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THE DEBUT OF KSEM SULTANS


POLITICAL CAREER
For Leslie Peirce, in gratitude for her
encouragement and support of my work

sem Sultan (d. 1651) is a very well known figure of seventeenth


century Ottoman history. Her political role during the reigns of his sons
Murad IV (1623-40) and Ibrahim (1640-48), and the early reign of
Mehmed IV (1648-87) is well attested in the sources, analyzed in contemporary Ottoman historiography, and even fictionalized in literature.1
All sources agree that she was the favorite concubine of Ahmed I (160317). Twentieth century studies tend to date the starting date of her
prominence to a couple of years before the birth of Murad IV in 1612.2
A closer look at the seventeenth century sources, however, suggests that
her political career started earlier, soon after the succession of Ahmed I
to the Ottoman throne. The present piece will substantiate this claim and
argue that Ksem Sultan should be assigned a more significant role in
the politics of succession during the reign of Ahmed I.
Baki TEZCAN is Assistant Professor of History and Religious Studies, University of California, Davis, CA 95616-8611, USA
e-mail: btezcan@ucdavis.edu.
1
See, for instance, the many references to Ksem Sultan in Leslie P. PEIRCE, The
Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire, New York, Oxford
University Press, 1993; as examples of fiction and fictionalized popular histories about
her, one could cite Reat Ekrem KOU, Ksem Sultan, 2 vols., Istanbul, Kervan Yaynlar,
1972; A. Turan OFLAZOGLU, Ksem Sultan: Oyun, Istanbul, Adam Yaynclk, 1982;
Jean-Louis BELACHEMI, Lempire des ombres: Kossem, 1589-1651, Toulouse, Editions
Milan, 1988; and Jean BELL, La dame de Topkapi: Roman, Paris, Denol, 1997.
2
The source of this assumption may be Ahmed Refik [ALTINAY], Kadnlar
Saltanat, 4 vols., Istanbul, Kitabhane-i Hilmi, 1332-1923, vol. 1, p. 147.

Turcica, 40, 2008, p. 347-359. doi: 10.2143/TURC.40.0.2037143


2008 Turcica. Tous droits rservs.

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M. Cavid Baysun suggests that Ksem Sultan was most probably


Greek by birth, but the various opinions put forward about her origin
and real name may not be reliable. While her formal name as a concubine was Mahpeyker, that is moon-faced, she was known as Ksem, a
nickname which seems to have been given to her either because of her
smooth skin (kse: hairless) or because of her leadership qualities and
independence (ksem: leader; free). She is believed to have born
Ahmed I four sons and three daughters, the eldest son being Prince
Murad (Murad IV),3 who was born in July 1612.4
If Ksems eldest son was indeed Murad, she could not have played a
significant political role in the dynastic politics of Ahmed Is reign as
the sultan had two elder sons, Osman (b. 1604) and Mehmed (b. 1605)
whose mothers would have taken precedence to her in prestige, at least
in the first half of Ahmed Is reign.5 Yet as I demonstrate below, contrary to the established opinion, Osmans mother had passed away a few
years after her sons birth, and Mehmed was actually Ksems own son.
Moreover, Ahmed Is mother Handan Sultan died quite early in his
reign, and his paternal grandmother Safiye Sultan was sent to the Old
Palace soon after his enthronement. Thus Ksem did not have any
potential rivals at the harem and enjoyed the prestige of being the most
senior mother at the imperial court after the death of Osmans mother.
Osmans mother
Modern accounts suggest that Osmans mother was alive when her
son ascended the throne in 1618, and that Osman II was very much
influenced by her in his decisions.6 Notwithstanding the assumptions of
modern scholarship, however, Osmans mother most probably died
while Osman was around the age of five at the latest. agatay Uluay
3
M. Cavid BAYSUN, Ksem Walida or Ksem Sultan, called Mahpaykar, Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Edition, vol. V, p. 272.
4
Mustafa SAFI, Mustafa Sfnin Zbdett-tevrhi, ed., Ibrahim Hakk uhadar, 2
vols., Ankara, Trk Tarih Kurumu, 2003, vol. 2, p. 145.
5
Actually, Ahmed I had another son, Selim, who was born before Murad in June
1611; but he died within a few weeks; ibid., vol. 2, p. 137. The Venetian bailo Simon
Contarini raises the possibility that there may have been yet another son who died as an
infant as he states in the summary report of his embassy to Constantinople, which he
wrote in 1612 apparently before the birth of Murad, that besides the two princes alive,
Ahmed had two other sons; one of them died soon after his birth, and the other a year
after his birth; see Nicolo BAROZZI and Guglielmo BERCHET, eds., Le relazioni degli stati
europei lette al senato dagli ambasciatori veneziani nel secolo decimosettimo: Turchia,
2 vols., Venice, 1871-72, vol. 1, p. 125-254, at p. 133 [reprinted in Luigi FIRPO, ed.,
Relazioni di ambasciatori veneti al senato, tratte dalle migliori edizioni disponibili e
ordinate cronologicamente, vol. 13: Constantinopoli (1590-1793), Torino, Bottega
dErasmo, 1984, p. 473-602, at p. 481].
6
See, for instance, Yaar YCEL and Ali SEVIM, Trkiye Tarihi, 4 vols., Ankara, Trk
Tarih Kurumu, 1990-92, vol. 3, p. 55.

