ESMĀʿIL II (b. 31 May 1537, Qom; d. 24 November 1577, Qazvin), the third Safavid monarch (r. 984-85/1576-77).

Born on the night of Thursday 21 Ḏu’l-ḥejja 943/31 May 1537 in Qom (Kāmi-Qazvini, fol. 144r; Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 950), Esmāʿil Mirzā (later Esmāʿil II) was the second son of Ṭahmāsp I (930-84/1524-76). His mother, Ḵadam-ʿAli Solṭān Ḵānom, also known as Solṭānom Begum (d. 1002/1594), came from the Mawṣellu, the paramount clan of the left wing of the Aq Qoyunlu tribal confederation (Monši-Torkmān, pp. 125, 490, tr. pp. 206, 666; Tāriḵ-e Qezelbāšān, pp. 21-22; Woods, pp. 191-92). At the time of Esmāʿil Mirzā’s birth, his maternal uncle, Musā Sultan Mawṣellu, acted as governor of Tabriz (Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 223; Monši-Qazvini, pp. 72-73; Bedlisi, II, p. 252). Musā Sultan is commonly but erroneously assumed to be Esmāʿil Mirzā’s maternal grandfather (Hinz, p. 25; Szuppe, 1994, pp. 232, 234; idem, 1996, p. 83; Woods, p. 193). Ḵadam-ʿAli and Musā were indeed the daughter and son of ʿIsā Khan b. Bakr Beg b. Begtāš Beg Mowṣellu and, as such, were related to Ṭahmāsp I’s mother, Šāh-Begi Ḵānom, also known as Tājlu Begum (d. 947/1540) (Ḥosayni-Qomi, pp. 219, 223, 288; Monši-Torkman, p. 490; tr., p. 666). Later in the 16th century, their younger brother, Amir Khan II served as governor of Hamadān (Jonābadi, p. 576). The Venetian envoy, Vincenzo Alessandri, who visited Qazvin in the latter part of the 16th century, asserts that in 1572 Esmāʿil Mirzā was forty years old (Alessandri, p. 169). A few years later, the Venetian consul in Damascus, Teodoro Balbi (p. 283), reported that Esmāʿil II was aged 44 at the time of his death. Drawing on both Venetian sources, Walther Hinz (p. 25) and, subsequently, Roger M. Savory (p. 188) suggested the year 940/1533-34 as Esmāʿil Mirzā’s date of birth, which, as stated above, is not correct. “Abu’l-Manṣur” and “Abu’l-Fatḥ” were Esmāʿil Mirzā’s official epithets under Ṭahmāsp I (Majmuʿa makātib, fols. 145v, 171v; Navāʾi, pp. 181, 206; Ivoḡli, fol. 112r; Ḥayāti-Tabrizi, fol. 76r; Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 376).

In the wake of Alqās Mirzā’s escape to the Ottoman Empire, Esmāʿil Mirzā was made, late in the summer of 954/1547, governor of Šervān (Rumlu, p. 1309; Qawāmi-Širāzi, p. 97; Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 321; Ḵuzāni-Eṣfahāni, fol. 133r; Jonābadi, p. 508), a hotbed of political unrest and rebellion at the time. Soon after Esmāʿil Mirzā’s arrival in the province, his guardian (lala), Gökča Sultan Ziādlu Qājār, also known as Šāhverdi Sultan (d. 962/1555), together with Ṭahmāsp I’s brother-in-law, ʿAbd-Allāh Khan Ostājlu, mounted a military campaign against Borhān-ʿAli b. Ḵalil-Allāh II (d. 955/1548), a nephew of Ṭahmāsp I and claimant to the Šervānšāhid throne (Qavāmi-Širāzi, p. 103; Rumlu, pp. 1313-1314; Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 323; Bedlisi, II, pp. 202-3; Hinz, pp. 26-27; Kırzıoğlu, pp. 184, 205). There is ample archival and narrative evidence that the Ottomans backed Borhān-ʿAli in anticipation of the establishment of a puppet Sunni state in Šervān (Topkapı Sarayı Arşivi H. 951-952 Tarihli ve E-12321 Numaralı Mühimme Defteri, documents no. 451 and 453, pp. 327-29; Celâlzâde, fols. 310r-v; Kırzıoğlu, p. 178; Posch, pp. 656-57).

Esmāʿil Mirzā’s stay in Šervān lasted about a year. On 10 Rajab 955/25 August 1548, he tagged along with his guardian, Gökča Sultan, during the capture and destruction of Kars, a strategically important fortress town along the border between Erzurum and Georgia (Ivoḡli, fol. 112r; Majmuʿa makātib, fol. 171v; Navāʾi, p. 181). Gökča Sultan and Esmāʿil Mirzā commanded an army of 7,000 troops. They entered Kars in Jomādā I 955/July-August 1548, where the Safavid troops ransacked the city, killing scores of civilian refugees, who had fled the chaos and disorder that ensued in central and eastern Anatolia following the joint campaign of Alqāṣ Mirzā and the Ottoman Sultan Süleiman the Magnificent (1520-66) against Azerbaijan and ʿErāq-e ʿAjam. In Kars, there was an attempt on Esmāʿil Mirzā’s life allegedly plotted by the Ottoman governor of the city, ʿOṯmān Pasha. In retaliation, the Safavid troops massacred all Ottoman prisoners of war and razed the fortress of Kars to the ground (Majmuʿa makātib, fol. 124v; Navāʾi, p. 241; Ṣafavi, p. 55; Rumlu, p. 1320; Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 330; Ḥosayni, p. 171; Ḵuzāni-Eṣfahāni, fols. 136r-136v; Hinz, pp. 27-28).

Shortly after Alqāṣ Mirzā’s arrest in Marivān castle and his subsequent imprisonment in Qahqaha, a mountainous fortress in Qarājadāḡ some fifty miles northwest of Ardabil, Esmāʿil Mirzā’s other paternal uncle, Bahrām Mirzā, who was expected to act as the next heir apparent to Ṭahmāsp I died in Qazvin on 19 Ramażān 956/21 October 1549 (Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 340; Jonābadi, pp. 514-15, 517-18; Ḥosayni, pp. 175-76). According to Fażli Beg Ḵuzāni-Eṣfahāni (fols. 141r, 142r), who is the sole chronicler to make such a claim, it was immediately after Bahrām Mirzā’s death that Ṭahmāsp I recalled Prince Esmāʿil from Šervān and made him crown prince and generalissimo (sepahsālār) of his troops in Qazvin. In 959/1552, Esmāʿil Mirzā and Gökča Sultan led a contingent of Qezelbāš emirs and their retainers during a major offensive against Erzurum, where the Safavid invaders inflicted serious losses on the Ottoman garrison (Ṣafavi, p. 64; Rumlu, pp. 1354-1360; Ḥosayni-Qomi, pp. 356-59; Ḵuzāni-Eṣfahāni, fols. 159r-161r; Jonābadi, p. 536; Hinz, pp. 29-32). Similarly, in 960/1553 and 961/1554, Esmāʿil Mirzā participated in a series of military campaigns against various pro-Ottoman elements in Kurdistan, eastern Anatolia, and Georgia (Majmuʿa makātib, fols. 145r-v; Navāʾi, pp. 205-6; Rumlu, pp. 1367, 1372; Ḥosayni-Qomi, pp. 362, 367-69; Ḵuzāni-Eṣfahāni, fols. 165r-166v).

Esmāʿil Mirzā married his cousin Ṣafiya Solṭān Ḵānom, a daughter of Šāh Nur-al-Din Neʿmat-Allāh Bāqi Kermāni (d. 972/1565) and his paternal aunt, the Safavid princess Ḵāneš Ḵānom (d. 972/1565), in early 962/1555. Esmāʿil Mirzā's flings with male lovers during this period are briefly discussed in a caustic letter dating 985/1577 penned by his older sister, princess Pari Khan Ḵānom (Jong, fols. 88r-v). Soon after their wedding ceremony, which was held at the Šemāl and ʿEšratābād gardens in Tabriz, Esmāʿil Mirzā and his young wife moved to Qazvin, the new Safavid capital, where he was given the house previously owned by his late paternal uncle, Bahrām Mirzā (Ḥosayni-Qomi, pp. 376-77; Rumlu, p. 1388; Qawāmi-Širāzi, p. 109; Bedlisi, II, p. 207; Kermāni et al., p. 227; Monši-Torkmān, p. 132; tr., p. 214; Hinz, pp. 33-34). Esmāʿil Mirzā had one daughter from this marriage, who later was married off to Šāh Ḵalil-Allāh Kermāni (Kermāni et al., p. 236). In 984/1576, Esmāʿil Mirzā married three consorts and from one of them had one son, named Šojāʿ-al-Din Moḥammad, born in Moḥarram 985/March-April 1577. He appointed his newborn son as governor of Fārs in the same year (Monši-Torkmān, pp. 206, 213, 220; tr., pp. 306, 316, 328; Monajjem-Yazdi, p. 34; Afuštaʾi-Naṭanzi, p. 55).

