and the story of her Eurasian (Anglo-Indian originally meant “British living in India”, with “Eurasian” being the term for someone of mixed heritage) great-great-great-grandmother and how well her life turned out was absolutely fascinating.  And Olivia had had no idea that her family had any connection with India at all.  Who knows what there might be in anyone’s family history that they have no idea about?  It’s just great when this programme can uncover something completely unexpected like that.  Wonderful episode.