BHOPAL. Viceroy Lord Northbrook. An unusually strongly worded letter to the Begum Shah Jehan of Bhopal about her daughter’s marriage intentions, 1873.


Letter of 1873 signed by Viceroy Lord Northbrook giving his very reluctant approval to Shah Jehan’s choice of a husband for her daughter and heir, Sultan Jehan


A formal letter written in palace script on three sides of a single bilfolium of paper embossed at the head with the small oval seal of the royal arms within title Government of India, addressed to Nawab Shah Jehan Begum, Knight Grand Commander of the Most Exalted Star of India, Bhopal and signed Simla The 23rd June 1873 Northbrook. The Viceroy begins by apologising for not have responded earlier to her letter of 21st October 1872, in which you request my sanction and consent to the proposed marriage of your Highness’ daughter the Nawab Sultan Jehan Begum with Ahmed Ali Khan, son of the late Baki Mahomed Khan.

He goes on to remind the Begum that his preferred choice for the marriage would have been  some eligible member of one of the principal branches of the Bhopal family. After assuring himself that no such suitable consort was available, that the family elders and officers of state approved, that the choice was in accordance with the wishes of the future heir, and bearing in mind the assurances given to the Viceroy’s Agent at an interview, Northbrook finally concludes with the seemingly reluctant, even grudging I will not withhold my consent to the marriage. The Viceroy goes on to emphasise that his consent is only given relying on her assurances. Bound with this is a Persian copy decorated with gold leaf, certified True Translation signed C U Aitchison, Under Secy to the Govt of India in the Foreign Dept. These are sewn by stab stitching into a simple folder with a quantity of other letters and documents in Persian [untranslated]. These include a four page letter with a Persian ink stamped seal, possibly the original letter from the Begum as it is the first in the folder and is followed by two pages of brief notes accompanied by 18 different ink stamped Persian seals [probably indicating the approval of various elders and officials]. There are approximately 12 other Persian letters, some with British signatures and some with inked seals. There is also a further English letter from the Indore Residency, signed John Watson, Colonel, Officiating Agent Gov. General in his own hand on a small quarto sized bifolium and marked at the head Confidential. This letter is dated 7th May 1873 and says that considering the great importance of the marriage of Your Highness’ Daughter the Princess Sooltan Jehan, His Excellency has directed me to proceed to Bhopal and to confer personally with Your Highness on the Subject. This visit was to be made the following week and is referred to in the Viceroy’s letter.      jul28/1

The majority of correspondence between Viceroys and Indian Princes was formal and uncontroversial. This is a very unusual example of a letter expressing some disapproval of a ruler’s intentions. Marriages in the Bhopal royal family seem often to have been difficult and controversial. Further research into the letters in Persian could well be very revealing.

Shaharyar M. Kahn: The Begums of Bhopal. A Dynasty of Women Rulers in Raj India [London 2000] has much useful information about this period. The writer is a retired diplomat and descendant of the Bhopal ruling family.

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