The Story Of The First And Only Catholic Ruler of India- Begum Samru.

Begum Samru’s story is straight out of a movie. It was a time when the Islamic empire was at its peak in India and was challenged by a growing Hindu and British empire.

Amidst all this, she became the first and only Catholic ruler to rule a region of India. And this was just a small achievement in her life. She was also one of the richest people in India at that time. And she also commanded a small army of mercenaries. Her army included mercenaries from every religion. Though her area of influence was small, what she achieved should serve as a lesson in leadership.

Samru was of Kashmiri descent. She was fair and could easily be mistaken for a European. She was brought to Delhi as a slave when she was still a teenager. Walter Leinhardt, a soldier from Luxumberg was impressed by the beauty of Samru. He bought her and then married her. Walter was a European mercenary. He had travelled to India with French soldiers but as a mercenary, he was under no obligation to serve them. Mercenary soldiers were freelancers, who would fight for anyone who paid them well.

Over time, Walter gathered more of such mercenaries and formed a decent-sized army. This army was made of soldiers of all religions, nationalities, and languages. An elderly Walter stopped going to war himself but instead would send just his army. Some years later, he died, leaving behind everything for her wife to manage.

Samru was still in her twenties when all the burden of managing this army fell upon her shoulder. When she was thirty, she was baptized as a catholic. Her familiarity with both Islam and Christianity helped her maintain this diverse army. Along with the army, Walter also left her the principality of Sardhana for Begum Samru. Sardhana was used as barracks for the mercenaries.

A few years after coming into power, Begum Samru started lending her principalities to farmers. The fertile lands of Sardhana yielded a strong harvest. And Samru got a handsome amount of tax. This money along with the income from the mercenary jobs started piling up quickly. Another financial advantage for Begum Samru was her relations with the Royalties and the East India Company. Good relations with them meant she hardly had to pay any taxes to them.

During the Anglo-Maratha war, Begum Samru was approached by the Maratha military generals for an alliance. Apart from the money, her French allegiance meant she was definitely going against the British. She also decided to join her army and lead them from the front. Her army occupied the left flank of the Maratha army. Her army was the only one that remained standing following a massive charge by the East India Company’s cavalry. She left the ground only after the Marathas officially called them back.

The British were impressed by her bravery, after the war Begum and the Company had a healthy relationship.

She died of natural causes at the age of 82. She died as one of the richest people of her time as well as one of the most powerful. What she achieved two centuries back is considered an example of true feminism. Her journey from being sold as a slave, becoming a widow and a single mother, to leading an army fearlessly is nothing but an inspiration.

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