Shah Abbas II True Heir to Shah Abbas the Great

  October 24, 2021   Read time 5 min
Shah Abbas II True Heir to Shah Abbas the Great
After the accession had been carried through smoothly there were more important concerns to worry about than the lax observance of the religious law at court. Experience taught that the fluid situation created by a change of ruler meant a challenge for discontented elements, power-hungry individuals, and centrifugal forces.

Saru Taqi met the new dangers with the classic ploys of generous tax concessions for the provinces and by confirming almost all of the highly-placed officials at the court and in the provinces. This policy had the desired effect. There were no disturbances or revolts when the change of ruler took place - with one exception. This was the trial of strength with the imperial field-marshal (sipahsalar) Rustam Khan. He opposed the order to remain in Mashhad on account of the threat from Indian troops, having gone there to prepare a campaign, already planned but later abandoned, against Qandahar. He now set off" for Isfahan, clearly with the intention of bringing pressure to bear on state policy with the change of ruler. The grand vizier reacted to this act of insubordination by promptly arranging for sentence of death to be passed on him. This was carried out in Mashhad on 9 Dhu'l-Hijja 105 2/1 March 1643.

"Lord of the amirs, servant of the poor", boasted Saru Taqi in an inscription of 1053/1643 recording his foundation of a mosque he caused to be erected in Isfahan. The death of Rustam Khan is not the only case in which he held to this principle. Integrity and incorruptibility were among the virtues for which he is remembered, and to which we have already referred. These alone made him many enemies. A compulsive urge to dominate, a contempt for people and the implacable severity with which he proceeded against crooked dealings in the management of state affairs, and especially the system of spies employed in the collection of state taxes — each played its own part in increasing the number of people opposed to the grand vizier, who in any case does not seem to have been particularly popular even among the highest dignitaries in the land. Not surprisingly, a plot was hatched against him, led by JanI Khan Shamlu, the qurchl-bashl, who with five other conspirators attacked and murdered him in his home on 20 Sha'ban 105 5/11 October 1645.

It was by no means certain whether what lay behind the murder was only the pent-up resentment of a fairly small group of officers or possibly — and perhaps more probably — a more ramified conspiracy of Turkmen tribal chieftains, such as those which may still have been remembered from the remote period of the Qizilbash conspiracies, aimed perhaps at dethroning the shah in favour of another prince. The crime was consequently followed by a period of some days in which bewilderment and confusion swept the court. Not until various senior officers and other dignitaries manifested their loyalty did the shah issue the order to proceed against the murderers and have them and their supporters put to death. It was again a Shamlu amir, Murtaza Qull Khan Bljarlu, who was appointed to the position of qurchi-bashi. He occupied this office for four years and his place was then taken by Husain Qull Khan.

Sarii Taqi's successor was Khalifa Sultan, who had been grand vizier once before, from 1623 to 1632, and now remained in office until his death (1064/1653—4). Shah Safi had had four of his sons blinded at the time of the persecution of the princes. He was a pious man, concerned to see respect paid to the religious law, though his successes in this direction were at best only limited. It would seem that what he was able to achieve in the matter of prohibiting visual representation — in view of the many examples of portraiture and especially of miniature painting at the time — was just as modest as in the matter of drinking, which was a widespread habit, particularly at court, and could be suppressed only occasionally by imposing sharp penalties. It is well known that he made an effort to curb pederasty and to reduce prostitution by measures taken against the brothels that existed in many of the towns.

In spite of his zeal in these directions, he seems on the whole — in welcome contrast to the severity, abruptness, and overbearing ways of his predecessor - to have been a conciliatory character, disposed to make allowances. Nevertheless, he was not without rivals at court. Since 1644 AllahvardI Khan, the son of the Armenian Khusrau Khan, had been master of the hunt (amtr-shikar-basht). He was hardly less successful in securing the favour of the ruler than his namesake of earlier days with Shah 'Abbas I. He can be seen as almost the ideal embodiment of the courtier, and in his strategy as such he exploited especially the shah's passion for hunting. His brilliantly arranged battues secured him the shah's affection and indeed also bore testimony to the organisational skills which brought him the office of qullar-aqasl when this position fell vacant; he held it until his death {c. 1663).

This high position, together with the unwavering goodwill of the shah, made it possible for him to manoeuvre one of his proteges into the position of grand vizier when Khalifa Sultan died. This was Muhammad Beg, a Tabriz Armenian of modest origins, who up to that time had been intendant-general of the court (nazir-i buyutat) and had made a name as an efficient administrative and financial specialist. The problems he was required to solve, however, were beyond his capabilities. He did not succeed in reducing the immoderate outlay on the court and the high military expenditure as the situation demanded, not even by taking the necessary measures to reduce the quality of the coinage, attempting to foster mining, and further increasing the crown lands. His high-handed manner, his dismissal of several governors, and the disputes he was involved in with the Isfahan city administration created many enemies for him, among them some very influential people. When he finally became involved even in differences with the powerful AllahvardI Khan, he was removed from office and compelled to take up permanent abode in Qum (18 Jumada I 1071/19 January 1661).