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An Article on The Last King of Oudh
Reproduced from :

The Article published in "NAYA DAUR - Awadh Number" Feb~Mch 1994, a Monthly Urdu Journal published by the Information  & Public Relations Department of the Government of Uttar Pradesh - India .

( freely translated from Urdu by Prince Anjum Quder, B.Sc. Hons.)
Birjis Qadr
The Last King Of Oudh

Written by
                    : Dr. Meerza Kaukab Qudr, M.A. LL.B., Ph.D.

       Out of mere affection Wajid Ali Shah is called the last King of Oudh, and by the same token responsible writers have also not forgotten Nawab Asafud Doulah's popularity. Along with all his heritage the title of Nawab was also bestowed on Wajid Ali Shah. No one bothered to think that if Mirza Mohammed Wajid Ali was Nawab then why is he also written as Shah, and if he was Shah then why is he also described as Nawab? The two terms - Nawab and Shah - are mutually exclusive, and to insist that Wajid Ali Shah was the last King of Oudh is also to accept Moulvi Najmul Ghani Rampuri's most derogatory observation that no one from the vast populace of Oudh moved his little finger much less shed a drop of blood to save an ancestral kingdom being quietly usurped by the English1. To call Wajid Ali Shah the last King of Oudh is really to bypass the true assessment of history and to oblige inadvertently the lovers of valour to lower their heads in utter humiliation. Of course Najmul Ghani's remarks were meant out of frustration to vent out his ill feelings at the defeat of Rohilla Pathans by the hands of Wajid Ali Shah's forebear Shujaud Doulah. In the Rohilla War of 1188 A.H. Hafiz Rahmat Khan and his few faithful had thrown themselves before the fiery canons only with the resolve that when it was difficult to live with honour it was easy to die with dignity. The Rohilla writer wants to show with his caustic remark that in the descendants of Shujaud Doulah there was no Hafiz Rahmat Khan who could fight for honour. He forgot that in the battles of 1857-58 the descendants of the rulers of Oudh with their faithful supporters and the Surajbansi Thakurs, maintained that tradition of valour and gave a new meaning to their motherland's name "Ajodh" - unconquerable. Wajid Ali Shah's son Birjees Qadr's life as well as death reinforces both the above assertions - live with dignity and die with honour. And this treatise is being compiled with the very intention to remove misconceptions arising out of this context.

       To know whether Birjees Qadr's coronation and kingship were historical facts or fiction one has to have knowledge of historical evidence and laws of politics, as it is only this touchstone which can separate unsustained claims from established facts.

       The very first rule in politics is to examine if the claimant is at all entitled to the position he claims. The English were well aware of this point and, while taking refuge in the Baillee Guard in Lucknow, had taken along with them, all such grown up persons from amongst the progeny of the kings of Oudh and Mogul rulers who could be set up at the helm. They could not even dream of a situation where, after king Wajid Ali Shah's step brother Prince Dara Satwat declined to stand up against the English citing Shujaud Dowla's defeat, a fearless teenager under the guidance of his dutiful mother would pick up the gauntlet and spend his whole life in this struggle.

       In the workshop of nature, such fateful lives start getting their identification from the time they step on this earth. The moment Birjees Qadr was born, booming of guns in salute proclaimed it to the citizens of the kingdom, who on the occasion of his circumcision presented two crores of rupees as their first act of obeisance to this particular infant prince2. Such illumination and celebrations never came to the lot of earlier sons of Mirza Mohammed Wajid Ali as the latter was not the crown prince then. But when a bright star was born in the palace of the heir-apparent, the grandfather himself graced the newborn with a name and when the father recorded this event in his autobiography, then only the baby was distinguished with the award of a coronet3. The nobility and the people of Lucknow were not unaware of their would be king. Just six months before the real coronation:

"When the procession of the prince came out, the town's populace came out to see. Whoever came and saw the solemn convoy was relieved of his agony and prayed

"O Lord of the under-privileged, Ruler of rulers, do preserve this ancient House till the Day of Judgment".

Even though that day there was not much arrangement for the royal processions. Only those who were on duty at the palace accompanied the son of the monarch. Yet there was unique grandeur, which was surprising the people." 4

        In the few following months Birjees Qadr must have seen and heard all that raised the people of Oudh against the English, and if the diplomatic silence of Birjees Qadr's elders was not surprising then why wonder at the daring challenge of Birjees Qadr. The English lacked foresight in not taking care of a prince who had openly deputized for Wajid Ali Shah. And when they realized their mistake, they resorted to the same tricks they had played on earlier occasions, of Wazir Ali Khan and Mirza Faradoon Bukht (Munna Jan). That is Birjees Qadr was stopped from being considered the son of Wajid Ali Shah. We possess a clear repudiation of even this absurdity by the London Times correspondent Sir W. H. Russel:

"We do not like to accept him (Birjees Qadr) as the son of the King, but the nobility and Taluqdars of Oudh who would have better knowledge of the fact do not have any doubt and are willing to lay down their lives for him."

        The second principle in political science is to fix a fact, which gives way to different interpretations. There can be no two opinions over the fact that Birjees Qadr was the unanimously chosen ruler. What can be questioned is whether he was Subadar like Burhanul Mulk, or Nawab Wazier like Safdarjung, or King like Ghaziuddin Haider, or he held a status different from all of them. For the answer, the pact between the Ruler and the ruled puts the record straight with no ambiguity. On 5th July, 1857, representatives of the armed forces, Shahabuddin and Barkat Ahmed placed Birjis Qadr on the chair of rulership, and it was decided that the Emperor at Delhi should be informed. The petition was sent and an acknowledgement was promptly received:

"Dutiful Son,

       Mirza Birjees Qadr Bahadur,  King of Oudh,

       you deserve felicitations for this big achievement in such young an age. Rest assured that soon the Seal of Title will also be sent to you. You will be granted more territories than what you have traditionally possessed."

       In this document, two expressions need special consideration. Bahadur Shah addressing Birjees Qadr as "dutiful son" not only shows his elderly affection. It also is a reminder of more than a hundred year old relationship when Emperor Mohammed Shah got his daughter Ammatuz Zehra ( later known as Bahu Begum Saheba ) married to his Prime Minister Safdar Jung's son Shujaud Dowla. This had created tremendous goodwill between the two historical families, but it was broken by the evil machination of the English who prevailed upon Ghaziuddin Haider to declare himself a king. Emperor Bahadur Shah, reviving the filial relationship of yore, not only addressed Birjees Qadr as the King of Oudh by his own pen but even awarded his ambassador the title of Safeerud Dowlah. And again the Emperor reiterated:

"I do grant him the Crown".

        After this confirmation, if anything was still lacking, then, by the fact of Khandan -e Ijtehad's supreme head, the Sultanul Ulema, coronating Birjees Qadr on August 6, 1857, it was a document ratified by the seals of the most popular Emperor of India and the most respected religious head of Lucknow. Such a crown never graced the head of any other ruler of Oudh earlier.

       Succession to rulership on 5th July, and coronation on 6th August may appear rather incongruous, but it is not so strange when one sees India being free on 15th August,1947, and being declared a republic on 26th January, 1950. Rulers of Oudh are recorded in history in different capacities. Nawabs of Oudh exclude Kings of Oudh, and Kings were not Nawab Wazirs, and the founder of the dynasty Burhanul Mulk was neither Nawab, or Nawab Wazir, nor King. He was a Subadar. In such circumstances the last and the first of this great lineage hold unique positions. Burhanul Mulk is called Nawab because his descendants were so, and Birjees Qadr is King because his forebears were kings.

