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1003: Turhan Hatice Sultan

From Victim to One of the Most Powerful Women in the Islamic World

Born: c.1627, Present-day Ukraine or Possibly Russia

Died: 4 August 1683, Present-day Edirne, Turkey

Turhan was kidnapped at the age of twelve, and taken from her homeland to Constantinople, where she was given to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire’s household.

Turhan quickly rose to become a favorite concubine of the Sultan Ibrahim I, bearing him a son named Mehmed. When Ibrahim was removed from power (he was mentally unstable and was taken off the throne and then killed), Mehmed rose to become Sultan under the title Mehmed IV. The boy was only seven years old at the time, and therefore needed someone to act as his regent, or co-ruler until he came of age and was able to rule in his own right. Kösem Sultan served as Mehmed’s regent, and was Turhan’s mother-in-law and the new sultan’s grandmother.

Turhan was passed up for the regency because she had no political background or backing within the court. This, and other strains between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, quickly dissolved into a violent upheaval between the warring parties that would last for three years.

Turhan had Kösem killed*, strangled to death more accurately; ending the family’s civil war once and for all. Turhan finished this brutal crackdown off by executing Kösem’s other loyal supporters. Turhan had to relieve her own grand vizier of power in order to appease those angered by her actions, but otherwise she escaped the carnage unscathed.

Turhan then moved into the position of Regent, attending meetings of state side by side with her son. Though she had attained the position she had been vying for, she didn’t use it to further her own political aspirations. After finding a suitable replacement as grand vizier, Turhan let go of most of her political power and might within the court.

Instead of running affairs of state, Turhan spent more time in various philanthropic and ceremonial roles. She also built mosques and repaired fortresses throughout the empire, alongside gathering vast libraries. She was buried in one of the Mosques she helped to build and was immortalized in a poem by Abdi Pasa.

*Most sources agree that Kösem was killed on Turhan's orders, but a few have casted doubt on the accusation. Either way, Kösem was conveniently out of Turhan's way, giving Turhan a clear path to the throne.

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