AMĪN-AL-DAWLA, ʿABDALLĀH KHAN

 

AMĪN-AL-DAWLA, ʿABDALLĀH KHAN ṢADR EṢFAHĀNĪ (1193-1263/1779-1847), chief revenue accountant (mostawfī-al-mamālek) and later prime minister (ṣadr) under Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah (r. 1212-50/1797-1834). He was the eldest son of Ḥāǰǰī Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Khan Ṣadr Eṣfahānī (see Ṣadr al-tawārīḵ, p. 69, for his paternal ancestry); his mother seems to have been the daughter of a minor Baḵtīārī chief. Born in Isfahan in the year of Karīm Khan’s death, he grew up during the struggle for power there between the Zands and the Qajars (1193-1210/1779-95); during this time his father began as a minor bailiff (mobāšer) and became the beglarbegī of Isfahan (1212/1797-98). When Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Khan became chief revenue accountant in Tehran and received the title Amīn-al-dawla (1221/1806), ʿAbdallāh Khan was appointed Isfahan’s acting beglarbegī and then its governor. During his long term of office (1221-40/1806-24), he further consolidated his father’s base in the province. He expanded the family’s land holdings (both toyūl and private) throughout ʿErāq-e ʿAǰam and revitalized agricultural land around Isfahan, thus exercising considerable control over the grain supply of most major cities of central Iran. Amicable relations with the prominent moǰtaheds, the tribal chiefs, and the lūṭīs allowed him to keep Isfahan firmly in his grasp. A large revenue from land and property gave the Ṣadrs the means to satisfy Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah’s thirst for extravagance, to buy the support of the notables, and to guarantee their own popularity amongst their subordinates. During the early decades of the 19th century Isfahan prospered, at least partly because of the direct measures adopted by the Ṣadrs to enhance trade, agriculture, and the urban situation. Visiting Isfahan in 1811, William Ouseley attributed the “rapid advances” of the city to “the mild and judicious” administration of the local government (Travels II, p. 22); reporting at the same time Mīrzā Ṣāleḥ Šīrāzī considers Amīn-al-dawla “the chief instrument in the growing prosperity of Esfahan” (Bodleian, ms. Ouseley, fol. 159).

In 1228/1813 ʿAbdallāh Khan was summoned to Tehran to cooperate with his father as acting chief revenue accountant, though he still held the governorship of Isfahan; he was given the title Amīn-al-dawla. In 1234/1818-9 the death of Mīrzā Šafīʿ ʿAlīābādī removed the last obstacle to Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Khan’s premiership, and ʿAbdallāh Khan succeeded his father as chief revenue accountant. The two of them maintained an almost undisputed monopoly over the central administration until Ḥāǰǰī Moḥammad-Ḥosayn’s death in 1239/1823-24. Certain major provinces, including Azerbaijan, Fārs, and Khorasan, remained in the hands of powerful princes of the royal family, but ʿAbdallāh’s supervision of the revenue registry (dīvān-e estīfāʾ) made provincial ministers and mostawfīs answerable to him; acting by royal decree, he occasionally exerted considerable pressure upon princes to settle their arrears.

