Monday, November 17, 2014

World War I through Arab Eyes

A history resource article by  © 2014

I received a press release from Al-Jazeera today about a new program they will be broadcasting on the Al-Jazeera English channel that examines World War I battles in the Middle East from the perspective of the Ottoman Turks.  It sounds really interesting and a way to gain a more balanced view of the the conflict as it unfolded in the colonial political environment of the Middle East.  I have to admit what little I know about World War I in that region was the result of watching David Lean's 1962 production of "Lawrence of Arabia", 1981's "Gallipoli", a film starring a very young Mel Gibson and the 1987 Australian production "The Lighthorsemen."

Unfortunately, I could not find the new documentary on the Al-Jazeera America channel schedule on DISH Network on November 18th or up on YouTube but I will keep an eye out for it.  Perhaps it is only available in Europe at this time.

Press Release - On November 18th, 2014, Al Jazeera English will start broadcasting a three-episode documentary series commemorating one hundred years since the outbreak of the Great War.

In this series, Producer Journalist Malek Al Tureiki, provides a political and cultural reading into World War I from an Arab and Islamic perspective, citing the commencement date of the war as November 14th 2014, when Arabs were involved in the “jihad” against the Allied troops upon the call of the Mufti of the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul. This is in juxtaposition to the date Britain commemorates the war on August 4th, 2014 – the day it entered the war.

The series sheds light on how colonized nations, which had no say in their own fate, ended up being forced into wars which resulted in enormous sacrifices. As a result of this, the number of victims within the Ottoman population, including Arabs, is in fact much higher than that of the Europeans. While the percentage of victims in Germany was 9% and 11% in France, it reached between 14-25 % in Turkey and the Levant.

It was also in the Battle of Gallipoli that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern day Turkey, began to rise as a military commander and political leader. The unknown truth until today, even in Turkey and the Arab World, is that two thirds of the troops involved in the Ottoman victory over Allied troops were from Iraq and the Levant.

World War I through Arab Eyes relies on archival materials presented for the first time, telling the fascinating story of how the war affected the Middle East – reverberations still being felt to the present day.

Broadcast Details on the English News Channel:

The first episode on Al Jazeera English screens on [Friday]? November 18th at 20:00
GMT, following which it will be available online.

Repeats (GMT)

Wednesday: 12:00
Thursday: 01:00
Friday: 06:00
Saturday: 20:00
Sunday: 12:00
Monday: 01:00
Tuesday: 06:00

2nd and 3rd episodes are running on the 25th of November and 2nd of December respectively, at the same times as the 1st broadcast.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Sheer ruthlessness: a hallmark of American capitalism and "The Men Who Built America" (DVD Review)

A history resource article by  © 2014

I watched an absolutely fascinating series on the History Channel (now available on DVD) entitled "The Men Who Built America".  It traces the careers of some of the most powerful men in American history including Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J. P. Morgan and Henry Ford.  It is one of the first series I have ever seen that does not white wash the rise to power of these so-called 20th century "titans" of industry.

Probably the thing I found most disturbing in the series was the apparent viewpoint of these men that they were somehow above the subhuman worker populations they employed. They were willing to acquire wealth through any means possible and their net worth, regardless of how it was acquired, represented to them their superior worth as a human being.

Each of these men had personal ambition that knew no bounds and a ruthlessness that drove them to exploit every opportunity in an industrial landscape that had little regulation to prevent insider trading, overt market manipulation and outright intimidation or protect the rights of workers.

Andrew Carnegie was treated a little more gently than the others mainly because he handed off the day to day operations of Carnegie Steel to a totally ruthless chairman named Henry Frick so Carnegie could ostensibly sail off to Scotland to enjoy the fruits of his labors.
Andrew Carnegie portrait at the National
Portrait Gallery.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Today, we associate Andrew Carnegie with education and the arts because of his philanthropic contributions to Carnegie Hall, Carnegie-Mellon University and thousands of libraries around the world.  But, in truth, Carnegie was the ultimate decision maker in the operation of his steel empire during a tumultuous period of violence and even death. He was certainly aware of the decisions implemented by his chairman and did nothing to intervene in plant operations until nine workers at his flagship Homestead Steel Works were gunned down by the Pinkertons under Frick's orders in 1892.

