Safavid Shah Mohammad Khudabandeh: the Blind Monarch's Fate

  June 23, 2021   Read time 2 min
Safavid Shah Mohammad Khudabandeh: the Blind Monarch's Fate
Some of Isma'il's relatives had escaped the systematic elimination of the royal princes. These included his eldest brother Muhammad Khudabanda and four of his sons, the eldest, Sultan Hasan Mirza, having been murdered in Tehran shortly before on Isma'il's orders.

In the council of the Qizilbash amirs at court who met to discuss the succession various suggestions were made. Shah Shuja', Isma'il's infant son, who was only a few weeks old; his eleven-year-old nephew, Sultan Hamza Mirza; and the latter's father, Crown Prince Muhammad Khudabanda, who had been passed over at the time of Tahmasp's death, were all mooted as successors. In each case Princess Parl Khan Khanum, who was at this time about thirty years old, hoped to be able to take over the regency — even when the choice finally fell on Muhammad Khudabanda, for owing to an ophthalmic disease he was almost blind.

When he moved from Shlraz, where he had escaped the fate of his brothers, to Qazvin and ascended the throne on 11 February 1578, the land was delivered from a harrowing tyranny, but the ten years of his reign brought little joy to his people. What at first made him appear a mild ruler was the sheer contrast with Isma'Il's cruelty. If one looks closer, his gentleness is seen to be really weakness, indifference and incompetence. Although his eye trouble was not conducive to an effective reign, it cannot explain completely his total lack of involvement in affairs of state. In these circumstances power soon passed into other hands. The shah lived so much in the background that some foreign observers evidently never became aware of his existence; this is the reason for Sultan Hamza Mlrza being described more than once as a reigning monarch in the list of Safavid rulers — a position which in reality he never held.

The principal feature of the new shah's whole reign was the quarrelling and intrigues of the Qizilbash amirs that had gone on for decades and were only quelled when a particular ruler was able to counter them either by force or by cunning. Since Muhammad Khudabanda could do neither, their unruliness and jockeying for position reached a climax during his reign, until his son 'Abbas succeeded in suppressing them. When news of Isma'Il's death was received, bloody conflicts immediately broke out among the Qizilbash, with the Shamlu and Ustajlu on the one side and the Turkman and Takkalu on the other. Although the Grand Vizier, Mirza Salman Jabirl, a member of an aristocratic family from Isfahan which had served the Safavids from an early date, managed to reconcile the warring parties for a time, these quarrels - sometimes amounting to serious rebellion and even civil war - were to remain the dominant factor in Persian politics for the next ten years. The mention of the grand vizier indicates that not only various factions among the Turkmen tribes, but also non-Turkmens such as members of the Iranian aristocracy took part in these clashes. This particular combination, which had already existed before even as early as the reign of Shah Isma'il I, foreshadowed future developments. Admittedly it would be wrong to speak of a confrontation between Turkmen and non-Turkmen, or even between Turkmen and Iranian. On the contrary, one finds elements of both groups on either side at any given moment.