Esmāʿil Mirzā’s pedophilia played a decisive role in his undoing, which occurred in 962/1555, less than a year after his settlement in Qazvin. In a lyrical poem, he confirms that it was upon arrival in Qazvin that “I lost the comfort of good life, and became afflicted by pain and agony,” which can be taken as an allegorical reference to his downfall, as well as to his scandalous love affairs with male companions (Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 655). It is reported that Ṭahmāsp I was about to promote Esmāʿil Mirzā to governor of Hamadān in 956/1549; but before this appointment was officially announced, the Safavid prince broke a leg during an outing with a male companion late in the winter of 962/1555. The news of this incident excited Ṭahmāsp’s outrage to the effect that he demoted Esmāʿil Mirzā to governor of Herat, ordering him to leave Qazvin unceremoniously. On 6 Rabiʿ II 962/10 March 1555, Esmāʿil Mirzā departed for Herat, where his father’s brother-in-law, Moḥammad Khan Šaraf-al-Din Oḡli Tekelu (d. 964/1557), had been instructed to act as his new guardian (Ḥosayni-Qomi, pp. 379-81; Rumlu, p. 1395; Qawāmi-Širāzi, p. 110; Szuppe, 1996, p. 83).

Esmāʿil Mirzā arrived in Herat on 23 Jomādā I 963/14 April 1556 (Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 384; Jonābadi, pp. 543-44). During the year intervening between his departure from Qazvin and arrival in Herat, he toured various cities of Khorasan, including Sabzavār, Toršiz, Zāvah, Maḥvalāt, Ḵˇāf, Bāḵarz, and Ḡuriān, deliberately avoiding a visit to the holy shrine of imam ʿAli b. Musā al-Reżā in Mashhad, the city that had recently been assigned to his paternal cousin, Ebrāhim Mirzā b. Bahrām Mirzā (Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 385). It is reported that during Esmāʿil Mirzā’s short tenure as governor of Herat, many Sunni learned and landed notables, who had fled Khorasan early in the reign of Shah Ṭahmāsp, were allowed resettlement in the city. The Safavid prince’s pro-Sunni policies in Herat were soon to be exploited by his enemies in Qazvin who used the occasion to persuade Shah Ṭahmāsp to recall him from Khorasan (Kāmi-Qazvini, fol. 144r). According to Šaraf Khan Bedlisi (II, p. 208), it was the outbreak of a bitter feud between Moḥammad Khan Tekelu and his elder son, Zayn-al-Din ʿAli Sultan, a close friend and maternal cousin of Prince Esmāʿil Mirzā, that prompted Ṭahmāsp I to recall his son from Khorasan in less than two years. During Esmāʿil Mirzā’s stay in Khorasan, Zayn al-Din ʿAli Sultan Tekelu was arrested and tortured to death in Qazvin on account of complicity in the Safavid prince’s disgraceful flings with consenting boys (Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 386; Qawāmi-Širāzi, p. 110; Hinz, p. 35).

On 27 Jomādā I 964/7 April 1557, Esmāʿil Mirzā was escorted by the qurči-bāši or commander-in-chief of cavalry, Sevendik Beg Afšār, from Herat to Qazvin via Ṭabas, Yazd, and Kashan. Before his arrival in Sāva, a town some hundred miles southeast of Qazvin, a number of his allies and backers at court, including one Bayāt and two Ẕu’l-Qadr emirs, were nabbed and put to death in Qazvin. Ṭahmāsp I did not allow Esmāʿil Mirzā entry to Qazvin, charging Sevendik Beg with the task of detaining him in Sāva. In Šaʿbān 964/June-July 1557, the Safavid monarch instructed his deputy (wakil), Jalāl-al-Din Maʿṣum Beg Šeyḵāvand (d. 976/1569), to take Esmāʿil Mirzā to Qahqaha. Afterwards, a group of Ostājlu emirs were posted to Qahqaha Castle to serve as prison guards (Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 388; Bedlisi, II, p. 209; Qawāmi-Širāzi, p. 111; Jonābadi, pp. 545-47; Hinz, pp. 37-38).

