From Horim Sultan to Qusam Sultan: The Ottoman Royal Maids Who Were as Influential as Any Queen

This is the year 1603 and the scene is of the Turkish royal harem in the first year of the reign of Sultan Ahmed I of the Ottoman Empire! A skinny girl abducted from a Greek village as a gift to the Sultan falls at the feet of the new Sultan’s grandmother Safia Sultan and begs to return home.

Safia Sultan tells him that it is impossible now and then looks at him lovingly and gives him a piece of advice. “Look, daughter, a woman has to play many roles in her life. She is a different person at every stage of life. A girl, a woman, a mother, and, if she is wise and has God’s grace on her, she can become a sultan. The only difference is what she chooses for herself.

Then Safia Sultan ends her speech and says to this girl named Anastasia, “Be content, your future is very bright.”

This was a scene from the Turkish TV series Qusam Sultan on the life of Anastasia. Now let’s take a look at the real life of some of the girls who were kidnapped from different parts of the Ottoman Empire and enslaved and reached the royal harem, who later became one of the most powerful global figures of their time.

When Sultan Suleiman ascended the throne as the 10th ruler of the Ottoman Empire in September 1520, his boundaries included the eastern Mediterranean, the Black Sea and its coastal areas, most of what is now the Middle East and southeastern Europe. Was included.

From the conquests of Belgrade and the main island of Rhodes in the Mediterranean to the conquests of Belgrade in the early years of his reign, the empire’s borders spread further to Europe in the west and to Asia in the east.
Sultan Suleiman, who ruled this vast empire for almost 50 years, is known as Suleiman the Magnificent because of his prominence in Europe and in Turkey because of significant changes in the law. But a seemingly far-reaching development in the time of Sultan Suleiman was the arrival of a maiden in his harem and in his life, who was named Khurram Sultan in the harem and is remembered today as Hurim Sultan.

The harem of Sultan Suleiman had slaves before him and they already had children, but there was no precedent for the relationship between him and the harem sultan, and according to one historian, this period of the Ottoman Empire was called Suleiman and Roxillana. It can also be called ‘era’.

The advent of the Horim Sultan into the life of Sultan Suleiman marks the beginning of an era in the history of an empire in which the queen had no formal office, referred to by historians as the ‘Empire of Women’.

Historian Leslie Pierce writes in her book, The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire, about the royal harem and the role of women in the Ottoman Empire: All the children were born to slave mothers.

But from the beginning of the reign of Hurriym Sultan in 1520 until the death of Qusam Sultan in the middle of the 17th century, the Ottoman Empire was in many ways under the influence of women whose power was based on the fact that Were his favorite maids. It would not be wrong to say that the Haram had become the center of politics. “The main trend of the harem was not sex but family politics.”

There are four main characters in this period of the influence of the maids: Khurram or Hoorim Sultan, his daughter-in-law Noor Bano Sultan and then his daughter-in-law Safia Sultan and finally Safia Sultan’s grandson Sultan Ahmad I’s favorite maid Qusam Sultan.

In Ottoman history, the “Women’s Empire” was also the time of powerful queens in Europe, including Elizabeth I of England and Catherine da Medici of France. It is worth mentioning here that these maids who were kidnapped from different parts of Europe and ‘sold in the bazaars’ and reached the Ottoman harem on an equal footing with other royal families of the world and corresponded with the entire royal literature and etiquette. Also happened “Queen Elizabeth I of England also sent her portrait as a gift to Safia Sultan in 1593.”

Historian Leslie Pierce’s 2020 book, Empress of the East, on the life of the Horim Sultan, also focuses on how a slave girl becomes the queen of the Ottoman Empire. He wrote: “Despite the lack of a formal position of queen among the Ottomans, Roxellana (Hurrim Sultan) played this role and she fully equated the famous queens of Europe in the 16th century.

Where did Hurim Sultan come from?

