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Sultans in Splendour

Monarchs of the Middle East 1869-1945

By Philip Mansel
Published by Parkway
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Book Description

The history of the Middle East between 1869 and 1945 is largely the story of its monarchs and dynasties. In 1869, the Ottoman Sultan ruled a powerful empire stretching from the Danube to the Gulf. At its heart lay one of the largest and most cosmopolitan cities in the world: Constantinople, the city of the Sultans. By 1945 the Ottoman Sultans, and many other dynasties, had been overthrown and most of the Middle East had been divided into the states which exist today. Khedives, Sultans, Pashas, Kings, Beys, Emirs, Shahs and Sheikhs had played a crucial part in this transformation and an understanding of the political intricacies of this volatile part of the world is impossible unless one is acquainted with the colourful and often despotic rulers who once dominated it.

The ruling dynasties were important in part because they had such vigour. In Europe, most dynasties were exhausted stocks appropriated described in French as fin de race. In India, most princes were frivolous or powerless. No European dynasty in this period produced a monarch with the subtlety of the Ottoman Sultan, Abdul Hamid, or the drive of Iran’s Reza Shah.

Philip Mansel analyses the delicate balance of power struck between Muslim monarchs and European empires, while he describes the extraordinary way of life inside palaces along the Bosphorus and the Nile. He brings to life Royal Egypt, once a country which in some ways surpassed the elegance and refinement of contemporary Europe. Egypt’s King Farouk ascended the throne in 1936; he was the idol of his people and De Gaulle described him as ‘prudent, well informed, quick witted’. But by the time he choked to death in a Rome restaurant, he had become an obese debauchee who had lost his friends as well as his throne.

Weak or brutal, traditionalists or modernisers, the Ottoman Sultans and their rivals were never dull. Nor were they shy. They loved photography, and many of the two hundred unpublished photographs in this book come from dynastic collections. They reveal the way of life of the courts, the magnificence of the costumes and palaces and the forbidden world of the harem, with its eunuchs and Circassian slaves bought for the Sultan’s pleasure.

Sultans in Splendour is a spectacular visual record of the end of an empire.

‘learned, elegant and at times wryly humorous’ (The Sunday Times)

‘beautifully illustrated and carefully researched’ (Times Literary Supplement)

‘From Morocco to Iran, from Cairo to Baghdad, while revealing the past, Mansel illuminates the most burning issues of the present’ (Le Nouvel Observateur)

‘an important contribution to the understanding of people and events that are now beginning to be forgotten but that played a significant part in the march towards the tangled and terrible tragedy of the Near Eastern world today’ (Sir Steven Runciman).

‘A serious book as well as being extremely entertaining … For any serious student of the decorative arts in the Middle East almost every photograph contains some detail of interest.’ (John Carswell, Halı)

‘A fabulous book…well written and engaging.’ Nicholas Coleridge (Harpers and Queen)

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