BIOGRAPHIES

Female Heroes of Asia: Iran


Padishah Khatun (Safwat al-Din Khatun)

13th Century

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The poet Padishah was a member of the Mongol Kutlugh-Khanid dynasty, who ruled in Persia and reigned over Kirman (in south-west Persia) in the 13th century. This dynasty was part of the Ilkhanate, one of the four divisions within the Mongol Empire. In the Ilkhanid period (1256-1353), both religious and secular arts flourished. Women of the elite class were accorded great respect, had a public presence, and were educated.

Padishah’s mother, Kutlugh Turkan, after the death of her husband ruled Kirman for 16 years, until 1282. She married Padishah to Abaka Khan, great grandson of Genghis Khan and son of Hulagu. Abaka did not live long, dying in 1282. Padishah, considered a prize for her beauty and ability as a poet, married again, this time to Gaykhatu, the fifth ruler of the Ilkhan dynasty and one of Padishah’s former husband’s sons. The marriage shocked the Muslims, although it was a relatively common practice among the Mongols.

Upon her marriage to Gaykhatu, Padishah moved quickly to insist that her husband, known for his dissolute and extravagant ways, give her mother’s old throne of Kirman to her as proof of his love. This he did, and Padishah became sixth sovereign of the Kutlugh-Khanid dynasty. Hulagu added to her power by granting her the powerful privilege of khutba (prayer for the sovereign) proclaimed in the mosques, the ultimate sign of legitimate reign. She also had gold and silver coins made in her name.

One of Padishah’s first acts as queen was to imprison her half-brother, Suyurghatamish, who had coveted the Kirman throne and meddled in its affairs. When he tried to escape, she had him strangled, an act that led to her own downfall. Gaykhatu was assassinated in 1295 and his successor, Baydu, influenced by Suyurghatamish’s widow, had Padishah Khatun put to death. Her violent demise was noted by Marco Polo who wrote that a lady known as the Padishah Khatun was “an ambitious, clever, and masterful woman, who put her own brother Suyurghatmish to death as a rival, and was herself ...put to death by her brother's widow and daughter.”

Sovereign Queen
by Padishah Khutan

“I am that woman whose works are good.
Under my veil is kingly power.
The curtain of chastity is my strength
where the idle westwind travelers cannot pass.
I withhold the beauty of my shadow
from the sun that gads about in the marketplace.
I hold lordship over all the world
yet before the Lord my business is to serve.

Two yards of veil won’t make any woman a lady
nor a hat make any head worth of command.
For whom should I remove my veil
when in its place would be a priceless crown?
I am a ruler from the dynasty of Ologh Soltan.
If there is sovereignty in this world,
it takes after us.”
- Deirder Lashgari, translator


Sources:
The Forgotten Queens of Islam, Fatima Mernissi.
Women Poets of the World, Joanna Bankier & Deirdre Lashgari, editors.
Illustration: Mongol Couple Sharing the Throne, 13th Century, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Shirin Ebadi:  Iran. Nobel Peace Prize, 2003

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