Esmāʿil Mirzā languished in jail for close to two decades—or nineteen years, six months, and twenty-one days, as Eskandar Beg Monši-Torkmān (p. 133; tr., p. 214) puts it. In one of the few quatrains attributed to Esmāʿil Mirzā in the Persian taẕkera literature, the Safavid prince laments forlornly over his incarceration in Qahqaha, ascribing it to his foes’ resentment at his prowess and insight (Afšār, p. 12). Under Ṭahmāsp I, part of the prison cells at Qahqaha was used as storage space for the royal treasury’s gold and silver reserves. According to Ḥosayni-Qomi (p. 654), the stockpiling of gold and silver bullion was carried out with the objective of providing instant cash for the world-conquering stalwarts of the Hidden Imam upon his imminent advent (Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 654). Towards the end of Esmāʿil Mirzā’s detention, six hundred bars of gold and silver, each weighing about 10 kilograms, are reported to have been stacked in those prison cells. In 979/1571, a couple of these gold and silver bars were lost, prompting Ṭahmāsp I to launch an independent inquiry into the matter. The Ostājlu prison guards and their relatives in Qazvin were swift to put the blame on Esmāʿil Mirzā. Yet their opponents at court, including the Tekelu, Turkmān, Rumlu, and Afšār military chiefs, accused the Ostājlu and their allies of swindling the central treasury out of the much-needed reserves of gold and silver (Bedlisi, II, p. 243). In fact, early in the 1570s, price inflation had disrupted the routine of everyday life in several urban centers in Iran, forcing Ṭahmāsp I to instruct bureaucratic authorities across the country to collect and send to Qazvin as much gold and silver coinage and bullion as they could get their hands on, so that the Safavid mint in Qazvin could use it as base metal for a new coinage (Tatavi and Qazvini, VIII, p. 5909). This episode shows that, by the end of the reign of Ṭahmāsp I, the factional divide at court that shaped Esmāʿil Mirzā’s ascent to the throne in the summer of 984/1576 had taken its definitive form.

Ṭahmāsp I died on 15 Ṣafar 984/24 May 1576 with no crown prince designated to inherit the throne (Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 592). Two factions had already formed at court in the years leading up to his death, one led by a fragile coalition of the Ostājlu, Qājār, Šayḵāvand, and Georgian emirs, who backed Prince Ḥaydar Mirzā, the fifth son of Shah Ṭahmāsp (born to a Georgian Princess on 13 Ḏu’l-Qaʿda 963/28 September 1556), and the other by the Afšār, Torkmān, Tekelu, and Rumlu supporters of Esmāʿil Mirzā, led by his younger sister, Princess Pari Khan Ḵānom (Monši-Torkmān, pp. 133, 193; tr., pp. 215, 284-85; Jonābadi, pp. 576-75). During the clashes that erupted at court following Ṭahmāsp I’s death, Ḥaydar Mirzā was arrested inside the royal harem and put to death on the spot at the hands of a group of his opponents on the night of Wednesday 16 Ṣafar 984/25 May 1576, an incident that cleared the way for Esmāʿil Mirzā’s ascent to the throne (Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 605; Monajjem-Yazdi, pp. 28-29; Afuštaʾi-Naṭanzi, pp. 19-23; Roemer, p. 251). The backers of Esmāʿil Mirzā reckoned on his achievements as a military commander under Ṭahmāsp I and were under the impression that his seizure of political power “will subdue the internal and external enemies of the religion and the state” (Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 602).

It was under these circumstances that on 22 Ṣafar 984/31 May 1576 Esmāʿil Mirzā was released from the Qahqaha fortress and joined by thousands of Qezelbāš cavalrymen on his way first to Ardabil and then to Qazvin. Before making it to Qazvin, Esmāʿil Mirzā spent a few days in Asiābrud, a small scenic village in Manjil some ninety miles northwest of Qazvin. The court astrologer, Mollā Eliās Ardabili, had come up with an auspicious date for the Safavid prince’s entrance to the city, but Esmāʿil Mirzā rushed to the Saʿādatābād garden, ignoring the auspicious date set for this occasion (Ḥosayni-Qomi, pp. 617-21; Monši-Qazvini, pp. 163-65). Esmāʿil II was enthroned on Wednesday, 27 Jomādā I 984/1 September 1576. The coronation ceremony was held at the Čehel Sotun palace in Qazvin in the presence of his brothers, cousins, court bureaucrats, religious dignitaries, and Qezelbāš tribal and military chiefs. The chief magistrate (moḥtaseb al-mamālek), Sayyed ʿAli Ḵaṭib Astarābādi, and the prayer imam (pišnamāz) at court, Mir Raḥmat-Allāh Najafi, presided over Esmāʿil II’s ascent to the throne (Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 626; Monši-Torkmān, pp. 146, 150; tr., pp. 233-34, 240; Monajjem-Yazdi, pp. 32-33; Afuštaʾi-Naṭanzi, pp. 23-27). A few days before his enthronement, he ordered the demolition of almost all royal residential buildings at the Saʿādatābād garden.

