N is for Nabob

A quick little Alphabet Post today as I prepare for the release of Beleaguered!

Sometimes in historical romances you will find refrences to a particular class or designation of man called a “nabob.”

According to Merriman-Webster, “nabob” is a Hindi word for provincial governor in India. I’ve run across this word in romances taking place in India—the works of M. M. Kaye are brought fondly to mind—but also in romances set in England during the Georgian and Victorian ages. The word also has the connotation of a very rich person, especially one who returned to Europe from India with a fortune.

In England especially, the term was applied to men who had become immensely wealthy in

The East India House was the Headquarters for the East India Company

The East India House was the Headquarters for the East India Company

India through the East India Company and who returned to England and purchased seats in Parliament. The fear was that these men would in fact use their wealth to corrupt Parliament.

Nabobs were mainly of the merchant class and although they wielded enormous power and had great social standing in India, when they returned home to England, they were derided, criticized, and found socially wanting. Many of these merchants had taken Indian ladies as wives or mistresses and had mixed-race children. These women, “nabobinas,” were social outcasts and their husbands had little or no social status.

One significant reason why nabobs were shunned by British society was the perception that they were “decadent” in their “oriental tastes.” This perception began with the acquisition of Indian wives, but extended to the desire for diamonds, gold, precious jewels, certain foreign fabrics, and artifacts that were considered “oriental” in nature.

The nabobs who returned to England often fared poorly, many losing their fortunes through vices such as gambling. Even those who tried to live quietly as country gentlemen were shunned by their neighbors and kept at a distance. As we have often seen, money was never a major source of social acceptance in England and the plight of the nabobs is a brilliant illustration of that circumstance.


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11 Responses to N is for Nabob

  1. Interesting. I do know that there were younger sons of the gentry or aristocracy who came back as Nabobs. They were received pretty well. Tweeted and shared on FB.


  2. Interesting post. I knew that “nabob” referred to a rich person but didn’t know about the connection to India. Thanks for teaching me something new today.


  3. lizaoconnor says:

    I enjoyed the article, and it has prompted me to go write one as well. Thank you for giving me more to do.


  4. Fascinating post, Jenna. I have to admit, I never gave much thought to references of “nabobs” in the historical fiction I’ve read. I intuited what it meant and left it at that. But now, thanks to you, I’m much better educated. Thanks!


    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      I did the same thing, Patricia, when I was reading. And then I’d wonder if I’d gotten it right. So when I got a chance–not in the heat of the moment reading–I looked it up. I’ve loved romances set in India ever since reading M. M. Kaye’s The Far Pavillions and The Shadow of the Moon. Lovely romances both of them. I can never figure out which I like better–it’s usually the one I’m reading! LOL


  5. melissakeir says:

    What a great post! I can see that the high society will look down on people who were in the merchant class, even if they have money and certainly if they didn’t have English wives. 🙂


    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Even if the wives were of noble or upper class status in India, they were not accepted into English society or very rarely. I bet there’s a book in there somewhere!


  6. Harliqueen says:

    You learn something new everyday! Interesting post 🙂


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