Thursday, June 9, 2011

June 18, 1873 --- The Shah in London

Nasr-ed-Din, the Shah of Persia, arrives in London.  He is the invited guest of the Gladstone government which seeks better relations with the Persians, a vital buffer between the British Raj in India and the armies of the Tsar.  When the Shah tarried on his way to London to sample the pleasures of the Parisian demimonde, Mr. Gladstone all but cancelled the invitation. Housed at Buckingham Palace by a reluctant Queen - who remained at Windsor -the dining room gaucheries of His Highness quickly became legend. At one Palace dinner, the Shah drank from the spout of the teapot and generally proved himself unfamiliar with and disinterested in silverware. The Duke of Cambridge, however, having dined with the Shah at Marlborough House reported: "No one could have behaved better or been more dignified whilst at dinner." Regardless, readers of The Court Circular were soon informed: "His Majesty dined in private." Palace kitchens prepared an entire sheep nightly for the Shah & entourage to pick at in his room. The Queen insisted later that Parliament pay for new carpets.

The Shah was seen about town, even attending the opera in a uniform bedazzled with gleaming gems. By Act III of Faust however, he was sound asleep, stirring manfully for the death scene. For his audience with the Queen, the Shah wore a simple tunic, with enormous ruby buttons and a diamond studded belt and sword. She described him as "fairly tall, and not fat, he has a fine countenance and is very animated." Escorted by the Prince of Wales, the Shah also visited Trentham, the lavish country seat of the Duke of Sutherland; the Shah advised the Prince, "He is too grand a subject, you'll have to have his head off when you come to the throne." In that sanguinary vein, it was whispered that an offending servant in the Shah's party had been strangled and quietly buried in a dark corner of the Buckingham Palace grounds.

London society had its fun and frisson, the Foreign Office was pleased, and the Shah, back in Persia, wrote gratefully to the Queen, addressing her as "'My auspicious sister of sublime nature."

Vanity Fair published a timely caricature of the Shah in 1873.

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