Khayr al-Nisa Begum

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Khayr al-Nisa Begum (known under the royal title Mahd-i Ulya, "the highest-ranked cradle") (died 26 July 1579) was the wife of the Safavid Shah of Iran Mohammed Khodabanda and mother of Shah Abbas I. During the early part of her husband's reign she was a powerful political figure in her own right and governed Iran de facto between February 1578 and July 1579.[1]


She was the daughter of Mir Abdullah Khan II, the Marashi ruler of the province of Mazandaran, who claimed descent from the fourth Shi'a Imam Zayn al-Abidin.[2] Members of the family had ruled Mazandaran since the mid-14th century. In 1565-6 Khayr al-Nisa fled to the Safavid court after her cousin Mir Sultan-Murad Khan killed her father. Here she was married to Shah Tahmasp I's son Mohammed Khodabanda. Desire for revenge on her father's killer would remain with her for the rest of her life.[3]


In 1578, on the death of his brother Ismail II, Mohammed Khodabanda became Shah of Iran. Mohammed was a weak-willed ruler and the leading woman at the court, his sister Pari Khan Khanum (who had allied with the powerful Qizilbash army factions) believed she could easily control him. However, Pari Khan made an enemy of the Grand Vizier Mirza Salman and he persuaded Mohammed and Khayr al-Nisa to have her strangled in February 1578.[4][5]

Khayr al-Nisa now assumed effective control of Iran. She was kept informed of all political developments in the country and built up her own network of support by appointing friends and relatives to important posts. She favoured the "Tajiks" (Persians) instead of the Qizilbash. Her chief aims were promoting the career of her elder son Hamza Mirza (at the expense of his brother Abbas) and seeking revenge for her father. Since his killer, Sultan-Murad Khan, had already died, she turned her attention to his son Mirza Khan. Qizilbash leaders had given Mirza Khan a promise of safe-conduct but as he was travelling to the capital Qazvin the queen's supporters seized and killed him.[6][7]


Angered by the queen's actions, the Qizilbash sent a petition to the shah asking him to remove her from power or face revolts. The shah considered sending her into exile but Khayr al-Nisa refused to concede to their demands. Finally, a group of Qizilbash conspirators accused the queen of having a love affair with Adil Giray, brother of the Crimean Tatar Khan, who was being held captive at the Safavid court. They burst into the harem and strangled her and her mother on 26 July 1579.[8][9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Women in Iran p.146,158
  2. ^ Savory p.71
  3. ^ Women in Iran p.158
  4. ^ Cambridge History of Iran Volume 6, p.253
  5. ^ Savory p.70
  6. ^ Women in Iran p.159
  7. ^ Savory p.71
  8. ^ Savory pp.71-73
  9. ^ Cambridge History of Iran p.254


  • Women in Iran: From the Rise of Islam to 1800 edited by Guity Nashat and Lois Beck (University of Illinois Press, 2003)
  • Roger Savory Iran Under the Safavids (Cambridge University Press, 2008 reissue)