The steel workers had been ground down by increasingly longer hours - 12 hours a day six days a week by the time of the massacre - under absolutely hellish conditions, while wages were whittled away by Frick to increase profits.

When I researched the life of Andrew Carnegie further to write this review I read that Carnegie claimed he was a disciple of Herbert Spencer whose economic theory of evolution is best characterized as economic survival of the fittest.  Spencer declared that any provisions made to assist the weak, unskilled, poor and distressed to be an imprudent disservice to evolution and that "severe fate" was the natural process to single out the weak, debauched and disabled.

I noticed, however, that even Spencer was appalled when he visited one of Carnegie's steel works and remarked, "Six months' residence here would justify suicide."

The program pointed out that 1 in 11 steel workers at the time were suffering horrendous injuries or death.  Yet labor unions had only been formed to bargain for wages and working conditions for just the skilled workers, less than 1/4 of the workforce.  Even so, Frick complained about the labor union that represented the skilled workers at the Homestead Steel Works in a letter to Carnegie stating "The mills have never been able to turn out the product they should, owing to being held back by the Amagamated men."  Although Carnegie had publicly claimed to be in favor of labor unions, privately he agreed with Frick and gave his approval to Frick's efforts to break the union at Homestead.

Carnegie's carefully cultivated public personae as a responsible industrialist and generous philanthropist was often used as a smoke screen to obscure his less noble activities.  For example, Carnegie publicly advocated less government while aggressively lobbying for protective trade tariffs that resulted in millions of dollars a year in extra revenue for his companies.

In this documentary, the producers pointed out that the development of Carnegie's benevolent personae was a direct result of the public relations nightmare generated by the Johnstown flood that killed 2,209 people in 1889.

Henry Frick, sometimes called the worst
CEO in American history.  Image courtesy
of Wikipedia.
Carnegie's chairman, Henry Frick, and a group of speculators, developed  an exclusive club for leading business tycoons of Western Pennsylvania, most connected through business dealings to Carnegie Steel.  The club was located  along the shore of Lake Conemaugh behind the South Fork Dam above the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

The area had been prone to flooding since its founding by Joseph Johns at the confluence of the Stoney Creek and Little Conemaugh rivers in 1800.  The steep hills of the narrow Conemaugh Valley and the Allegheny Mountains range to the east produced large amounts of runoff from annual rain and snowfall.  This vulnerability was further compounded as the community grew and became the site of Cambria Iron Works who dumped slag from its iron furnaces along the river to create more land for building, but further narrowed the riverbed.

To make matters worse, Frick and his development speculators then lowered the dam,  so the top of the dam could be used as a roadway for Frick and his fellow wealthy clubmembers' carriages. They also built a fish screen in the spillway, the only remaining water control mechanism. A previous owner had already removed and sold for scrap the three cast iron discharge pipes that had been originally used to control the release of water.

A Johnstown house skewered by a tree.
Amazingly, all six people in the house
survived .  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Then the worst downpour ever recorded in the area, 6 - 10 inches of rain in just 24 hours, struck.  Following a night of unrelenting rain, at 3:10 p.m. on May 31, 1889, the South Fork Dam collapsed sending a 60 foot wall of water and debris down upon the residents of Johnstown.  The death toll was the largest loss of civilian life in American history until the collapse of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.  Wikipedia states the 1900 Galveston hurricane claimed more lives but the program producers must not have agreed.

As is usually the case when the uber rich are involved, the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club was never held legally responsible for the disaster.  The court ruled the disaster an "act of God" and denied the survivors any legal compensation.  But the club members, including Carnegie, were vilified in the national press.  (The court ruling was considered so irresponsible a number of states adopted Rylands v. Fletcher, a British common-law precedent establishing the liability of a landowner with a reservoir for flood damage if the reservoir is not properly maintained.)

Anyway, since then, Carnegie had worked very hard to restore his reputation.

So back to the Homestead Strike of 1892 - just before the confrontation, the union had requested a wage increase in their collective bargaining agreement that was due to expire on June 30, 1892.  Frick countered with a 22% wage decrease and proposed the elimination of a number of positions and that the steel works would become non-union after the expiration of the current contract.  Pointing out that the union only represented the skilled workers at the plant, Carnegie exclaimed the union was "an elitist discriminatory organization that was not worthy of the Republic!"

