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.