Suleiman “the Magnificent” was the tenth and longest-reigning, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1520 to his death in 1566.  He had four concubines whose sole purpose was to bear his children.  In addition there were over 300 other concubines who were slaves that were given, purchased, or captured in war by the Ottomans.  These were usually Christian slaves’ and one of these women was Roxelana. Roxelana was Ukrainian and had been captured and taken as a slave to the Crimean city of Kaffa, a major center of the slave trade, and resold to Istanbul where she was selected for Suleiman’s harem.  She quickly rose up through the ranks, capturing the attention of the sultan becoming one of his favorites. Roxelana is known also by her Turkish name of Khourrem, meaning “the cheerful / laughing one”, for her high spirits and storytelling abilities.

 You can imagine the ire the other concubines felt toward Roxelana; especially Sultana Gulfem, whose son Mustafa, was considered to be the heir to the Ottoman throne.  Roxelana used her influence over the Sultan to have Mustafa, accompanied with his mother, sent away as governor to a far province of the Empire in 1534.  Soon after, Roxelana bore Suleiman a son, who she hoped would replace Mustafa as Suleiman’s heir.  Roxelana soon climbed to the position of chief consort in the harem, as well as chief minister to the Sultan.

Next, Roxelana managed to do what no Ottoman concubine before her had done – she convinced the Sultan to marry her.  Islamic law permitted a sultan to take up to four wives, plus as many concubines as he could afford to keep. Until Suleiman, no Ottoman sultan had married even once. Breaking with 300 years of Ottoman tradition, Suleiman married Roxelana in a formal ceremony. The marriage caused a stir throughout both Europe and the Islamic world. She bore Suleiman four more children, and one of her sons, Selim, inherited the Empire. Suleiman allowed her to remain with him at court for the rest of her life, despite another tradition that when imperial heirs became of age, they would be sent along with the imperial concubine who bore them to govern remote provinces of the Empire, never to return unless their progeny succeeded to the throne. Selim succeeded Suleiman as Sultan in 1566, after a struggle with his brother, Bayazid.    Roxelana died in 1558, eight years before her husband.

Brandt, George. “Choosing Between Henry VIII and Suleiman the Magnificent’s Approaches to Succession Management”.  Forges Magazine.  3 June 2012.  Web  3 June 2013.

“Roxelana a woman with power at the Ottoman Empire”.  Business with Turkey.  10 Oct 2002.  Web.  2 June 2013.

“Ukrainian Slave Wife the Ruler of Islamic Empire: The Story of Roxelana”.  Russian Women Speaking English.  13Dec2006. Web.   3 June 2013.

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