       The third rule in political philosophy is the general recognition and acceptance of a fact or event to give it credence. In the business of politics, if an influential and powerful group makes an entitled person a ruler, and even crowns him, then this cannot be acceptable until the external powers accord recognition and the internal submission. Birjees Qadr's Government was recognized by all the powers in India who held sway in that period, except the alien English. The Mogul Emperor not only accorded recognition even to Birjees Qadr's Ambassador, but also sent the Seal of Royal Title. The Maratha headman Nana Rao Peshwa first sent a political agent to the court of Birjees Qadr at Lucknow then arrived himself, and received a 17-piece Khillat and accepted the same. Firoze Shah, Mirza Kochak Sultan, General Bakht Khan Rohila, Shafiullah Khan (ruler of Najibabad), Walidad Khan (ruler of Balagarh), Mazhar Ali Khan (ruler of Mowana), Enayatullah Khan of Pilibhit, Ghulam Kader Khan (ruler of Shahjehanpur), Bala Rao Peshwa and Tantia Tope, the leaders of their respective areas, were potentates who in their turn petitioned Birjees Qadr and were given due recognition according to their ranks. The fact that the English did not recognize Birjees Qadr's kingship in Oudh is unimportant as it was hurting their own interest and prestige. It was something like the non-recognition of Bangladesh by Pakistan in the early period after liberation. In the event of Birjees Qadr recognizing their suzerainty, even the English rulers had offered Birjees Qadr the same pension of 15 lakhs of rupees that they were paying Wajid Ali Shah, and this was a tacit recognition of Birjees Qadr's kingship. Direct recognition amounting to accepting their own defeat was understandably not possible for the English rulers of India. Within the territories of Oudh, notwithstanding the upheaval of those turbulent times, there was not a single person who could dare to defy. Land revenue is a test of popularity of a ruler.

"The taluqdars started sending the revenue freely and voluntarily. Any previous ruler did not experience such loyalty. For due realisation of this revenue violent struggles used to take place in the districts."

       Armed forces are the backbone of any Government.

"Some Rajas brought their armies to Lucknow, and themselves paid for the upkeep. Some others got rations from the Government. And all these armies of rajas, taluqdars and zamindars totalled one lakh, fifty thousand, five hundred."

        Coins are symbols of widespread sovereignty.

"Sikka zad bar seem-o-zar chun mehr-o-badr
Nayyer-e deen Meerza Birjees Qadr."

        Eulogies of poets reflect the feelings of the people. At the daring step of Birjees Qadr's defiance, Meer Taqi Meer's chief disciple in Lucknow namely Mohammed Jan "Shaaz" wrote a lengthy eulogy starting with the following verse:

"Hui jo Mariam-e paiman-shikan ko khwahish-e-zar,
Avadh ke Shah ka Isaiyon ne moosa ghar."

meaning - "When Mary desired wealth breaking all pledges The Christians looted the house of the king of Oudh."

        Fact is that Birjees Qadr's kingship, which lasted in Lucknow proper with all its glory from 5th July, 1857, to 16th March, 1858, and, on defeat, in the form of violent struggles upto 1859 in the districts of Oudh, was not such as could be ignored. And if this was at all overlooked it was only to please the British rulers whose reign lasted till 1947. History makers like Birjees Qadr do not appear on the horizon too often and, when they do appear, they bring with them a train of unmatched talent. Moulvi Najmul Ghani Khan lamented that when Oudh was forcibly taken over, not a single drop of blood was shed by any citizen to save it. Can any historian figure out when Oudh was conquered those who laid down their lives fighting numbered any less than the total of lives lost in sustaining the realm from Burhanul Mulk right upto Wajid Ali Shah? If it is difficult to count the number of patriots who laid down their lives for the motherland, it need not be so to count the distinguished lot who remain shining like a beacon in a sea of blood. Amongst Birjees Qadr's loyalists was one Moulvi Mohammed who went to the battle of Sandila declaring :

"Either I will conquer or will be killed, so he did not turn his back to the battlefield. He had 5000 fighters with him. All fought valiantly and created a name."

        Hardoi's Raja Kunwar Singh, after being surrounded by the British army, ordered his forces to surrender. But instead of surrendering himself he told the English Commander :

"These soldiers were under my command, and I found no benefit in getting them killed. But I am myself under the command and discretion of Birjees Qadr, who is not here to guide me."

        And alone braved the volley of bullets and instantly got killed.

        Rana Beni Madho Singh of Shankarpur surrendered his fortress without fight to Sir Hope Grant, who thought he wanted truce. But the Rana replied :

"I was unable to defend my fort, so I handed it over to you. But I cannot surrender myself to you because my own person is the property of my king."

        In the Terrain of Nepal, the brave Rana made over his women-folk to Hazrat Mahal's custody, and placed his valuables before his companions permitting them to take what they liked and leave, and asked only those who wished to die like 'men' to accompany him.

