The ruling family of Oudh established themselves as independent hereditary rulers during the collapse of Mughal power during the early eighteenth century. They had risen to considerable power and wealth during the century before and secure appointment to the Governorship of the Mughal province as well as the Imperial office of Regent plenipotentiary.

The strategic geographical position of their capital at Lucknow and their province of Oudh, prompted the HEIC to using them as a buffer state between their own territories in the east, and the unruly competitors for power in the west. The Nawabs of Oudh, on their part, contained a powerful military ally who could assist them in securing their independence from Delhi. By the last quarter of the eighteenth century, this had been achieved in all but name.

The treaties of alliance, between the Oudh rulers and the HEIC, were increasingly used by the latter to exert influence over the former. At first, this influence was used to secure loans of money and grants of various kinds, on generous or advantageous terms. In time, the usual court intrigue prevalent in most Indian courts and the perpetual jockeying for position amongst influential nobles, led to greater and greater interference. By the turn of the nineteenth century, the succession had become a matter over which the Governor-General of Bengal exercised a near veto.

The former Mughal province was encouraged to establish its independence from Delhi by formally assuming the title of King in 1819. However, this independence was largely symbolic, since the British authorities exercised influence in most important matters of state. Ministers were usually appointed with the approval of the resident, and the army was very largely officered by Europeans. The Kings devoted much of their time trying to project the outward signs of their sovereignty and regality, rather than establishing their power. As a consequence, a great flowering of art, literature, music, and architecture, occurred under their rule. Lucknow became the virtual centre of artistic excellence in Northern India.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the main reason for the Anglo-Oudh alliance, the military buffer state, had ceased to serve that purpose. Indeed, the army had deteriorated into near uselessness. The succession of Muhammad Wajid 'Ali Shah in 1847 did not help the deteriorating situation. A dilettante and aesthete, he spent most of his time with dancers and musicians, while neglecting state affairs. The army deteriorated further, revenue collection slumped, debts increased and outlawry became commonplace. All of which prompted increasing complaints to the British accompanied by appeals for help and interference. The British in turn had lost interest in supporting their ally, preferring to take outright control of the kingdom and impose direct rule. When the final decision was taken and annexation implemented in 1856, no opposition arose from the King's former subjects.

Wajid 'Ali Shah was exiled to Calcutta with most of his family, granted a generous pension from the Oudh revenues. He also received a large and scenic plot of land at Garden Reach, on which he built several mansions, palaces and a vast cemetery. There he spent his days indulging his artistic tastes and collecting wives and women on an amazing scale. When the Indian Mutiny broke out in 1857, he at once declared himself for the government and against the mutineers. Nevertheless, he was taken into custody and placed under open confinement at Fort William.

Meanwhile, at Lucknow, the mutineers found support from one of Wajid 'Ali's former wives, Hazrat Mahal, whom he had divorced six years before his deposition. She remained behind with her son, Prince Birjis Qadr, when the rest of the family left for Calcutta. They proclaimed the young prince as King and appealed for recognition to the King of Delhi. Although replying with the utmost felicity, even calling him 'son', the crafty old Bahadur Shah carefully addressed him as 'Mirza'. Thus ignoring the regnal styles and titles by which he had been proclaimed, avoiding the title of Nawab, even ignoring the title of Shahzada, merely addressing him with the title of a junior prince. The reason for this caution was not hard to see. A rival court had been established by a Muslim cleric, who proclaimed himself as ruler of Oudh under the title of Sahib Shah.

Although giving some battle to the British forces, the approach of the army induced Birjis Qadr and Hazrat Mahal to flee, first to Bundi and then to Nepal. They narrowly avoided capture, mainly because of actions between the forces of Sahib Shah and the British. Mother and son received sanctuary by the Prime Minister of Nepal, in exchange for parting with a number of valuable jewels and heirlooms. Ironically, the same Prime Minister who had provided large numbers of troops to defeat the mutineers in Oudh.

Wajid 'Ali Shah was released after the Mutiny and returned to his amusements at Garden Reach. There he produced an enormous family, and died in 1887. His children and descendants continued to enjoy pensions and titles, courtesy of the British until Indian independence in 1947, but which have dwindled substantially or disappeared altogether since then.

Prince Birjis Qadr made his way to Calcutta with a family in tow, after the death of his father. He had returned to claim a share of the generous pensions allotted to his brothers and to claim his father's properties. He died at Calcutta in 1893.

The British authorities recognized Prince Qamar Qadr, Birjis Qadr's brother, as representative of the Oudh family in 1888. He survived another thirty years and died in 1919. Several other brothers played prominent roles in Calcutta society, amongst them Prince Afshar ul-Mulk, sometime Member of the Imperial Legislative Council and Member of the Executive Council of Bengal.