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claims that Osmans mother died in 1620 and was buried in Eyb.7 It is
correct that she is buried in Eyb, yet the chronogram marking the construction of her tomb suggests that she must have died before 1618.8
According to the resident French ambassador at the Ottoman capital
in 1618, Osmans mother had actually died while Osman was a little
boy.9 The Venetian bailo Ottaviano Bon in 1609 simply states that
Ahmed I had two sons and two daughters by three women.10 George
Sandys writes, most probably in 1610, that the mother of the firstborn
prince had passed away.11 In 1612 another Venetian bailo, Simon Contarini, does not refer to the mother of Osman at all but states that Osman
went for carriage rides with the queen, the mother of the second born
son,12 who is Ksem Sultan as I demonstrate below. Pietro Della Valle
asserts in 1614 that the mother of the firstborn prince had already died.13
Cristoforo Valier, Contarinis successor between 1612 and 1615,14 states
7

The document that M. agatay ULUAY, Padiahlarn Kadnlar ve Kzlar, Ankara,


Trk Tarih Kurumu, 1980, p. 48, n. 1, cites as evidence for the date of her death specifies
her burial place but does not seem to suggest that she died in the year that the document
is dated. Peirce states that the document cited by Uluay is not to be found in the Topkap Palace Museum Archives under the number he cites; see PEIRCE, The Imperial
Harem, op. cit., p. 336, n. 8.
8
Hazret-i Eyybda Sultn Osmn vlidesi trbesinin binsna Kesb trh demitir:
Trbe-i vlide-i pdih oldu bd, 1027 (1618), Hfz Hseyin AYVANSARAYI, Mecmu-i Tevrih, eds., Fahri . Derin and Vhid ubuk, Istanbul, Istanbul niversitesi Edebiyat Fakltesi Yaynlar, 1985, p. 304-5. This chronogram suggests that Osman II built a
tomb over his mothers grave in 1618, yet does not inform us about the exact date of her
death.
9
Achille de Harlay, baron de Sancy, the French ambassador to the Ottoman capital,
identifies Osman II in his letter to Louis XIII, the King of France, as non le fils de la
Sultanne vivante mais lain nomm Osman, orfelin de sa mere des il y a dix ans; Bibliothque nationale de France [BnF hereafter], MS fr. 16148, f. 281a, dated on February
26, 1618, the day of Osmans enthronement. That Osmans mother is dead is also stated
in a relation on the life and death of Nasuh Pasha, written sometime after Nasuhs execution in 1614 and sent by the same ambassador on March 5, 1616; BnF, MS Collection
Dupuy 429, f. 109b.
10
Non ha la Maest Sua sposata alcuna schiava fin hora, et si ritrova haver con tre
donne quattro figli, due maschi et due femine. Il maggiore, destinato alla successione,
haver cinque anni forniti; the relation of Ottaviano Bon, read to the Venetian Senate
on June 9, 1609, in Maria Pia PEDANI-FABRIS, ed., Relazioni di ambasciatori veneti al senato, vol. 14: Constantinopoli, Relazioni inedite (1512-1789) (Padova: Bottega dErasmo,
1996), p. 475-523, at p. 514. The two sons must be Osman and Mehmed. Although Bon
read this report in June 1609, the information it reproduces may have been somewhat
dated as he had left Istanbul earlier.
11
George SANDYS, A Relation of a Journey begun an: dom: 1610, London, 1615,
p. 74.
12
BAROZZI and BERCHET, eds., Le relazioni degli stati europei: Turchia, op. cit.,
vol. 1, p. 133 [FIRPO, ed., Relazioni: Constantinopoli, op. cit., p. 481].
13
Pietro DELLA VALLE, Reiss-Beschreibung in unterschiedliche Theile der Welt, ed. in
German, Philippo Maria Bonini, Genff, 1674, p. 29.
14
Although his relazione was read in the Senate of Venice in 1616, he had actually

