“Ask what you don’t know, for the humiliation of asking will guide you to the dignity of knowledge”
The Gulistan of Saʿdi, trans. Thackston (2008)

Gulistan – Vargaar: همساده Homsadah (Neighbors)

Those who travel the río Wang know the value of serendipity. At the end of last year in a local antique market, two documents with striking calligraphy caught my eye. A 200-year old Persian manuscript turning-up in East Yorkshire suggests an interesting journey! With the documents came a type-written letter dated 30th August 1967, from G. Meredith-Owens, Deputy Keeper of the Department of Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts at The British Museum. It reads:

Dear Sir,

The three documents which you left in the Oriental Students’ Room are as follows:

1) Diploma from the Shah of Persia dated A.H. 1227 (A.D. 1812-13) conferring a decoration (the Order of the Lion and the Sun) on Sir Gore Ouseley (d. 1844), British Ambassador to Persia.

2) A letter (probably a copy – not the actual letter) addressed to ʿAbbās Mīrsā, Governor of Azerbaijan, by his brother. It is really a petition asking for favours from a rich relation.

3) Letter in Armenian. I am afraid that we have no full-time expert on the staff but it certainly looks as if the Italian is a translation of the letter.

I am returning the three documents by registered post.

It seems I have two of the three documents so described, but which two? The Diploma conferring the Order of the Lion and Sun on Sir Gore Ouseley and the letter in Armenian? I have nothing in Italian. While one can gather some background on Sir Gore Ouseley, information on the second document is more difficult and insight from río Wang scholars would be welcome.

The Diploma shows some water damage to one edge and appears to have been tightly folded in the past, but is otherwise in good condition. It is currently framed and behind glass, so the images below are preliminary, but legible. Enlarging the view is recommended.

Who was Sir Gore Ouseley?

Sir Gore Ouseley in 1830, with two distinguished orders (see below)
“Sir Gore Ouseley, 1st Baronet (1770-1844). In India from 1787-1806, attached to the Court of Oudh at Lucknow, 1800-4. A considerable Persian scholar. Author of Biographical Notes on Persian Poets. One of the founders of the Royal Asiatic Society.” This is how Sir Denis Wright introduces Ouseley in The English Amongst the Persians: Imperial Lives in Nineteenth-Century Iran.

Ouseley’s appointment in 1810 as ambassador to the Qajar court of Fath Ali Shah marked a shift in British interest in Persia, which hitherto had been largely left in the hands of the East India Company. Anticipating what was to become the “Great Game”, with Persia as a buffer between Russia and India, relations were now deemed too important to be left for the Company. The aims of the Company’s agents in Calcutta and the British Government in London were increasingly at variance and the appointment of Ouseley as “Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary” at the Qajar court, was “a slap in the face” for the East India Company and a clear indication of the intention to have permanent diplomatic representation.

Banyan leaves and fruit. A watercolor from the collection of Gore Ouseley, now at Kew Gardens.
Ouseley had served in India and was proficient in Persian and Arabic and a collector of manuscripts. His instructions from the Government were all-embracing, and probably at his own instigation, included a petition to Fath Ali Shah for a grant of land on which to construct a residence appropriate to the dignity of the Ambassador in Tehran: the cost, including furnishings, was not to exceed £8,000. He was instructed to purchase manuscripts for the British Museum and seeds for Kew Gardens.

His party left England on 18 July 1810: it included Lady Ouseley and their infant daughter, his brother the scholar Sir William Ouseley as secretary and, on a second vessel, the returning Persian envoy Mirza Abdul Hasan and his Persian servants. After several port calls, they reached Bombay in January 1811. After resting and exchange of letters, they reached the port of Abu-Shahr on 1st March. The overland journey from Bushehr to Tehran was slow and arduous involving as it did Ouseley’s large ambassadorial party, replete with baggage and diplomatic gifts. It must have even harder for Lady Ouseley who gave birth to their second daughter in Shiraz! There was also continual friction on matters of protocol as this was no mere trading delegation and Ouseley “was strict in asserting the honours due to him as Ambassador and Plenipotentiary”.

British delegation at the Court of Fath Ali Shah: Gore Ouseley, John Malcolm and Harford Jones (Partial image of the Nigaristan Palace Mural, 1816-20)

On reaching Tehran, Ouseley refused to deal with Court intermediaries and was granted audience with Fath Ali Shah on 30th November 1811, within the three days that precedent demanded. Ouseley had brought from London the “Definitive Treaty”
Fath Ali Shah’s portrait in the Gulistan Palace. For more portraits of the Shah, check here
based on earlier drafting by Harford Jones. With one eye on France, it promised British assistance to Persia against European aggression, but with Napoleon checked, it was already overtaken by events, including renewed Persian hostilities with Russia. It was finally signed in March 1812.

“Upon the 25th May, 1812, the Embassy departed from Tahrán, which was an unhealthy residence during the heat of the summer, to the cooler capital Tabríz, (i.e., the city Febrifuge, or Fever-dispersing) passing through the celebrated city of Káswín. On the road, the Ambassador received information that peace had been probably concluded between England and Russia, and that a Russian diplomatist, Colonel Freygang, had arrived at Tabríz, sent by the Commander-in-Chief in Georgia to the English Embassy. This event was soon verified, and afforded facilities to Sir Gore for the commencement of negotiations for peace between Persia and Russia, through the mediation of England.” (Memoir, lxxviii).

