The descendent of German and French Catholic mercenaries, a Scots Presbyterian subaltern, and their secluded Indian wives, David Ochterlony Dyce Sombre (1808-1851) defied all classification in the North Indian principality where he grew up. He also lived as the adopted child of a Muslim courtesan, a woman who would transform herself into the wildly successful, Catholic ruler of a small, cosmopolitan kingdom.
In his youth, Sombre took great advantage of his privilege, yet upon his mother's death he lost all political power. Nevertheless, Sombre continued to live lavishly while in exile, touring India, China, and Europe on his inheritance. Sombre eventually settled in London and married the daughter of an English Protestant Viscount. He bought himself election to Parliament, but was expelled for acts of corruption.
Accusations of spousal mistreatment led to Sombre's arrest and confinement. Termed a "chancery lunatic," he fled to France and spent years reclaiming his sanity and fortune. Sombre's efforts set new precedents for international and medical law. Trials revolved around whether Sombre was sane or crazy, Indian or European, with doctors and jurists clashing over the very definition of these terms. Sombre's heritage sparked debate decades after his death. In this absorbing biography, Michael H. Fisher recovers this strange life. Through Sombre's incredible story, modern conceptions of race, privilege, and empire begin to take shape.