The Sovereign: Hazrat Khalid, (personal reign name and titles) Shah Bahadur, Padshah-i-Oudh, i.e. King of Oudh with the style of His Majesty.
The Heir Apparent: Sahib-i-Alam Wali Ahad Mirza Bahadur, with the style of His Royal Highness.
The principal (nikah) wife of the Sovereign: Huzur Aliya Malika (personal name and titles) Nawab (personal name and titles) Begum Sahiba, with the style of Her Majesty.
The other (nikah) wives of the Sovereign: Nawab (personal name and titles) Begum Sahiba.
The secondary (mutai) wives of the Sovereign, who had borne children by him: Nawab (personal name and titles) Mahal Sahiba.
The secondary (mutai) wives of the Sovereign, who had not borne any children, 1st rank: Nawab (personal name and titles) Begum.
The secondary (mutai) wives of the Sovereign, who had not borne any children, 2nd rank: (personal title) Khanum.
The secondary (mutai) wives of the Sovereign, who had not borne any children, kilwatin or palace menials: (personal title) Pasand.
Sons of the Sovereign: Shahzada (personal title), Mirza (personal name) Bahadur*.
Daughters of the Sovereign (before marriage): Shahzadi (personal name) Begum Sahiba.
Daughters of the Sovereign (after marriage): Nawab (personal name) Begum Sahiba.
Other male descendants of the sovereign, in the male line: Mirza (personal name) or (personal name) Mirza.

* These styles and titles were also extended to certain grandsons and other male relatives of the Sovereign.

Pari: 'fairy', a dancing girl or concubine of the King.
Begum: lady of rank.
khilwati: palace menial, usually married by muta contract, though placed on a lower footing than ordinary Begums.
Mahal: title granted to the wife of the King who had borne him a child.
Mamtu'at: temporary wives married by the muta ceremony.
Musahib: companion.
muta: contract by which a Shia Muslim can take a temporary wife, for a fixed term, though the period can be defined as 50 years, by mutual consent and be subject to divorce.
nikah: the usual marriage contract, of which a Muslim male may adhere to a maximum of four at any one time.

Sayyid Anwar Abbas. Wailing Beauty: The Perishing Art of Nawabi Lucknow. Published by the author, Lucknow, 2001.
Muhammad Taqi Ahmad. Tarikh Badshah Begum (A Persian Manuscript on the History of Ourdh). The Indian Press Ltd., Allahabad, 1938.
Mirza ‘Ali Azhar. King Wajid ‘Ali Shah of Awadh. Alam Gir Publishers, Nazimabad, Karachi, 1982.
Alphabetical List of Title-Holders in India, other than Ruling Chiefs, corrected to 31st December 1907 (with appendix). IOR/L/PS/20/H91/2, Oriental & India Office Collection, British Library, St Pancras, London.
Purnendu Basu. Oudh and the East India Company, 1785-1801. Maxwell Company, Lucknow.
Birjis Qadr 150th Birth Anniversary Celebration on 20th August 1995 at his Mausoleum in Garden Reach Calcutta, Publications Division, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Govt. of India, 1995.
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Genealogy of the Royal House of Oudh. http://oudh.tripod.com/index.htm
W. Hoey (trans.), Translation of “Tafzíhu’l Gháfilín,” A Contemporary Record of Events connected with his Administration: compiled by Abu Tálib, an official of the day. North-Western Provinces and Oudh Government Press, Allahabad, 1885.
Index to Titles (1798-1835), As Recorded in the Alqabnamas or Books of Titles and Forms of Address. National Archives of India, New Delhi, 1980.
Manual of Titles for Oudh, showing all holders of hereditary and personal titles in the province. Government Press, North-Western Provinces and Oudh, Allahabad, 1889.
“Memoir of Meer Moohummud Ameen entitled Saudut Khan Bahadoor, Bahadoor Jung and Boorhan ool Moolk, Governor of Oude”, The Quarterly Oriental Magazine, Review and Register, Volume V, Art. IV, June 1826, pp 266-276, Calcutta, 1826.
Oudh Pension Papers. Govt. of India publication, 1888.
K.S. Santha. Begums of Awadh. Bharati Prakashan, Varanasi, 1980.
Abdul Halim Sharar. Lucknow: The Last Phase of an Oriental Culture.
Sir William Henry Sleeman. The History of the Reigning Family of Oude. Rank-Xerox Limited, London, 1987.
Ashirbadi Lal Srivastava. The First Two Nawabs of Oudh (A Critical Study Based on Oriental Sources), The Upper India Publishing House, Lucknow, 1933.
Collection of Papers in the Office of the Superintendent of Political Pensions. IOR (V/27/71/1).
Wajid Ali Shah, King of Oudh. ‘Ishqnamah. Lucknow, India, 1266 AH (1850 AD). RCIN 1005035. The Royal Collection, Windsor Castle, Berks.

Dr. Morris Bierbrier, FSA.
Rosie Llewellyn Jones.
John McLeod.
James Sinclair.
Copyright© Christopher Buyers
Copyright© Christopher Buyers
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Copyright©Christopher Buyers, June 2004 - January 2010