Thursday, March 4, 2010

Jack Weatherford's "The Secret History of the Mongol Queens"

Jack Weatherford holds the DeWitt Wallace Chair of Anthropology at Macalester College in Minnesota and an honorary position at Chinggis Khaan University in Mongolia. In 2007 he received the Order of the Polar Star, the highest award for service to the Mongol Nation for writing Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World., He is also the author of Indian Givers, Native Roots, Savages and Civilizations, and The History of Money.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire, and reported the following:
At first thought it seemed so strange, but when I read the page I realized how well it works. Page 99:
DiPlano Carpini, the first European envoy to Mongolia, seemed surprised both that she had a court of her own and that the tent could contain such an enormous entourage. Guyuk, Toregene’s son, “sent us to his mother where a court was solemnly held, and when we had arrived there, so great was the size of the tent which was made of white fabric, that we reckon that it could hold more than two thousand men.” In addition, each of the khan’s wives maintained her own court as well. Guyuk’s “wives had other tents, however, of white felt which were quite large and beautiful.”

Emirs, governors, and grandees jostled along the same roads as princes and kings. The Seljuk sultan came from Turkey, as did representatives of the caliph of Baghdad, and two claimants to the throne of Georgia: David, the legitimate son of the late king, and David, the illegitimate son of the same king. The highest- ranking European delegate was Grand Prince Yaroslav II of Vladimir and Suzdal, who died suspiciously just after dining with Toregene Khatun in the fall of 1246. Even after Toregene installed Guyuk as Great Khan, he initially showed little interest in his position. As Juvaini wrote, “He took no part in affairs of state, and Toregene Khatun still executed the decrees of the Empire.” Within a short time, however, he decided to consolidate his power, and a disagreement arose between them concerning Fatima, his mother’s close confidante.

Guyuk wished to remove Fatima, and he sent soldiers to arrest her at his mother’s court. Toregene refused to surrender her.

Toregene had twice been married to foreign men whom she had not chosen. Each time, she complied with the demands the world put upon her to be a wife, mother, and queen. With Ogodei, her second forced marriage, she had produced and reared five sons, and despite their incompetence and frequent defiance and disregard for her, she had promoted their interests. Against all odds and the express wishes of his father, she had made Guyuk emperor, but she had received no thanks from her sons or anyone else.

Now in her old age, she found some solace in an emotional attachment to Fatima. Willing to forgo political life, the two women
In 1246 The Empress Toregene had ruled the world's largest empire for five years. Her word was law from the Pacific to the Black Sea, but as she passed power to her son Guyuk, he prepared a campaign against her that would be the end of female power among the Mongols for the next two hundred years.
Read more about The Secret History of the Mongol Queens at the publisher's website, and learn more about Jack Weatherford at his faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue