Pari Khan Khanum

Image is likely to be of Pari: it is a work by Muhammadi featuring a seated princess, probably Parikhan Khanom according to Abolala Soudavar (2000). “The Age of Muhammadi”. Muqarnas 17: 53. Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Johanna Strong

Pari Khan Khanum was born in 1548 to Shah Tahmasp and his consort Sultan-Agha Khanum. She was raised in a unique way for women at the time in what is now modern-day Iran, being well-educated in the Islamic sciences, such as law, jurisprudence, and poetry. Contemporary chronicles praised her superior intelligence and sharp insights, both of which, along with her birth and lineage, helped her to achieve a higher social status and political power.

At a young age, she was engaged to Prince Badi’al-Zaman, the appointed governor of Sistan, but the pair never married. Instead, Pari Khan Khanum took on a political role during her father’s reign, helping him to rule during his last years of illness. She persuaded him to undertake charitable acts and was herself known as a benefactor for the poor.

At Tahmasp’s death, his sons Haydar Mirza and Isma’il Mirza both had a claim to the throne, with Isma’il Mirza eventually succeeding. Pari Khan Khanum played a critical role in his rise to power, though her motivation remains uncertain, perhaps wanting to continue as the sole influential woman at court but more likely because she believed her support would be rewarded with respect and continuing power. Pari Khan Khanum’s gamble did not pay off and her formal ties to the court were cut.

Having lost power throughout Isma’il’s reign, Pari Khan Khanum’s name became tied to rumours of assassination at his death, though it is more likely that he died of an opium overdose. In this power vacuum, Pari Khan Khanum regained power as de facto ruler until her brother Mohammad Khodabanda came to the throne. Once again, Pari Khan Khanum found herself unwanted at court and Mohammad Khodabanda and his queen Mahd-i ‘Ulya plotted against her. Pari Khan Khanum was strangled to death on February 12, 1578, at the age of 30.

Recommended Reading

Shohreh Gholsorkhi, “Pari Khan Khanum: A Masterful Safavid Princess,” Iranian Studies 28.3/4 (1995): 143-156

“The Court Poet and the Lady Patron: Deconstructing Muhtasham Kashani’s Ideal Illustration of Pari-Khan Khanum”, Association for Iranian Studies.

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