Frick eventually relented a little and offered a slightly better wage agreement. But the union refused the offer so Frick shuttered the mill the night before the contract expired and built a barricade around the mill to keep workers from returning.  The workers took possession of the mill anyway, determined to prevent operation by strikebreakers imported by Frick.  So Frick called in the Pinkertons to route the workers from the mill using any means necessary.

I had no idea that the Pinkertons at this point in history actually had more firepower than the entire United States military.  When the program explained this and I reacted with incredulity my husband pointed out "Where do you think we got companies like Blackwater?!!"

The Homestead riot / drawn by W.P. Snyder after a
photograph by Dabbs, Pittsburg. Image courtesy of
Wikipedia.


When I further researched this statement, I found it to be absolutely true.  Apparently the Pinkertons by the 1890s had more agents than there were soldiers in the U.S. Army and were often hired by late 19th and early 20th century businessmen to infiltrate unions, block strikers, keep unionists out of factories and even recruit "goon" squads to intimidate workers.  It sounds more like the mob than a reputable security agency!
Anyway, 300 Pinkerton agents armed with Winchester rifles fired on the striking workers at Carnegie's Homestead Steel Works, killing  nine of the men and wounding 23 others.  Seven Pinkerton agents were also killed.

As the program recounted these turbulent events I was totally riveted.  The production was punctuated by short reenactments by professional actors playing the different industrialists in crucial scenes of their careers.  These cut scenes were just enough to draw you into their world and make the program seem more of a drama rather than a documentary.

I would highly recommend this series as a way to understand not only the history of the individuals portrayed but the evolution of industry in the United States and how it impacts our lives today.  I would especially encourage any American history teachers out there to incorporate this series into their curiculum to provide their students with an unvarnished look at the foundations of American capitalism.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Review: Medieval Lives: Birth, Marriage, Death (DVD)

A history resource article by  © 2014


The producers of the excellent history DVD "She-Wolves: England's Early Queens", Athena Learning in association with RLJ Entertainment, have released another fascinating look at life in the Middle Ages entitled "Medieval Lives: Birth, Marriage, Death".  Once again, Cambridge professor Helen Castor guides us through a wealth of information based on first person accounts from such sources as the Paston letters, a collection of over 1,000 documents kept as a family archive by three generations of the Paston family of Norwich.

In the first episode, I was surprised to learn that if a woman died in childbirth before the infant had emerged, the child was removed from the mother before burial because, although the mother had been baptized, the child had not and with the taint of Original Sin could not be buried in sanctified ground.  I had never heard this before and Dr. Castor was quick to point out that this requirement was often ignored whenever possible.
For this reason, the church actually granted midwives the authority to baptize a child in the birthing chamber.  If the midwife thought there was a real possibility the child would imminently die, they could perform the rite as soon as the head emerged in a last ditch effort to save the child's soul.  If the mother died first, midwives were supposed to cut open the woman and extract the baby so it could be baptized, even if it would not ultimately survive.

Childbirth in the Middle Ages often involved the use of
a birthing stool.

Medieval paintings and books, like the 12th century Trotula texts, based in part on the research of the ancient Greco-Roman physician, Galen, as well as newer Arabic medicine, illustrated the practice.

"In Antiquity, midwives (called, in Greek, maiai, and in Latin, obstetrices or more generically medicae) were the normative caretakers of both the gynecological and obstetrical needs of Greek and Roman women.  Medical writers from at least the third century BCE to the sixth century CE composed texts specifically for midwives’ use, and there is ample evidence (such as inscriptions and artwork) that midwifery was professionalized in larger urban communities.  Ancient writings on gynecology and obstetrics conceived of the ideal midwife as not simply literate and competent in medical theory, but as responsible for all disorders of the reproductive organs as well as routine assistance in childbirth.  In the scope of her practice, at least, she was fully the equivalent of modern obstetrician/gynecologists and not simply a birth attendant." - Women and Gender in Medieval Europe, An Encyclopedia

But between the 6th and 13th centuries the literate midwife of antiquity disappeared and the task of aiding women in childbirth was relegated to neighbors and kinswomen, most without any training except experience.  This changed somewhat when the church, concerned about the need for emergency baptism of a newborn, initiated a formal licensing process, first in France, then spreading throughout northern Europe and England.