"Amongst 250 men only two chose to leave, and the rest laid their lives fighting along with the Raja."

        The few days of uncertain life that the Rana allowed his ladies to live were also evidence of his fidelity and the reverence in which he held his young king and the Rajmata. Otherwise who does not know the tradition of proud Rajputs, whose women commit Jauhar first before they jump into the cauldron of death in a fierce war. The Rana knew full well that he was entrusting his ladies to those who had adopted Raja Man Singh as her son and had awarded him with love and affection. If any danger came to the Rana's ladies, first they would face it; only thereafter could anyone harm the Rajput women.

        These bejeweled examples of valour and patriotism and these gems of Hindu Muslim brotherhood and complete integration are shining examples from their generation and beacons for the future ones. It was the untiring work of such brave patriots that freed Oudh within a space of just 11 days from the yoke of British rule breaking to pieces all the strings of the alien administration. That they ultimately suffered defeat does not diminish their achievement and fame, as the English had never collected such a huge and well-equipped armed forces anywhere in India before this engagement. In the face of such a formidable array against them it would not have been surprising if the Royal army had surrendered.


"Even after knowing that the biggest onslaught was at Choulakhi, Hazrat Mahal was not at all willing to leave the palace."

        The attackers themselves recollected that :

"For practically every inch of land there was heavy fighting, and important places like Begum Kothi, Sikandar Bagh, Moti Mahal, Shah Najaf, Qaiserbagh, etc. could be captured only after stepping on the dead bodies of the soldiers."

        At one place in Sikandar Bagh, the macabre dump of the dead and critically wounded "measured more than one yard in height".

        The English Commander-in-Chief Sir Colin Campbell conceded :

"Greater display of valour was never seen before."

        We salute this last King of Oudh, whose loyalists have left such abiding marks of bravery and fidelity that will always infuse ennobling notions and wake up sleeping giants in men. The daring were yearning to demolish the Bailley Guard to ground level, and make a tank at that black spot in the otherwise cleaned land, and call the place Birjees Garh. This desire could not be fulfilled, but Lord Canning's acknowledgement will ever remain their mark of pride, when he said :

"elsewhere it may be different, but in Oudh our Government really faced a popular revolt."

        As Fazal Lukhnavi has aptly versified :

"Khoon mein doobi kah rahi hai Bailly Garad ki zamin
Mulk mein pahlay hui tanzeem-e Azadi yaheen"

        In order to obliterate the fact of Birjees Qadr's rule, some persons indulge in various kinds of hair-splitting. According to them Birjees Qadr was a minor; he was forced to sit on the throne; his rule did not last long; they are happy that the English did not acknowledge that rule; they feel concerned that if this rule is recognized there would be a void between Wajid Ali Shah's deposition and Birjees Qadr's accession. Such doubts of the simple-minded will be set at rest from instances of history of the kingdom of Oudh itself. Faradoon Bukht Munna Jan was forcibly put on throne by Padshah Begum; he was a minor; his kingship was of a few hours and he was also not recognised by the English. Even so in the official documents of Oudh his name occurs below that of his father's. Safdarjung and Shujaud Dowla, after defeat on two occasions, left Oudh in the same manner as Humayun during Sher Shah Suri's reign in India. But in the annals of both these kingdoms the intervening gap is not taken into account.

        Starting from Tutankhamen the 11-year old minor Pharaoh of Egypt to countless number of minor kings of small or big states of the world including numerous in India as well, the principles of Indian historians are no different from the rest for writing history. But if it is necessary to cite precedents from the history of England to achieve authenticity, then Edward V succeeded to the throne at the age of 11, and after living only for 11 weeks in confinement of his uncle died in mysterious circumstances. Edward VIII was only 9 years of age when he was enthroned but had not completed his 15th year when at the time of his death, he nominated his relative Lady Jane Gray as his successor, but this rule could not last more that 10 days. Yet, despite several irregularities in the authentic books of history the said persons are recorded as rulers of the same English nation, which denies that right in India. And some of us are ever so eager to lower that flag, to keep up which our forebears fought the English imperialism and lost their all.

