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French General in India: General Jean-Jacques Allard at the Court of Ranjit Singh

A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College, and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters

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Soldier of Fortune

There are many tales of buccaneers and soldiers who left their homeland and made a name in faraway places. Most of them were Europeans who were imbibed with the spirit of adventure during the golden age of exploration in the 18th and 19th centuries.

One man's name during this age stands out. He was a soldier and adventurer and his name is Jean François Allard. He was a general of Napoleon's army and is also a respected name in the history of Punjab. In 1822, he joined the Army of the Sikh maharajah Ranjit Singh. He brought in the best military techniques of the world which at that time was dominated by the French.

General Allard created the "Fauj-i-Khas" or the French Legion. Details of this force can be found in the book by French historian Jean Marie Lafont's book "Maharaja Ranjit Singh."

Jean Frank was born in Saint Tropez in 1785. He joined the army in 1803 and fought in many wars. He was twice injured while serving in the army of Napoleon Bonaparte. For his bravery, he was awarded the Legion d'Honneur. He was promoted Captain of the 7th Hussars.

Jean-Francois was at the battle of Waterloo but after the defeat of Napoleon, he fled from the battlefield. At that time the Prussians and the English were searching for the generals of Napoleon. Allard did not want to fall into the hands of the English. He escaped from Europe and drifted around the World until he reached Persia. He approached the ruler of Persia, Abbas Mirza, for a job but due to unforeseen circumstances, he never got the appointment. In 1820 he left for North India and entered Punjab.

In 1822, he met the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh and offered his services. Ranjit Singh was on the lookout for soldiers from the European armies who could help modernise his army. He had earlier tried some English soldiers but he was let down by their duplicity. Ranjit Singh was interested in raising corps of dragoons and Lancers. After the corps was commissioned, Ranjit Singh was impressed with the work of Allard. He appointed him as general of the Sikh army.

The wheel had turned full circle. The British were keeping a close watch on Allard and other European soldiers appointed by Ranjit Singh but at that time they could do nothing. It is worth noting that along with Allard, the Italian Jean Baptiste Ventura and Frenchman Claude August Court including a Spaniard, Oms were also inducted into the Sikh army by Ranjit Singh. Allard has the distinction of having been awarded the Legion d'Honneur by Napoleon Bonaparte and the Bright Star of Punjab by Ranjit Singh.

Allard with Indian wife princess and family

Allard with Indian wife princess and family

More About Allard

By all accounts, we learn that Allard was a charming gentleman. He endeared himself to the maharaja and learned Persian and there are reports that he could compose poetry in that language.

The French general was given pride of place in the Lahore court. The general fell in love with a princess who happened to be the daughter of the Raja of Chamba. General Allard confided his secret to the maharaja who was absolutely delighted and arranged for his marriage to the Princess. The general had seven children from the Princess of Chamba including two daughters who died in Punjab.

During his period of service, the French general took two years leave, from the army of Ranjit Singh and went back to France with his wife. Her name was Princess Banoo Pan Dei( probably Pandey). She was just 15 when she married the 40-year-old General. By all accounts, love blossomed and the soldier wrote poems in Persian dedicated to her beauty. In 1834 he brought the princess to France and built a beautiful Palace for her at Saint Tropez. He returned after two years to Punjab leaving his wife the Princess of Chamba in France.

The princess lived a royal life and till the end never believed that Allard was dead. He died in 1839 at Peshawar of a heart ailment. The Princess converted to Catholicism and died in 1884. Her grave speaks volumes of the love and loyalty she had for her husband. On her tombstone is a simple statement "The general's wife."

The palace is now a boutique hotel with 12 rooms. The city has recently installed a statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and is a tribute to the connection of France with Punjab.



Statue : Ranjit Singh

Statue : Ranjit Singh

Contribution

The taste of the pudding is in its eating. The work done by general Allard is borne out by the conduct of the Sikh army raised by him in the two Anglo Sikh wars. In these wars, the East India company was badly shaken. They won by the skin of their teeth. Perhaps victory would have eluded the East India Company Army, in case they had not been aided by a bunch of traitors led by Raja Gulab Singh who was the Prime Minister. His dubious role bore fruit and the Sikh army lost. As a reward, he was made the Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir by the English.

The reason for the excellent showing of the Khalsa Fauj was in main due to a string of officers from France and Italy of who the seniormost commander was Jean-Francois Allard.

Ranjit Singh had carried out a verification of the past of Allard, to be sure he was not an English spy. After he learned that Allard was an officer of Napoleon's army he was given the task of organizing the Sikh army on modern European lines.

Allard set about his task in earnest and trained and raised the Sikh army. He also incorporated the latest gunnery tactics and the Sikh soldiers greatly benefitted. Allard raised the first Gurkha battalion and also was instrumental in raising the dragoons on horseback. He incorporated the dress and tactics of the French army. General Allard along with General Venturi was active during the battles in Multan and the Northwest Frontier.

The professionalism of the army impressed the Maharajah and he was appointed commander-in-Chief of the entire force. He took part in all wars of the Sikh army and was paid a salary Rs 30000( A princely sum at that time) per year with a palatial house and attendants.

The importance of the general can be gauged from the fact that when Ranjit Singh went for a meeting with the Governor-General Lord Bentinck in 1831, at Ropar, the man who accompanied him was General Allard.

General Allard died in 1839 and his mausoleum along with his 2 daughters is located inside the Lahore Fort. Five of his children and wife were in France. Allard will forever remain an important part of the history of the Sikh empire. He died just a few months before the death of Ranjit Singh. Had he lived longer he would have probably ensured a Sikh victory in the Anglo Sikh wars 1845-49.

Comments

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 28, 2020:

After the death of Ranjit Singh the court of Lahore was all chaos. I must write a novel on that period.

tom on September 28, 2020:

dogras and maharani jindan betrayed the empire ,muslims never betrayed ranjit singh

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on February 17, 2020:

Thank you for commenting, Liz.

Liz Westwood from UK on February 17, 2020:

This is an interesting biography. I have been to St. Tropez, but was not aware of this palace. It is in a lovely part of France, although overrun by tourists in the holiday season.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on February 17, 2020:

Great comment Flourish

FlourishAnyway from USA on February 17, 2020:

i enjoyed reading this. It was smart of him to walk away from that doomed battlefield. He certainly found love in his life.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on February 16, 2020:

Pamela, a really sweet comment. Yes, the tombstone is revealing the love of the princess for her husband General Allard.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 16, 2020:

This is a very interesting part of history. I always find history. It sounds like Allard's wife loved him and the words on her tombstone are very telling.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on February 16, 2020:

Thank you, Dreamer Meg, for commenting. Yes, the mores of that period were different from present day.

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on February 16, 2020:

Stories from the past are often more fascinating than those of present times because we can see the eventual outcome. I wonder why his wife stayed in France? She was very young when she married him but in those days it was accepted, whereas these days there would be a great deal of criticism.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on February 15, 2020:

Thank you.

Anya Ali from Rabwah, Pakistan on February 15, 2020:

Interesting!