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The material for this article comes from this file

File: 7-H(S)/1926 Proposed use of a larger size K.B.E. star than that allowed by the statutes by Lieutenant General Sir Kaisar Shumshere Jung Bahadur Rana, K.B.E., of Nepal

Reference: IOR/R/1/4/37

Date: 1925-1926

It is worth at the outset listing the characters which feature in this salutary tale of how great arrogance led to a humiliating fall:

Lieutenant General Sir Kaiser Shumshere Jung Bahadaur Rana, KBE

Garrard and Company Ltd, Goldsmiths to the Crown

AD Bannerman, a senior official at the India Office, London

WHJ Wilkinson, CIE, British Envoy at the Court of Nepal

Sir Denys Bray, Foreign Secretary, the Government of India in New Delhi

LD Wakely, Secretary, Political Department, India Office, London

The Secretary, Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood, St James’s Palace, London

G Crichton, The Lord Chamberlain’s Office, St James’s Palace, London

The central character is Kaiser Shumshere Rana. Understanding the family he was part of, as well as something of his character and lifestyle, are important elements in the story. There should be no room for revisionism about the nature of Rana rule in Nepal. A civil servant under Maharaja Padma Shamsher Rana in the 1930’s and 1940’s, Gobar Dhan Maskey, has given us a vivid description of the authoritarian nature of the regime: “The Ranas were so strict. They viewed us, the people, as pauko dhulo, the dust of their feet. They viewed themselves as gods, and we respected them as gods.” Maskey had this to say about the legislative process under the Rana regime: “In those days[,] the Ranas were so powerful that the law was at the tip of their tongue. What they said became law automatically.” (People Politics and Ideology: Democracy and Social Change in Nepal, eds. Martin Hoftun, William Raeper and John Whelpton, p.5, Mandala Book Point, 1999.) In short, this was a family whose members had a luxurious lifestyle, bordering on the opulent, and who were used to having their own way – on everything.

Kaiser Shumshere, the third son of Chandra Sumshere, with his wife Princess Lakshmi Rajya Laxmi Devi Shah, the daughter of King Prithvi Bir Bikram Shah. Photo: Private collection of artist Kamala Lama

On the character of Kaiser Shumshere, his lifestyle, and that of other senior Ranas, Michel Peissel, who knew him in the early 1960s, provides some useful insights. The Ranas lost their absolute power in 1951, but very rich and other well-connected Ranas had little trouble transitioning to positions of influence in the new dispensation. On meeting Kaisar Shumshere, Peissel wrote: “He was every bit the image of a slightly Oriental Voltaire, but he possessed the shrewdness of a Talleyrand allied to the intelligence and culture of a French academician … The Field Marshal’s passion for knowledge was equalled only by his love of refinement. A gourmet, he had one of the best wine cellars in Asia. His taste for beautiful women and fine food was as famous as his political and diplomatic ability.” On attending a reception at his palace, Peissel recorded: “In the huge ballroom were spread in lordly fashion buffets and bars where one could choose from twenty different vintage Bordeaux and as many Burgundies that ran the gamut of the last twenty years, many of them unavailable in Europe. There were also ten varieties of all sort of spirits to help digest the gargantuan feast of fifty different dishes. [Tiger for Breakfast: The Story of Boris of Kathmandu, Michel Peissel, pp.59, 60, 208, Time Books International, 1990]

So, with that as background, we can move to the story.   

Kaiser Shumshere, a son of Maharaja Chandra Shumsher, became an Honorary Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, KBE, on January 17, 1924. Shortly, thereafter, he would have received the Star of the Order to wear on his left breast and the associated Neck Decoration. 

Star of KBE

For some reason, he must have thought that the Star was not eye-catching enough, and this article centres on his efforts to, as he saw it, put things right. We can only speculate on what sparked his urge. He could compare his KBE Star with the Knight Commander Stars various uncles and brothers had received: the Royal Victorian Order, the Order of the Star of India, and the Order of the Indian Empire. But it was The Star of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath which influenced him.

