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The Bourbons and Begums of Bhopal (The Forgotten History)

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The Bourbons and Begums of Bhopal (The Forgotten History)
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Item Code: NAO707
Author: Indira Iyengar
Publisher: Niyogi Books
Language: English
Edition: 2018
ISBN: 9789386906380
Pages: 234 (Throughout Color Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 9.5 inch X 6.5 inch
weight of the book: 715 gms

About the Book

Magdalien Bourbon was a descendant of Jean Philippe de Bourbon, who arrived in India in the 1560s and was appointed a senior official by the Mughal Emperor Akbar, at his court in Delhi. Regarded as a son of the Bourbon Royal Family of France, Jean Philippe de Bourbon was known as the Raja of Shergarh and established a dynasty in India. In the late 1790s the family move to Bhopal and played a curcial role in supporting the ruling Begums of the state.

The Bourbons’ bravery, administrative acumen and sound advice helped in the development of Bhopal, where their deeds are still remembered. The harmonious coexistence of different communities in Bhopal, during the rule of the Begums, is also a valuable historical memory worth remembering.

In this historical account with a personal flavour, Indira Iyengar, the daughter of Magdaline Bourbon, records her mother’s memories, traces the fascinating history of the Bourbons of Bhopal and reminds us of life in a romantic and swashbuckling time.

About the Author

Indira Iyengar is a social activist and founder of Mahashakti Seva Kendra, an organization formed to help underprivileged women become economically independent. At present, it helps more than 5,000 women in Bhopal and across tribal areas in Madhya Pradesh. Previously, she had worked with Mother Teresa to establish the Missionaries of Charity’s first home for the destitute in Bhopal.

She view this book as her tribute to the Bourbon legacy and their contribution to Bhopal state, as well as the fulfillment of a promise she made to her mother to record her family’s unique history. Indira Iyengar lives in Bhopal and is married with two daughters.


I have read this book from cover to cover. It is certainly a painstaking effort by the author, Indira Iyengar, whose mother Magdaline was a descendant of the Bourbons of India. The book is a compilation of the authors’ memories of her childhood and stories narrated by her mother. Through this book, she wishes to fulfil a promise made by her to her mother, Magdaline Bourbon. The author starts by saying that she is not a historian, but the book provides a strong evidence of her research into the history of the Bourbon family.

The first chapter narrates the arrival of the Bourbons in India, especially the arrival of Jean Philippe de Bourbon. The chapter describes his departure of France and the stories related to his travel to India. Jean Philippe de Bourbon’s position in Akbar’s court and his marriage with Lady Juliana is also discussed. This also brings up the interesting dynamics of the Mughal Emperor Akbar married to an Armenian doctor, who was Lady Juliana’s sister. The Armenians and the Christian Jesuits in Akbar’s court are said to had a deep impact on Akbar’s secular beliefs. The chapter firther discusses Jean Philippe de Bourbon’s son, Alexander, who was in-charge of the seraglio and thecompanion to Akbar’s son, Jahangir Jean Philippe and his wife helped to build the first church of Agra in 1588, where they are buried.

The second chapter deals with the arrival of the Bourbon family in Narwar and Shergarh with many other Christians, including the Armenians. Francis Bourbon, the son of Anthony Bourbon, was the last man to hold charge of the imperial seraglio when Nadir Shah ransacked Delhi in 1758. However, nthony Bourbon managed to narrowly escape with his family. He took refuge with his family in the fort of Shergarh, with 300 men and women. The family again faced a massacre by the ruler of Narwar in 1769 and only Salvador, his mother and three children were able to flee.

The third and the fourth chapter from the core of this book, where Bhopal’s history is well documented from the earliest time of the Parmar rule and the construction of Sabha Mandal by Rani Shyamili as the University. The history of Bhopal is more broadly narrated to provide the context in which the Bourbons arrived and flourished. The chapter includes mention of the previous rulers of such as Nizam Shah and Dost Muhammad khan to Manji Mamola, the wife of Nawab Yar Muhammadd Khan. It was Manji Mamola who helped Salvador to settle down in Bhopal in 1785. From his point onwards Salvador and his son Balthazar became prominent figures and played a very important role in the history of Bhopal. They both helped to save Bhopal from the Maratha aggression by fighting alongside Wazir Muhammad Khan, Nazar Mohammad Khan and Nawab Ghous Muhammad Khan. Finally, Balthazar alias Hakim Shahzad Masih played an important role in the Treaty of Raisem in 1818. Shahzad Masih supported Nawab Qudsia Begum to first become the ruler of Bhopal and subsequently ran her state affairs as the Prime Minister of Bhopal. Shahzad Masih’s wife Dulhan Sahib lived a long life as a trustworthy and close confidant of the Begums of Bhopal. She spent quite some time with Nawab Qudsia Begum, then with Nawab Sikandar Jahan Begum. She was probably the only lady Jagirdar apart from the Nawab’s family. She, along with her son Sebastain, served Sikander Jahan Begum during the Uorising of 1857. The Bourbon family was very well accepted by the Bhopalis and always remained close to the royal family. They were of French descent, yet Bhopali at heart.