When I looked up the Trotula texts, I found that, although the original texts were produced in Latin, by the 13th century, editions in Anglo-Norman and Old French were circulating.  By the 14th and 15th centuries, there were translations in Middle English, German, Irish and Italian as well.  If the popularity of these texts was not all attributable to purient male interest, this would indicate women must have been among the literate practitioners using the manuals since male physicians were not generally allowed in medieval birthing chambers until late in the 15th century.

Dr. Castor also mentioned that, in addition to the church-licensed midwives,  objects made of black jet, amber or coral that were thought to have mystical properties were used in the birthing chamber, including parchment birthing girdles (belts) embellished with prayers.

In episode two, Dr. Castor moved to the next significant life event, marriage.  Dr. Castor pointed out that medieval marriages before the 13th century amounted to little more than a declaration between a man and a woman that could occur anywhere, often in taverns or even out in the countryside.  Witnesses were not required, although if one of the participants might want to contest the validity of the marriage at a later date, witnesses would make such a task easier.
Weddings in the Middle Ages were often a raucous affair held in the local
tavern.  A Peasant Wedding by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1566-1569.  Image
courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Parents of prospective brides and grooms would often negotiate the exchange of property if a marriage should take place and would arrange for couples to formally meet with the intention that a marriage was deemed suitable between them but parents could not force a marriage.

Parents of prospective couples would negotiate the property that was to be
contributed to the bride and groom to help them establish their
new household.
Royal marriages were usually arranged by diplomats so I was surprised to learn that the famous poet, Geoffry Chaucer, actually arranged the marriage between King Richard II and Anne of Bohemia.  The negotiations took five years which was probably a good thing since Richard II was only ten years old when he ascended the throne.

The informal nature of marriages became a real problem in 1066 when William the Bastard, later known as William the Conqueror, was recognized as the son and heir of Robert I, Duke of Normandy, even though his mother, Robert's mistress, was a daughter of a tanner.  When William's first cousin once removed, Edward the Confessor, died childless, William became a claimant to the throne of England.  Of course, William invaded England and became King after defeating King Harold II at the battle of Hastings.

William the Conqueror was able to overcome his illegitimate
birth to become the King of England because his father,
the Duke of Normandy formally recognized him as his son.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Although legates from Pope Alexander II ceremonially crowned William during the Easter court of 1070, giving the church's "seal of approval" to William's reign, the church recognized the danger in having such important matters as succession reliant upon such a casual relationship.  By the 12th century, the church produced and distributed missales that prescribed correct marriage rituals including the practice of calling the banns, a proclamation about an impending marriage so anyone could raise issues of canonical or civil legal impediments to the marriage.  The banns had to be announced on three successive holy days with at least one weekday in between.  The binding of women's hands during the marriage ceremony was also prohibited and the ceremony itself had to be one of reverence  - obviously not a bawdy affair in a tavern!

As consumation of a marriage was grounds for disputing its legitimacy, the church implemented the "putting to bed" ceremony whereby a priest would proceed with the couple to the site of the marriage bed and sanctify the bed before the couple was left to "perform their duty".

15th century woodcut depicting a bishop blessing the marriage
bed of a newly married couple.
 Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
At this point, the church's position of sex being a necessary evil for procreation transformed into a viewpoint where sex was considered a compulsory requirement of marriage.  The church declared that neither partner in a marriage could withhold sex if it was requested.  Hmmm...I wonder how they enforced that!

Where the church once viewed sex as a necessary evil, in the
12th century the church proclaimed sex as compulsory for
married couples.  Sculpture by Properzia de Rossi, female
Renaissance artist.


Castor also described the medieval marriage ceremony in which both the groom and bride were covered with a veil.  After the ceremony the priest would kiss the groom who was then allowed to kiss the bride.
Again the Paston letters provided insight into the actual practice of marriage in an upper class family. Margaret Paston, a member of the first generation of the nouveau riche family, had a daughter named Marjorie who fell in love with the son of one of their estate bailiffs (overseers).  Of course this marriage was considered totally inappropriate to Margaret who banished Marjorie's love interest from the estate.  But Marjorie claimed the couple were married having privately pledged their love to each other.  Margaret appealed to the bishop of Norwich.  I was surprised to learn that the bishop actually sided with the couple despite Margaret's wealthy influence.