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that Ahmed had four sons, two from the sultana who died, and two from
the one alive.15 Thus the available evidence strongly suggests that
Osmans mother had died by 1610 at the latest, if not earlier. The only
other thing we know about her is that her name was probably Mahfiruz.16 That she was Greek and taught Osman Latin, Greek, and Italian
are products of the imagination of an eighteenth century French novelist
which surprisingly entered Ottoman historiography as facts.17
The mother of Prince Mehmed
Once Osmans mother passed away, the mother of Mehmed, the second born son of Ahmed I, became the most senior mother at the imperial palace. Modern studies identify this woman with Osmans mother
and assert that Mehmed was not one of Ksems sons.18 It is, however,
impossible for Osman and Mehmed to be full brothers since they were
born only four months apart from each other.19 Moreover, early seventeenth century sources suggest that Mehmed was Ksems son.
Contemporary European accounts consistently identify Ksem Sultan
as the mother of the second born son of Ahmed. Pietro della Valle, for
instance, in a letter he wrote from Istanbul in October 25, 1614, refers to
her as the mother of the second born son of Ahmed and adds that she is
regarded as a queen.20 Moreover, in another letter from Isfahan, dated
died on July 15, 1615, in the island of Corfu, on his return trip to Venice; BAROZZI and
BERCHET, eds., Le relazioni degli stati europei: Turchia, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 8.
15
Ibid., vol. 1, p. 255-320 [FIRPO, ed., Relazioni: Constantinopoli, op. cit., p. 603-68],
at p. 291 [639]. By 1615, Ahmed had more than fours sons; thus the numbers of sons
ascribed to sultanas might be wrong.
16
Although one comes across to this name in quite a number of modern sources, its
earliest appearance, as far as I have been able to determine, is in the chronicle of Na'im,
who was not a contemporary; see Mustafa NA'IMA, Tarh-i Na'm, 6 vols., Istanbul,
1281-83, vol. 2, p. 156. ALTINAY, Kadnlar Saltanat, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 146, refers to her
as Hadice Mahfiruz, yet his source is not clear.
17
For claims about Osmans knowledge of European languages, see Stanford SHAW, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, vol. 1: Empire of the Gazis: the Rise and
Decline of the Ottoman Empire, 1280-1808, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1976,
p. 191. The novel, which is the source of these claims, is Madeleine-Anglique De GOMEZ,
Histoire dOsman, premier du nom, XIXe empereur des Turcs, et de limpratrice Aphendina
Ashada, 2 vols., Paris, 1734; idem., The Life of Osman the Great, tr., John Williams, 2 vols.,
London, 1735. A very extensive treatment of her novels, which include others that are
inspired by the Ottoman and Safavid Empires, is available in Joseph De LAPORTE, Histoire
Littraire des Femmes Franoises, 5 vols., Paris, 1769, vol. 3, p. 466-644.
18
See, for instance, ULUAY, Padiahlarn Kadnlar, op. cit., p. 47; see also Joseph
Von HAMMER, Geschichte des Osmanischen Reiches, grossentheils aus bisher unbentzten Handschriften und Archiven, 10 vols., Pest, 1827-35, vol. 4, p. 509, 522.
19
Osman was born on November 3, 1604, and Mehmed on March 8, 1605; Mehmed
bin Mehmed El-EDIRNEVI, Tarh [originally untitled], Sleymaniye Ktphanesi, MS
Lala Ismail Efendi 300, f. 9; SAFI, Zbdett-tevrh, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 24-5.
20
DELLA VALLE, Reiss-Beschreibung, op. cit., p. 29.