The challenge of rival factions after Ḥāǰǰī Moḥammad-Ḥosayn’s death was not sufficient to deter ʿAbdallāh Khan’s swift promotion to the premiership; he was now given his father’s title Neẓām-al-dawla. According to Ṣadr al-tawārīḵ, his appointment “was actual and not merely nominal” (p. 78), but the shortness of his term of office may indicate a decline in his influence. This was to the benefit of the ruling princes and members of the Qajar aristocracy, who, at the expense of high officials, gained greater independence in their provincial rule. Lacking his father’s sagacity and skill, Amīn-al-dawla soon fell out of royal favor over an incident involving his notorious uncle Hāšem Khan Baḵtīārī, the acting governor of Isfahan. Complaints regarding the latter’s “injustices” and “oppressive conduct” provided the necessary pretext for the shah not only to blind Hāšem Khan but also to hold ʿAbdallāh Khan liable and dismiss him from both the premiership and the governorship of Isfahan (1240/1824-25). Allāhyār Khan Āṣaf-al-dawla, “the most powerful man in the kingdom” (Watson, History, p. 221) and Amīn-al-dawla’s archenemy, was appointed premier, though with reduced responsibilities. But Amīn-al-dawla soon reemerged in the political arena. During the second round of Russo-Persian wars (1241-43/1826-28) he was instructed by the shah to play host to Sayyed Moḥammad Ṭabāṭabāʾī Moǰāhed, the chief figure in the ʿolamāʾ’s call for jihad against Russia. Close ties with high ranking moǰtaheds provided Amīn-al-dawla with an additional source of support and made his mediation indispensable to the shah. In the political crises which followed the Persian defeat in the war, he took advantage of the monarch’s distrust of other officials, who were divided among themselves over the continuation of war with Russia. After the conclusion of the treaty of Torkamāṇčāy, he returned to favor and replaced the discredited Āṣaf-al-dawla (1243/1828). He remained in office until the death of Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah (1250/1834). The period was marked by a “decline in the authority of the premier” and the growing autonomy of the provincial governors. Yet Amīn-al-dawla’s influence over the aging monarch gave him enough maneuverability to remain the main figure behind the court intrigues; he was capable of discrediting eminent ministers and notables of the rival factions “with the slightest effort” (Tārīḵ-e ʿAżodī, p. 99; Ṣadr al-tawārīḵ, p. 104). In addition, personal wealth and clerical support often balanced off the pressure of rival groups. Despite ʿAbbās Mīrzā’s support, the Farāhānī faction led by Mīrzā Abu’l-Qāsem Qāʾem-maqām did not come close to assuming power. Similarly, the grave repercussions of the financial crises of the late part of Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah’s reign, intensified by war reparations and the reluctance of the prince-governors to pay their dues to the central treasury, did not affect Amīn-al-dawla, who successfully diverted the king’s wrath towards provincial ministers. But mutual interests brought him closer to the moǰtaheds in the ʿAtabāt; prominent among them were Shaikh Jaʿfar Naǰafī and his son Mūsā, who rewarded Amīn-al-dawla’s bequests and pious endowments—including a large complex of buildings, irrigation channels, and city walls for Naǰaf—with generous support and flattering titles. In his mediatory role Amīn-al-dawla was able not only to register his relative independence from the shah but also to signal to the ʿolamāʾ the importance of his good offices in providing them with royal pensions and securing their freedom of action.

Amīn-al-dawla also derived important and equally controversial support from the British, who in the earliest phase of Anglo-Persian relations had relied upon him and his father to gain access to both the shah and other influential groups. The fact that the Ṣadrs were hosts to successive British missions—Malcolm (1800-0l, 1810), Jones (1809-11), and Ouseley (1811-14)—and even received irregular payments from the East India Company, may not prove an outright British loyalty as some secondary sources suggest. Yet their conduct during the French interlude (1807-09) and during two rounds of Russo-Persian wars would imply a pro-British stand. During the Gardanne mission, ʿAbdallāh Khan was governor of Isfahan and adopted an obvious non-cooperative attitude towards the French officer who had been commissioned to set up cannon works there. The failure of the project, or of the whole mission, is often blamed on the Ṣadrs (see, e.g., S. Nafīsī, Tārīḵ-e eǰtemāʿī-e Īrān I, p. 213). Yet perhaps it is more accurate to say that their opposition derived not only from their pro-British sentiments but also from their reluctance to finance the project out of the revenue of Isfahan. The reported opposition of ʿAbdallāh Khan to the renewal of hostilities with Russia in 1242/1826-27 was not incompatible with British policy. His collaboration with Sayyed Moḥammad Moǰāhed and other pro-jihad ʿolamāʾ, however, suggests an attempt to avoid being overwhelmed by circumstances. Later on his opposition to the conclusion of the treaty of Torkamāṇčāy (1828), especially the clause guaranteeing the succession of ʿAbbās Mīrzā and his heirs, seems to have originated in his well-founded anxiety that he might be sacrificed by the British in favor of the heir apparent and the Farāhānī faction.

