The ever expanding Ottomon empire and within it lies the story of Sultan Süleyman and Hürrem Sultan. First rose to glory in the 12th century, the Ottomons ruled major parts of the world from the Horns of Africa to the Crimean Peninsula for over six hundred years. Sultan Süleyman, was the tenth and longest-reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1520 until his death in 1566. But under his tremensous success lies the wisdom and perhaps brain of his beloved wife Hurren Sultan.
Born as a free woman, captured, turned to a concubine and raising to become a queen, Hurrem Sultan is one of the most powerful woman of the Ottomon history. Especially her influence over the Sultan is remembered more than just a beloved wife. This is her story.
Master Manipulator or a woman of power?
Hurrem Sultan was born in Ruthenia in western Ukraine under the kingdom of Poland. Although her birthname was Aleksandra Lisowska, she was known as Roxelane due to her red hairs, green eyes and white skin. Her father was a Orthodox priest. At the age of 12, she was captured by the Crimean cavalries and sent to Topkapı Palace in Istanbul.
After being trained and educated enough to be a concubine at the royal palace, she was given the name ‘Hurrem’. Her new name meant the cheerful one. Though there are only few surviving portraits of Hurrem, it is believed that she was a very beautiful woman with a loving smile. But apart from it, her brains added a statement to her personality. Remembered as an intelligent woman, Hurrem managed to capture the heart of Süleyman at the first sight. They met the same year Suleyman succeeded the throne. She was presented to him as a gift by his mother.
The next year, Hurrem gave birth to her first son with Suleyman- Şehzade Mehmed. She later also gave birth to Selim, Bayezid, Cihangir and then Mihrümah. Her first born Mehmed despite being the favourite child of Süleyman died at young age. It is believed that he was infected by a plague and died sucumming to it. The concubines who give birth to the sultan’s son were given the title “haseki” which means the mother of a prince. For this reason, Hürrem was also called “Hürrem Haseki.”
Bearing five children to Suleyman, Hurrem yet was still his concubine and not his legal wife. When she protested, Suleyman proposed her for marriage for which she initially denied. According to Ottoman culture, concubines are the property of Sultan and could not marry anyone till they are freed. Therefore, she asked Suleyman to first free her from being concubine and them marry her. Suleyman agreed her terms and first time in the history of Ottoman Empire, an Ottoman sultan married a haseki. No Concubine ever had married a Sultan.
There was yet another culture of the Ottoman that after the princes are sent to different states to govern, their mothers followed them. That meant that no wife of Sultan remains with him. They are all accustomed to follow their sons. However, after Hurrem sons were sent to the governing states, she remained behind on Sultan’s order. Hürrem was the first haseki who did not leave with her sons because the sultan wanted to keep her close.
After Hafsa Valide, Süleyman’s mother died and his first wife Mahidevran left the palace with her son, Hurrem become the most powerful female at the palace. She also acted as a spy for Suleyman when he was busy at wars. She oversaw palace order and informed the sultan of the latest news about Istanbul and the palace. Being educated enough to read and write, Hurrem would often write love letters to Sultan whenever he was out at war. She also wrote several love poems for Sultan. For this she was bestowed with the title “The Wife of the Sultan of the World.”
The legacy she left behind
Hurrem achieved power and influence over the politics of the Empire. She played an active role in affairs of the state. It is widely rumoured that she probably acted as Sultan’s advisor. People started Sultan being bewitched by Hurrem. Indeed it was Hurrem, who started women involvement in state affairs.
She once ordered to build a mosque in Istanbul’s Haseki area that incorporates a fountain, a poorhouse, a madrasah and a hospital. The hospital was named Haseki Hospital, and still offers its services to sick people today.
Hurrem died in 1558 and was buried in the Süleymaniye Mosque. Suleyman was so sad when she died that he built a tomb for her. When Suleyman died, he was buried next to her. In 2007, Muslims in Mariupol, a port city since 1922 in Ukraine opened a mosque to honour Hurrem.
Since then several books and movies have been made on the incredible story of Hurrem and Suleyman. Despite being born as a slave, she proved that people writes their own destiny and one cannot chose how they are born but can choose how to die. And Hurrem died a queen, a queen much powerful than the king.