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April 22, 1619, Della Valle, while recounting some rumors he heard
about events in Constantinople, talks about a Prince Mahmud, whom he
refers to as the second born son of Ahmed and the firstborn of Ksem.21
Mahmud, in this case, should be seen as a mistake for Mehmed rather
than Murad. Furthermore Sandys, who seems to have written the part of
his travel account that deals with Istanbul and the Ottoman family in
1610, identifies Ksem as the mother of the second born prince as
well.22 In short, with the birth of Prince Mehmed in March 1605, Ksem
had become the second most senior mother of a prince at the palace.
After the death of Osmans mother in the next few years, she became the
most senior mother at the imperial court.
Ksems potential rivals at the harem
Ksem could have had three potential female rivals after the death of
Osmans mother in her bid for power at the imperial court: Ahmed Is
mother Handan Sultan, his paternal grandmother Safiye Sultan, and the
mother of Prince Mustafa, Ahmed Is younger brother who survived his
elder brothers accession. Among these three, Handan Sultan was the
first one to be eliminated as she passed away in 1605 most probably
even before the death of Osmans mother.23 A rumor circulating in the
capital at the time was suggesting that Ahmed might have poisoned his
own mother.24 Although there is no tangible evidence to this effect, it is
interesting to note that Ahmed I had appointed a new chief black eunuch
to oversee the harem, just four days prior to his mothers death.25
As for Safiye Sultan, Ahmed I had sent her to the Old Palace on January 9, 1604, soon after he succeeded to the throne.26 This powerful
woman whose influence in Ottoman politics was felt strongly during the
reign of her son Mehmed III (1595-1603) spent the reign of her grandson in symbolic exile at the Old Palace where she died in 1619.27
21
Pietro DELLA VALLE, I Viaggi di Pietro della Valle: Lettere dalla Persia, vol. 1,
eds., F. Gaeta and L. Lockhart, Rome, 1972, p. 419. This letter is translated in a summarized fashion in John PINKERTON, ed., A general collection of the best and most interesting Voyages and Travels in all parts of the world; many of which are now first translated
into English, digested in a new plan, vol. 9, London, 1811; but this particular part is
missing; compare, p. 93, with DELLA VALLE, Viaggi, op. cit., p. 417-26.
22
SANDYS, A Relation, op. cit., p. 73-4.
23
Handan Sultan died on Wednesday, November 9, 1605, a year after Osmans birth
and eight months after the birth of Mehmed; El-EDIRNEVI, Tarh, op. cit., f. 5b.
24
See Sir Thomas SHERLEY, Discours of the Turkes, ed., E. Denison Ross, in Camden
Miscellany, vol. 16 [Camden Third Series, vol. 52], London, 1936, p. 5.
25
El-EDIRNEVI, Tarh, f. 5a-b; Mehmed bin Mehmed El-DIRNEVI, Nuhbett-tevrh
vel-ahbr, Istanbul, 1276, p. 231.
26
El-EDIRNEVI, Nuhbet, op. cit., p. 221.
27
For an example of her power during the reign of Mehmed III, see PEIRCE, The Imperial Harem, op. cit., p. 240. According to Karaelebizade, Safiye Sultan died in the Old
Palace in March-April 1619; Abdl'azz KARAELEBIZADE, Ravzatl-ebrr, Bulak,

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The last person who could possibly be of concern to Ksem was the
mother of Prince Mustafa, arguably the first Ottoman prince to survive
his elder brothers succession peacefully. The name of this woman is
simply not known. That she must have been alive during the reign of
Ahmed I is deduced from the fact that she was politically active during
both of the reigns of her son (1617-18, 1622-23).28 Yet as is the fate of
all concubines of deceased sultans except queen mothers she, too,
must have been sent to the Old Palace at the beginning of the reign of
Ahmed I. Moreover, her interests in securing the eventual succession of
her son Mustafa may well have led her to cooperate with Ksem who
would like to ensure the survival of her own son during the potential
future rule of Osman.
Ksem Sultan and the survival of Prince Mustafa
It is common knowledge that the Ottoman succession system moved
away from being a race open to all princes at the end of which the winner kills all others to a rule of seniority according to which the eldest
male member of the Ottoman house would succeed to the throne while
the others remained at the imperial palace under, practically, house
arrest. The survival of Prince Mustafa during the reign of his elder
brother Ahmed I proved to be crucial for this shift to take place. In this
section, I will argue that while Mustafas survival in the early stages of
Ahmed Is reign may be related to a concern about dynastic survival, his
survival in the second part of his brothers reign may be related to
Ksems own agenda about her own sons.
Prince Mustafa was most probably left alive at the accession of
Ahmed in 1603 because the new sultan was just thirteen years old when
he succeeded his father on the Ottoman throne, and his reproductive
capacity had not yet been tested.29 Far from having any offspring, he had
not even been circumcised yet. Ahmeds case was so unusual that when
Mehmed bin Mehmed el-Edirnev, the author of a world history, came to
report Ahmeds circumcision, he did not know how to put it. Thus he
wrote that on Friday, January 23, 1604, more than a month after the
accession of Ahmed to the throne, Ahmeds princes were circumcised,30
whereas in Mustafa Sfs chronicle of the reign of Ahmed I, it is clear
that it was the sultan himself who was circumcised.31 In short, one could
have easily argued that Prince Mustafa should be spared the royal tradi1248, p. 538. Von HAMMER, Geschichte des Osmanischen Reiches, op. cit., vol. 4, p. 509,
cites a Venetian report to the same effect, yet it is dated January 1619. ULUAY,
Padiahlarn Kadnlar, op. cit., p. 44, who claims that she died in 1605, must be mistaken.
28
PEIRCE, The Imperial Harem, op. cit., p. 248-9.
29
He was born in 1590; KARAELEBIZADE, Ravzatl-ebrr, op. cit., p. 470.
30
El-DIRNEVI, Nuhbet, op. cit., p. 221.
31
SAFI, Zbdett-tevrh, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 19-21.

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tion of fratricide until, at least, Ahmed I proved his reproductive capacity.