“We do not know Roxellana’s real name, place of birth, date of birth or parents,” Pierce wrote in The Empress of the East. However, she writes that in view of her great importance at the time, some things can be believed, such as her belonging to the Ruthenia region of Ukraine, which was then part of Poland. Roxillana also means “girl of Rathinia” and Europeans used to call her by that name.

According to Pierce, one thing can be said with absolute certainty that he was born into a Christian family. According to some Ottoman traditions, Roxellana was the daughter of a priest.

Akram Bora Akanje, a professor of Ottoman history and law in Turkey, wrote in an article about Hurrim Sultan that his real name was Alexandra Lesovska and that he was abducted by Crimean Tatars at the age of 12 and sent to Istanbul. ۔ He wrote that in the royal harem, like other maids, Hurim Sultan was trained for many years in royal etiquette, Ottoman sciences and Islam and then he was named Khurram because of his cheerful nature and smiling face. Which became Horim in modern Turkey).

An upper class Turkish woman in the Ottoman Empire
Pierce has more than once mentioned the difficulty of obtaining information about the life of the harem, and also elaborated that many books written about the life of the royal harem at that time were based on hearsay. Contained and not very reliable.

He writes that Roxillana became part of his harem just a few months after the coronation of Sultan Suleiman in September 1520, when he was 26 years old and Roxillana was about 17 years old. Their first son was born in 1521. He had a daughter and four (according to some sources five) sons. History has shown that this seemingly trivial matter was of great concern to the Ottoman Empire at that time.

That was fine until the birth of the first son, but to continue the relationship with the same slave girl after that, according to historians, was against the age-old traditions of the kingdom. The Ottoman Empire had seen two centuries and nine sultans by that time, and according to historians, ‘for an Ottoman sultan, like any other king, sex could not be just a matter of pleasure because it had important political consequences. The survival of the family depended on it. It was not an act to be done without considering the consequences … There were some rules of sex in the harem.

At that time, under these rules, a concubine could not continue to have sexual intercourse with the Sultan after becoming the mother of his son. Historians point out that the basis of a slave’s one-son policy was that the mother should pay full attention to a prince and never have to choose one of two or more sons.

Pierce writes that the sexual politics between the sultan and the women of the harem was controlled by the complex politics of producing heirs.

A woman in the royal palace in the 19th century

If anyone thought that it was wrong for Khurram to be the mother of more than one of the Sultan’s sons, in 1536 Sultan Suleiman married his favorite concubine, Hurriym Sultan, and reunited not only his people but also important international diplomats stationed in Istanbul. Surprised

After that, when Horim’s sons went to perform their duties in the provinces according to tradition, instead of going with them, they stayed with the Sultan in Istanbul. This was a violation of another tradition. Historians point out that in the eyes of the Ottoman people, it was unacceptable for a sultan to be under the influence of a single person because they considered the sultan to be free from any bondage in order to perform his duty.

Horim Sultan was now completely immersed in the politics of the Haram. Before Khurram Sultan, Sultan Suleiman had a son from another maid Mahidiur named Mustafa. This son was born before the throne of the Sultan and was very popular among the people and military circles and everyone thought that this would be the next Sultan.

According to the tradition prevailing in the Ottoman Empire at that time, after the death of each sultan, the princes would fight for the throne, which would continue till the death of all but one.

Pierce writes that Horaim Sultan had lost his birth family and now he may be worried about losing another family, what will happen to his children if he becomes Mustafa Sultan. According to historians, the then Prime Minister Ibrahim Pasha also had sympathies with Mustafa.

The situation now escalated to the point that both Mustafa and Ibrahim were killed by the Sultan on charges of trespassing and plotting a coup. After that it was decided that after Sultan Sulaiman, only one son of Hurrim Sultan would sit on the throne. Horaim Sultan died eight years before her husband in 1558 and she could not see Prince Salem sitting on the throne. It may be recalled that Bayazid, the son of Hurrim Sultan and Sultan Suleiman, was also killed on the charge of sedition.