        Minority and forcible placement on throne! These topics need some more discussion, because the well known scholar Professor Masud Hasan Rizvi has fixed Birjees Qadr's age as 10 years at the time of his succession. And he has further described it as a continuation of Wajid Ali Shah's rule. To say anything on continuation is to invite a long controversy. But age has been fixed by Wajid Ali Shah himself in 3 short statements of 2 phrases, in Masnavi Ishqnama, Masnavi Bahr-e Mukhtalif and Masnavi Huzn-e Akhtari. The father himself said that Birjees was 13 or 14 years old in 1857. The enameled finger ring on jade indicating Birjees Qadr's age as 14 in 1857 is still in possession of his family.

        After such incontrovertible evidence it is impossible to dispute Birjees Qadr's age. The question whether such a young prince could have been made a king in such turbulent times was answered by the Military Council convened at the instance of Begum Hazrat Mahal:

"The officers conferred. One said the boy is too young. Another that he was too handsome, what work can he do? Yet another told the prince we are making you king. Do not fall prey to luxury and pleasure."

        Emperor Akbar was also about 14 when he ascended the throne. He used to sit on elephant and inspect the armed forces. Commander-in-Chief Bairam Khan was his virtual guardian.

        Birjees Qadr was also not so unfit as not being able to come out of the palace.

        "One day he called all officers, soldiers and irregulars in the army. He himself rode on horse back. Twenty one canons boomed in salutation. Slowly he began speaking :

"Brave soldiers! we are very pleased with you for fighting valiantly. But I am deeply grieved that you are plundering the city. Stop that, otherwise the citizens will curse us. Officers assured the king with folded hands that the city will no more be looted."

        Only a few months earlier, Wajid Ali Shah had deputed this prince to represent him :

"On 13th Rabiul Akhir 1273 Hijri in the morning His Highness Prince Meerza Birjees Qadr, as directed by His Majesty, went to the residence of His Holiness the Majtahedul Asr. He paid condolence most gracefully, consoled the survivors of Janab Meeran Sahib and conferred on him the Khillat (of mourning)."4

        In the battlefield as on social occasions friends and foes alike sought this very prince, and on those days uncles, brothers, nephews beside other sons of Wajid Ali Shah, were all alive and available.

        Napoleon had attributed his fame and success to his mother. Birjees Qadr was more indebted to his mother who, like Joan of Arc of 15th century France, had challenged the hegemony of the British, fired hope in the sunken hearts, appeared from the unknown like a meteor and blazed the flame of freedom in the length and breadth of Oudh. The 17-year old daughter of a shepherd, Joan of Arc, was burnt alive by the English after declaring her a witch. If they could get hold of Hazrat Mahal, perhaps she too would have also been buried alive. Since that did not happen, fabricated stories for character assassination were circulated in the hope that people would be ashamed to call her Raj Mata, Janab-e Aalia and Queen of Oudh. Reports of the British intelligence as to who was Hazrat Mahal, what was she, which house she belonged to, what was her real name, are still in a cloud of secrecy.(On inquiry it is learned that these papers, till a few years ago, were in the State Archives of Lucknow, and this fact found notice in the newspapers too. A film producer of Bombay who wanted to do a film on Hazrat Mahal somehow got hold of those papers and took them away.)

       Hazrat Mahal's name "Mohammadi" is confirmed by this source too. Her father's name was Mir Ghulam Husain. Her home was recorded as Faizabad. The title of "Iftikharun Nisa", meaning the pride of all women, conferred on Hazrat Mahal at the birth of Birjees Qadr in 1845 by father-in-law King Amjad Ali Shah3 is the complete and final answer to all much later British inspired vile speculations made after 1857.

        For the earliest reliable introduction of Hazrat Mahal, we are obliged to fall back on Wajid Ali Shah as she passed almost 18 years of her eventful life as the spouse of this weak-willed king, and left such a deep impression that he could not forget her throughout his life. Wajid Ali Shah, in his various poetic compostions, has disclosed her "hidden name Mohammadi Begum". And said she was of "laudable character and dignified demeanor, and beautiful;

'Hameeda Khasail, Satooda sifat,
Pari-roo Khush Atwar Hazrat Mahal'.

       She shared the agonies of the poor -

"Gharibon ki Gham Khwar, Hazrat Mahal."

