Skip to content

World-Changing Women: Nur Jahan

Updated Wednesday 25th February 2015

In the 17th Nur Jahan exerted power over her Emperor husband, allowing her to give opportunities to orphaned girls and architectural developments in India. This article outlines her remarkable leadership...

Nur Jahan India 1577 - 1645 Imperial Rule

Nur Jahan image Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC Portrait of Nur Jahan In seventeenth-century northern India, upper-class women’s movements were very much restricted by the rules of purdah, that is, the seclusion of women from public view behind high-walled screens and curtains within the home. It is all the more remarkable then, that during the reign of the fourth Mughal Emperor Jahangir, real power was known to be exerted by his favourite wife, Nur Jahan.

Born to a Persian family, Nur Jahan was brought to court as a widow in 1607, to serve as lady-in-waiting.  Reputedly very beautiful, she attracted the attention of the Emperor and they were married in 1611; she would be Jahangir’s twentieth and last legal wife.  During the next ten years, assisted by trusted men like her father and brother, she assumed all the rights of sovereignty and government. It is said that Jahangir’s addiction to alcohol and opium, and preference for artistic pursuits made him dependent upon her to rule in his name. She controlled all matters of government and had coins struck in her name.

She has been portrayed as a schemer who took advantage of her husband’s addiction to take power. But evidence also points to her physical strength and courage, a talent for administration, and responsibility for the many artistic, architectural, and cultural achievements of Jahangir’s rule. She designed the gardens of Kashmir and Agra and was a patron of poetry. She took a special interest in women’s affairs and provided land for women and opportunities for orphan girls. 

Jahangir’s failure to name an heir before his death in 1627 led to a power struggle amongst his sons. Nur Jahan’s power weakened and she was confined by Jahangir's third son, Shah Jahan. Her imprisonment ended her influence at court, and she spent her final years in exile in Lahore.

This article is part of the world-changing women collection. All the articles in this collection are specially produced for the How women changed the world interactive tour created to reveal the untold stories the history books left out.

You can also view these articles without the interactive feature here.


Delve further into history


For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

Witches in popular culture Creative commons image Icon Matthew under Creative Commons BY 4.0 license video icon

History & The Arts 

Witches in popular culture

Western culture can't seem to shake off portraying women as witches. Dr Chloé Germaine Buckley wonders why.

5 mins
A Tale of Two Funerals: Shifting Britishness Creative commons image Icon Flowers for Princess Diana's Funeral / CC BY 2.0 under Creative-Commons license article icon

History & The Arts 

A Tale of Two Funerals: Shifting Britishness

How has British national identity changed over the last forty years?

World-Changing Women: Madam CJ Walker Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: Public Domain article icon

History & The Arts 

World-Changing Women: Madam CJ Walker

As a single woman in the early 20th century making ends meet was no easy feat, so it's remarkable that Madam CJ Walker became the first female self-made millionaire in America. Read her story here...

How do I live a good life? Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC video icon

History & The Arts 

How do I live a good life?

The philosophy regarding how we live a good life is discussed in these animations. 

30 mins
Outside the book: The author Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: The Open University video icon

History & The Arts 

Outside the book: The author

Drawing on the cases of Byron, George Eliot and others, the concept of the author is outlined in this video. 

5 mins
The lost key Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: The Open University video icon

History & The Arts 

The lost key

Hear how Spenser removed the preface which explained what The Faerie Queene means. 

5 mins

History & The Arts 

Music and its media

This free course, Music and its media, examines some of the main ways in which music is transmitted. It considers how the means of communicating a particular piece can change over time; and how the appearance and contents of a source can reflect the circumstances in which it is produced. The course focuses on three examples of musical media that allow us to study music of the past: manuscripts of sixteenth-century Belgium, prints of eighteenth-century London, and recordings of twentieth-century America.

Free course
16 hrs
Walk with Laurie Lee Creative commons image Icon Alun Ward [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0], via Flickr Creative Commons under Creative-Commons license activity icon

History & The Arts 

Walk with Laurie Lee

Go on an adventure with Cider with Rosie as you find out what happened next and go on a walk with Laurie Lee.

Exploring Philosophy with The Open University Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Yuryz | video icon

History & The Arts 

Exploring Philosophy with The Open University

Our course 'Exploring Philosophy' considers fundamental questions from six core areas: the self; philosophy of religion; ethics; knowledge and science; the mind; and political philosophy.

1 hr