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The Last Mughal: The Fall of Delhi, 1857
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The Last Mughal: The Fall of Delhi, 1857 [Kindle Edition]

William Dalrymple
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“The book makes clear the dangers of colonial powers’ inattentiveness to the dissatisfactions of those they rule, and the human costs of answering one atrocity with another.”
The New Yorker

“A compulsively readable masterpiece . . . In his wonderful new book, The Last Mughal, William Dalrymple has not just revised forever the old British story; he has matched it with an equally full account from the Indian side. His book, without any sign of strain or artificial connections, deals with a historical tragedy on several very different levels . . . It is a detailed and intensely human history of a desperate and brutal campaign. And it is, in the best sense of the word, a thriller in which all the characters inexorably interact to produce a dreadful denouement. Dalrymple’s passion for his subject and his skill and elegance as a writer create an intimate picture of the lives of the people who participated in the events of 1857 . . . Every chapter of The Last Mughal has historical echoes that are still desperately relevant today.”
–Brian Urquhart, New York Review of Books

“Dalrymple has written a riveting and poignant account of the events of 1857 in Delhi . . . Historians have largely ignored Delhi’s experience of the cataclysm [but] Dalrymple sets out to correct this neglect. Writing with obvious affection for Delhi and appreciation for Mughal culture, he shows that the experience of the rebellion in the city was quite distinct . . . Deeply researched and beautifully written.”
–Gyan Prakash, The Nation

“[A] rich narrative . . . From fruit sellers to courtesans, the story of the last days of the Mughal empire comes alive . . . Thanks to Dalrymple, we can now get a peek into the last moments of a beguiling era.”
–Vikram Johri, St. Petersburg Times

“While Zafar is the title character of The Last Mughal, his life is just the thread along which Dalrymple continues to explore a theme that has fascinated him for two decades: the utter collapse of relations between the British and the inhabitants of their Indian dominions . . . Dalrymple excels at bringing grand historical events within contemporary understanding by documenting the way people went about their lives amidst the maelstrom. His coup in researching was his uncovering some 20,000 personal Persian and Urdu papers written by Delhi residents who survived the uprising.”
–Tobin Harshaw, New York Times Book Review

“It seems almost unfair for a book with such a fine sense of plot, physicality, and even humor to contain primary research as well . . . [This is] serious scholarship, still blessed by Dalrymple’s gift for finding eye-catching transitions, strong characters, and a knack for turning tracts of historical documentation into a roaring good story . . . He brings to light invaluable material . . . Anyone reading The Last Mughal today, especially readers with no prior interest in the Mughals or the Mutiny, will find much to ponder in relation to America’s ongoing adventures in the same neighborhood . . . [An] excellent history.”
–Alex Travelli, New York Sun

“Dalrymple’s account is an original, important contribution to the controversies of 1857, for it draws on an archive that Darlymple reports has been ‘virtually unused’ by historians . . . His riveting narrative will engross readers.”
–Gilbert Taylor, Booklist

“In time for the 150th anniversary of the Great Mutiny, the uprising that came close to toppling British rule in India, Dalrymple presents a brilliant, evocative exploration of a doomed world and its final emperor, Bahadur Shah II . . . [Dalrymple] has been immeasurably aided by his discovery of a colossal trove of documents in Indian national archives in Delhi and elsewhere. Thanks to them Dalrymple can vividly recreate, virtually at street level, the life and death of one of the most glorious and progressive empires ever seen. That the rebels fatefully raised the flag of jihad and dubbed themselves ‘mujahedin’ only adds to the mutiny’s contemporary relevance.”
Publishers Weekly (starred)

Reviews from abroad:

“[Dalrymple] builds an urban narrative [of Delhi] as evocative as Richard Cobb’s depiction of Revolutionary Paris . . . There is so much to admire in this book–the depth of historical research, the finely evocative writing, the extraordinary rapport with the cultural world of late Mughal India. It is also in many ways a remarkably humane and egalitarian history . . . This is a splendid work of empathetic scholarship. As the 150th anniversary of the uprising dawns there will be many attempts to revisit these bloody, chaotic, cataclysmic events; but few reinterpretations of 1857 will be as bold, as insightful, or as challenging as this.”
–David Arnold, Times Literary Supplement