Another reason for the survival of Prince Mustafa may have been his
young age. Mustafas date of birth is not very clear. Most of the
Ottoman sources state that he must have been born in 1000/1591-92 in
Manisa, although there is a notable exception, Karaelebizde, who suggests 1011/1602-03 as his birth date.32 Some of the relations of Venetian
ambassadors suggest circa 1599, while others claim an earlier date.33
Mustafas lack of education implies a later birth date, sometime around
1600, and thus not in Manisa, but in Istanbul during the sultanate of his
father. His elder brothers, Selim, Ahmed, and Mahmud, were educated
by Mustafa Efendi, who was appointed to the instructorship of Prince
Mehmeds sons in Manisa around 1592. In 1595, following his patron,
Mustafa Efendi moved to Istanbul and continued with the education of
the princes. Upon the accession of Ahmed in 1603, he became the
teacher of the sultan.34 Yet his name is not mentioned in any connection with Mustafa, whose teacher is not recorded in narrative sources.
Thus most probably Sultan Mustafa did not have an opportunity for a
proper education during the reign of his father. Although he survived the
reign of his brother, his education was probably a secondary concern for
Ahmed, for whom his own sons should have mattered much more. Ottoviano Bon, the Venetian ambassador in Constantinople between 1604
and 1609,35 states in 1609 that he was being educated among the women
in the harem.36 Some sources suggest that Mustafas imperial orders,
which are supposed to be written by the hand of the reigning sultan,
were actually written by a female servant.37 Interestingly enough, during
32
M. Mnir AKTEPE, Mustafa I, Islm Ansiklopedisi, vol. VIII, p. 692-5, at p. 692;
KARAELEBIZADE, Ravzatl-ebrr, op. cit., p. 494.
33
Ottaviano Bon in 1609 estimates his age around 10; PEDANI-FABRIS, ed., Relazioni
inedite, op. cit., p. 514. Girolamo Cappello relates in 1600 that a new son was born to
Mehmed III in the previous year whose name he does not mention; ibid., p. 399. This
unnamed son could be Mustafa, in which case 1599 could be the date of his birth. But in
1612, Simon Contarini states that Mustafa is 16 years old; four years later, in 1616, his
age increases by eight years in the relation of Cristoforo Valier; see BAROZZI and
BERCHET, eds., Le relazioni degli stati europei: Turchia, op. cit., vol. 1, pp. 131, 292
[FIRPO, ed., Relazioni: Constantinopoli, op. cit., p. 479, 640].
34
At NEV'IZADE, Hadikul-hakik f tekmileti-akik, 2 vols. in one, Istanbul,
1268 [reprinted with indices in Abdlkadir ZCAN, ed., akaik- Nu'maniye ve Zeyilleri,
5 vols., Istanbul, agr Yaynlar, 1989, vol. 2], p. 522.
35
BAROZZI and BERCHET, eds., Le relazioni degli stati europei: Turchia, op. cit.,
vol. 1, p. 8, state that he served in Constantinople from 1604 until the end of 1608. Yet
Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts, relating to English affairs, existing in the
archives and collections of Venice, and in other libraries of Northern Italy, 38 vols., London, 1864-1940, vol. 11, p. 226, no. 429, includes a dispatch signed by him on February
5, 1609.
36
PEDANI-FABRIS, ed., Relazioni inedite, op. cit., p. 514.
37
AKTEPE, Mustafa I, art. cit., p. 694.

