When he was assassinated in 1896, Nasir al-Din shah had sat on the Peacock throne for nearly half a century. A complex figure, he is frequently portrayed as indolent and self-indulgent. Yet he was in many ways an effective ruler who displayed exceptional resilience in the face of dilemmas and vulnerabilities shared by most monarchs of the Islamic world in the 19th century. This biography traces Nasir al-Din Shah's transformation from an insecure crown prince and later an erratic boy-king to a ruler with substantial control over his government and foreign policy. It also paints a picture of the political culture that determined Nasir al-Din's behiaviour and ultimately his conception of government. Based on research into public and private papers, the book offers an interpretation both of the significance of Nasir al-Din Shah and the way in which the Iranian monarchy, the centrepiece of an ancient political order, withstood and adjusted to the challenges of modern times.
Introduction - the royal domain: from the tent to the throne; the Shah and his subjects; within fragile frontiers; nobility and the problem of succession. Part 1 The child of Turkmanchay: unhappy union; lonesome childhood; struggle for heir apparency. Part 2 A mirror for the prince: formal education; the fight and the feast; lesson of the mirrors; display of the world; rehearsal for the throne; the prophet and the priests. Part 3 Ascending the throne: departing for the capital; people's council and power contest; wearing the Kayanid crown; machination and mutiny. Part 4 The shah and his atabak: learning to rule; the sublime cradle; castle of mirrors, cannonballs of sedition; killing the atabak. Part 5 A narrow escape: return to the old ways; the assassination attempt; the Babi bloodbath; an inadvertent victim. Part 6 Playing the power game: the Herat debacle; the king of the Shi'ites; the curse of the protected; alliance with Russia; royal rights ridiculed. Part 7 Youthful ambitions: bully-boy diplomacy; uprooting the Victorian tree; conquest of Herat; in search of friends - France and the United States; war in the Persian Gulf; peace with England; saving face. Part 8 Abolishing the Sidarat: the flying gazelle and the absolute potentate; delegating power; ruinous fever; the valley of dismissal; fate of a fallen minister. Part 9 Balancing the old and the new: holding the reins of power; in the house of oblivion; an honest goodwill mission; ominous conjunction; fearing him who fears; the royal prerogative. Part 5 Epilogue - remnants of a reign: precarious order within; from defiance to deference; a personal universe; chaos revisited; legacy of a long reign.