Acting as a mediator at the request of Russians, Ouseley persuaded the Shah to accede to a treaty with Russia, the infamous Treaty of Gulistan, signed on the River Seiwa on 12 October 1813, in the village of Gulistan (today Goranboy, Azerbaijan). As Wright describes it: “The resultant Treaty of Gulistan of 12 October 1813 was a bitter blow for the Persians who were obliged to surrender virtually all their territory north of the river Aras, which became, as it has since remained, the country’s north-western boundary.” While the Caspian Sea was open to both countries commercial fleets, Russia had the exclusive right to the Caspian for its military fleet. It was not helpful when London then had second thoughts about the “Definitive Treaty” of March 1812, and renegotiated another version, duly signed in November 1814. By then, Ouseley was on his way back to London via St Petersburg. Whatever the political realities this was not a high-point of English-Persian relations and is remembered to this day. One wonders therefore, for which treaty did Sir Gore Ouseley receive the Order of the Lion and Sun? The Definitive Treaty between England and Persia of 1812 or the Gulistan Treaty between Russia and Persia of 1813?

In St Petersburg, Ouseley received the Grand Cordon of the Russian Order of St Alexander Nevsky. This medal, and that of the Order of the Lion and Sun may be the medals draped over what appears to be Ouseley’s coat-of-arms, but the date of the diploma seems problematical: nonetheless, the red-ribboned medal shown does look like the St Alexander Nevsky medal.

This somewhat primitive “miniature” may not be recognised by the College of Arms, but is rich in symbolism, not least the red-gloved hand, and is worthy of further analysis.

“According to a tradition preserved in ancient pedigrees, during many generations, in the family of Ouseley, a gallant warrior of that name had married a most beautiful young lady, named Agnes, about the period of King Edward the First, after his return from the Holy Land, marched through Shropshire to attack the Prince of Wales (sic). Ouseley being a man of some rank in that county, considered it his duty to go a day's journey to meet the King and invite him to his house, although he left his bride, even for a short time, with reluctance. Agnes, on the following day, proceeded a short distance to meet the King and her husband; but just as, accompanied by her maidens, she approached the royal party, a huge black wolf rushed out of a holly thicket and bit off her hand. So intent was the ferocious beast upon his prey, that the enraged husband was able to seize him, to strangle him in the presence of the King, and to tear his head from his body. Before this adventure, the arms of the family of Ouseley were “Or, a chevron in chief, sable;” but upon this occasion the King granted the augmentation of “three holly leaves, vert,” and added the crest of “a black wolf's head, erased, with a right hand in its mouth, couped at the wrist, gules, on a ducal coronet, with the motto. ʻMors lupi, Agnis vita;’” and it is said that there existed in a church in Shropshire a monument, containing the figures of this warrior and his lady, in which the latter was represented without the right hand.”

From “Memoir of Sir Gore Ouseley” in Biographical Notices of Persian Poets; with Critical and Explanatory Remarks by The Late Right Honourable Sir Gore Ouseley, Bart., London & Paris 1846.

Details of the Lion and Sun diploma bear some similarity to a firman in Shikasta Nastaliq script of about that period.

One of several signatures and seals from the reverse:


Of the second document, in Armenian, nothing is known, and help would be welcome. Its association with the Persian diploma may not be accidental, the dates being the same. Being 200 years old, the style may be formal and courtly. If anyone is willing to attempt a translation of either document, please contact me via Studiolum.

ouseley ouseley ouseley ouseley ouseley ouseley ouseley

“So long as you don’t speak, no-one will bother you, but when you do speak, be ready to back up what you say.”
The Gulistan of Saʿdi, trans. Thackston (2008)

4 comentarios:

Studiolum dijo...

We have received a comment from the Armenologist Benedek Zsigmond to the Armenian letter. Thank you very much!

The large letter Է (E) on the top of the letter is a symbol for Echmiadzin, the Armenian church capital, so this is a letter of the Catholicos, the head of the Armenian church.
The letter was written by Ephraim I of Dzoragjugh, Catholicos of Echmiadzin (1809-1830).
(Dzoragjugh was a village in the neighborhood of Yerevan, today it is a district next to the downtown. Ephraim was born here. The Catholicos are usually named by adding the name of their birth place to their Christian name.)
Ephraim I was famous for having been a mediator in the Treaty of Gulistan.
The addressing of the letter is:
“High, glorious, very splendid Ambassador of the mighty Kingdom of Britain,
a majestic person with power received from Christ, Mr. Gorozli Barenet!”
By searching in the internet I have found in two sources, that this Mr. Gorozli is none other than Sir Gore Ouseley, referred to in the post, in a somewhat Turkish pronounciation, and with one typo (Barenet).
Translation of the enlarged circular crest of the Catholicos:
“Ephraim, Catholicos of all Armenians and the supreme Patriarch of the chair of Ararat of Holy Echmiadzin”
The date is: “20 May 1813. Holy Cathedral of Echmiadzin.”
The language of the letter is Old Armenian, as it was customary in the period (although Middle Armenian and a number of New Armenian languages also existed). The Mass and other rites are said in Old Armenian to this day, although sometimes this is not even understood by the priests.

walter dijo...

May I add my thanks for this very interesting input from the scholar Benedek Zsigmond. It's deeply appreciated. My thanks also to Studiolum for his help.

Araz dijo...

Gülistan and Türkmanchay are two toponymes (as well as treaties) familiar to modern day Azerbaijanis (Azerbaijani Turks) at the both sides of river Araz (Aras) for these divided one people for centuries. It is interesting how Turkic elite, which back in 16th century reunited Persia and defined what today's Iran is, became "Persian"?

Languagehat dijo...

Fascinating post and great comments, as usual! (For those who don't know, Ousely is pronounced /u:zli/; the family name is derived from the name of the river Ouse, which is pronounced exactly like "ooze.")