Fresco depicting a bedroom scene circa 1320 CE
So if marriage was so easy to declare, how easy was it to dissolve?  Not very, apparently.  Dr. Castor gives a number of examples from the historical record, not the least included the attempts of the exasperated King Henry VIII in his quest for a male heir.  Although Henry VIII tried to prove his marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon, his brother Arthur's widow, was invalid because he was too closely related, the list of reasons the church would consider also included a finding that one of the two partners in a marriage was already married (due to an informal declaration), was insane or that the husband was impotent.  Husbands who were charged with impotency had to submit to the ministrations of a court appointed panel of prostitutes.

After 17 years of marriage, Henry VIII asked for an 
annulment from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, claiming
the marriage was invalid because he had married his brother's
widow.  In medieval law, a marriage extended the familial 
relationship to all family members of both marriage partners.  
Therefore Catherine would have been viewed as Henry's 
sister.  Catherine claimed her first marriage was never 
consumated so such a relationship had never existed.
Multimedia sculptures by artist George S. Stuart.
Photographed at the Museum of Ventura County by 
 © 2006.  
 

Surprisingly, adultery was not grounds for annullment.  Dr. Castor explains the case of Edward IV's physician who was a blatant (and public) philanderer.  Although the wife called witness after witness, many soldiers and physicians on campaign with the adulterer, the church granted only a decree granting the wife the right to live apart from him and, I assume, obtain financial support from him for her separate household.  They were still considered married and could not officially marry anyone else.

The last episode of the series dealt with what constituted a "good death" in the medieval world.  Much of this segment discusses the ramifications of the official introduction of the concept of purgatory in the 12th century. Although prayers to assist the dead in their journey to the afterlife have been performed since ancient times, the recognition of a more formalized practice that includes provisions in wills for the cost of ongoing prayer performance was a doctrinal innovation at that time.

A medieval vision of assisting souls in purgatory with indulgences 


I was aware of the sale of indulgences, a document granting a petitioner a defined period of forgiveness of sin, as a means for the Church to obtain wealth in the late Middle Ages.  But I was unaware that the introduction of the concept of purgatory led to the wealthy leaving huge bequests to establish and/or maintain chantries where clerics would officially perform the prescribed prayers to aid the deceased wealthy in the newly defined transitory location.

I was also surprised to learn that King Henry VII, known as a tight-fisted miser, left huge sums in his will to the college of priests at Westminster Abbey to say masses "forever" for his soul.  This massive transfer of wealth eventually triggered King Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries to recapture much of his kingdom's treasure.

At least one beneficial development followed, however.  Hospitals were built as part of this effort to ensure that one's soul would speed through purgatory.  Medieval hospitals not only cared for the sick but fed the poor as well and gave the common people an opportunity to demonstrate their piety.  One loaf of bread given to the poor was equivalent to helping one soul in purgatory.


At Henry VII's funeral a nobleman dressed in
the king's armor rode into Westminster Abbey
and right up to the high altar.  There he dismounted
and removed the armor then dedicated it to god.  
This armor is that of the king's son, Henry VIII.
Photographed at the Tower of London by 
 © 2006
 


As in the episode on marriage, Dr. Castor described medieval funerary rites.  The most dramatic funeral service again involved King Henry VII.  Dr. Castor said a nobleman dressed in Henry VII's finest armor rode into Westminster Abbey right up to the high altar.  There he removed the armor and offered it to god.  Henry VII may have ruled through fear and blackmail but he definitely knew how to make a classy exit!

The DVD is lavishly illustrated with beautiful closeups of stained glass, paintings, tapestry and sculpture and is definitely a valued addition to my collection of history DVDs.  It is scheduled for general release on August 26, 2014.



Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Shah Jahan: The Blood Behind the Glitter

A history resource article by  © 2014 

George Stuart's multimedia sculpture of Shah Jahan
admiring the 56-carat Blue Table Diamond embedded in an
ornamental pin designed for his turban.
 Photographed at
the Museum of Ventura County in Ventura, CA
A few months ago when I visited the "Diamonds Are Forever" exhibit at the Museum of Ventura County in Ventura, California, it was a treat to see George Stuart's latest 1/4 scale sculpture of Shah Jahan, the ruler of the Mughal Empire at its zenith in 1627 CE.  The sculpture, modeled after a miniature painting of the fabulously wealthy Shah serenely contemplating the beauty of the 56 carat Table Diamond,  belies the ruthless nature of this warrior king, however.