Hurriyet Sultan is a controversial figure in history who has been debated for centuries. Pierce writes that Sultan Suleiman and his relationship was so unconventional that there is no precedent in Ottoman history.

Horrim Sultan became controversial in his own lifetime, and “even after many centuries, the debate over his place in Ottoman history has not ended.”

Pierce says it was easy to put all the blame on Horim in public because the Sultan had no idea of ​​the mistake.

Success of Horim Sultan

Pierce writes that one of the great achievements of Horim Sultan was the philanthropic work spread throughout the kingdom. Historians write that he became very interested in mosques, hospitals, orphanages, anchoring and drinking water facilities, and also established charities. She writes that Hurrim Sultan was very interested in freeing slaves, perhaps because of her own past experience which she could not forget.

She wrote that her philanthropic work benefited thousands of women at the grassroots level even after her. Many of the charities he founded still exist today.

Horaim Sultan was also very active on the diplomatic front. An example of this is the constant contact of the empire with Khurram Sultan’s native region of Poland during the reign of Sultan Suleiman. The Ottoman Empire was able to maintain peace with Poland through the efforts of King Sagemand Ola Horim Sultan.

Not only this, but Horim Sultan was also in touch with Sultanam, the sister of the Safavid king Shah Tahmasp through a letter. Pierce writes that it is possible that when Sultan Suleiman’s aim was to make peace, he spoke through the Horim Sultan.

Pierce wrote in his book, Imperial Haram, about the life of the harem in the Ottoman Empire: “In the 16th and 17th centuries, four women were prominent on the diplomatic front of the Ottoman Empire: Horim, Noor Bano, Safia and Qusam.” And the diplomatic relations established through them helped the empire a lot.

Before moving on to the mention of the royal ladies who came after the Horim Sultan, it is important to understand what experiences these teenage girls had reached Istanbul from human markets in remote areas. “Going through the experience of kidnapping was not just a matter of a weak person.”

The greatest achievement of the Horim Sultan was that when he moved his residence from the old palace to the new royal palace, he brought the Haram closer to the center of politics.

By doing so, the Haram became a political force and in the future it became possible for senior women of the Haram to establish contacts in political circles.

How did the Horim Sultan get from Ukraine to the Royal Haram in Istanbul?

In his book ‘Empress of the East’, Pierce writes that Rathinia, considered to be the hometown of Houriam Sultan since the end of the 15th century, was one of the areas most affected by human trafficking, followed by much of Crimea. Was the hand of the Tatars.

However, they were not the first to make a profit from the trade, as the Black Sea region has been a center of the slave trade since ancient times and has been a buyer of the trade in the Roman Empire and later in the Byzantine Empire and the famous Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad. ۔ ‘

He wrote that in those days there was a subtle difference between human trafficking and taking someone prisoner of war. The Tatars did not consider themselves middlemen but warriors, and those who traded in the slave market in Kafa included “Jews, Greeks, Armenians and some Italians … in other words non-Muslims.”

Pierce writes that there was strong anti-Tatar sentiment in Europe, but critics said that “the problem was less with the possibility of the prisoners being converted to Islam than with the enslavement of the people.” This was nothing new for the Europeans, they themselves had never hesitated to buy from the Black Sea human markets.

He wrote that after the Crimean Tatars were taken prisoner for trade, they were brought to the city of Kafa (now Feudosia) within the Ottoman Empire, from where they were brought by sea to Istanbul.

She writes that Roxillana must have been brought to Istanbul from Rothinia by the same route. This neighboring region of Crimea was directly administered by the Ottoman Empire. And if the sources are correct about the connection of Qusam Sultan’s son Sultan Ibrahim’s favorite maid and Sultan Muhammad IV’s mother Zur Khan Sultan with Rathnia, then he must have made this difficult journey.

According to Pierce, the first major Tatar attack in the area took place in 1468, when about 18,000 men, women and children were taken prisoner. Since then, such attacks have occurred almost every year.

