The Ottoman Empire and the Sultanate of Women

The Ottoman Empire ruled for many years in Modern Turkey and in all that time only a few female sultans came in to power. A woman rarely got power unless it was given to her by the sultan so how did some rise through the ranks and even become sultans themselves?Sultans had a harem full of concubines who entertained them and kept their bed warm.These women were taught how to please the sultan but they also learnt the ins and outs of politics because of their proximity to the sultan. It wasn’t only the King’s lovers that lived in the harem but his female family members too.

Life in the harem was hierarchical and many of the women were rarely chosen or never chosen to go into the sultan. To be noticed by him they had to be really beautiful and intelligent in order to keep his attention. At the top of the hierarchy of women in the harem was the sultan’s mother, she ran the women’s affairs and could potentially influence who her son chose to become his favorite.

This may not be classified as true power as these women were trained to please the king and not rule the affairs of the empire so how did some of them attain that power ?This began in the period historians referred to as the sultanate of women which was the one hundred and fifty year span that women had the most power. While the exact dates of this period are being debated on by historians many agree that it started during the reign of Suleiman the magnificent between 1520-1683, harem life contributed to the rise of women in power. Once a woman became the Sultan’s favorite she could give her opinions on matters of state and hence influence his decision.

The concubines also strived to give their sons a good life and increase their chances of becoming the next sultan, because once a man became the sultan his mother became the second most powerful person in the entire empire. Haseki Sultan or the sultan’s wife had great power and influence in the empire but this was not a thing until the era of the sultanate of women began and this change was brought by Roxelana. Roxelana was born in modern day Ukraine, she was sold into slavery as a young girl and was bought by Suleiman the Magnificent’s grand vizier and given to the sultan as a gift.

She was very beautiful but she knew beauty wasn’t all that she needed to survive and be of great importance, she was lucky to give the sultan a male child and used her wit and intelligence to become his favorite advising him on matters of state. She may not have had considerable power than any woman ever had in the Ottoman Empire but she has gone down in history as a well known woman leader , it is because of her that the sultanate of woman began an era whose emergence is usually attributed to Suleiman the magnificent. Before Roxelana it was uncommon for the sultan to get married as they preferred to enjoy their harem but Suleiman broke from tradition and married Roxelana they had four more children together.

Men were supposed to have their space and the women their own but Roxelana lived with the Sultan, a change that may have upset many in the court even more than their marriage. Roxelana’s marriage to the sultan changed her status from slave to empress and she used her new position for charitable causes. She wasn’t perfect and was known to kill anyone who got in the way of her and her husband. She also used her new position to change certain traditions in the empire.

For instance it was normal for a sultan to kill all his brothers when he assumed power but rather than let three of her sons die she used her power to keep them alive.As earlier stated, Roxelana was well known but she wasn’t the most powerful figure in the sultanate of women that title goes to Kosem Sultan. She was likely born in Greece thirty years after Roxelana’s death, she became the third wife of Achmed and eventually became his only partner. They had many children together and they may have even loved each other , sadly Achmed died at a young age in 1617.

After his death she used her power and influence to put his mentally ill brother on the throne and ruled through him. That did not last long because he was seen as incompetent due to his mental illness. He was deposed just a few months after ascending the throne. He was replaced by one of Achmed’s sons from another woman and Kosem was out of power for a few years. In 1623 Kosem returned to power when her son Murad became sultan , this time she had more power because she was the mother of the sultan. She was regent and reigned by herself for five years because Murad was still a minor.He was seen as a bit of a cruel ruler when he became old enough to govern the empire but he did take some advice from his mother, he died before producing any suitable heirs and Kosem’s other son took the throne in 1640. Ibrahim was a cruel ruler and Kosem conspired to get rid of her own son and replace him with her six year old grandson. This enabled Kosem to gain power again since he was a minor, the mother of the sultan was now the most powerful woman in the land but Kosem still ruled over her. This caused tension between them and eventually the sultan’s mother had Kosem killed . Both of Kosem’s sons have gone down in history as being cruel so her influence was needed to help them not make rash decisions and to keep the empire stable. Kosem had the most power during this era and after her death it began to decline.