Yes, Shah Jahan is the ruler famous for building the breathtaking Taj Mahal as a memorial tribute to his beloved third wife, Mumtaz Mahal.  This is the same Shah Jahan who reveled in wearing a special velvet brocade from Ahmadabad (that only he was allowed to use) and a qaba made of gold with blossoms fashioned from jewels  and fastened with pearls.  This Shah also ordered the interior of his palaces to be decorated with mosaics made from pieces of mirror so candlelight in the evening would produce a shimmering, hypnotic effect and ordered the construction of over a thousand gardens. His elegant palaces were embellished with delicate floral motifs embedded with jewels .  But, love was hardly a hallmark of his rise to power, thanks in part to his fierce Mongol and Turkic forefathers and the complex machinations of the Mughal royal court.

Shah Jahan's ancestry was no ordinary birthright. He was descended from the merciless Mongol invader, Ghengis Khan, on his mother's side and on his father's side the infamous Amir Timur, known as Tamberlane to the Western world. Scarcely less notorious for his barbarism than the Mongols, the Turkish ruler had invaded Hindustan in 1398, massacred its inhabitants and brought back riches beyond his wildest dreams: trays of gold and carved ivory and mounds of jewels – rubies, pearls, emeralds, turquoise, topaz and cat's eye, and diamonds said to be so valuable they might have fed the world for a day. - PBS, The Mughal Dynasty

To gain the Mughal throne, Shah Jahan, originally Prince Khurram, third son of the fourth Mughal emperor, Jahangir, and grandson to the legendary emperor Akbar the Great, would need every ounce of his ancestors' fierce resolve as he ordered the deaths of two (possibly three) brothers, two nephews and all remaining male Timurid cousins to remove any possible contenders to the throne by the time of his succession.



This familial bloodshed was a direct result of Shah Jahan's father, Jahangir, not naming an heir before his death and the lack of primogeniture (succession determined by birth order) in Mughal culture.

The first of Shah Jahan's siblings to fall was his eldest brother, Khusrau Mirza.  Prince Khusrau is said to have had an amiable disposition that endeared him to his grandfather, Akbar, and the liberal party within the Mughal court.  As his father, Jahangir's excessive indulgence in wine and opium became increasingly debilitating, powerful factions within the Mughal court favored Khusrau as the successor to his grandfather, Akbar, instead of Khusrau's father, Jahangir.

Mughal Emperor Jahangir receives a prisoner. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
The tension at court became so intense  that Khusrau's mother, the Hindu princess Man Bai (later called Shah Begam), her heart torn between her husband and her son, committed suicide on May 16, 1604.  Meanwhile Jahangir reconciled with the aging Emperor Akbar, who then appointed Jahangir his official successor shortly before Akbar's death on October 17, 1605.  This left Prince Khusrau flapping in the wind so to speak.

Now Emperor Jahangir placed Khusrau "under strict surveillance" (imprisoned) in Agra.  But the young prince escaped and fled to the Punjab with only a small contingent of horsemen.   However, on April 27, 1606, Prince Khusrau was recaptured and, after another abortive escape attempt, was blinded by order of his father.

According to Mughal tradition, the blinding of an heir to the throne symbolically blocked the heir from succession.  Normally, this would have protected him from any future heirs fighting to ascend the throne.  But, Jahangir, feeling remorseful for the punishment, asked his physicians to restore Khusrau's eyesight.  According to court sources, the physicians were only partially successful.

Shah Jahan must have surely remembered the reconciliation of his father, Jahangir, with his grandfather, Akbar.  So, in 1617 when a rebellion broke out in the Deccan region of the empire and Jahangir, urged on by Nur Jahan, ordered Shah Jahan to lead a relief army to the area, far from his father's court, the prince refused unless Jahangir agreed to let Shah Jahan take Khusrau with him, claiming his request was a result of "the tender affection he held for him."
Mughal Emperor Jahangir and Prince Khurram entertained by Nur Jahan.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

"Shah Jahan was worried, and rightly so, that in his absence, at the very least, various factions would consolidate their power behind his back and, at the most, he would lose what he thought to be the just dessert of his labors.  And so he pressed for Khusrau to accompany him to the Deccan, in the hopes of depriving Nur Jahan of his popular brother as a candidate for the throne." - Ellison Banks Findly, Nur Jahan: Empress of Mughal India

In 1621, Shah Jahan received word that Jahangir was seriously ill.  Perhaps fearing a death bed declaration of succession, Shah Jahan had his eldest brother secretly strangled (or stabbed through the heart depending on the source) on January 26, 1622 and reported to Jahangir that Khusrau had contracted an illness and died.  The Empress Nur Jahan's father subsequently "died suddenly" in January of that year as well.

