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The Fall of the Moghul Empire of Hindustan

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The Fall of the Moghul Empire of Hindustan
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Author(s): H. G. Keene
Date Published: 2009/07
Page Count: 244
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-741-7
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-742-4

The struggles that toppled the Peacock throne

The Moghuls invaded India in the early sixteenth century and maintained their rule over much of the sub-continent for over 200 years. By the early eighteenth century power was slipping from their grasp. Irrespective their ability to deal with opposition in the manner of their forefathers, new and powerful adversaries intruded into their world. Among the nations of the sub-continent there was a constant threat from Afghanistan, from the Sikhs of the Punjab and from the Marathas. As the century progressed Europeans began to make their presence felt. First came the Free Lances—allying themselves to this group or another according to the size of their mercenary pay. They brought new military expertise to the Indian battlefield which was tipped into yet further instability by the British Empire as it sought to expand and tighten its grip on the land and its peoples. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, as British and Indian armies under Lake and Wellesley dominated the scene, a decline of a little over half a century of conflict had brought the Moghul Empire to its knees except in name. This is the story of those turbulent years.

The Emperor now became seriously anxious, and, after a consultation with his attendants, resolved on deputing Manzur Ali to seek a personal explanation with Gholam Kadir and Ismail Beg. It has always been customary to tax this official with the responsibility of this measure, and of the appalling results which followed; but it does not appear absolutely necessary to impute his conduct to complicity with the more criminal part of Gholam Kadir's designs; and his subsequent fate is perhaps some sort of argument in his favour. But, be this as it may, he went to the chiefs by order of the Emperor, and demanded, "What were their intentions?" In the usual style of Eastern manners they replied, "These slaves are merely in attendance for the purpose of presenting their duty in person to his Majesty." "Be it so," said the Controller; and his acquiescence seems to have been unavoidable. "But," he added, "you surely need not bring your army into the palace: come with a small retinue, lest the Governor should shut the gates in your faces." Upon this advice the two noblemen acted, and entered the Am Khas on the forenoon of the following day (18th of July) with some half hundred men-at-arms. Each received a khilat of seven pieces, together with a sword and other presents; Gholam Kadir also receiving a richly-jewelled shield. They then returned to their respective residences in the town, where Ismail Beg spent the rest of the day in making arrangements in order to preserve the safety and confidence of the inhabitants. Next day, he removed his quarters permanently to the house formerly occupied by Mohammad Shah's Vazir, Kammar-ud-din Khan; and his men were quartered a couple of miles south of the city, in and about the celebrated monumental tomb of the ancient Saint, Shah Nizam-ud-din. Gholam Kadir's men were nearer the palace, where the present Native Infantry cantonment is, in Dariaoganj; while his officers occupied the vast premises formerly belonging successively to the Ministers Ghazi-ud-din and Mirza Najaf, outside of the Kabul Gate. The ostensible state of Delhi politics was now this; Gholam Kadir was Premier (an office he swore upon the Koran faithfully to discharge), vice Madhoji Sindhia, dismissed; and the combined armies were the troops of the Empire, commanded by Ismail Beg.<br>
Under these circumstances Gholam Kadir did not want a pretext, and at seven in the morning of Friday, the 29th July, he returned to the palace, where he had an interview with the Emperor in the Diwan Khas. Francklin is at fault again here; making his second interview one with that which occurred more than a week before. Citing the authority of Ismail Beg, who stood by, he represented that the army was prepared to march on Mathra, and to chase the Mahrattas from Hindustan; but that they first demanded a settlement of their arrears, for which the Imperial treasury was alone responsible, and alone sufficient.<br>
This harangue, at its conclusion, was warmly echoed by the Controller, by his Deputy, and by Ramrattan Modi. On the other side. Lalla Sital Das, the Treasurer, who was at once summoned, declared that, whatever might be the responsibility of the Treasury for an army in whose raising it had had no share, and by whose service it had not hitherto at all profited, at least that its chests contained no means for meeting the claims. He boldly urged that the claims should be resisted at all hazards.<br>
Gholam Kadir replied by an assumed fit of ungoverned anger, and producing an intercepted letter from Shah Alam, calling upon Sindhia for help, ordered the Emperor to be disarmed, together with his personal guard, and removed into close arrest; and then, taking from the privacy of the Salim Garh a poor secluded son of the late Emperor Ahmad Shah, set him on his throne, hailed him Emperor, under the title of Bedar Bakht, and made all the courtiers and officials do him homage. It is but just to record, in favour of one whose memory has been much blackened, that Manzur Ali, the Controller, appears on this occasion to have acted with sense, if not spirit. When Bedar Bakht was first brought forward, Shah Alam was still upon the throne, and, when ordered to descend, began to make some show of resistance. Gholam Kadir was drawing his sword to cut him down, when the Controller interposed; advising the Emperor to bow to compulsion, and retire peacefully to his apartments. For three days and nights the Emperor and his family remained in close confinement, without food or comfort of any sort; while Gholam Kadir persuaded Ismail Beg to return to his camp, and devoted himself to wholesale plunder during the absence of his associate. The latter's suspicions were at length aroused, and he soon after sent an agent to remind Gholam Kadir that he and his men had received nothing of what it had been agreed to pay them. But the faithless Pathan repudiated every kind of agreement, and proceeded to defend the palace and apply all that it contained to his own use.<br>
Ismail Beg, now sensible of his folly, lost no time in sending for the heads of the civic community, whom he exhorted to provide for their own protection; at the same time strictly charging his own lieutenants to exert themselves to the very utmost should the Pathans attempt to plunder. For the present, Gholam Kadir's attention was too much taken up with the pillage of the Imperial family to allow of his doing much in the way of a systematic sack of the town. <br>Dissatisfied with the jewellery realised from the new Emperor, to whom the duty of despoiling the Begams was at first confided, he conceived the notion that Shah Alam, as the head of the family, was probably, nay, certainly, the possessor of an exclusive knowledge regarding the place of a vast secret hoard. All the crimes and horrors that ensued are attributable to the action of this monomania. On the 29th, he made the new Titular, Bedar Bakht, inflict corporal chastisement upon his venerable predecessor. On the 30th, a similar outrage was committed upon several of the ladies of Shah Alam's family, who filled the beautiful buildings with their shrieks of alarm and lamentation. On the 31st, the ruffian thought he had secured enough to justify his attempting to reconcile Ismail Beg and his men by sending them a donative of five lakhs of rupees. The result of this seems to have been that a combined, though tolerably humane and orderly attempt was made to levy contributions from the Hindu bankers of the city. <br>
On the 1st of August a fresh attempt was made to wrest the supposed secret from the Shah, who once more denied all knowledge of it, employing the strongest figure of denial. "If," said the helpless old man, "you think I have any concealed treasures, they must be within me. Rip open my bowels, and satisfy yourself." The tormentor then tried cajolery and promises, but they were equally futile. "God protect you, who has laid me aside," said the fallen Monarch. "I am contented with my fate."