Begum Joaana (Samru ) - a rich woman ruler of a small Indian kingdom (18th to 19th CE)

The story of Joanna Nobilis Sombre (c. 1753– 27 January 1836), popularly known as Begum Samru (née Farzana Zeb un-Nissa), a convert Catholic Christian  is a  story of rags to riches. She started off her life at the bottom of the rung as a  a nautch (dancing) girl in the courts of the rulers in 18th century India. God's edit had been that ultimately  she  became the ruler of Sardhana, a small principality near Meerut - the only Catholic ruler in India,  in 18th- and 19th-century India.

Begum Samru was a jagir holder of Jharsa-Badshahpur pargana till her death in 1836. She built a beautiful palace  for her personal use between Jharsa and Gurgaon village. Even after the take over of Begum’s estate, her palace was continuously used as DC’s residence or known as camp office. The palace is about 200-years-old and still is in a good state.

Joanna (babtized name) Begum Samru

She was the head of a professionally trained mercenary army consisting of mostly Europeans and Indians  inherited from her Austria-born mercenary husband, Walter Reinhardt Sombre. 

Farzana of Kashmiri descent was just 14  when she fell in love with  mercenary soldier Walter Reinhardt Sombre, then 45 years old Austrian.  She met him in 1765, while Samru was in the service of the king of Bharatpur. In the eighteenth century  Indian economy  was healthy and larger than that of all European countries put together. Many Europeans competing with  British Bobs landed in India with a view to making fast buck so that they could get back home as wealthy  ''Nabob'' and lead a comfortable life. Walter Reinhardt Sombre of Austria  (his nationality is not clear) came to India with a mission to make Money. Initially he worked for the French and after a chequered career, he started his own mercenary army to help the needy rulers for a fee.

Walter Reinhardt Sombre of Austria

Knowing the dancing girl's  background Sambru married her.  Walter was already married  a Muslim girl and she bore him a son.  Through his various war expeditions led by him with his ingenious military strategy and valor he helped many rich Indian rulers win the war and in return received rich  rewards in the form of lands. Thus  he acquired a vast track of revenue-generating land in the Gangetic plains region - land between the rivers Yamuna and Ganga and beyond Muzaffarnagar to Aligarh in the present state of Uttar Pradesh and  made Sardhana (22 km  from Meerut) his capital. His operations were mostly confined to the present state of UP and the fringe areas. Sardhana, with a diaspora of Europeans  it is said, in those times resembled like a regular European town. 

The unfortunate and unexpected death of her  husband Reinhardt in 1778,  made her succeed to his Principality yielding about £90,000 per annum a big sum in those year plus a large area to rule.  Sambrtu army's  82 European officers and 4000 troops petitioned the emperor Shah Alam to declare Farzana as Samru's successor and which was granted.

Inscriptions at the church in Sardhana,

Above image: Inscription on the Statue of Begum Samru at the Basilica of Our Lady Of Graces in Sardhana......

Three years after the death of Samru in 1778, Farzana became a Catholic. She took the name of Joanna and ruling from Sardhana, Uttar Pradesh, being hard-working and inquisitive, became a good administrator and won the heart of the people. Her pragmatic and fearless  approach, and her authoritative conduct brought out her good leadership quality, intelligence and most importantly good discretionary power. "Thus from 1778 began the long and colorful reign of Begum Samru. Here was a woman in a man's role, yet gifted with the qualities of both. Fearless in battle, upright in her dealings, she was gorgeous to those who befriended her and feared by those who offended her. The tiitle Zeb-un-Nissa was bestowed upon her by the Mughal emperor.

Upon her death with no legal heir to claim her vast estate estimated to be roughly 55.5 million gold marks in 1923 and 18 billion deutsch marks in 1953.  Begum Sumru's  inheritance continues to be disputed to this day. An organization named "Reinhards Erbengemeinschaft"is splitting its head to  resolve the long standing inheritance issue. Her legacy lives today so is the dispute that has lasted more than 100 years, The estate may be reduced to less than one third of what it was before, but still may be worth USD billions. The British rulers under the crown administration  created a cascade of bottlenecks for those who sought rights to own Begum Sambru's estate.