 Emperor Jahangir received a second letter, though, from a noble in Burhanpur indicating Khusrau's death may have been planned.

"Upon receiving this second letter, Jahangir became furious and wrote back to the nobles in Burhanpur 'a very angry letter...enquiring why they had failed to write to him the truth...' It was then that Jahangir ordered Khusrau's body exhumed and brought to Allahabad and committed Khusrau's surviving family to the care of his still living father-in-law." -  Ellison Banks Findly, Nur Jahan: Empress of Mughal India

Jahangir then ordered Shah Jahan to return to court and give a personal account of Khusrau's death to the emperor.  (This would indicate that the exhumation did not reveal any obvious wounds - so much for the "stabbed through the heart" source)  Instead, Shah Jahan gathered his forces and prepared to march against his father.

But in March of 1622, Shah Abbas I of Persia besieged and captured Qandahar fort.  This direct challenge to Mughal supremacy required a swift response.  Empress Nur Jahan urged her husband to order Shah Jahan to lead a relief army to Qandahar.

Detail from painting of Shah Abbas I of Persia at court.  Image courtesy of
Wikipedia.
"...we assume that Nur Jahan intended these orders to place Shah Jahan in a difficult situation;  if he refused to go, he would be denounced as a rebel and crushed, most likely, by the imperial armies; but, if he left the Deccan for Kandahar he would lose the base of power he had spent so long in cultivating.  Moreover, if he was far off in Kandahar fighting and Jahangir died, Shah Jahan might miss his chance for the throne."  -  Ellison Banks Findly, Nur Jahan: Empress of Mughal India

Rather than incur his father's wrath again, Shah Jahan simply delayed using the monsoon season as an excuse.

Shah Jahan feared that in his absence Nur Jahan would attempt to poison his father against him and convince Jahangir to name Shahryar the heir in his place. It was this fear which forced Shah Jahan to rebel against his father rather than fight against the Persians." - Vidya Dhar Mahajan,  Jahangir. Muslim Rule in India (1970: 5th ed.)

17th century painting of a Mughal couple.  The prince in this painting resembles
Shah Jahan's youngest brother, Prince Shahryar.  Prince Shahryar married the
daughter of the powerful Empress Nur Jahan who hoped to have a grandson that
would eventually rule the Mughal Empire.
 Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

But to test his brother's influence at court,  Shah Jahan petitioned his father for ownership of a "jagir" (lands awarded for military success) assigned to Shahryar, now son-inlaw to Nur Jahan and Jahangir's latest favorite son, and sent a force to procure them. Shahryar sent a force to defend his lands and the two forces fought, resulting in many deaths on both sides.  Jahangir was so enraged that he awarded the disputed lands to Shahryar and appointed Shahryr to command the Qandahar expedition, declaring Shah Jahan "unworthy of all the favours and cherishing I had bestowed on him."

In response, Shah Jahan marched toward Agra, the location of the Mughal treasury.  But his father anticipated this move and had the fort of Agra reinforced then ordered his second eldest son, Parviz (also spelled Parwez or Parvez), and the emperor's trusted and experienced general Mahahbat Khan to lead the imperial armies against Shah Jahan.  The imperial armies routed Shah Jahan's forces at Baluchpur and Shah Jahan was forced to retreat.

Once back in the Deccan, Shah Jahan began to cultivate alliances with the Golconda Sultanate (not under the control of the Mughal) and representatives of the new English factories of the south.  Reinforced and rearmed, Shah Jahan marched northeast and conquered the Mughal province of Orissa.  He then turned his sight on Bengal governed by Ibrahim Khan, Nur Jahan's uncle.  Following a bloodbath known as the battle of Rajmahal, Shah Jahan's forces hunted down and killed Ibrahim Khan on April 10, 1624.

