In 1853, the Maharaja of Jhansi died without an heir, the British annexed it, imposing the doctrine of “pre-emption” which prevented adopted children from inheriting the throne.
Now, as it was often the case in India in royal families, children were adopted when there was no heir; the widow of the Maharaja, Rani Lakshmi Bai, did not accept that her adopted son could not inherit the throne. When the Great Indian Mutiny broke out, Jhansi quickly became one of the main hotbeds of revolt.
British officers found refuge with their families in the fort of Jhansi, and the Rani, of noble character, negotiated with the mutineers their safe-conducts towards Indore, the capital. However, when they came out, they were nevertheless massacred by the sepoys, thus the Rani was accused of complicity – an accusation totally false, as documents found later showed.
This did not prevent the British from besieging Jhansi and on June 1st the city surrendered. Lakshmi Bai and some of her followers managed to escape, seizing the town of Gwalior, which was then in the hands of the Scindia’s, allies of the British (and today the Congress). The English general Sir Hugh Rose advanced towards Gwalior and, during a battle at the gates of the city, the Rani was killed on June 17, shot by an English soldier.
“Although she was a lady,” wrote Sir Hugh Rose, “she was the bravest and best military leader of the rebels. A man among the mutineers.” Thus the Rani of Jhansi’s legendary bravour was even endorsed by ther enemies, the British.