Universiteit Leiden

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Lecture

An Afghan Prince at Queen Victoria’s Court

  • Robert D. McChesney
Date
28 February 2017
Time
Explanation
Followed by drinks at the Faculty Club kindly organized by Brill. All welcome
Address
Lipsius Building
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden
Room
148

In 1895, at the invitation of the Government of India, the Afghan amir, fiAbd al-Rahman Khan, sent his second son, Nasr Allah Khan, to London to meet Queen Victoria. The trip was founded on misunderstandings on both sides. The amir seemed to believe that the queen wielded arbitrary power comparable to his own and if only he could communicate with her through his son she would permit Afghanistan to establish direct diplomatic relations with the throne in place of being held thrall to the Government of India. The English, for their part, believed in issuing the invitation they were only extending a courtesy similar to what had been extended on three occasions to Nasir al-Din Shah, the Qajar ruler of Iran. They also assumed that the prince would be an appreciative audience for displays of British culture, industry, and military might. 

The prince’s trip has already been recounted from one perspective, extensive English newspaper coverage of the visit but new and untapped Afghan sources provide a more intimate perspective on what the prince experienced as well as how it affected him during the rest of his life. He was hosted in London by the rakish Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, endured numerous exhibitions and banquets mounted in his honor, and managed to far overstay his welcome. After a circuit of the country taking him to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Newcastle-on-Tyne, and Leeds and then under some pressure from the English to go home, he traveled to Paris and Naples before departing by ship from Marseille. 

Both Afghan and British hopes from the trip were considerably reduced by its end. On the Afghan side, the inability of the prince to make any headway with the queen on establishing an Afghan embassy proved a major disappointment although pride was taken in the prince’s dignified deportment and the favorable English press coverage that he received. For the English, expectations of anything good coming out of the trip, already lowered by the failure to persuade the amir himself to make the trip, were further diminished by the prince’s reluctance to leave after a decent interval and the considerable expense of maintaining him and his large entourage. 

Notwithstanding the slights felt on both sides, the tour left a very strong impression on the prince and influenced the rest of his life in unexpected ways.

About the speaker

Robert D. McChesney, Emeritus Professor, New York University, is the author of Waqf in Central Asia (1991), Central Asia: Foundations of Change (1996), Kabul Under Siege (1999), and numerous articles and book chapters. He is also the founder and director of the Afghanistan Digital Library. His most recent work is The History of Afghanistan  Fayż Muḥammad Kātib Hazārah’s Sirāj al-tawārīkh published by Brill.