Alwar inherited the throne of his historic kingdom, which lay in Eastern Rajputana between Jaiphur and Delhi, in 1892. For many years he enjoyed a reputation as good-looking, cultured and clever prince, famous for the quality of his oratory and his sense of style.
In his heyday, Alwar cut a dash with international politicians and English aristocracy; he represented India at the Imperial Conference in 1923 and at a party in the Hotel Cecil in 1929 to celebrate his silver jubilee as maharaja, the then Secretary of State for India, Wedgwood Benn, called him a remarkable man “who shone in every walk of life” (The Times, 8 July, 1929).
He certainly shone in the field of country sports and tiger hunting. His orders to Westley Richards, dating from 1912, were extensive; they fill pages of the company’s London order books and include orders for sporting firearms for other members of his family and household, as well as gifts for friends. To give an example of one order alone, in October 1926 he ordered: one pair .280 high velocity rifles, one pair .270 rifles, one .280 double rifle, one pair of .240 double rifles and one .360 double rifle - the following year he ordered a pair of .280 rifles and a pair of .240 rifles.
The Westley Richards & Co. archives also include several instructions for special engravings, for example: “In very pleasant remembrances of delightful days spent on Ceannacroc forests with Mr Hugh Mackenzie, a most capable sportsman and a most courteous Scotsman. Presented by His Highness, Sewai Maharaja, Shri Jey Singhji, dev of Alwar, July 27th - to 24th September 1923.” In October 1923, another instruction was received to engrave a rifle with the words: “From H.H.Shri Sewai Maharaja dev of Alwar, with all good wishes to Lady Warrender, his neighbour in the Highlands.”
The Earl of Birkenhead wrote an account of Alwar in Life of Lord Halifax: “a tall man of reptilian beauty and remarkable accomplishments, a philosopher, a scholar, a fine orator . . . he was commonly supposed to have murdered more than one person who stood in his path.” A sign of his eccentricity was noted when Alwar reputedly had “a goat tied outside [Lady Halifax’s] window in his palace at Alwar so it might be killed in the small hours by a tame panther and terrify her with its dying screams.” Lady Halifax slipped out and released the goat herself. He also wrote, more admiringly, that “he went in constant terror of assassination, and yet was so brave . . . that he would hunt panther on foot and follow wounded tigers into the bush without a qualm.”
One of Alwar’s eccentricities was that he refused to touch leather, and the gun cases had to be covered in canvas rather than leather – it is said that he insisted on no leather being seen in the Westley Richards shop on his visits. Once snubbed by a salesman in the Mayfair Rolls Royce showroom, he ordered all seven of the cars in the showroom, insisted that the particular salesman brought them over, and then in front of him, ordered that they be used to pick up rubbish and forbade anyone in his family to buy a Rolls Royce again. In 1933 civil unrest led to intervention by the British government in India, who deposed him in favour of a distant cousin (he died in Paris in 1937). The Times reported on 31st August 1933, that the Maharaja of Alwar was required to leave his state on account of “maladministration and agrarian unrest” and that he had failed to meet the conditions on which the British military was employed to bring the unrest to an end. Anecdotally he is also said to have set light to a polo pony who had displeased him in front of a British official who considered that this was ‘the last straw’.