Rani of Jhansi (1828-1858)
Medieval Indian queen and warrior

In her words: “Watch me conquer, O world.”

In others’ words: “Remarkable for her beauty, cleverness, and perseverance she had been the most dangerous of all the rebel leaders. The best and bravest of all.”

Bio: Rani Lakshmi Bai, more commonly known as Rani of Jhansi, was a fierce warrior queen who became a symbol of resistance and leader of the Indian Rebellion of 1957 against the British Raj. Born in either 1828 or 1835, Rani, named Manikarnika by her parents, developed a sense of independence and self from an early age. Raised solely by her father after her mother’s death when she was four, Rani cultivated a love of various aspects of warfare as well as reading and writing. These included shooting guns and crossbows, firearm maintenance, horsemanship, fencing, and elephant riding.

In 1842, Rani married the Maharaja (king) of Jhansi, Raja Gangadhar Rao Newalkar, and was renamed Lakshmi Bai in honor of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi. In 1851, the couple had a son, but he died at only 4 months. Soon after this, the Maharaja adopted a cousin’s son and named him after his deceased child; this was because the British government had adopted the Doctrine of Lapse, which meant that they could annex any land that was left without an heir. In addition to adopting his cousin in order to have an heir, the Maharaja also drafted a document that stated that control of Jhansi should be transferred to Rani upon the death of the king. Unfortunately, when the Maharaja died a couple years later, the British government decided they wouldn’t recognize the adoption and invoked the Doctrine of Lapse, taking over the government and sending Rani out of the palace.

Rani refused to cede power to the British and in 1857 a rebellion broke out. There was a skirmish between the rebels and British soldiers in which the rebels bested the British. Rani also took to sheltering families in her fort during this short period of fighting. It wasn’t until the beginning of 1858 that the British sent in more troops to take back the area from Rani, who had assumed power once the first skirmish had settled down. When her fort was surrounded and the odds were against them, Rani was advised to escape. She did so by strapping her son to her back and riding out on horseback. Though she managed to escape her fort and find a trusted individual to look after her son, Rani suffered fatal wounds and died shortly after. Her body was quickly cremated so the British would never find it.