Set against the backdrop of the remorseless decline of Iran and its unequal struggle against the rising powers of Russia and Britain, Prince Arfa’s memoirs (1853-1902), packed with picaresque adventures, narrate his rise from humble provincial beginnings to the heights of the Iranian state. He writes wittily of the deadly intrigues of the Qajar court and of the power of the eunuchs. He sadly, but resolutely, chronicles the decline of Iran from a once great empire to an almost bankrupt, lawless state, in which the latent social unrest is channelled and exploited by the clergy. He describes the interaction between Iran and Europe: the weary, profligate Naser-od-Din Shah’s 1889 visits to Britain and France; the splendour and eccentricities of the doomed Tsar Nicholas II’s court; the Tsar’s omen-laden coronation; and his own favour with the Tsarina, from whom he used to extract Russian concessions on matters of vital importance to his country.
Michael Noël-Clarke studied Persian and Arabic at Oxford, spent a year as an undergraduate in Isfahan and was a member of the British Embassy in Tehran from 1970-1974. Noël-Clarke was Chairman of the Iran Society from 1996 to 2006.