Pierce thinks Roxillana was a prisoner of war in 1516. This year, an estimated 5,000 to 40,000 people were enslaved. He cited a Polish historian who suggested that he had been a prisoner of war in the Roxillana area in 1509.

The Polish ambassador to the Crimean court in 1578 described the attacks as “winter” when the rivers and lakes were frozen and the movement could be rapid and “prisoners do not get adequate food even in handcuffs”. Is run on foot. ‘

The journey from Rathinia to Istanbul was not uncommon for a young girl like Roxillana. It is worth mentioning here that in 1509, Sultan Suleiman’s first appointment as a prince was at the age of 15 in Kafa, where he was sent as governor.

Noor Bano and Safia Sultan

Leslie Pierce states in her book, The Imperial Haram, that Cecilia was the birthplace of Sultan Noor Bano, the favorite maiden of Saleem II, the son of Hurrim Sultan, and the first powerful mother. They were unmarried children of members of two noble families in Venice. She became part of the royal harem as a slave at the age of 12 after being captured by the Ottoman Admiral Barbarossa. It is said that Sultan Saleem II also followed in the footsteps of his father Sultan Suleiman and married Noor Bano.

When Sultan Saleem died in 1574, his son Murad III ascended the throne and Safia Sultan was his favorite slave girl who, according to historians, had been taken prisoner from Albania to the royal shrine. Noor Bano and Safia Sultan are part of a time when the position of mother Sultan was very important. The relationship between mother and son has always been politically important in Ottoman history, but it was formally recognized at the end of the 16th century. “Although these royal mothers did not have the right to direct power, they must have been the custodians of this source of power.”

Why did Ottoman women gain power in the 16th century?

Historians say the reasons are very complicated. But one aspect that encompasses all of this was the beginning of a period of stability in the Ottoman Empire, which stretched far beyond the period of conquests, and the transition from a military state to an administrative and bureaucratic state. Pierce writes in his book Imperial Haram that the first princes were accompanied by their mothers when they went to take charge of their provinces, whose duties included training and supervision, but when at the end of the 16th century the title of Mother Queen Importantly, all generations of ‘political mothers’ belonged to the same political man of the family, the Sultan.

The royal family was now gathered under one roof in the capital (over time the princes ceased to travel to the provinces and they were mostly confined to the royal palace) over which the Sultan’s mother’s superiority was a natural thing and one of which Mazhar was a map of the royal palace in which the residence of the mother queen was central, it was connected to all parts of the harem and it was in direct contact with the residence of her son and the Sultan.

It cannot be merely a coincidence that Murad III, who moved the residence of the Sultan to the precincts of the Haram, was the first Sultan to be enthroned by his mother, the head of the royal family.

Thus, Leslie Pierce says, these women played an important role in preserving and perpetuating the power of the family during the difficult times of the Ottoman Empire. An example of this is the special concubine of Sultan Ahmed I, who ascended the throne in 1603. Qusam is the life of the Sultan.

Noor Bano and Safia Sultan and the Queen of Europe
In the last decades of the 16th century, when the empire was going through a difficult diplomatic period in the East at the same time on the Safavid front and in the west in Europe, the Sultan’s mother played a key role in keeping the avenues open. “However, Sultan’s mother did not always act according to the Sultan’s wishes and it is known that she did not hesitate to do anything in her personal interest.”

Pierce wrote in The Imperial Haram that the mother Sultan’s authority in foreign affairs was especially evident in the times of Murad III and Muhammad III. An important aspect of the diplomacy of Noor Bano and Safia Sultan was the support of the Republic of Venice. In 1583, the Venetian Senate passed a resolution in favor of giving a gift to Nur Bano Sultan by 130 votes to five.

Shortly before her death, Noor Bano reversed her decision to invade Venice, perhaps the greatest service to her homeland.

After the death of Noor Bano Sultan, Safia Sultan also continued to support Venice. Pierce writes that even after Safia Sultan’s withdrawal from politics in 1603, the Venetian ambassadors continued their policy of having close contact with women close to the Sultan.