Anther important contribution of this book is the family tree or shajrah prepared exclusively to complement the research on the Bourbon. This is to my knowledge, the only up-to-date exhaustive family tree line on the Bourbon family in India. The family tree provides the complete family history of the Bourbons of India, which a major contribution of the book. The family tree is a compilation of family resources, archival documents and previous research papers. The author also used the website and other sites to gather facts such as dates and relations. Finally, the book also contributes through the use of authentic photographs that date back to early 18th century. The photographs passed on to her through her family lineage provides a glimpse of the rich family history of the Bourbon. Some of the photo were taken from historical records and previously published books that depict glimpses of ancient Bhopal.

This book fills a huge gap in the literature regarding the contribution of the Bourbons in Bhopal’s history. It provides a compelling case to attribute the success of the Bhopal State to the Bourbons. The narration beautifully situates the contribution of the Bourbons with the description of Bhopal’s history during that era. This book is worth reading, as it provides details about the Bourbons of India which have not been shared with a wider audience so far. I wish all the success to the author as she has put in tremendous effort to craft this magnificent book.


I am no historian, but I have a story to tell. These are a compilation of the stories narrated to be by my mother, a descendant of the Bourbons. Sometimes in life, one wants to know about your ancestors. The biggest mistake the Bourbons made was not to write about their life or lineage. If only the Bourbon of India, had written their history; generations would have benefited. Today the Bourbons are trying to find their roots. I am probably the oldest in my family who can narrate at least some part of this history. This story is about the French Bourbon who travelled to India, met the Mughal Emperor Akbar and served in his court. His descendants later travelled to Bhopal with their families.

The majority of this book is an account of the French Bourbons who lived in Bhopal, the city where my mother and I were born. I still remember the times when my mother and her four daughters, including me, along with our household help, sat around the fireplace in our house and listened to my mother’s stories. My mother had beautiful memories of her childhood in Bhopal, about the women in Bhopal and their multiple valiant accounts and of her father—one of the Bourbon men. There are four versions of the history of Bourbon in India. The first is written by missionaries, the second by British political agents in India, the third by travellers and adventurers and the fourth by family members. These stories of the Bourbon family are scattered over many documents, some are travelogues, other are historical accounts, but there is no one source to narrate a complete story. In all of these, the common convergence of the origin is that there was a person by the name of Jean Philippe de Bourbon, who arrived in India in 1560, and made his way to the Mughal Emperor Akbar’s court, in Agra. He was very distinguished, intelligent, handsome, and seemed to have royal origins. In this book I have tried to compare a number of sources such as description by various historians, Government of India documents such as the Imperial Gazetter of India, and also my mother’s own account.

I have personally researched in the Archives of the Cathedral of Agra and have compiled documents from the National Archives of India, which are about 500 pages, untouched for 2 centuries. Due to their age, these pages are delicate and would crack with the slightest of pressure. My mother Magdalin’s accounts from the backbone of this book narrate her part of the story as well. Unfortunately the Bourbons never documented their contribution to the Bhopal state nor do we have any written account of their lifestyles. This book is an attempt to do so. The narration of the book includes battles being fought, espionages being sabotaged, romance, poetry the protagonist being poisoned, royal lifestyles and much more. I have narrated historical episodes along with giving detailed accounts of their lives to know who these foreign travelers were and what their lifestyle was.

My mother, Magdaline Bourbon, born in 1903, was the daughter of Gasper Bourbon and the grand-daughter of Bonaventura Bourbon. She often spoke about how the first Bourbon came to India. She knew where her ancestors were buried. She had heard these stories from her father. Her stories also matched other historians whom I have quoted in this book. Magdaline herself looked like a foreigner. She was tall, fair, and had delicate Features. It was a rare fusion of oriental and western cultures. The Bourbons were generally very educated, spoke good English and were sincere towards the Royal family of Bhopal.

The Bourbons in India descended from Jean Philippe de Bourbon who was the natural son of Duke Charles III de Bourbon (1489-1527) called ‘Connetable de Bourbon’. According to the account given by Sir John Malcolm (Malcolm 1824), the history of this French family in India starts during the Mughal Emperor Akbar’s reign. This is when a European named Jean Philippe de Bourbon arrived at the the Mughal court in Delhi around 1560. He claimed to be a descendent of one of the noblest French families (Rousselet 1975). Jean Philippe de Bourbon is said to have married Juliana, the sister of Akbar’s Christain wife. The Bourbon continued to live in India ever since. Rousselet (1975) state that Jean Philippe de Bourbon left behind two sons: Alexander, born around 1550 and Seville (Charles), born about 1560. Their ancestors travelled to other parts of India and finally came to Bhopal.

The Bhopal story started with Mamola Bibi, consort of Dost Muhammad Khan, who welcomed Salvador Bourbon in the 1750s. Salvador repaid his due by being loyal to the state. Bourbon who came to Bhopal accepted Muslim names, clothes, language and ultimately settled down in Bhopal. After Salvador, his son Balthazar Bourbon alias Shahzad Masih (or the Christian Prince) helped to rule the state. It was because of Balthazar Bourbon that a Muslim lady, Qudsia Begum, of the royal family could get the courage to remove her veil and rule the state. Qudsia Begum or Queen Qudsia ruled for many years with the help of Balthazar. After Balthazar, his wife Isabella Bourbon alias Madam Dulhan was responsible for taking care of 500 Chiristian families in Bhopal, some of who were the descendants of the Bourbons.

My mother, Magdaline Bourbon, was born and raised with the Muslim royal family in Bhopal. She often spoke about her life in the Bourbon Palace (Shaukat Mahal), built for the Bourbon by the Bhopal royal family. Bourbon Prime Ministers left their mark on the French-influenced architecture in Bhopal. The Bourbon are also known for their culturally diverse living style. They went to church, but just like the Muslim the women sat behind a long curtain. They wore Muslim grab and celebrated both Hindu and Muslim festivals. The Bourbon men were great administrators and were very brave. Balthazar Bourbon, was multifaceted, a prolific writer and a linguist. He was well versed in Urdu, Persian English and Farsi. His collection of Urdu poetry is called Fitrat. Some of his works are documented in this book. Bhopal was famous for its poetry session or mushairas. Balthazar used to atted those mushairas along with various dignitaries and state officials, including the Royal family. Balthazar was a regular feature in these parties and his poetry was well respected and liked by everyone. It is remarkable that the descendant of Frenchman could recite Urdu and Farsi poetry at night and work as a Prime Minister during the day. The strong bond between the Begum and the Bourbons continued even after Balthazar’s demise. The Bourbon family in multiple accounts helped the Begums (ruling queens) by foiling serious plots against them.

This book narrates the history and lifestyle of the Bhopal Bourbon who in many ways shaped the history of Bhopal. The book account for multi-cultural aspects of Bhopal, glimpses of which can be seen in the city even now. The contributions of this book is to highlight a forgotten aspect of history, which is the contribution of the Bourbons to Bhopal’s history. But it also highlight the secular ways of living as depicted in the architecture, clothes, language and the style of celebrating festivals by Hindus, Muslims and Christians in Bhopal. The book carries original photographs from the past, which are rare and have not been disclosed of the public before. These photographs belonged to my mother and have been passed on to time. This book will be a unique gem that combines historical facts with the inter-cultural aspects of Bhopal in earlier times.


  Inspiration 9-11
  Foreword 12-15
  Prologue 16-22
  Chapter 1: Arrivals of Jean Philippe de Bourbon in Akbar's Court 23-38
  Chapter 2: The Bourbons of Shergarh and Narwar 39-47
  Chapter 3: The Bourbons of Bhopal 48-69
  Chapter 4: Balthazar Bourbon, alias Shahzad Masih 70-95
  Chapter 5: The Heroic Acts of Madam Dulhan and her Adopted Son, Sebastian Bourbon 96-123
  Chapter 6: The French Architectural Influence in Bhopal 124-135
  Chapter 7: The Legacies of Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb and Brave Ladies in Bhopal 136-148
  Chapter 8: The Decline of the Bourbons in Bhopal 149-157
  Chapter 9: Magdaline Bourbon 158-170
  Chapter 10: The Family Tree of the Bourbons in India and the Later Bourbon 171-191
  References 195-198
  Appendix I Bhopal's Rulers and the Bourbons 199-200
  Appendix II 201-223
  Acknowledgements 224-225
  Index 226-234


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