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the second sultanate of Mustafa (1622-23), two months after his accession, a high-ranking female servant of the harem was appointed to the
position of the teacher of the sultan.38 All of this circumstantial evidence suggests that Mustafa was born too late in the reign of Mehmed
III to receive a decent education. Thus Karaelebizdes claim for
1011/1602-3 as his birth date may well be right, which means that, as far
as the question of succession is concerned, Mustafa could not have been
a serious rival to his elder brother Ahmed in 1603.
Both of the reasons cited above for the survival of Prince Mustafa
changed as Mustafa grew to adulthood and Ahmed I proved himself
capable of producing several male heirs. After Osman (b. 1604),
Mehmed (b. 1605), and Murad (b. 1612), he fathered several other sons.
The next son of Ahmed should have been Bayezid, who, according to
Hasanbeyzde, was born three months after Murad, obviously not from
Ksem Sultan.39 Another son, Hseyin, was born in November 1613.40
Sf, who finished writing the extant version of his history in 1024/1615,
mentions besides Osman, Mehmed, Selim, Murad, and Hseyin, a prince
named Hasan as well.41 Hasanbeyzde and Karaelebizde mention
three other names, Sleyman, Kasm, and Ibrahim.42 Ibrahim, the last
son of Ahmed, as well as Ksem Sultan, was probably born in October
1617, a month before the death of his father.43 A privy purse register
38
A privy purse financial record, Babakanlk Osmanl Arivleri [BOA], Maliyeden
Mdevver [MM] 6147, p. 78, notes her among the married princesses and their daughters
(sultnn- brn) as Hazret-i Mh-Ruhsr [I am not certain of my reading of her
name] Htn, hvce-i hazret-i pdih- lem-penh, ibtid d f 14 ehr-i n [i.e.
Ramazn] sene 1031 [23 Temmuz 1622], with a salary of 100 akes per day. Her name
also appears among the major eunuchs of the harem (agayn- drssa'de der sary-
cedd-i mire) as one of the two women in that list; ibid., p. 79. There she gets 20
akes per day, twice as much as the other woman on the list. If one were to rank the
salaries of the 18 eunuchs and two women on this list, she would share the fifth place
with two eunuchs. She is neither the foster mother (dye htn) nor the stewardess of
the harem (kethd kadn der sary- cedd-i mire), who are listed together with the
princes, unmarried princesses, and the concubines of the former sultans, ibid., p. 78. Thus
it seems likely that this lady had a semi-administrative position in the harem and was
appointed to teach the sultan.
39
Ahmed HASANBEYZADE, Hasan Bey-zde Trhi, ed., Nezihi Aykut, 3 vols., Ankara,
Trk Tarih Kurumu, 2004, vol. 3, p. 899.
40
SAFI, Zbdett-Tevrh, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 300.
41
According to the order of names as Sf organizes them, Hasan seems to have been
born after Hseyin, probably after the period covered in his work but before he started
writing, thus most probably in 1615; ibid., vol. 2, p. 25. His name is absent from other
contemporary chronicles. For Selim, see n. 5 above.
42
HASANBEYZADE, Hasan Bey-zde Trhi, op. cit., vol. 3, p. 899; KARAELEBIZADE,
Ravzatl-ebrr, op. cit., p. 534.
43
Mehmed EYHI, Vakyi'l-fudal, 2 vols., Beyazt Ktphanesi, MS Veliyddin
Efendi 2361-2362; facs. ed., Abdlkadir ZCAN, akaik- Nu'maniye ve Zeyilleri, 5 vols.,
Istanbul, agr, 1989, vols. 3-4, vol. 3, p. 150, gives an exact date as 12 evvl 1026 / 13
October 1617.

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from 1622, that is after the execution of Mehmed by his elder brother
Osman II before the latter left the capital for his military expedition
against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, lists five princes alive:
Murad, Bayezid, Hseyin, Kasm, and Ibrahim, which brings the survival of Hasan and Sleyman into question as their names are not mentioned.44 Yet Peevi claims that he had seen Prince Sleyman while the
latter was out in the streets of Istanbul in disguise.45 To make things
more complicated, Peevi does not mention the name of Hseyin who is
believed to have died during his childhood.46 Thus either the archival
record or the narrative account seems to have been confused between the
names of Sleyman and Hseyin.47
What is beyond doubt, however, is that Ahmed I produced enough
male heirs not to worry about the future of the dynasty.48 So it is quite
legitimate to ask why he spared his brothers life, especially after he
proved his reproductive capacity. Obviously, the answer to this question would have multiple dimensions accounting for different factors.
One such factor, I would like to argue, was the presence of Ksem
Sultan.
From the birth of Prince Mehmed in March 1605 on, Ksem must
have taken an active interest in the politics of succession. After the death
of Osmans mother, that is once there was no woman left to look after
Osmans interests regarding the throne, Ksem could lobby more
strongly for an institutional change in the Ottoman succession as the
mother of the second born prince, who was only four months younger
than the firstborn. Were Osman to be favored during the lifetime of
Ahmed I the way Prince Murad was favored by Selim II and Prince
Mehmed by Murad III, Osman could easily kill all of his brothers as
soon as he came to the throne in the future, following the examples of
Murad III and Mehmed III. On the other hand, if Mustafas life could be
spared even after the future of the dynasty was secured, Osman could be
expected to act differently. Thus it was in Ksems interests to turn a situation created by the exigencies of Ahmed Is accession at a young age
into an institutional constant of Ottoman dynastic succession.

44

BOA, MM 6147, p. 77.


Ibrahim PEEVI, Tarh-i Peev, 2 vols., Istanbul, 1281-83, vol. 2, p. 348-9.
46
KARAELEBIZADE, Ravzatl-ebrr, op. cit., p. 534; A. D. ALDERSON, The Structure
of the Ottoman Dynasty, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1956, Table xxxiv, asserts that he died
in 1026/1617, but there is no source cited.
47
Since two princes were executed in 1635, and another one in 1638, by the orders of
Murad IV, their elder brother, their names were probably known to the people of the capital. The contemporary narrative sources mention their names as Bayezid, Sleyman, and
Kasm; see, for instance, KARAELEBIZADE, Ravzatl-ebrr, op. cit., p. 587, 595.
48
For the daughters of Ahmed I, see Baki TEZCAN, Searching for Osman: A
reassessment of the deposition of the Ottoman Sultan Osman II (1618-1622), Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton University, 2001, p. 334, n. 58.
45