Star of KCB

On February 25, 1925, Kaiser Shumshere, from his address, Kaiser Mahal, Kathmandu, sent the following request to Garrard and Company Ltd, Goldsmiths to the Crown:

“I have much pleasure, before giving you the order for the KBE in diamonds, to ask you to make for me a KBE star in its own proper material, its size being increased to the proportions of the KCB star – I mean its four larger points should be long as the four points of the latter, the latter points being conformably produced. 

After receiving the star I shall see and decide if it is made sufficiently important looking for being reproduced in diamonds. 

Requesting an early compliance.” 

“Sufficiently important looking” was obviously the key criteria. Clearly, Kaiser Shumsere felt the KBE Star which conformed to the statutes of the Order, fell short in that respect. 

Garrard and Company responded in a letter dated April 23, 1925:

“We beg to acknowledge receipt of your last letter which arrived on the 23rd ultimo, [ed: of last month] and agreeably to your request we have now made you an ordinary KBE Star of the intermediate size between the KBE and the GBE in order to give you an exact presentation of the effect the increased design would present, as described in your letter. 

For the purpose of comparison as to their various sizes we include a drawing which has the KBE Star at the back of it in red outline and the KBE in outline on the front. These will illustrate to you the various divergencies in point of shape and outline of each star. 

We also include the drawing which displays the Star in diamonds of the increased size. The cost of a star of this sort in fine brilliants, and mounted in silver with gold back would be about £700, or if with a platinum front and gold back for strengthening, about £925. The price of the pattern star we’re sending you is about £4.10.0. 

Every attention shall be exercised in supervising the execution of your kind letter, and the greatest care bestowed in carrying out a handsome dignified jewel.”

£700 in 1925 is equivalent in purchasing power to about £43,000 in 2020 terms. £925 in 1925 is equivalent in purchasing power to a little over £56,600 in 2020. Four Pounds and ten shillings is equivalent in today’s purchasing power to about £280. 

These sums give some indication of the great riches in Chandra Shumshere’s family. It is powerfully revealing that he contemplated spending such a vast amount of money on a mere decorative enhancement of his KBE Star. Or did he?!  Read on!

Garrard and Company wrote to Kaiser Shumshere on April 23, June 15 and October 7, 1925. To quote from the last letter:

“With reference to our previous correspondence respecting the sample Star which we made for your approval with a view to you coming to a decision as to whether it was important enough to reproduce in diamonds, we should be glad to hear whether you have come to any decision in this matter .

We hope that we may be favoured with your order, and in this event we would ask you to kindly return the pattern star sent you on April 23, last year.

We feel sure that it can scarcely be necessary to point out that the pattern we have sent you is not made for wear, owing to its size being contrary to the statute governing the Order.

Awaiting the favour of your esteemed reply, and with the assurance of our best attention at all times to your commands.”

Kaiser was obviously in possession of the larger KBE Star he had asked to be produced to enable him, “to see and decide if it is made sufficiently important looking for being reproduced in diamonds.” Clearly, Garrard and Company were getting increasingly concerned that the order for the enhancement might not materialise. Perhaps they were worried that talk about “reproducing it in diamonds”, was just a ruse to get possession of a larger version of the KBE Star? We cannot tell, but the request to return the pattern sent to him, and the firm words in the penultimate paragraph that it was not made to wear, should have sounded a loud alarm bell in Kaiser’s ear. 

In a letter dated December 17, 1925,  to WHJ Wilkinson, the British Envoy at the Court of Nepal (thus designated since the signing of the 1923 Treaty between UK and Nepal), AD Bannerman at the Indian Office in London, told Wilkinson about  Garrard and Company’s  October 7 letter to Kaiser Shumshere, highlighting the fact that Kaiser Shumshere had been told that, “the pattern star sent was not meant for wear as its size was contrary to the statute governing the order, and asked for the return of the pattern star.”