In this detail of a hunting scene from the Jahan Nama, Shah Jahan is depicted firing a matchlock rifle, a weapon widely
used in Mughal warfare.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
When Shah Jahan advanced to take Allahabad, however, the imperial forces under Prince Parviz and Mahabat Khan intercepted him and Shah Jahan fled back to Golconda where he was once more reinforced.  Shah Jahan and his allies laid seige to Burhanpur but they were again thwarted by the forces of Prince Parviz and Mahabat Khan.  Then Shah Jahan fell seriously ill.  Fearing his cause lost, Shah Jahan appealed to his father for forgiveness.

"At the instance [insistence] of Nur Jahan, Jahangir replied in March of 1626 that if Shah Jahan surrendered Rohtas and the fort of Asir and sent his sons Dara Shikoh and Arangzeb to court, he would give him full forgiveness and the province of Balaghat."   Ellison Banks Findly, Nur Jahan: Empress of Mughal India

Mughal painting of Prince Paraviz with a holy man c. 1610


In October 1626, Jahangir was notified that Prince Parviz had died of delirium tremens (the DTs - according to one source or alcohol poisoning according to another source) in Burhanpur.

The DTs are triggered by the withdrawal of alcohol from a severely addicted alcoholic.  (Before modern medical interventions were developed, the DTs resulted in death in about 35% of the cases.)  Although Prince Parviz was known to be a longtime alcoholic, it would be highly doubtful that the prince would have refused alcohol himself.   He was superior in rank to anyone else at Burhanpur since the prince's co-commander Mahabat Khan had been sent to govern distant Bengal by the constantly scheming Empress Nur Jahan.  So, who would have forcefully withheld alcohol from him?

Alcohol poisoning, on the other hand, would have been more logical, but it would also have been easy to imitate with other available concoctions.

Shah Jahan's "exile" province of Balaghat made Shah Jahan the geographically closest member of the royal family to Prince Parviz.  So, this is why some historians think Shah Jahan could have been instrumental in accelerating this brother's demise as well.

Anyway, this now left only Shah Jahan's youngest brother, Shahryar, as the remaining impediment to the throne.

By now badly enfeebled, Emperor Jahangir died October 28, 1627 while returning to Lahore from Kashmir.  Neither remaining heir apparent were present, but Shah Jahan's father-in-law, Asaf Khan, quickly confined Nur Jahan (his sister) and dispatched a messenger to Shah Jahan.  In the meantime, Asaf Khan got the majority of court nobles in the emperor's camp to proclaim Dawar Bakhsh, the young son of the ill-fated Khusrau, emperor, solely as a place holder for Shah Jahan.

Then Asaf Khan gathered his forces and marched on Prince Shahryar at the palace in Lahore.

Painting of a Mughal commander approaching a fortified city.

"Shahryar used the seven million rupee treasure in Lahore fort to mibilize a large, disheveled, army of hastily assembled mercenaries.  He was easily defeated by Asaf Khan just outside Lahore.  Captured alive in Lahore Fort, Shahryar was made to submit formally to Dawar Bakhsh and then imprisoned and blinded." - John F. Richards, The Mughal Empire

Within twenty days Shah Jahan received the news of his father's death and set out for Agra.

"On the way to Agra, Shah Jahan sent a firman to Asaf Khan, written in his own hand, to do away with all potential contenders to the throne - Shahryar, Dawar Bakhsh and his brother Gahrasp, and Daniyal's two sons [Daniyal was a deceased brother of Jahangir]." - Abraham Eraly, The Mughal Throne: The Saga of India's Great Emperors

So, on the night of February 2, 1628, all of the remaining Mughal princes were seized and put to death.

Sadly, the Shah's own offspring took this lesson to heart and in turn Shah Jahan's second son, Aurangzeb, ended up defeating and ordering the executions of his three brothers as well.

A poignant watercolor of Shah Jahan's son Shah Shua as a child.  Image courtesy
of Wikipedia.


When Shah Jahan was a youth, his grandfather, the famous Akbar the Great, had insisted that Shah Jahan study Turkic language and culture. In the case of the Ottoman Empire that meant Mehmed II's law, passed in 1477 that codified fratricide:  "For the welfare of the state, the one of my sons to whom God grants the sultanate may lawfully put his brothers to death."

Mehmed II only had to slaughter an infant half brother and its mother since the rest of his brothers were already dead by the time he ascended the throne.  But when Mehmed III became Sultan, the law justified his slaughter of 19 brothers by strangulation with a ritual bowstring.

Apparently, Shah Jahan was a very good student.