In the turmoil which followed Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah’s death in 1250/1834, ʿAbdallāh Khan took the calculated risk of forming a broad coalition of all opposition forces in the south against Moḥammad Mīrzā and his minister Qāʾem-maqām. Hoping to encourage Ḥosayn-ʿAlī Mīrzā Farmānfarmā and his brother Ḥasan-ʿAlī Mīrzā Šoǰāʿ-al-salṭana, the governors of Fārs and Kermān, to join forces with the third brother Solṭān-Moḥammad Mīrzā Sayf-al-dawla and his mother Tāǰ-al-dawla, he also counted on the support of the chief moǰtahed of Isfahan Sayyed Moḥammad Bāqer Šaftī and the Isfahan rabble. In spite of its vast financial resources and some popular support, the coalition failed to make any solid achievements, partly because the British were unwilling to offer their support. Amīn-al-dawla planned to mobilize a reliable force under Šoǰāʿ-al-salṭana for the defense of Isfahan, but the disputes and disagreements of the princes caused fatal delays, thus permitting Moḥammad Mīrzā and Qāʾem-maqām to attract British backing and embark on a campaign to subdue the south. The famous Isfahan revolt of 1835, led by the chief lūṭī Ramażān Shah with the full blessing of both Amīn-al-dawla and Šaftī, only temporarily hindered the advance of Moḥammad Mīrzā’s forces. The collapse of the revolt forced Amīn-al-dawla to seek refuge with Šaftī. Repeated attempts by Qāʾem-maqām to persuade Šaftī to lift his protection or to force Amīn-al-dawla to chose between exile and surrender came to nowhere. In 1836, the sudden downfall of Qāʾem-maqām rekindled some hopes but the unexpected rise of Ḥāǰǰī Mīrzā Āqāsī soon turned these hopes to new fears. The purge of the remnants of Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah’s bureaucracy was a further blow to ʿAbdallāh Khan, who still looked upon his old subordinates in the central administration as potential collaborators. In a general move to reclaim the toyūl and dīvānī lands which in the hands of the old bureaucracy had been turned into private property, Āqāsī confiscated most of ʿAbdallāh Khan’s property in Isfahan and ʿErāq-e ʿAǰam. After months of evasion, Amīn-al-dawla finally gave way to the increasing pressure from the central government and accepted the offer of exile to the ʿAtabāt. The British envoy John McNeil, who negotiated the terms with the government, guaranteed a safe passage (Rabīʿ II, 1252/July, 1835). Amīn-al-dawla spent the last years of his life uneventfully in Naǰaf, where he died in 1263/1847.

Amīn-al-dawla is an outstanding example of a second generation high official under Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah who owed his power and status both to his father’s service to the Qajars and to his own ability and skill to sustain his position. Like other important families in the early 19th century, the Ṣadrs’ power base was predominantly urban and dependent on land. Though they may have enjoyed the backing of other groups or had at their disposal independent sources of income, they could hardly stand up to the monarch or the Qajar aristocracy. The power of the family declined after ʿAbdallāh Khan. None of his seven brothers held significant office, nor did his three sons show any enthusiasm for government status; one of the latter, ʿAlī-Moḥammad Neẓām-al-dawla, studied under Shaikh Moḥammad Ḥasan Naǰafī, the author of Jawāher al-kalām, and became an authorized moǰtahed and a prolific writer.

 

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(A. Amanat)

Originally Published: December 15, 1989

Last Updated: August 3, 2011

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Vol. I, Fasc. 9, pp. 939-941