Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

The Empress of India

In 1862 Lord Canning sailed home leaving India at peace. All through the mutiny he had been cool and calm. When it was over he would take no wild revenge, and earned for himself the name of Clemency Canning, a name by which we may be glad to remember him, for clemency means mildness or quickness to forgive.

Since the mutiny many things have happened in India, most of which you will understand better, and find more interesting, later on. There have been wars and famines, there have been mistakes and mischances, troubles and trials, but on the whole, the great Empire has been peace. The native princes have become educated gentlemen, and, in many ways, West and East have been drawn together.

One thing which helped the princes of India and the British crown to become better friends was the visit of the Prince of Wales, now King Edward.

When the native rulers of India heard that our Prince was coming, they prepared to receive him with great honour. When he landed in Calcutta, the whole town blazed with illuminations. Everyone held high holiday. There were balls and parties given both by white and by native people. And all through India, wherever he went, the princes and their subjects flocked to him honour. Native rulers forgot their quarrels with each other, and joined in welcoming the son of their British Padishah. They brought him splendid presents, and he won their hearts by his kindness and his courtesy. He stayed in their palaces, shot and hunted with them, and when he left, many a prince founded schools or hospitals, or built harbours, in memory of his future Emperor's visit.

All this time, although Queen Victoria had been ruler of India for more than eighteen years, she had never been proclaimed, or taken the title. Now, the year after the visit of the Prince of Wales, that is in 1877, she was proclaimed at Delhi, Empress of India.

To Delhi came the Viceroy, and all the native princes and nobles of India. Princes who before had never seen each other, princes whose forefathers had fought in deadly hatred, now all met together as friends, eager to show their loyalty to their Empress.

Outside the walls of Delhi, on the very ground upon which the British troops had encamped when they besieged the rebels of the mutiny, there now arose a peaceful tented city, brilliant in red and blue and white, flashing and glittering with golden ornament. Upon the ground that had been red with hate and war, where shells had burst, and cannon roared, and a hail of grape-shot scattered death, gold and silver cannon, drawn by white oxen gaily decorated with silken, embroidered cloths, were paraded in the sunshine, and those who had been foes met and greeted each other as friends and brothers. Gay flags fluttered, bands played, elephants and camels with gorgeous trappings paced the long streets of gaudy tents. Princes and people from every part of the great peninsula met and mingled. It was the gay mass of moving colour, of red, and green, and blue, and everywhere in the sunshine, gold and silver and precious stones gleaned and sparkled. It was such a pageant as could be seen only in an eastern land, under an eastern sky.

On the day of the proclamation the sky was cloudless blue. Upon a grassy plain the tented throne was raised. Its silken draperies were embroidered with the Rose, the Thistle, and the Shamrock, entwined with the Lotus flower of India, and over all fluttered the cross of St. George, and the Union Jack.

Here, surrounded by the glittering throng, the Viceroy took his seat, while the band played "God save the Queen." He too, was splendidly dressed, in the robes, ermine trimmed and gold embroidered, of Grand Master of the Order of the Star of India.

When the Viceroy was seated, twelve gaily dressed heralds sounded their trumpets. Then the chief herald in a loud voice read the proclamation, which told to all the winds of heaven that, "Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Queen, Defender of the Faith," should henceforth be known also as Empress of India.

The reading done, the Royal standard was raised, cannon thundered a salute, the band struck up "God save the Queen," and a deafening cheer broke upon the quiet air, as the people of India acclaimed Victoria, Kaisar-i-Hind.

Two hundred and seventy-seven years before, a few sober London merchants had gathered to discuss the price of pepper, and had resolved to adventure in a voyage to the East. Little did they foresee that from that resolve would grow a great Empire, which should be gradually pieced together, like the parts of the huge puzzle, until nearly the whole of the vast peninsula, which was to them an unknown land, should be brought under the sway of a Queen, to whose power and greatness that of their own good Queen Bess would be as the pale light of the moon to the golden shining of the sun.

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