the Prominent Figure of Ottoman Empire

9 Women Who Became the Prominent Figure in the Ottoman Empire

Modern day Turkey has a long history and was ruled by the Ottoman Empire or known as Osmanli Devleti in the local language. The Ottoman Empire is also the longest running empire in history. It was established in 1299 AD by Osman Ghazi, son of Ertugrul Ghazi, who is considered as the founder of the empire.

The throne then passed on and on, but it was only men who had power. You can watch shows like “Dirilis: Ertugrul” and “Kurulus: Osman” on Netflix if you want to learn about them.

The entire map of the empire changed when the reign of Sultan Suleiman, also known as Suleiman the Magnificent, started. Credited for extending the empire, he is also regarded as one of the best Sultan of the empire, and his legacy still continues.

Changes started to happen in his era, when for the first time in Ottoman history, he married Hurrem Sultan, and was the first ever Sultan to legally marry someone. During those days, Christian girls used to be kidnapped from parts of Europe like Greece, Italy, Ukraine, Poland, etc, and used to be kept in the harem of the Ottoman palace.

The concubine who gives birth to a son or prince or known as Shehzada, is given the highest rank of a woman after the Valide Sultan (Queen Mother). But to get that position, she have to convert herself into Islam and change her name. The first Valide Sultan was Ayse Hafsa Sultan, who was the mother of Sultan Suleiman.

After the arrival of Hurrem, the Sultanate of Women started and the Empire gained more power during this era. The era started in 1533 and ended in 1656.

Today, we are going to read about the women who became Sultanas and changed the face of Ottomon Empire. Let us start the list:

1. Hurrem Sultan:

hurrem sultan Ottoman Empire

Born in Ruthenia, the modern day Ukraine, Rolexana was a woman of beauty and grace. Although her original name has been disputed between Rolexana, Alexandra or Anastasia. During the Crimean-Nogai slave raids in Eastern Europe, Rolexana was captured by the Ottomon army and was presented in the harem of Sultan Suleiman. At the time, Ayse Hafsa Sultan was the Valide Sultan. She converted to Islam from Orthodox Christian, and changed her name to Hurrem.

Slowly, Hurrem started to rise in power from the concubine position to the official wife of Sultan Suleiman, hence becoming Hurrem Sultan. She gave birth to six children: Sehzade Mehmed, Mihrimah Sultan, Sehzade Abdullah, Selim II, Sehzade Bayezid and Sehzade Cihangir. However, she lost all her sons one by one except Selim II, who became Sultan after the death of Sultan Suleiman, but Hurren Sultan couldn’t be the Valide Sultan as she died before his coronation.

Hurrem Sultan is regarded as the founder of the Sultanate of Women as she gained some political powers too and was involved in state affairs also. Suleiman loved her so dearly that he even composed a poem for her.

2. Mahidevran Sultan:

Mahidevran Sultan Ottoman Empire

Mahidevran was the first concubine of Sultan Suleiman, and bore him his first son, Sehzade Mustafa. Mahidevran and Suleiman loved each other very dearly and she also had a good relationship with Valide Sultan, but after Hurrem arrived, things started to get difficult for her.

Due to the grace of Hurrem, Suleiman started to get attracted towards her more than Mahidevran, and at a point it was also said that she beat Hurrem very badly and damaged her beautiful face. After all this, she was sent to Manisa, a city in Turkey, along with Sehzade Mustafa.

Mahidevran Sultan really tried hard to make Mustafa the new Sultan, but failed every time as Hurrem emerged more clever than her. It is also said that she was the one to kill Sehzade Mehmed by giving him smallpox, but then Hurrem played her games and Sehzade Mustafa was executed by his own father, Sultan Suleiman.

As she lost her only son, she lived in poverty in Bursa, but was helped by Selim II. She outlived both Hurrem and Suleiman and died at the age of 80-81.

3. Mihrimah Sultan:

Mihrimah Sultan

The only daughter of Suleiman and Hurrem was Mihrimah Sultan. Being the only princess in the palace, she was favored a lot, and had a lot of power as a Sultana too. She is regarded as the most powerful imperial princess the Ottoman Empire has ever seen.

Growing upon the footsteps of her mother, Mihrimah was sharp minded like Hurrem from a very young age. She was married to Rustem Pasha, who also served as a Grand Vizier for her father.

Mihrimah Sultan also gained political power and went with her father on a lot of journeys. It is also assumed that she teamed up with Hurrem and made Suleiman kill her half-brother Sehzade Mustafa, but no direct evidence has been found.