Much more ominously for Kaiser, he went on to say that: “A report has now reached the Secretary, Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood, that Sir Kaiser Shumshere had shown the extra large Star to certain highly placed persons in Nepal and that he has allowed them to believe that His Majesty the King had authorised the Crown Jewellers to send him a Star of an increased size as a special case and that the Central Chancery had requested that the Star of the Regulation size delivered to Sir Kaiser in 1924 should be returned to Messrs, Garrard and Company.” 

The Central Chancery of the Order of Knighthood is the keeper of the sacred flame on all matters to do with the Statutes of Orders. The report from Kathmandu would have horrified the staff there. Once they were engaged, not even a mighty Rana had a chance of resisting their will and determination on such a subject. 

The rest of Bannerman’s letter is worth giving in full, not least as a model of how the firmest of orders to a senior diplomat, can be dressed up in effusive politeness:

“What Sir Kaiser’s underlying motive was in placing an order for a pattern K.B.E. Star of a larger size than the Regulation Star is not clear. But Sir Kaiser has not up to date complied with the request of Messrs. Garrard and Company to return the pattern Star to them, and it is therefore perhaps not unreasonable to infer that the object of his retention of the pattern Star is to wear it on ceremonial occasions. 

I am accordingly to suggest, if you see no objection, that you take a suitable opportunity of letting Sir Kaiser know that it has come to your knowledge that Messrs. Garrard and Company have sent to his order, as a pattern, a K.B.E. Star of a larger size than the regulation Star which was delivered to him on his appointment as an honorary K.B.E. and that, if this is the case, it seems desirable to point out, in order to prevent any misunderstanding on his part, that at Public Ceremonial Functions of the British Empire the K.B.E. Star of the regulation size should be worn. It would also seem well, if you deem fit, to advise him to return the pattern star to Messrs. Garrard and Company. 

The wearing of decorations by Nepalese subjects in Nepal is of course a matter for the Nepalese authorities to determine.”  

On February 9, 1926, just six weeks after getting his orders from Bannerman, Wilkinson, following the diplomatic chain of command, wrote to Sir Denys Bray in New Delhi:

“In the course of a private letter to Sir Kaiser Shumshere Jung of 17th January 1926 I told him it had come to the notice of the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood in London that Garrard and Company had supplied him with an extra large size K.B.E. Star, and in case he was not aware of the practice, informed him that within the British Empire at ceremonial functions only the regulation size could be worn. I said that in the circumstances he might wish to return the large size Star to Garrards. 

Sir Kaiser replied as follows:-“ 

Sadly, the final part of Bannerman’s letter to Bray is missing from the file, but, Kaiser’s reaction is given in a letter from Bray to LD Wakely, in the Political Department of the Indian Office in London: 

“Wilkinson has reported to us that, in reply to a reference on the subject by himself, Sir Kaiser Shumsher Jung has now intimated that he is returning the Star to Garrards, “there being no merit in wearing it , whether at private functions or outside the British Empire, in a size which has ceased to bear the hallmark of regulation.”   

The file appropriately closes with this letter, dated March 10, 1926, to AD Bannerman, from G Crichton, in the Lord Chamberlain’s Office:

“You may remember that you were kind enough to write to Nepal about a star of the order of the British Empire which did not comply with the statutes of the order. It may interest you to hear the consequences of your representations[,] that the offending star has now been returned, and everybody, except perhaps the gentleman who was wearing it, appears to be satisfied. I trust this is the end of the matter. 

With many thanks again for all the trouble you took for me.”

Eleven years later, on April 29, 1937, Kaiser Shumshere Rana got the large Star he had previously passionately yearned for, when he was appointed an Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire, GBE.

This article wraps up the ‘Ranas and Gongs’ series. To read the earlier articles in this series

Ranas and Gongs

Baber Shumshere’s relentless quest