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Ksems interest in the question of succession did not pass unnoticed


by contemporary observers. Simon Contarini, the Venetian bailo in Constantinople between 1609 and 1612, reported in 1612 that by letting the
brother of the sultan live, the queen was trying to make sure that
Osman would spare her son his life as well. Contarini does not mention
the name Ksem but talks about a queen (regina), whom he identifies
as the mother of the second oldest son of Ahmed I.49 According to contemporary European observers, Ksem Sultan also entertained ideas
about the succession of her own son Mehmed to the sultanate after the
death of Ahmed. Nasuh Pasha, during his grand vizierate (1611-14),
especially after his marriage to a daughter of Ahmed I most probably
Aye Sultan in 1612, became a close ally of Ksem Sultan, his
mother-in-law, who apparently thought that Nasuh Pasha could be of
help in securing the succession of Mehmed.50 This is easy to imagine as
Hurrem Sultan, Sleymans wife, and her son-in-law Rstem Pasha, the
grand vizier of Sleyman, had engaged in a similar alliance, which was
probably one of the important factors that brought about the execution of
Prince Mustafa, Sleymans son by another woman, in 1553.51 However,
Nasuh Pasha was executed on the orders of Ahmed in 1614. Thus
Ksem lost an important ally in the government. From that point on, she
probably concentrated her efforts on keeping Mustafa alive, rather than
on securing the succession of her own son, as the princess to whom the
new grand vizier kz Mehmed Pasha was married was apparently
Osmans full sister.52 With a brother-in-law as grand vizier, Osmans
chances in succession would have improved immensely.
Ksem Sultan might have had another ally for the execution of her
plans, the mother of Mustafa. She spent the reign of Ahmed I most probably in the Old Palace, where she may well have enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with Safiye Sultan who was sent to the Old Palace by
Ahmed I very early in his reign. Safiye Sultan, as the favorite of Murad
49
[L]a Bas Cadin, principalissima favorita del Gran Signore, e madre del secondogenito di Sua Maest che chiaman ora regina; BAROZZI and BERCHET, eds., Le relazioni
degli stati europei: Turchia, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 132 [FIRPO, ed., Relazioni: Constantinopoli, op. cit., p. 480]; see also PEIRCE, The Imperial Harem, op. cit., p. 233.
50
See ULUAY, Padiahlarn Kadnlar, op. cit., p. 50. According to Della Valle, who
was present in Istanbul in 1614, the princess Nasuh had married was the daughter of
Ksem Sultan; see della Valles letter, dated October 25, 1614; DELLA VALLE, ReissBeschreibung, op. cit., p. 28-9. The alliance between Ksem Sultan and Nasuh Pasha is
also noted by a French source, written sometime between 1614 and 1616: Nassouf
estoit favoris delle [i.e. Ksem], non tant pour ce quil avoit espous sa fille que pour
lesperance quelle avoit quavenant la mort du G.S. [i.e. Ahmed] il feroit succeder son fils
a lempire au preiudice de laisn qui est fils dune autre Sultane morte; BnF, MS Collection Dupuy 429, f. 109b.
51
See PEIRCE, The Imperial Harem, op. cit., p. 84.
52
DELLA VALLE, Reiss-Beschreibung, op. cit., p. 33. The name of this princess was
most probably Gevherhan Sultan; see TEZCAN, Searching for Osman, op. cit., p. 334,
n. 58.

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III and the mother of Mehmed III, had been a close witness of and participant in Ottoman politics since the latter part of the reign of Sleyman
(1520-66).53 Safiye Sultan, the paternal grandmother of Mustafa, might
have introduced the mother of Mustafa to her own circle of political connections, which included people like Nasuh Pasha, who owed his political career to Safiye Sultan and was now the son-in-law of Ksem Sultan.54 Furthermore the mother of Mustafa might have developed her own
connections since two viziers at the imperial council, Cgalazde Mahmud Pasha and Davud Pasha, were brothers-in-law of Mustafa.
Although Mahmud Pashas wife seems to have died in the last years of
the reign of Ahmed,55 Davud Pasha enjoyed the fruits of his relation to
Mustafa during both of his short reigns.56
Thus the mother of Mustafa, who would definitely have liked to see
her son succeed Ahmed I, and Ksem Sultan, who would have preferred
53