        Begum Hazrat Mahal had lost the war, but not her courage. She not only rejected the fabulous pension and maintenance of her high rank offered by the victorious British. She even left her last document in the form of challenge to the Proclamation of Queen Victoria made on 1st November, 1858, by issuing a counter-Proclamation. She continued this struggle relentlessly till November 1859 in the northern boundaries of her own Oudh by organizing gorilla attacks on the British military cantonments at the border. This was the precursor of the continued struggle to throw away the foreign yoke, which ultimately succeeded in 1947 when India was freed of alien rule. Wajid Ali Shah, even after Hazrat Mahal retired to Nepal, enjoyed his personal properties in Calcutta, received pension and owned his treasury. Poor Birjees Qadr, despite his minority in 1857, was ever since treated as a rebel against all canons of law and justice. Ultimately he along with his children was killed by poison in an unholy conspiracy. Those who escaped the assassination were deprived of their ancestral properties, jagir and Government Promissory Notes worth lakhs of rupees.


1. Najmul Ghani, vol.5, pp 262-63.
2. Tarikh-e Iqtidaria, MS. p.427
3. Ishqnama, MS. pp 252-53
4. Akhbar Tilism, dated Dec. 19, 1856.

                For Further Reading:

Tarikh-e Avadh Vol.5, Lucknow, 1919. by Najmul Gani Khan

Kaiserut Tawarikh Vol.2, Lucknow, 1897. by Syed Kamaluddin Haider

Masnavi Ishqname MS. 1265 A.H. (Anjuman Taraqqi Urdu, New Delhi) by Wajid Ali Shah

Tarikh-e Iqtidaria MS. 1280 A.H. (Andhra Pradesh State Library,Hyderabad.) by Iqtidarud Daulah Mohtashimul Mulk Mehdi Ali Khan Zaigham

Jung Bahadur

My Indian Mutiny Diary by Sir W.H.Russel

Eighteen Fifty Seven by S.N.Sen

Urooj-e Ahd-Englishia by Moulvi Zakaullah Khan

Tarikhi Shah Parai by Mirza Azhar Ali Birlas

Freedom Struggle in Uttar Pradesh by Dr. A. A. Rizvi

Taqveem-e Sultani 1265 A.H. by Syed Kamaluddin Haider

The Oxford & Cambridge British History

Wajid Ali Shah by Mohd. Taqi Ahmad, Lucknow, 1945.

Oudh Pension Papers - A Govt. of India Publication, B.S.Press,(1913).

Avadh Akhbar - A 19th century Urdu newspaper, Lucknow.

Guzishta Kucknow by Abdul Halim Sherar, Lucknow.

Akhbar Tilism - A Mid-19th century Urdu newspaper, Lucknow.

Wajid Ali Shah ki Adabi aur Sakhafati Khidmat - a thesis for the award of Ph.D. by AMU, by Kaukub Qudr Sajjad Ali Meerza, New Delhi, 1995.

Sultan-e Alam Wajid Ali Shah by Masud Hasan Rizvi, Lucknow

Sunsattawan ke Hero by Syeda Anees Fatima Barailwi, Aligarh.

Huzn-e Akhtar (Preface to Huzn-e Akhtari) by Abdul Halim Sherar, Lucknow.

Huzn-e Akhtari, (about his imprisonment in Fort William, Calcutta) by Wajid Ali Shah, Calcutta.

Bahr-e Mukhtalif (about his wives and children) by Wajid Ali Shah, Calcutta.

Akhbar-us Sanadeed by Najmul Gani Khan Rampuri, 1900.

Nazzara, Urdu Weekly, Lucknow, Hazrat Mahal Numbers of 1962, '63, '79.

Ujala, Weekly Edn.of Azad Hind, Urdu Daily, Calcutta, of 29th Sept.1957 & 9th Sept.1962

Tawarikh-e Nadir al-Asr by Munshi Nawal Kishore, Lucknow, 1863.

Ahsan-ut Tawarikh by Munshi Ram Sahai Tamanna, Lucknow, 1876.

Afzal-ut Tawarikh by Munshi Ram Sahai Tamanna, Lucknow, 1876.

Sheo-e Faiz By Wajid Ali Shah, Calcutta, 1276 A.H.

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