The Mihrimah Sultan Mosque in Istanbul was built by her, and she was also like a Valide Sultan to her brother Selim II when he was on the throne

4. Nurbanu Sultan:

Nurbanu Sultan

Born as Cecelia and having the Venetian heritage, she was very beautiful and smart from a very young age and belonged to a well reputed family. Like Hurrem, she was also kidnapped by the Ottomans and was brought to the palace as a concubine for Selim II. Looking at Hurrem Sultan and how she turned herself from a slave to the most powerful woman in the empire, Cecelia was highly inspired by her.

Later, she converted to Islam and changed her name to Nurbanu, and gave birth to Selim II’s daughter Sah Sultan, and then Ismihan Sultan. Nurbanu only gave birth to one son, Murad III, who went on to become the next Sultan after the death of Selim II.

Nurbanu became the first slave girl to become the Valide Sultan, and enjoyed absolute power during her reign. She also directed her son in different political affairs and was allocated 2,000 coins daily. Like Hurrem, she was also the one to legally get married to a Sultan.

5. Safiye Sultan:

Safiye Sultan

Assumed to be from the Albanian origin, Safiye was brought to the palace by Mihrimah Sultan for her nephew and son of Nurbanu, Murad III. She gained a lot of power during her period, and even gave birth to many children. When her husband, Murad III died, her son Sehzade Mehmed III was crowned the new Sultan, thus making her a Valide Sultan.

Like Hurrem, Safiye Sultan was able to gather her own loyal support system, and has gone to extreme lengths to get the power. It is also assumed that she hid one of her sons, known as Sehzade Yahya or Iskander, so that he doesn’t get executed by Mehmed III.

Safiye is also known to have a very strong alliance with Elizabeth Tudor, the Queen of England, and has conspired to kill her grandson, Sultan Ahmed I. The story also says that she tried to use her other grandson, Sehzade Mustafa, to become the most powerful woman in the empire.

However, all her plans didn’t work out due to Kosem Sultan, and she was locked up for her crimes. She died during the reign of her great-grandson, Osman II. She is also the only Sultana to live in the Ottoman palace during the reign of seven different sultans: Sultan Suleiman, Sultan Selim II, Sultan Murad III, Sultan Mehmed III, Sultan Ahmed I, Sultan Mustafa I and Sultan Osman II.

6. Handan Sultan:

Handan Sultan (portrayed by Tulin Ozen)

Handan Sultan was the chief consort of Sultan Mehmed III and the Valide Sultan of Ahmed I. She is believed to be of Bosnian origin, and when Mehmed III ascended the throne, she came to Istanbul with him.

Handan got a lot of power as she was the Valide Sultan for Ahmed I, but was constantly in clash with Safiye Sultan and Halima Sultan. She also acted as a co-regent and gained some political power, and is also credited to make Ahmed I get a loyal Pasha like Dervish Mehmed Agha.

Apart from all that, she was also a very charitable person, but died due to a long term illness.

7. Halima Sultan:

Halima Sultan (portrayed by Aslihan Gurbuz)

Halima was also a consort of Mehmed III and the mother of Mustafa I. Due to the practice of fratricide in Ottoman culture, her elder son Sehzade Mahmud was executed by his father, which affected Ahmed I a lot, because of which he promised that he would never kill Mustafa I.

But this decision led to a lot of controversies as it broke the Ottoman traditions, but still Halima feared that Mustafa might be executed. This made her play a lot of games to put Mustafa in the throne and rule as the Valide Sultan

When Ahmed I was on his tour, Mustafa was made the Sultan for a very short period of time, and Halima became the Valide Sultan. But after Ahmed arrived back, she lost all her titles.

After the death of Ahmed I, his son Osman II was made the new Sultan, but Halima gathered the support of the Janissaries army and dethroned Osman from the throne and killed him. Hence, Mustafa I became the new Sultan, and Halima became the Valide Sultan for the second time.

However, the decision was opposed by Ahmed I’s wife, Kosem Sultan, and soon Mustafa was dethroned. It is said that Kosem killed Halima, but it has not been confirmed.

8. Kosem Sultan:

Kosem Sultan

Born as Anastasia on an island of Greece, she was brought to the Ottoman harem at a very young age as a concubine to Ahmed I. She soon started to get a lot of attention from the Sultan, but then lost her title after another concubine, Mahfiruze gave birth to Ahmed I’s first son, Osman II. Mahfiruze died shortly after, and she took care of Osman II like her own son, and also gave birth to five sons: Sehzade Mehmed, Murav IV, Sehzade Kasim, Sehzade Suleyman and and Ibrahim. She also has 4 daughters: Gevherhan Sultan, Fatma Sultan, Ayse Sultan and Hanzade Sultan. She also abolished the system of killing brothers.

