Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Valide Sultans of the Ottoman Empire

Valide Sultans – Queen Mothers of the Ottoman Sultans.

These women were the real power behind the Ottoman throne (Constantinople) from the late-15th Century to the mid-17th Century. Even from the seclusion of the Imperial Harem, they wielded considerable power and influence. Valide Sultans typically had one son by the Sultan.

However, such was the power of one concubine, Roxelana (aka:Hurrem) over Sultan Sulyeman the Magnificent that she bore him three sons. And in a huge departure from Harem and indeed Ottoman protocol, Roxelana persuaded the Sultan to enter into a monogamous marriage with her and elevate her to the position of Empress or Sultana. This was unheard of - the laws of Islam forbade marriage with a slave (concubine).

As such, these women devoted their lives to their son, who would be raised within the Imperial Harem. Each mother lived in the hope that one day, her son would outlive and outlast his many brothers, and ascend the Imperial throne. Unfortunately, with the multitude of women available, the Sultan had no shortage of sons – but only one could rule – and the rest were ritually strangled (to remove any future opposition). Harem politics could be and quite often was, extremely ruthless.

Due to the early influence over their sons, these women, if they attained the position of Valide Sultan, could actually influence political decision-making both internally and externally. They could influence the appointment of ministers and favourites – or arrange their “removal”. Many undertook grand building schemes – mosques, hammans (bath-houses), and palaces.

Despite the fact that these women could never sit publicly at the “divan” (diwan - council of state) with the Sultan, they were known to sit behind a decorative screen and communicate with the Sultan – for they could never directly speak with those present (usually males).

These women, who were secluded from the outside world, could literally run the Ottoman Empire. However, by the mid-17th century, the power and influence of the Valide Sultans began to wane.

In addition to Roxelana (Hurrem), only four other women wielded considerable power from with the harem – Valide Sultans Nur Banu, Safiye, Kosem and Turhan - and Kosem would be the most powerful.

~~~ Melisende (pub: 6/2/2007)

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