The Mawṣellu and the Tekelu were among Esmāʿil II’s most trusted emirs, and upon his rise to power many of them took over key administrative positions in various cities of Iran, including Qazvin, Qom, Naṭanz, and Ardestān (Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 627). Furthermore, Esmāʿil II’s rise to power paved the way for the comeback of a cohort of disgruntled bureaucrats and religious scholars from Isfahan and Shiraz, whose career advancement had been stymied under Ṭahmāsp I (Aubin, pp. 79-80). On 30 Rabiʿ I 984/7 July 1576, Esmāʿil II made Šokr-Allāh Eṣfahāni his grand vizier. The same day, he appointed Šāhroḵ Khan Ẕu’l-Qadr, a Qezelbāš emir from Shiraz and one of his former cellmates at Qahqaha, as chief military prosecutor or divānbeygi. Also, Mirzā Moḥammad Maʿmuri, a high-ranking bureaucrat from Isfahan who had been let go under Ṭahmāsp I, was promoted to chief scribe (monši al-mamālek) (Ḥosayni-Qomi, pp. 623, 627; Monši-Torkmān, p. 163; tr., p. 255; Afuštaʾi-Naṭanzi, p. 29). Under Esmāʿil II, the grand vizier, Šokr-Allāh Eṣfahāni, and Prince Ebrāhim Mirzā acted as chief judge at the Safavid court, while Mir ʿEnāyat-Allāh Naqib-Eṣfahāni held the post of military judge (qāżi-e moʿaskar) (Ḥosayni-Qomi, pp. 624, 628). Šokr-Allāh Eṣfahāni was soon discharged, and on 26 Rabiʿ I 984/3 July 1576 Mirzā Salmān Jāberi-Eṣfahāni took over the post of grand vizier. On the same day, Mir ʿEnāyat-Allāh Naqib-Eṣfahāni was made ṣadr or minister of religious affairs; he was intended to work in collaboration with Mirzā Maḵdum Šarifi-Širāzi, a popular, crypto-Sunni preacher and close ally of Princess Pari Khan Ḵānom in Qazvin. Afterwards, Šokr-Allāh was appointed as mostawfi al-mamālek or chief director of scribal/financial affairs (Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 648; Ivoḡli, fols. 128v-129v; Afuštaʾi-Naṭanzi, p. 53; Monši-Torkmān, pp. 148-49, 212; tr., pp. 237, 315; Qazvini, p. 59). Esmāʿil II’s maternal uncle, Amir Khan II, acted as his deputy (wakil) (Jonābadi, p. 546). In Rajab 985/September-October 1577, Esmāʿil II reinstalled the rebel ruler of Gilān and a former cellmate of his at Qahqaha, Neẓām-al-Din Khan Aḥmad b. Solṭān-Ḥasan Gilāni (d. 1009/1601), as governor of Lāhijān (Majmuʿa makātib, fols. 256v-258r; Gilāni, pp. 86-88; Navāʾi, pp. 135-37). 

