An Outline of Persia's Foreign Policy in Early Nineteenth Century

  June 09, 2021   Read time 2 min
An Outline of Persia's Foreign Policy in Early Nineteenth Century
As a consequence of the introduction of the electric telegraph into Iran in the latter part of the nineteenth century, Nasir al-Din Shah became “the most powerful monarch of Persia since Nadir Shah."

He had absolute command over the life and property of every one of his subjects. His sons had no independent power and could be reduced to impotence or beggary in the twinkling of an eye. The ministers were elevated and degraded at the royal pleasure. The sovereign was the sole executive, and all officials were his deputies. In the nineteenth century, as in the previous centuries, the character of the monarch was of crucial significance for the state. The Shah’s decisions were final. If he was unwise and capricious, the country suffered w ith-and from -him . If he was prudent and realistic, the country profited accordingly. But the latter was seldom the case in the nineteenth century, in part because, side by side with absolutism, the Qajar monarchs inherited the injurious practices and superstitions of their predecessors. One of the most harmful practices had been, it may be readied, that of confining heirs to the throne to the harem, with the result that rulers ascended the throne with little or no experience in affairs of state. The Qajar dynasty continued this practice after a fashion. The reigning monarch would appoint the future Shah to the governorship of Azerbaijan, a province that he could not leave ; and exiled there, he remained “in total ignorance of the politics and statecraft of Tehran, of the ministers whom he might have to depend upon, the system which he might have to dispense, the people whom he might have to rule.“ Furthermore, some of the Qajar rulers were swayed as much by superstitions as had been the Safavid rulers generations before them. Fath Ali Shah, in particular, resembled Shah Tahmasb and Shah Sultan Husayn in this respect.

In the nineteenth century, as previously, the death of the ruling monarch would plunge the country into chaos and disorder, partly because the problem of succession had not been resolved. For example, various claimants to the throne rose up in arms after the deaths of Agha Muhammad Shah in 1797 and Fath Ali Shah in 1834. The death of Muhammad Shah in 1848 was followed by a general outbreak of rebellion in the country.7 In both 1834 and 1848 foreign intervention - British and subsequently Anglo-Russian - was needed to settle the problem of succession and to maintain the appearance of unity.

The age-old problem of lack of social cohesion also continued into the nineteenth century. This problem, it may be recalled, had been aggravated as the result of the Turkish and Mongol invasions, which had introduced additional divisions between Turks and Tajik and conqueror and the conquered into Iranian society. The former division had far-reaching political consequences in the nineteenth century. The Turks and Persians for all practical purposes “divided the kingdom,” to borrow the words of Sir Henry Rawlinson. By the mid-nineteenth century it was feared that an internecine struggle between the two factions would lead to the “dismemberment of the empire.”