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Hürrem Sultan

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Title: Hürrem Sultan  
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Subject: Suleiman the Magnificent, Şehzade Mustafa, Harem, Valide sultan, List of sultans of the Ottoman Empire
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Hürrem Sultan

Hürrem Sultan
Haseki Sultan

16th-century Latin oil painting of Hürrem Sultan
Spouse Suleiman the Magnificent
Şehzade Mehmed
Mihrimah Sultan
Sultan Selim II
Şehzade Bayezid
Şehzade Cihangir
Full name
Alexandra Lisowska or Anastasia (birth name; according to later traditions)
Devletlû İsmetlû Hürrem Hâseki Sultân Ahiyât-üs Şân Hâzretleri (royal name)
House House of Osman (by marriage)
Born c. 1500
possibly Rohatyn, Kingdom of Poland
Died 18 April 1558 (aged 58)
Topkapı Palace, Constantinople, Ottoman Empire
Burial Süleymaniye Mosque, Constantinople[1][2] (present day Istanbul)
Religion Orthodox Christian converted to Islam

Template:Contains Ottoman Turkish text

Hürrem Haseki Sultan (Turkish pronunciation: [hyɾˈɾem haseˈci suɫˈtaːn], Ottoman Turkish: خرم سلطان, c. 1500 – 18 April 1558, birthname unknown, according to later traditions either Alexandra Lisowska or Anastasia[3]), also known as Roxelana, was the legal wife and haseki sultan of Suleiman the Magnificent and the mother of Şehzade Mehmed, Mihrimah Sultan, Sultan Selim II, Şehzade Bayezid and Şehzade Cihangir of the Ottoman Empire.[4] She was one of the most powerful women in Ottoman history and a prominent figure during the era known as the Sultanate of Women. She achieved power and influenced the politics of the Ottoman Empire through her husband and played an active role in state affairs of the Empire.[5]


She was known mainly as Haseki Hürrem Sultan or Hürrem Haseki Sultan; in European languages as Roxolena, Roxolana, Roxelane, Rossa, Ružica; in Turkish as Hürrem (from Persian: خرمKhurram, "the cheerful one"); and in Arabic as Karima (Arabic: كريمة‎, "the noble one"). "Roxelana" might be not a proper name but a nickname, referring to her Ukrainian heritage (cf. the common contemporary name "Ruslana"); "Roxolany" or "Roxelany" was one of the names of Ukrainians, East Slavs, inhabitants of the present Ukraine, up to the 15th century, after the ancient Roxolani. Thus her name would literally mean "The Ruthenian One".

Early life

Modern sources do not contain information on her childhood, and are limited to a mention of her Ukrainian origin. In the middle of the 16th century, the ambassador of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the Crimean khanate Mikhalon Lytvyn in the composition of 1548–1551 "About customs of Tatars, Lithuanians and Moscow" (Latin: De moribus tartarorum, lituanorum et moscorum) at the description of trade specifies that "and the most beloved wife of the present Turkish emperor - mother of his primogenital [son] who will govern after him, was kidnapped from our land" (Yermolenko G. Roxolana: "The Greatest Empresse of the East". — P. 234).

According to late 16th-century and early 17th-century sources, such as the Polish poet Samuel Twardowski, who researched the subject in Turkey, Hürrem was seemingly born to a father who was an Ukrainian Orthodox priest.[6][7][8] She was born in the town of Rohatyń, 68 km southeast of Lviv, a major city of the Ruthenian Voivodeship in the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland (today in Western Ukraine).[9] In the 1520s, she was captured by Crimean Tatars during one of their frequent raids into this region and taken as a slave, probably first to the Crimean city of Kaffa, a major centre of the slave trade, then to Istanbul, and was selected for Suleiman’s harem.[9][10]

Life with the sultan

She quickly came to the attention of her master, and attracted the jealousy of her rivals. She soon proved to be Suleiman’s favorite consort or Haseki Sultan. Hürrem’s influence over the Sultan soon became legendary. She was to bear five of Suleiman's fourteen children and in an astonishing break with tradition, she was eventually freed. Breaking with two centuries of Ottoman tradition,[11] a former concubine had thus become the legal wife of the Sultan, much to the astonishment of observers in the palace and the city.[12] It made Suleiman the first Ottoman emperor to have a wed wife since Orhan Gazi and strengthened Hürrem's position in the palace and eventually led to one of her sons, Selim, inheriting the empire.