“Brilliantly nuanced . . . Dalrymple has here written an account of the Indian mutiny such as we have never had before, of the events leading up to it and of its aftermath, seen through the prism of the last emperor’s life. He has vividly described the street life of the Mughal capital in the days before the catastrophe happened, he has put his finger deftly on every crucial point in the story, which earlier historians have sometimes missed, and he has supplied some of the most informative footnotes I have ever read. On top of that, he has splendidly conveyed the sheer joy of researching a piece of history, something every true historian knows . . . I had thought that Dalrymple would never surpass his performance in writing From the Holy Mountain, but The Last Mughal has caused me to think again.
–Geoffrey Moorhouse, The Guardian

“A riveting account . . . It is neither wholly a biography of Zafar, nor solely the story of the siege and capture of Delhi. Instead Mr. Dalrymple charts the course of the uprising and the siege, weaving into his story the unfolding tragedy of Zafar’s last months. The animating spirit of the book is Delhi itself . . . It is here that the originality of [Dalrymple’s] new book lies.”
The Economist

“[The Last Mughal] shows the way history should be written: not as a catalogue of dry-as-dust kings, battles and treaties but to bring the past to the present, put life back in characters long dead and gone and make the reader feel he is living among them, sharing their joys, sorrows and apprehensions . . . Dalrymple’s book rouses deep emotions. It will bring tears to the eyes of every Dilliwala, among whom I count myself.
–Khushwant Singh, Outlook India

“Dalrymple brings out the poignancy and pathology of a Mughal Lear with the ease and élan of a master storyteller . . . In The Last Mughal, history is human drama at its elemental best . . . History ceases to be a dead abstraction on his pages. And the lost Delhi becomes an enduring enchantment.”
–S. Prasannarajan, India Today

“Dalrymple narrates the story of Delhi’s capture and fall with a rare humanity, a zest that is infectious, and in a prose that is handsome, sure-footed and flowing with breezy purpose. Few writers understand as well as Dalrymple that the function of history is not merely to inform but also to engage and entertain . . . The book provides a fascinating account of the last days of Mughal Delhi . . . These personal stories add up in some incalculable way to provide a picture of Mughal Delhi that is intimate and meaningful . . . When the British defeat [Zafar] and strip him of his kingship, they do more than just end the Mughal dynasty; they destroy a form of Indo-Islamic civilisation. In many ways, this splendid book is a stirring lament for this loss.”
–Mukund Padmanabhan, The Hindu

“Dalrymple recaptures the dying moments of Mughal glory with the sensitivity and scholarly flair of a master storyteller . . . It is difficult to read some sections with dry eyes . . .What sets The Last Mughal apart from other accounts of Mughal history, particularly Mughal Delhi, is a sketch of a colourful, vibrant city seen from the eyes of the trader, the hakim, the dancing girl, Ghalib, and of course the British administrators . . . Zafar’s character is sketched with honesty, without making him out to be demon or the saint some accounts attempt to do . . . But ultimately it is the creation of another authentic source on Mughal history for which Dalrymple deserves the utmost praise. Whether it is description of palace life with all the intrigues and counter-intrigues between Zafar’s wives, the clash of Muslim ideology with the new Christian values, or the massacre of the British men, women and children, the looting and violence that took place in Delhi during the mutiny, all these events come alive in Dalrymple’s narrative . . . But the lasting image The Last Mughal leaves is that of the sunset of a great empire.”
–Rasheeda Bhagat, The Hindu Business Line

“What Edward Gibbon was to ancient Rome, William Dalrymple will be to the magnificent Mughals.”
–David Robinson, The Scotsman

“The story of the Indian Mutiny has been told many times in many ways. Few have managed to evoke as well as William Dalrymple what life was like on both sides of the divide. Dalrymple’s narrative is artfully divided between descriptions of the besieged court ensconced at the Red Fort and the harried forces of the British gathered on the ridge. Thanks to an understanding of India gained during a 20-year familiarity with Delhi, and an indefatigable pursuit of primary sources, Dalrymple has produced a finely balanced account of the greatest armed challenge faced by any European power during the 19th cent...


