HistoryResearch and Facts

Discovering Hürrem Sultan: It All Started with a Horse

Hurrem SultanRecently, I was co-authoring a medieval tale, The Black Knight’s Reward, with Marliss Melton. She’d named the hero’s horse, Suleyman, and I wasn’t sure that our knight would use that name in 1155 A.D. I started researching its origins and learned about Suleiman and his wife, Roxelana.

She is a fascinating creature from mid-16th century Turkey, then the Ottoman Empire. She was a woman who knew how to get her man and to keep him. She went from being a captured slave, forced into the sultan’s harem, to his favorite consort, also known as haseki. But that wasn’t enough for her. She went from haseki to Hürrem Sultan, a title demonstrating her powerful position as the sultan’s wife.

How did she do this? She converted to Suleiman’s faith and used the tenets of that faith to ensure he would not have sex with her outside of marriage, and then she withheld sex. Three days later, he asked her to marry him. And he must have loved her beyond all measure to break a 200-year-old custom of the Ottoman imperial house: Sultans do not marry their concubines. But he did.

Intelligent and influential, she became the sultan’s partner, not only in his bed and his household, but in ruling and political affairs. As his chief advisor, she earned a salary and became one of, if not the most powerful women in Ottoman history. Eventually, she became mother to six children, all of whom who lived became rulers in their own right. Additionally, she enjoyed her role as a philanthropist, sponsoring schools and mosques, a women’s hospital, and even public fountains.

I think she’ll make an excellent character in one of my next novels–a woman who used her brains even more than her beauty to create her own future.

Under his pen name, Muhibbi, her adoring husband, Sultan Suleiman, composed this poem for his wife:

“Throne of my lonely niche, my wealth, my love, my moonlight.
My most sincere friend, my confidant, my very existence, my Sultan, my one and only love.
The most beautiful among the beautiful…
My springtime, my merry faced love, my daytime, my sweetheart, laughing leaf…
My plants, my sweet, my rose, the one only who does not distress me in this world…
My Istanbul, my Caraman, the earth of my Anatolia
My Badakhshan, my Baghdad and Khorasan
My woman of the beautiful hair, my love of the slanted brow, my love of eyes full of mischief…
I’ll sing your praises always
I, lover of the tormented heart, Muhibbi of the eyes full of tears, I am happy.”