Iran: Political Diaries 1881–1965

ISBN:  (13) 978-1-85207-710-5    Extent:   14 volumes, 12,000 pages
Editor: R. Jarman, Advisor R. M. Burrell   Published:  1997
Paper: Printed on acid free paper
Binding: Library bindings with gilt finish
See sample pages: not available


A key source work for modern Iranian history: this comprehensive series of British political reports not only provides an insight into the complexities and conflicts of Persian politics, but also closely reflects the changing nature of the relations between Britain and Persia revealing the extent of those mutual misunderstandings which sometimes made the relationship a difficult and sensitive one.
In 1881, when the first of the diplomatic reports reproduced in this work was written, Persia was being ruled by its 4th successive Qajar Shah, Nasir al-Din. He had come to the throne in 1848 and his was to be the longest reign of that dynasty, being brought to an end by an act of assassination in May 1896. When this series of volumes ends in 1965, the second Pahlavi Shah was still on the throne, but an important religious leader, Rouhalla Khomeini, was writing his first lectures on the theory of Islamic government. 


A century of Iranian history
Although this series of documents spans a change of dynasty, many of them reveal a great degree of continuity in royal attitudes to political power and authority under both families. While the Qajar dynasty certainly had some weak rulers, its philosophy remained an absolutist and autocratic one throughout. In 1924/5 there was an interesting debate in Persia about whether the country should follow the recent example of Turkey and become a Republic. If that decision had been made, and Reza Khan had therefore become President rather than Shah, it seems unlikely that his wish to exercise supreme and unchallenged political power would have been in any way diminished. When he ascended the throne, Reza Shah did not abolish the Persian Parliament but, as many despatches here show, it remained a weak and acquiescent political institution during his reign.
Many of the details concerning the character and disposition of the various rulers are to be found in the Lists of Personalities which appear in several volumes. Readers will find much of interest in these documents, and their accurate compilation was regarded as a very important task by the Oriental Secretary at the Legation. Several important features of Persia´s history can be traced in these lists. Firstly, the development of a hereditary tendency among leading religious figures, with sons following their fathers in that occupation - and that remains true today. Secondly, the tendency of some mercantile families to make marriage liaisons with important members of the religious classes. These Lists of Personalities provide fascinating and important insights into the existence and extent of such family ´networks´.
A number of important historical themes recur throughout the series including: the evolution of the Qajar and Pahlavi dynasties; Anglo-Russian rivalry over Persia; political consequences of the telegraph and the railway; the relationship between the Shah and the religious classes; and boundary issues including ownership of Abu Musa and the Tunb islands. The records also contain description of and political commentary regarding the important events of the century including the Constitutional Revolution of 1906; the founding of the Imperial Bank; the establishment of the Cossack Brigade and the creation of a modern army; the D´Arcy oil concession; and the oil nationalisation crisis of 1951.


This collection includes documents which were withheld and have been specially released, and documents which are still withheld in the National Archives, (London) but which have been found elsewhere as a result of extensive and diligent research. They are reproduced here for the first time. This edition was supervised, and a scholarly introduction provided, by the late Dr R. M. Burrell of the Department of History at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Types of reports include
  • Foreign Office memoranda
  • Early Persia summaries
  • Persia summaries
  • Minister´s Reviews
  • Govt of India Annual Surveys during the War Years
  • Personality Reports
  • Fortnightly Political Summaries
  • Annual Summaries
  • Persia monthly summaries
  • Intelligence Summaries
  • Quarterly Political Reviews
  • Annual Reviews
  • Weekly Reports by Foreign Office (Reviews from the USA Embassy)
  • Monthly Diaries
  • Diaries from Pakistan Embassy (Annual Reports and Surveys)


Extracts from the some of the volume introductions, by Dr R.M. Burrell, illustrating major events.
[From Volume I]...There is a minor historical curiosity in one of the first documents reproduced in this volume. Mr Herbert´s despatch of December 7th 1886 reveals that he had recently visited the small town of Khomein, north west of Isfahan. This out-of-the-way place was a rather unusual destination for a British diplomat at the time, and he makes no detailed reference to it. But when Herbert made his visit it was already the home of a minor religious official who, a few years later, was to have a son born there. That man´s future political activities would ensure that Khomein´s past obscurity was expunged for ever from the history of his country.
[From Volume II]...There is, however, one event in his reign which was ultimately to bring great benefits to Persia, the granting of an oil exploration concession to a British company in May 1901. Petroleum was not to be discovered for a further seven years, and the new industry did not make a significant impact on the country´s economy until a new dynasty had come to power. But by signing that agreement Muzaffar al-Din started a process which was to have enormous repercussions - economic, social and political - for his country, and all the later volumes in this series bear witness to that fact.
[From Volume III]...The Shah and his senior ministers were clearly astonished, and alarmed, by the scale of both the religious and the civilian protests; and they knew that they did not possess the military power to force an end to those demonstrations. On August 5th 1906 the Shah therefore signed a royal decree promising to create a Constitution, and to establish a Parliament. From then on events moved at a remarkable and bewildering speed. By September 9th an electoral law had been prepared, and under its terms no less than 60 out of the total of 156 seats in the new National Consultative Assembly were allocated to the capital.
[From Volume IV]...Even more controversial perhaps, but equally necessary, were the Company´s negotiations with Sheikh Khazal, the leader of an Arab tribe, the Muhasayn, which lived along the southern borderlands between Persia and the Ottoman Empire. Few governments in Tehran had ever exercised much control over its affairs. For most of the year Sheikh Khazal resided in the port town of Mohammerah (later known as Khorramshahr) which lay at the junction of the Karun river with the Tigris and Euphrates (the Shatt al Arab). Sheikh Khazal´s domains also included the low-lying and flat island of Abadan.
[From Volume V]...Public opinion in Britain too was influential in shaping the future history of Persia. It was demanding the return home of all the troops stationed abroad, and in 1920 the withdrawal of British forces began. In the "vacuum" which was created, a Persian army officer in the Cossack Brigade decided to take action, and those events are one of the major issues described in the following volume. While the outlook for Persia at the end of 1920 therefore remained uncertain, there was one small potential source of hope. In 1919, for the first time, annual oil production exceeded one million tonnes, and no Arab country in the region had yet exploited oil.
[From Volume VII]...Much of this very active debate in 1924/1925 about the relative merits of a monarchy and a presidency was conducted in the colleges of a town which was very important as a centre of theological training, Qum. One of the young men who had just begun his studies there was Rouhalla Khomeini. He therefore witnessed the retention of a monarchical system of rule whose downfall he was to seek, and to achieve, over 50 years later.
On April 19th 1925 Khazal was arrested in Mohammerah and then transferred to Tehran. He was to live there, under virtual house arrest, until his death eleven years later. Reza Khan´s success against a formerly powerful tribal leader, and one who had also been a protégé of the British government, showed both the new abilities of the army, and the determination of Persia´s ruler to ensure that the power of the central government was effective in all parts of the country.