ʿALĪ-QOLĪ KHAN ŠĀMLŪ B. SOLṬĀN ḤOSAYN KHAN B. DŪRMĪŠ KHAN (d. 977/1589), Safavid governor of Herat and guardian of the future Shah ʿAbbās I. He was appointed governor of Herat in 985/1577 by Shah Esmāʿīl II (Aḥsan al-tawārīḵ, ed. C. N. Seddon, Baroda, 1931, p. 494) and left Qazvīn in October, 1577 to take up his new post. He carried orders from the shah for the execution of the shah’s nephew, ʿAbbās Mīrzā, then six years of age, who had been left defenseless at Herat after his lala (“guardian”), Šāh-qolī Ostāǰlū, had been murdered by a group of Afšārs at the shah’s instigation. Shah Esmāʿīl II had promised to link ʿAlī-qolī Khan Šāmlū by marriage to the Safavid royal house in the person of Zaynab Begom, the fourth daughter of Shah Ṭahmāsp; no doubt this was to be ʿAlī-qolī Khan’s reward for ridding the shah of a potentially dangerous rival. In the event, the marriage never took place (Eskandar Beg, I, p. 135; tr. p. 219). On his arrival at Herat, 26 Ramażān 985/7 December 1577, ʿAlī-qolī Khan was persuaded to delay the execution of the young prince, on the ground that it would not be proper to put to death the innocent descendant of a sayyed on the eve of 27 Ramażān, the holy Laylat-al-qadr. On a variety of pretexts the execution was postponed until after ʿĪd-e Feṭr, which fell that year on December 12. This delay saved the life of ʿAbbās Mīrzā, for the shah had died on 13 Ramażān/24 November, and a courier bearing the news reached Herat in the late afternoon of 2 Šawwāl 985/13 December 1577, just in time to procure a stay of execution (the full story is told in Eskandar Beg, I, pp. 243ff.; tr., pp. 362ff.).

ʿAlī-qolī Khan assumed the position of lala to ʿAbbās Mīrzā and defied repeated orders from the new shah, Solṭān Moḥammad Ḵodābanda, to send the prince to Qazvīn. He asserted that such a move would be contrary to the interests of the state, since it would seriously weaken Khorasan and encourage an Uzbek attack on that province. Finally, the shah and the queen, Mahd-e ʿOlyā, sent ʿAlī-qolī Khan’s father, Solṭān Ḥosayn Khan, to Khorasan. They gave him three months in which to return with ʿAbbās Mīrzā; if ʿAlī-qolī and the coalition of amirs who supported him continued to defy the royal firman, they would be deemed rebels (Eskandar Beg, I, pp. 244-46; tr., pp. 364-66).

After the murder of Mahd-e ʿOlyā by a group of qizilbāš conspirators in 987/1579, the struggle for control of Khorasan between the Šāmlū-Ostāǰlū coalition led by ʿAlī-qolī Khan Šāmlū and that led by Mortażā-qolī Khan Pornāk Torkman, governor of Mašhad, increased in intensity. The supporters of each faction at court tried to influence the shah in their favor. ʿAlī-qolī Khan’s mother and father were both put to death by members of the opposing faction (Eskandar Beg, I, pp. 246-60; tr., pp. 366-85). In 989/1581 the shah sent a punitive force against ʿAlī-qolī Khan, but the amirs in charge of this force were unable to make any headway either by negotiation or my military action. ʿAlī-qolī Khan’s coalition proclaimed ʿAbbās Mīrzā shah in Khorasan, minting coins in his name and including his name in the ḵoṭba. The following year (990/1582), Solṭān Moḥammad Shah himself took the field with 80,000 men to quell the revolt; but, after almost a year of desultory fighting and negotiation, the shah could only conclude a truce with ʿAlī-qolī Khan on the basis of the status quo ante: ʿAlī-qolī Khan reaffirmed his fealty to Solṭān Moḥammad Shah and agreed to consider Ḥamza Mīrzā the heir apparent; in return, ʿAlī-qolī Khan was confirmed as governor of Herat and guardian of ʿAbbās Mīrzā and secured the dismissal of his archenemy, Moḥammad-qolī Khan Pornāk; the shah even bestowed upon him the noble title of “my son” (15 Šaʿban 991/3 September 1583; Eskandar Beg, I, pp. 276-91; tr., pp. 406-22). Not long after the royal family had retired, however, the leaders of the Šāmlū-Ostāǰlū coalition, ʿAlī-qolī Khan Šāmlū and Moršed-qolī Khan Ostāǰlū, fell out; and the latter seized possession of ʿAlī-qolī Khan’s trump card, the prince ʿAbbās Mīrzā (12 Raǰab 993/10 July 1585; see R. M. Savory, “Safavid Persia,” Cambridge History of Islam, Cambridge, 1970, I, p. 413). ʿAlī-qolī Khan retired to Herat, “overcome with remorse and chagrin at his negligence, while Moršed-qolī Khan carried ʿAbbās Mīrzā off in triumph to Mašhad” (Eskandar Beg, I, p. 304; tr. p. 437).

ʿAlī-qolī Khan’s star now began to decline. In Moḥarram, 996/December, 1587 a huge Uzbek army under ʿAbdallāh Khan laid siege to Herat. After a heroic defense lasting for more than a year, ʿAlī-qolī Khan finally surrendered the city in Rabīʿ I, 997/February, 1589, and was treacherously put to death by the Uzbek khan after a promise of quarter. The fate of Herat had been sealed by the procrastination of ʿAlī-qolī Khan’s old rival, Moršed-qolī Khan Ostāǰlū; the latter, in a position of supreme power in the state after installing ʿAbbās Mīrzā on the throne on 1 Ḏu’l-qaʿda 996/1 October 1588, deliberately delayed the dispatch of a relief force to Herat until it was too late (Savory, “Safavid Persia,” pp. 413-15).


See also N. Falsafī, Zendagānī-e Šāh ʿAbbās-e Awwal I, 2nd ed., Tehran, 1334 Š./1956, pp. 25, 37, 40-46, 60-64, 115-20, 124-27.



(R. N. Savory)

Originally Published: December 15, 1985

Last Updated: August 2, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 8, pp. 875-876

Cite this entry:

R. N. Savory, “ʿALĪ-QOLĪ KHAN ŠĀMLŪ,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/8, pp. 875-876, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/ali-qoli-khan-samlu-b (accessed on 30 December 2012).