On a dark evening in November 1862, a cheap coffin is buried in eerie silence. There are no lamentations or panegyrics, for the British Commissioner in charge has insisted, 'No vesting will remain to distinguish where the last of the Great Mughals rests.' This Mughal is Bahadur Shah Zafar II, one of the most tolerant and likeable of his remarkable dynasty who found himself leader of a violent and doomed uprising. The Siege of Delhi was the Raj's Stalingrad, the end of both Mughal power and a remarkable culture.


At 4pm on a dark, wet winter's evening in November 1862, a cheap plywood coffin was buried to the eerie sound of silence: no lamentations, no panegyrics, for as the British Commissioner in charge of the funeral insisted, 'No vesting will remain to distinguish where the last of the Great Moghuls rests.' The last of the Great Mughals was Bahadur Shah Zafar II: one of the most talented, tolerant and likeable of his remarkable dynasty, he found himself in the position of leader of a violent uprising he knew from the start would lead to irreparable carnage. Zafar's frantic efforts to unite his disparate and mutually suspicious forces proved tragically futile: the Siege of Delhi was the Raj's Stalingrad, and Mughal Delhi was left an empty ruin, haunted by battered remnants of a past that was being rapidly and brutally overwritten. "The Last Mughal" charts the desecration and demise of a man, his dynasty, his city and civilizations mercilessly ravished by fractured forces and vengeful British troops.

William Dalrymple unearths groundbreaking new material to create the first English account of the life of the last Emperor, and the first narrative of the Mutiny to contain large quantities of material from the Indian perspective. "The Last Mughal" rapidly changes our understanding of a pivotal moment in Indian and Imperial history.

Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende

William Dalrymple is the author of five acclaimed works of history and travel, including City of Djinns, which won the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award and the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award; the best-selling From the Holy Mountain; and White Mughals, which won Britain’s most prestigious history prize, the Wolfson. He divides his time between New Delhi and London, and is a contributor to The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker and The Guardian.

Leseprobe. Abdruck erfolgt mit freundlicher Genehmigung der Rechteinhaber. Alle Rechte vorbehalten.

Chapter One: A Chessboard King

The marriage procession of Prince Jawan Bakht left the Lahore Gate of the Red Fort at 2 a.m. on the hot summer night of 2 April 1852.

With a salute from the cannon stationed on the ramparts, and an arc of fireworks and rockets fired aloft from the illuminated turrets of the Fort, the two gates opposite the great thoroughfare of Chandni Chowk swung open.

The first to emerge were the chobdars, or mace bearers. The people of Delhi have never much liked being restrained by barriers and were in the habit of breaking through the bamboo railings hung with lamps that illuminated the processional route. It was the job of the chobdars to clear a way through the excitable crowd, before the imperial elephants—always a little unpredictable in the presence of fireworks—appeared lumbering through the gates.

Two ministers of state on horseback began the procession proper. Shell ornaments were plaited into the horses’ manes, and bells strung around their necks and fetlocks, and as they rode out, the ministers were attended by servants with punkahs (fans). Then came a troop of Mughal infantry, with polished black shields and curved swords, long lances and fluttering pennons of green and gold.

The first six of the imperial elephants followed, caparisoned with gold and saffron headcloths embroidered with the Emperor’s coat of arms. From the howdahs, officials held aloft the dynastic insignia that had been used by the Mughals since their arrival in India more than three centuries earlier: from one, the face of a rayed sun; from another, two golden fish suspended at each end of a golden bow; from the third, the head of a lion-like beast; from the fourth, a golden Hand of Fatima; from the fifth, a horse’s head; and from the last, a chatri, or imperial umbrella. All were made of gold and were raised on gilt staffs from which trailed silken streamers.

There then emerged in turn a party of red-tunicked Palace servants carrying covered trays of food and gifts for the bride’s family; a squadron of camels, with drums beating and guns firing in the air; a small regiment of British sepoys led by Captain Douglas, Commandant of the Palace Guards, all in tight-fitting busbees and blue-and-saffron uniforms, and escorting two light cannon; a troop of Skinner’s Horse in their yellow tunics and scarlet sashes, topped by armoured breastplates and medieval-looking helmets; a group of bullock-drawn wagons on which sat several bands of Mughal kettle drummers, shanai players, trumpeters and cymbal clashers; and a European brougham carriage, painted kingfisher blue, containing a party of senior princes, their gilt brocade flashing in the light of the exploding fireworks.