After Anastasia, she was named Mahpeyker and finally was named Kosem Sultan by Ahmed I. She had a very good relationship with Ahmed I until he died, and she had to clash with Safiye Sultan and Halima Sultan to protect her children. She ruled as Valide Sultan for the first time when Osman II sat on the throne, but was killed by the Janissaries army. Osman II also killed his brother Sehzade Mehmed, which was forbidden

After the death of Osman II, Mustafa I sat on the throne, but when Halima ordered all of Kosem’s sons to be killed, she protected her children and dethroned Mustafa I, and made Murad IV the new Sultan.

During the reign of Murad IV, Kosem couldn’t use much of her power as Valide Sultan, as he was not in favor of that. Like Osman II, Murad IV also conspired to kill Sehzade Kasim and Sehzade Ibrahim, to secure his throne. He killed Kasim, but at the right time Ibrahim was saved by Kosem Sultan.

Shortly after Murad IV died, Ibrahim I became the new Sultan, hence making Kosem Valide Sultan for the third time. This is the first time when a woman was crowned Valide Sultan three times. But Ibrahim soon grew mad and she couldn’t control him much. Later by the help of Ibrahim’s wife and her daughter-in-law, Turhan Sultan, she dethroned Ibrahim and placed her grandson on the throne.

It is said that Kosem was betrayed by Turhan Sultan, and in her order, she was murdered. But Kosem is still regarded as the most powerful woman in the Ottoman Empire till date.

9. Turhan Sultan:

Turhan Sultan

Turhan was brought to the palace from Ukraine as a concubine to Sultan Ibrahim I. She gave birth to only two children: Mehmed IV and Fatma Sultan. Like Kosem, she also had power as the mother of prince, and teamed up with Kosem to dethrone her husband Ibrahim and make Mehmed IV the new Sultan. Hence, they succeeded, but Kosem was soon murdered after that.

Turhan ruled as a Valide Sultan to Mehmed IV and gained a lot of power. She was also a part of conferences as Mehmed IV was too young at that time.

Her influence in the empire grew stronger day by day and her regency also marred the war with the Venetians.

Turhan Sultan died in 1683, and was considered the last greatest woman in the Ottomon history. Hence, her death ended the 133 year old Sultanate of Women.

Shortly after Murad IV died, Ibrahim I became the new Sultan, hence making Kosem Valide Sultan for the third time. This is the first time when a woman was crowned Valide Sultan three times. But Ibrahim soon grew mad and she couldn’t control him much. Later by the help of Ibrahim’s wife and her daughter-in-law, Turhan Sultan, she dethroned Ibrahim and placed her grandson on the throne.

It is said that Kosem was betrayed by Turhan Sultan, and in her order, she was murdered. But Kosem is still regarded as the most powerful woman in the Ottoman Empire till date.

During this period, the Ottoman empire flourished a lot, and a lot of improvements took place. All of these women are still remembered today and if you wanna know more about them, there are also different books, shows and movies about them.

The book, Empress of the East, is about Hurrem Sultan. There is a Turkish drama called “Muhtesem Yuzyil” (translated as The Magnificent Century), that tells the story of Hurrem Sultan and Sultan Suleiman. Also, there is the storyline for Mahidevran Sultan, Mihrimah Sultan and Nurbanu Sultan. The show has 4 seasons and 139 episodes. Actresses Meryem Uzerli and Vahide Percin play the character of Hurrem Sultan, while Nur Fettahoglu plays Mahidevran Sultan, Pelin Karahan plays Mihrimah Sultan and Merve Bolugur plays Nurbanu Sultan in the show.
Another show is the spin-off series of Muhtesem Yuzyil, and is called “Muhtesem Yuzyil: Kosem” (translated as The Magnificent Century: Kosem).

This show highlights the life of Kosem Sultan. Also, the show shows the storyline of Safiye Sultan, Handan Sultan, Halima Sultan and Turhan Sultan, but not much of Turhan is shown in the show as it mostly focused only on Kosem Sultan. The character of Kosem Sultan is played by three actresses: Anastasia Tsilimpiou, Beren Saat and Nurgul Yesilcay. Other Sultanas like Safiye Sultan are played by Hulya Avsar, Handan Sultan is played by Tulin Ozen, Halima Sultan is played by Aslihan Gurbuz and Turhan Sultan is played by Hande Doğandemir. The show has two seasons and 60 episodes.
It was really a magnificent century for the Ottoman Empire when all these women made a mark for themselves.

Do let us know what you think about the Sultanate of Women and which Sultana do you think was the most powerful one?

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