Pierce writes that at the end of the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I of England faced the Spanish Hapsburg Empire. In this regard, Safia Sultan was instrumental in the success of her embassy in Istanbul. Safia Sultan’s contacts with foreign ambassadors were through a Jewish official. Queen Catherine Damdichi, the mother of France, kept in touch with Sultan Murad, but on one occasion she also contacted Nour Bano, in which she requested the restoration of trade facilities given to France for the first time in 1536.

Similarly, there was correspondence between Safia Sultan and Queen Elizabeth I, as Safia Sultan writes, “I received your letter … Inshallah, I will act according to what you have written.” May you be satisfied in this matter … may our friendship last forever. I have received your carriage and we gladly accept it. I have sent you a dress, a scarf, three handkerchiefs, two towels under the gold, a ruby ​​and a crown of pearls. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Half a century of Qusam Sultan

The Sultan is said to have come from Greece, where she had been taken prisoner to the royal palace. Like Khurram Sultan, her reign spanned several decades, but most of her time was spent as her mother Sultan. When Sultan was assassinated in the royal palace in 1651, it was also said that it was done by a group considered to be supporters of his daughter-in-law Torkhan Sultan.

She was the favorite maid of Sultan Ahmad I (1603-1617). For 28 years after the death of Sultan Ahmed, she was the mother of Sultan Murad IV and Sultan Ibrahim and in the early days of her grandson Sultan Muhammad IV.

The role of the Sultan in ending the tradition of killing brothers?
It may be recalled that when Sultan Muhammad III, the father of Sultan Ahmad I, ascended the throne in 1595, according to historians, he had his 19 brothers killed immediately. Earlier, his grandfather Sultan Murad III had killed his nine younger brothers on his accession to the throne in 1574, and according to some sources, five younger brothers.

In previous Ottoman generations, brothers were killed in battle for the throne, but when Sultan Ahmad ascended the throne, his younger brother Mustafa was not only not killed, but after the Sultan’s own death, despite his poor mental health. And instead of Ahmed I’s sons, Prince Mustafa took the throne.

Historians believe that Qusam Sultan also played a key role in the attempt to end the slaying of the brothers and to bring the eldest member of the family to the throne.

Pierce writes that Sultan was aware of history and understood that if history was repeated and Sultan Ahmed killed his brother, then after Sultan Ahmed when his son Usman II (step son of Sultan Sultan) or someone And if the son also sits on the throne, the lives of the rest of his sons will also be in danger.

They probably killed Mutafi in the face of the danger that their sons would not kill each other, and especially later supported his accession to the throne.

But how coincidental it is that four of Sultan Ahmed’s seven sons, who became sultans, were killed by his two brothers (Usman II, who was the son of another slave girl before the arrival of Sultan Ahmed’s sultan) and Sultan Murad IV.

Pierce says Sultan Usman II, 17, killed his younger brother, Mohammed, 16, with the formal permission of Romelia’s chief justice, before leaving for a military campaign in Europe, citing possible chaos in his absence.

The Chief Justice of Romelia was the second most important scholar in the kingdom. Historians also note that Sultan Uthman II killed only Prince Muhammad, one of his younger brothers, who was not the son of Qusam Sultan.

After the death of Uthman II, Murad, the son of Quasm Sultan, ascended the throne, and he told Pierce that he had killed two brothers under the guise of successful campaigns against Baghdad and the Safavid Empire, and that Ibrahim’s life had been saved by Qasm Sultan’s direct intervention. Qusam explained to Murad that Ibrahim was mentally ill and could not be in any danger.

By the time the Sultan asked one of his sons to spare the other, he probably had no idea how important this move was for the future of the Ottoman Empire. When Usman II and Murad IV died, they had no son to replace them. At that time, the only heir of the Ottoman dynasty was Prince Ibrahim.

Pierce says that at the time of his accession to the throne in 1640, there was a great concern in the kingdom that if Abraham had no children, the Ottoman dynasty might end, but Sultan Ibrahim had many children. They had eight special maids instead of one and three of them gave birth to a son.

