Helen’s life and career
Princess Helen Marion of Kapurthala who was the youngest daughter of Rajah Randhir Singh’s three daughters, lived a short but extraordinary life. She was born in on the 6th September 1887 and after settling in London, she quickly detached herself from any of the expectations of a noble aristocratic British lady and pursued her own interests.
In her late teens she followed the traditions of the Princesses of Kapurthala, by working independently for what she enjoyed. The Princess had an active social life and was often seen gallivanting unchaperoned in London with other high society members. She was a highly independent woman at a young age as she took up modelling for artist Edwin Long, a profession discouraged amongst Indian Royals, particularly Princesses. She featured in many paintings including Judith of Israel 1884 and has an uncanny resemblance to faces of women in many other paintings including Edwin Long’s Jephthah’s vow in 1885. A biblical story of the battle of the Ammonites, Jephthah vows to offer the first thing that leaves his home, which was his daughter, who in the painting is portrayed as Princess Helen. She was also featured in Edwin Long’s 5 metre piece, Anno Domini, which translates to ‘in the year of Christ’, where Princess Helen is featured on a donkey, holding a child and surrounded by the people of Egypt. Her exotic appearance provided a compelling look the Middle Eastern characters of Long’s Biblical artwork.
Alongside her scandalous modelling career Princess Helen was also known to regularly attend fancy fares where she would dress up as a fortune teller and practise palmistry for charity. Often these fares were held in Wead Hall, Essex, and money was collected by her regular assistant Mr Frank Landon. The Princess used her exoticness to her advantage as the Essex Herald Newspaper in 1885 describes how ‘The princess Hellen Ahluwalia of Kappoorthalla altered in a handsome Eastern gipsy costume, held court in a small tent and advised the curious of their fate by palmistry.’ The fairs took place often several times a month and the princess became well known as the beautiful palm reader in Essex’s fairs and festivals, lavishly dressed in exotic clothes and jewellery.
Unfortunately Princess Helen did not live a full life, as she died in 1887 from Tuberculosis in Brighton, at the tender age of 24. Presumably she was living in Brighton for health treatment due to the proximity of the water and fresh air. Her grave stands today in Doddinghurst’s All Saints Church and was later joined by her mother whose name is etched into her gravestone along with hers.