Mirza Mughal was the fifth son of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the 12th and last Mughal emperor. His mother, Sharif-ul-Mahal Sayyidini, came from an aristocratic Sayyid family that claimed descent from Muhammad.
Following the death (reputedly of poisoning by unknown members of the royal circle) in 1856 of his elder step-brother Mirza Fakhru, Mirza Mughal became the eldest surviving legitimately born son of Bahadur Shah Zafar. However, the British refused to recognize anybody as heir to the throne of Delhi, and indicated that the monarchy would be abolished following Zafar's death.
In May 1857, sepoys of the British Indian army rebelled against their British officers and streamed into Delhi. A few days later, Mirza Mughal and some of his half-brothers petitioned their father to be appointed in charge of the rebel troops. Their plea was initially refused but later granted, and Mirza Mughal was designated commander-in-chief. Mirza Mughal had no training or experience for his new office; however, he energetically sought to organize the troops, make arrangements for their billeting and provisioning, and bring a semblance of order to the edgy city. His inexperience soon became apparent, and he was upstaged a few week later by the arrival, at the head of a large force from Bareilly, of Bakht Khan, a former officer in the British army, who had earned a fine reputation during the Afghan wars. Shortly after his arrival, the emperor appointed Bakht Khan commander-in-chief and left Mirza Mughal in charge of supplies. A few weeks later, following another reshuffle of offices, Mirza Mughal was given charge of administering the city of Delhi.
Following the failure of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, Emperor Bahadur Shah II (aged 82) left the Red Fort and took refuge in Humayun’s Tomb, which at that time lay outside Delhi. With him were Mirza Mughal and two other princes (another son, Mirza Khizr Sultan, and a grandson, Mirza Abu Bakr). Their whereabouts was reported by spies to Major Hodson, who sent them a message saying that the party had no hope of escape and should surrender. After negotiations, Hodson accepted the surrender of Bahadur Shah II, the last of the Moghul Emperors of India, promising him that his life would be spared. The Emperor emerged from the tomb and exchanged greetings in person with Hodson. Finding the old man extremely frail with exertion, Hodson bid the Emperor take rest under a shady tree and accept refreshment. As a sign of surrender the Emperor handed over his arms. The capture of the Emperor in the face of a threatening crowd dealt the mutineers a heavy blow.
Mirza Mughal and the other sons of the king had refused to surrender, demanding guarantees of safety for themselves (which Hodson refused). On the following day with a few horsemen Hodson went back and demanded the princes' unconditional surrender. Again a crowd of thousands gathered, and Hodson ordered them to disarm, which they did. He sent the princes on with an escort of ten men, while with the remaining ninety he collected the arms of the crowd. The princes were mounted on a bullock-cart and driven towards the city of Delhi.
Shortly afterwards, with the Emperor secured but clearly in no condition to be transported to the city, Hodson set out for the city with a small party of troopers. He soon caught up with the party carrying the princes. As they approached the gates of the city, he found that a crowd of townsmen had gathered in the expectation of witnessing the return of the Emperor and the princes. Also, a crowd of curious villagers had followed in the wake of the Princes as they travelled the few miles to the gates of Delhi.
It has been suggested that Hodson lost his nerve upon beholding the crowds. Others have suggested that the presence of the crowds suggested to him that this was a suitable arena in which to send out a clear message to the Indians and demonstrate the power and ruthlessness of the British; after all, the princes were implicated in the rebellion and the cold blooded murder of the European civilians. Yet others have suggested that Hodson had made the agreement with the old Emperor in bad faith and that he had never intended to keep his word. Since Begum Zeenat Mahal was in touch with Hodson and had been trying even before the rebellion, to ensure that the crown would go to her son instead of the step-sons, it has also been suggested that Hodson executed the princes on the basis of an understanding with the Begum. In any of these cases (which are not exhaustive), the idea that breaching a solemn agreement (guaranteeing only life), which he had made minutes before, upon his word of honour as a British army officer, to an old man much respected by these crowds, would serve to blacken the reputation of the British rather than enhance it, was clearly beyond his ken.
At the city gate, Hodson ordered the three princes to get off the cart. They were then stripped of their upper garments. The bare-chested princes were lined up in clear sight of the crowd. Hodson then took out his gun and himself shot the three unarmed and half-naked princes at point-blank range. After killing the princes, Hodson personally stripped their bodies of jewellery, this being the signet rings, turquoise arm-bands and bejewelled swords worn by the three princes. He pocketed these valuables as trophies of war, although they had been obtained by killing disarmed prisoners of war under dubious circumstances. The bodies of the three princes were thrown back into the bullock-cart, taken to a kotwali (police-station) within the city, thrown on the ground in front of that building and left exposed there to be seen by all.
The gate near which the executions were performed became known as Khooni Darwaza meaning "Bloody Gate" or "Murder Gate."