According to Pierce, if Khurram Sultan is given importance in Europe, then according to the Turks, Qusam Sultan was the most powerful woman of the Ottoman dynasty. Like Khurram Sultan, she had many children and after a while she was the only companion of the Sultan.

Pierce quoted Simon Contarini, Venice’s ambassador to the Ottoman court, as saying that Qusam Sultan was “beautiful, intelligent and possessed of many talents.” She sings very well and the king loves her very much … but not everyone likes her but in many cases she is listened to … and the king wants to keep her with him at all times. ”

This report is dated 1612. In 1616, another European official in Istanbul reported that Qusam was the king’s most powerful and close aide. She can do whatever she wants with the king … it is never done.

However, Kontarini noted that “swearing is less sensible in important matters of the state for fear of offending the king.” According to Pierce, Sultan Ahmed probably wanted to avoid the impression that he was under the influence of a woman and did not want to offend his people like Sultan Suleiman.

Qusam Sultan was assassinated in 1651. There is a rumor that his assassination was carried out by supporters of his daughter-in-law Torkhan Sultan at the royal palace, and if this is true, it has been a source of contention between the old sultans and their impatient princes for power over the centuries. Reminds

Salute to Tor Khan Sultan and French cannons

Pierce cites an incident from the life of Torkhan Sultan as an example of the political role of his mother Sultan. This was in 1670, when his son and then-Sultan Muhammad IV were not in Istanbul.

According to the details, the ship of the ambassador of King Louis XIV of France, Marquis de Navantel, did not salute the cannons as per tradition, passing in front of the royal palace on his arrival in Istanbul, which caused a wave of anger in the whole city. The ambassadors of other countries in the city also said that France has endangered the interests of all.

Pierce says that Sultan Torkhan’s mother went to the royal palace one day with all her servants and demanded a royal salute to her name from a French ship. French ships were immediately decorated with colorful flags and artillery fire began. Meanwhile, the cannons of the royal palace also began to salute the mother Sultan.

The people of the city were disturbed by the thunder. Pierce says the process was halted when an Ottoman admiral reported that the noise was causing pregnant women in the city to have miscarriages.

Why aren’t slaves only wives?
Leslie Pierce explains that after half a dozen marriages with the princesses of Anatolia during the reign of the first two sultans, all the sultans were associated with women who were born Turks or Muslims except one. Explaining the reasons for this, Pierce writes that European observers of this period offer two justifications. One is that after the defeat at the hands of Sultan Timur Ling, the treatment of the wife of the Ottoman Sultan Bayazid did not want to be with the wife of any future Sultan and the other reason is that in Islam, wives had a right to property.

Pierce says it is difficult for the Ottoman sultans to formulate a policy in the event of a future defeat. She writes that slave girls have existed in Islamic history and that the mothers of kings in other empires had been slave girls before.

Pierce compares the growing importance of maids to the growing importance of enslaved boys in state administration and the military. She points out that this system of recruiting boys cannot be done by those who enslave America. These slaves of the Ottoman Empire had reached the highest military and administrative positions in the state within a hundred years. Pierce says the royal harem system was evolving in a similar way, and that the role of slave women may have been similar.

n addition, the slave girl did not come with a bond that was an integral part of a royal family’s marriage to a free Muslim woman, but Pierce writes that wherever the marriage took place, children were born to the slave girl.

“Denying wives from royal families the right to have children was tantamount to degrading their status.”

She writes that in the 14th century, or perhaps after the descendants of Uthman I and his son Orhan, all princes and princesses were descendants of slaves. He also quoted the 15th century Ottoman historian Shukrallah as saying that all the children of Bayazid I and his son Muhammad I were certainly born slaves.

Pierce writes that on the one hand there were circles which believed that the royal family was degraded by the slaves, and on the other hand the Ottomans were of the opinion that giving equality to the free woman of the royal family was against the dignity and sovereignty of the empire.

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