Less than two months after his enthronement, Esmāʿil II ordered the execution of all male members of the royal family. His older, near-blind brother, Prince Solṭān-Moḥammad, together with his three sons, including newborn ʿAbbās Mirzā (later ʿAbbās I), was the sole survivor of the bloodshed that decimated the Safavid royal household (Monajjem-Yazdi, pp. 37-38; Bayāt, pp. 131-32; Browne, IV, pp. 98-99). On 7 Šaʿbān 985/9 November 1576, the Safavid princes Solaymān Mirzā and Moṣṭafā Mirzā were beheaded in Qazvin. Six months later, on 7 Ḏu’l-ḥejja 984/7 March 1577, Esmāʿil II’s younger brothers and cousins, including Maḥmud Mirzā, Emāmqoli Mirzā, Aḥmad Mirzā, and Moḥammad Ḥosayn Mirzā, were put to sword (Ḥosayni-Qomi, pp. 628, 632; Monajjem-Yazdi, pp. 34-35, 40-41; Jonābadi, pp. 578-80). Two days before their execution, on 5 Ḏu’l-ḥejja 984/5 March 1577, the shah ordered the beheading of his cousin and brother-in-law, Ebrāhim Mirzā, the most prominent Safavid prince present at court (Ḥosayni-Qomi, pp. 633-43; Afuštaʾi-Naṭanzi, pp. 45-47, 51; Monajjem-Yazdi, p. 35; Jonābadi, pp. 579-80). On the same day, the Safavid monarch ordered the massacre of about five hundred Qezelbāš Sufis, who had recently arrived in Qazvin from eastern and central Anatolia (Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 643; Afuštaʾi-Naṭanzi, p. 34). On 4 Moḥarram 985/3 April 1577, Prince Badiʿ al-Zamān Mirzā, who ruled in Sistān, was murdered at the ʿAvaż garden in Qandahar by order of Esmāʿil II (Sistāni, pp. 190-91; Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 644).

In his polemical writings, Mirzā Maḵdum Šarifi-Širāzi clarifies that at first Esmāʿil II was unwilling to kill his brothers and cousins; but after long discussions he managed to convince the shah to proceed with the executions, justifying them from the religious viewpoint based on the Shiʿi practice of temporary marriage, which for Sunni Muslims was tantamount to adultery. According to Šarifi-Širāzi, he reminded Esmāʿil II that almost all male descendants of the first two Safavid monarchs were born from temporary marriages and as such were bastards. From the jurisprudential evidence presented by Šarifi-Širāzi, Esmāʿil II had inferred that the killing of his relatives was permissible (Šarifi-Širāzi, fol. 103r).

Esmāʿil II’s most enduring legacy was his espousal of Sunni Islam and mistreatment of leading Shiʿi clerics in Safavid Iran. In Jomādā I 984/August-September 1576, he laid off all waqf superintendents appointed by Ṭahmāsp I and put the administration of religious endowments under the supervision of central bureaucracy (Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 623; Mazzaoui, p. 53). Moreover, he sacked all provincial judges in the same month, assigning the adjudication of legal cases all over Iran to a select group of bureaucrats and judges in Qazvin (Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 625; Afuštaʾi-Naṭanzi, pp. 39-40). Under Esmāʿil II, two prominent mojtaheds in Qazvin, ʿAbd-al-ʿĀli b. Nur-al-Din ʿAli al-Karaki (d. 993/1585) and Sayyed Ḥosayn Karaki (d. 1001/1593), were disgraced, persecuted, and forced to quit Qazvin. Ḥosayn Karaki was a close ally of the slain Prince Ḥaydar Mirzā and from the outset opposed Esmāʿil II’s ascent to the throne (Monajjem-Yazdi, p. 29). Initially, it was rumored that the shah was plotting to poison both clerics. Before long, ʿAbd al-ʿĀli Karaki fled to Hamadān, but Sayyed Ḥosayn was detained and his private library and house were confiscated. Esmāʿil II then instructed Mir Maḵdum Šarifi-Širāzi to grant the cash realized from the sale of his house and library to religious scholars with indelible Sunni background (Afandi-Eṣbahāni, II, p. 72; Monši-Torkmān, p. 215, tr. 320; Savory; Afuštaʾi-Naṭanzi, pp. 41-42; Ḵˇānsāri, II, pp. 322-23; Ḥosayni-ʿĀmeli, p. 229).

To cap all this, Esmāʿil II banned the practice of tawallā wa tabarrā or public cursing of Sunni caliphs, imams, and religious scholars (Monši-Torkmān, pp. 213-14, tr. p. 319; Monajjem-Yazdi, pp. 34-35; Ḥosayni-Monši, p. 409; Ḥosayni-ʿĀmeli, p. 229; Roemer, p. 252; Stanfield-Johnson, pp. 65-67). In the short run, the ban on public cursing of Sunni grandees spawned an urban riot in Qazvin led by the Safavid monarch’s maternal uncle and deputy, Amir Khan II Mawṣellu (Jonābedi, p. 584). Additionally, the Safavid monarch ordered that the names of the Shiʿi imams be removed from the walls of the main congregational mosque in Qazvin. He also had new coins minted in Qazvin without the names of the Shiʿi imams (Monši-Torkmān, pp. 215, 217; tr., pp. 320, 324; Bayāt, p. 132; Mazzaoui, p. 54; Moširi, pp. 92-95). During the months leading up to his sudden death, Esmāʿil II used the gold and silver reserves stockpiled by Ṭahmāsp I to pay generous cash grants to a number of Sayyed notables, including the Injuʾi Sayyids of Shiraz (Ḥosayni-Qomi, pp. 654-55).

Esmāʿil II had planned to resume the official dispatch of hajj pilgrims from Iran to the Ottoman empire. Since 976/1569, when Jalāl-al-Din Maʿṣum Beg Šayḵāvand was murdered by a group of Bedouin “bandits” on his way to join the hajj caravans in Damascus, the Safavid authorities had stopped authorizing the en-masse passage of hajj pilgrims to the Ottoman empire. In an undated letter to the Mughal Prince Faridun Moḥammad-Ḥakim Mirzā, a brother of Emperor Akbar (r. 963-1014/1556-1605), who had asked for the Safavid monarch’s permission to make his way to the Hejāz via Iran, Esmāʿil II writes about his determination to ease the movement of hajj pilgrims from Iran to the Ottoman empire (Ivoḡlu, fols. 128r-v; Majmuʿa makātib, fols. 182r-183v; Navāʾi, pp. 503-5). 

Esmāʿil II’s pro-Sunni policies soon alarmed the Qezelbāš emirs as well as the most influential female member of the royal family, Pari Khan Ḵānom, motivating them to act as a clique of conspirators bent on staging a regicide (Jonābadi, pp. 584-85; Gholsorkhi, 1995, pp. 152-53). During this period, Esmāʿil II had put Pari Khan Ḵānom under house arrest in Qazvin, and from a letter by Pari Khan Ḵānom, we know that he was planning to kill her (Jong, fols. 87r-89v). Esmāʿil II’s heavy addiction to drugs and narcotics helped them effectuate their plot deftly. On the night of 13 Ramażān 985/24 November 1577, the Safavid monarch consumed slices of poisoned opium before getting to bed with his male companion, a young boy named Ḥasan Beg Ḥalvāči-oḡli ʿArabgirlu. Next morning, the courtiers found him dead, cradled by his male lover (Monši-Torkmān, pp. 218-19, tr. pp. 328-30; Ḥosayni-Qomi, pp. 653-54; Monajjem-Yazdi, pp. 38-39; Afuštaʾi-Naṭanzi, pp. 60-61; Jonābadi, p. 585). For a while, Esmāʿil II’s death remained a mystery, feeding widespread rumors about his disappearance and escape to the mountains of Lorestān and Isfahan. During the closing years of the 16th century, the Dehdašt fortress in Kohgiluya was the scene of a major rebellion headed by a certain Šāhmir-e Qalandar, who is reported to have called himself Shah Esmāʿil II (Afuštaʾi-Naṭanzi, pp. 113-20; Ḥosayni-Monši, pp. 414-21; Širāzi, fols. 50r-v).      

On the morning of Monday 14 Ramażān 985/25 November 1577, Esmāʿil II’s body was buried in the shrine of Emāmzāda Ḥosayn in Qazvin (Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 653; Modarresi-Ṭabāṭabāʾi, p. 64). He was a talented nastaʿliq calligrapher and painter, and wrote poetry under pen name ʿĀdeli (Kāmi-Qazvini, fol. 144r; Ḥosayni-Qomi, p. 655; Ṣādeqi Beg, pp. 10-11). Esmāʿil II is eulogized by a number of contemporary chroniclers as a just ruler, whose reign brought a short period of stability and security to Iran (Ḥosayni-Qomi, pp. 654-55; Afuštaʾi-Naṭanzi, pp. 57-58). But the mainstream chroniclers such as Ḥasan Rumlu (p. 1544) and Eskandar Beg Monši-Torkmān (pp. 212-21) portray him as an irrational, perverted, and inept ruler, who brought the Safavid dynasty to the brink of collapse.    



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(Kioumars Ghereghlou)

Originally Published: February 22, 2016

Last Updated: February 22, 2016

Cite this entry:

Kioumars Ghereghlou, “ESMĀʿIL II,” Encyclopædia Iranicaonline edition, 2016, available at (accessed on 22 February 2016).