Safiye Sultans training as a female slave had taken place in the household of Ferhad Pasha (d. 1575), a vizier of Sleyman. Ferhad Pasha had married Hmashah, the
daughter of Prince Mehmed, who was the first son of Sleyman; Mustafa ALI, Knhlahbr, Istanbul niversitesi Ktphanesi, MS Trke Yazmalar 5959, f. 346b; Mustafa
SELANIKI, Tarih-i Selnik, ed., Mehmed Ipirli, 2 vols., Istanbul, Istanbul niversitesi
Edebiyat Fakltesi Yaynlar, 1989, vol. 1, p. 110-1, 171, vol. 2, p. 437.
54
Nasuh Pashas political career had started while he was the deputy of Safiye Sultan
for the collection of the taxes from the lands assigned to her by Mehmed III. Thanks to
his connection to the queen mother, he became the superintendent of the ushers at the
palace in 1598. In 1600, Safiye Sultan made him her trustee for the construction of her
mosque in Istanbul. Although Nasuh was dismissed from his position at the palace in
1600 due to the strong opposition of the cavalry soldiers against the queen mother, Safiye
Sultan made sure he was reappointed to a similar palace position in the winter of 1601-2.
Nasuh Pasha got his first major administrative appointment, the governorship of Aleppo,
also with the intermediacy of the queen mother sometime around 1602 [Nasuh Pasha was
definitely the governor of Aleppo in 1603; see Najm al-Dn Muhammad bin Muhammad
Al-GHAZZI, Lutf al-samar wa qatf al-thamar, ed., Mahmd al-Shaykh, 2 vols., Dimashq,
1981-82, vol. 2, p. 679-89]; SELANIKI, Tarih-i Selnik, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 766, 851;
HASANBEYZADE, Hasan Bey-zde Trhi, op. cit., vol. 3, p. 665; BnF, MS Collection
Dupuy 429, f. 105a-b.
55
Mahmud was the son of Cgalazde Sinan Pasha (d. 1606) from Messina. He was
given the governorship of Damascus in 1601, apparently through the intermediacy of his
father. He later held the governorships of irvan and Bagdad. In 1612 he became a vizier
and married Ahmeds sister, who was the wife of the late Mirahor Mustafa Pasha. She
apparently died short after their marriage; El-EDIRNEVI, Tarh, op. cit., f. 71.
56
Davud was the ukadar of Mehmed III and became the bakapucba in 1600.
Within a few days in September 1604, he was first made governor of Rumelia and then a
vizier. Around the same time he married a daughter of Mehmed III, yet the feast for and
the consummation of the marriage took place in March 1606, as he was busy fighting the
Jelalis in Anatolia. A few months after his wedding, he was appointed to the governorship
of Rumelia. Then he came back to the capital and re-joined the imperial council. During
the last years of the reign of Ahmed I, he does not seem to have left the capital. During
the second reign of Mustafa I, he became the first grand vizier of his brother-in-law;
SELANIKI, Tarih-i Selnik, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 843; El-EDIRNEVI, Tarh, op. cit., f. 33b;
SAFI, Zbdett-tevrh, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 22-3.

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the sultanate of Mustafa to that of Osman, might well have been in contact through the intermediacy of others, such as Nasuh Pasha, Davud
Pasha, and Safiye Sultan. Most of these connections are quite speculative, yet this imaginary portrait suggests that there were quite a number
of powerful and well-connected people in the capital who would have
been interested in keeping Mustafa alive, if not in securing his succession. Among them, Ksem Sultan was positioned right in the center of
the imperial court as the favorite of the reigning sultan and the mother of
his second born son. After the death of Osmans mother, no one was left
to oppose her on behalf of the interests of the first-born son. Eventually,
despite the fact that since the last quarter of the sixteenth century firstborn sons or the eldest son alive at the time of a sultans death
have been automatically succeeding their fathers on the Ottoman throne,
when Ahmed I died in 1617, instead of Osman, his uncle Prince Mustafa
was enthroned as Mustafa I. Retrospectively, Ksem Sultan seems to
have played an important role in the developments that led to this
enthronement, which proved to be an important step in the evolution of
the rule of seniority in Ottoman succession.57

57

See also PEIRCE, The Imperial Harem, op. cit., p. 232-3. There were, however, other
and arguably more powerful dynamics that led to the survival and eventual succession of Prince Mustafa; see Baki TEZCAN, The Second Ottoman Empire: Political and
Social Transformation in the Early Modern World, forthcoming from Cambridge University Press in 2010.

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Baki TEZCAN, The Debut of Ksem Sultans Political Career


Ksem Sultan (d. 1651) is well known for her political influence during the
reigns of her sons Murad IV (1623-40) and Ibrahim (1640-48). This piece traces
the beginnings of her political career and suggests that she had an important role
in the politics of succession from very early on during the reign of Ahmed I
(1603-17).
Baki TEZCAN, Le dbut de la carrire politique de Ksem Sultan
Ksem Sultan (m. 1651) est connue pour son influence politique pendant les
rgnes de ses fils Murad IV (1623-40) et Ibrahim (1640-48). Cet article retrace
le dbut de sa carrire politique et suggre quelle eut un rle important dans la
politique de succession depuis les premire annes du rgne dAhmed Ier (160317).

359