Many years ago, I stumbled upon the trail of a branch of the Bourbon dynasty, which would have settled down in Bhopal, India. It was hard to find traces, proofs, and yet the story appealed to me. I conducted long researches. If Bourbon they were, they did not belong to the official genealogical tree of the dynasty, they were nowhere. However, through deductions, I concluded that the first would have been the son of the tragic and adventurous Constable of Bourbon in the Renaissance.
The story of this Jean-Philip read like twenty adventure novels set across France, Italy, the Middle East, Ethiopia and India. He had led a brilliant career in the troupes of the Great Mughal Akbar, who had rewarded him by gifting him a small principality and the sister of his Christian wife, a Portuguese woman. I learned that he had descendents and decided to pay them a visit.
Bhopal is an opulent city overflowing with History and monuments.
The dynasty that had reigned on Bhopal at the time of the maharajahs was Muslim and hence wore the titles nabob and begum. A unique case worldwide, a succession of four begums had ruled over Bhopal. Women on the throne, an unprecedented feat in Islam! They had exercised their power and flair without ever breaking tradition. An unforgettable photo of the 19th century begum, small and plump, shows her reviewing her troupes, wearing a chador, the same chador she would wear to sit in her carriage next to the English viceroy during his visit.
I met the descendants of these extraordinary women, all of incomparable nobility, elegance, courtesy and culture. Not quite like the descendants of my distant Bourbon uncles. I visited them in a very populous suburb of Bhopal. They had a school in the middle of the land of which stood a sumptuous villa listed “Bourbon House” adorned with large gilt bronze flowers. And, indeed, the name of Bourbon that resonates throughout the history of Europe was inscribed on their Indian passport. Apart from that, they had virtually no idea of their prodigious origins. Except for an old tradition that had taught them to be worthy of their name. For generations, the Bourbons of Bhopal had been the divan, that is, the prime ministers of the Bhopal Begums, and perhaps one of them had been a little more. Then the reigning dynasty had driven them away, thrown them into disgrace, and had taken, according to them, a good deal of their fortune. They remained in a certain comfort but without any memory. They had remained Christians.
They received me with all the Indian hospitality but no wine at the table. They did not drink alcohol. I could not help but point out that it was far from being in the tradition of the Bourbons. The head of the family bore the strange but sympathetic first name Balthazar, but the middle one was Napoleon, which I told him was not at all suitable for a member of this illustrious dynasty. In fact, this friendly family, somewhat modest, was aware of having been bathed in a fabulous legend but had no idea how to confront it. I had the privilege of telling them what I thought was their story and showing them who the Bourbons of France had been. They absorbed and, as a result, digested.
Many years after my visit, I learned that Balthazar Napoleon of Bourbon had given French titles to his children and had named representatives of his distinguished family a bit everywhere in Europe.