After each group came parties of torchbearers, holding their flames aloft, interspersed with men holding candles in glass bell jars. There were also gangs of water carriers emptying their skins onto the road  in an attempt to settle the billowing summer dust kicked up by the procession.

After the brougham there came a second, smaller group of younger princes, this time riding on horseback; and among them, in the very centre, rode the groom. Mirza Jawan Bakht was only eleven years old, a young bridegroom even in a society that tended to marry its offspring early in adolesence. Immediately behind the Prince swayed the elephant on which rode the Emperor himself, sitting in his golden howdah and decked out, despite the sweltering night heat, in his state robes and jewels, and attended by his personal bearer holding a peacock fan. The rest of the court followed behind on foot, a great snaking queue stretching back through Chatta Chowk, the Fort bazaar, to the Naqqar Khana Darwaza, or the Gate of the Drum House, in the very centre of the Fort.

Not long before this, the Emperor and Jawan Bakht had both sat for the Austrian artist August Schoefft. The portrait of Zafar depicts a dignified, reserved and rather beautiful old man with a fine aquiline nose and a carefully trimmed beard. Despite his height and surprisingly broad and muscular build, there is a profound gentleness and sensitivity in his large brown watery eyes with their unusually long lashes. As a teenage prince, Zafar had always appeared in his portraits as a slightly awkward and uncertain figure, plump, visibly ill at ease and thinly bearded. But as youth gave way to middle age he had grown into his looks, and in old age—unusually—looked finer than ever. Now in his mid-seventies, his cheeks were sallow, his nose more pronounced and his bearing more regal. Yet as the elderly monarch kneels, wearily fingering his beads, there remains in the expression of his dark eyes something unmistakably melancholic; in the set of his full lips there is still that air of sad, patient resignation visible in the earlier pictures. Schoefft shows Zafar a little swamped under the brocade cloth of gold which adorns him, somewhat weighed down by the huge blood-coloured rubies and the strings of vast pearls, each the size of a partridge egg, which seem to hang so heavily around his neck. It is a portrait of a man imprisoned by the trappings of his office.

By contrast, the young Jawan Bakht, the Emperor’s favourite son, seems to relish all the pearls and gems, the jewelled daggers and inlaid swords with which he is bedecked with a lavishness almost equal to that of his father. His expression is different too: knowingly handsome, and oddly cocky and confident for a boy of eleven. He is as strikingly sure of himself as his father appears wearily uncertain.

One person missing from both the portraits and the wedding procession was the woman who had done more than anything else to bring the marriage about. For months, Zafar’s favourite wife, Zinat Mahal, had been preparing for this day. In Mughal tradition, women did not accompany the barat taking the groom to his marriage—not even mothers and queens; but every detail of the procession had been planned by her. For Mirza Jawan Bakht was Zinat Mahal’s only son, and her one ambition, to which she held consistently throughout her life, was to see Jawan Bakht, Zafar’s fifteenth son, placed on the throne at the death of his father.

The exceptionally lavish wedding she had planned was intended by her to raise the profile of the Prince, and also to consolidate her own place in the dynasty: Jawan Bakht’s bride, the Nawab Shah Zamani Begum, who was probably no more than ten years old at the time of the wedding, was Zinat’s niece, and her father, Walidad Khan of Malagarh, an important ally of the Queen. While so young a couple would not be expected to consummate their marriage for a year or two, or even to live together, political considerations meant that the marriage should go ahead immediately, without having to wait for the couple to reach puberty.

As conceived by Zinat, the wedding of Mirza Jawan Bakht was of a scale unparalleled in Delhi in living memory, eclipsing the weddings of all Jawan Bakht’s elder brothers. Sixty years later, the young courtier Zahir Dehlavi, whose job it was to oversee the care of the Mahi Maraatib, or Fish Standard, still remembered the aroma of the trays of food from the royal kitchens that had been sent out to every Palace official, and the spectacular entertainments that preceded the main celebration: “Such beauty and magnificence had never been seen before,” he wrote many years later, in exile in Hyderabad. “At least not in my lifetime. It was a celebration I shall never forget.”

The festivities had begun three days before the marriage with a procession from the house of Walidad Khan to the Palace, bearing the principal wedding gifts, followed by fireworks: “a brilliant train of...
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