In the Constantinople harem, Hürrem Sultan was a very influential rival for Mahidevran Sultan. Hürrem gave birth to her first son Mehmed in 1521 (who died in 1543) and then Selim (future sultan Selim II) in 1524, destroying Mahidevran’s status of being the mother of the sultan’s only son.[13] The rivalry between the two women was partially suppressed by Ayşe Hafsa Sultan, Suleiman’s mother,[14] but after her death in 1534, as a result of the bitter rivalry a fight between the two women broke out, with Mahidevran beating Hürrem. This angered Suleiman, who subsequently sent Mahidevran to live with her son, Şehzade Mustafa, in the provincial capital of Manisa. This exile was shown officially as the traditional training of heir apparents, Sanjak Beyliği. Many years later, towards the end of Suleiman’s long reign, the rivalry between his sons became evident. Furthermore, both Hürrem Sultan and the grand vizier Rüstem Pasha (Hürrem's son-in-law) turned him against Mustafa and Mustafa was accused of causing unrest. During the campaign against Safavid Persia in 1553, because of a fear of rebellion, Sultan Suleiman ordered the execution of Mustafa.[15] After the death of Mustafa, Mahidevran Gülbahar lost her state in the palace (as being the mother of the heir apparent) and moved to Bursa.[13]

Suleiman also allowed Hürrem Sultan to remain with him at court for the rest of her life, breaking another tradition—that when imperial heirs came of age, they would be sent along with the imperial concubine who bore them to govern remote provinces of the Empire, never to return unless their progeny succeeded to the throne (Sanjak Beyliği).[16] Hürrem also acted as Suleiman’s advisor on matters of state, and seems to have had an influence upon foreign affairs and international politics.[5] Two of her letters to King Sigismund II Augustus of Poland have been preserved, and during her lifetime, the Ottoman Empire generally had peaceful relations with the Polish state within a Polish–Ottoman alliance.

Under his pen name, Muhibbi, Sultan Suleiman composed this poem for Hürrem Sultan:

"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 Constantinople, 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."[17]


Aside from her political concerns, Hürrem engaged in several major works of public buildings, from Mecca to Jerusalem, perhaps modeling her charitable foundations in part after the caliph Harun al-Rashid’s consort Zubaida. Among her first foundations were a mosque, two Koranic schools (madrassa), a fountain, and a women's hospital near the women's slave market (Avret Pazary) in Constantinople. She commissioned a bath, the Haseki Hürrem Sultan Hamamı, to serve the community of worshippers in the nearby Hagia Sophia. In Jerusalem she established in 1552 the Haseki Sultan Imaret, a public soup kitchen to feed the poor and the needy.

As well, some of her embroidery, or at least that done under her supervision, has survived, examples being given in 1547 to Tahmasp I, the Shah of Iran, and in 1549 to King Sigismund II Augustus.

Esther Handali acted as her secretary and intermediary on several occasions.


Hürrem Sultan died on 18 April 1558 and was buried in a domed mausoleum (türbe) decorated in exquisite Iznik tiles depicting the garden of paradise, perhaps in homage to her smiling and joyful nature.[18] Her mausoleum is adjacent to Suleiman’s, a separate and more somber domed structure, at the Süleymaniye Mosque.


Hürrem Haseki Sultan, or Roxelana, as she is better known in Europe, is well-known both in modern Turkey and in the West, and is the subject of many artistic works. She has inspired paintings, musical works (including Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 63), an opera by Denys Sichynsky, a ballet, plays, and several novels written mainly in Ukrainian, but also in English, French, and German.

In early modern Spain, she appears or is alluded to in works by Quevedo and other writers as well as in a number of plays by Lope de Vega. In a play entitled The Holy League, Titian appears on stage at the Venetian Senate, and stating that he has just come from visiting the Sultan, displays his painting of Sultana Rossa or Roxelana.[19]

In 2007, Muslims in Mariupol, a port city in Ukraine, opened a mosque to honor Roxelana.[20]

In the TV series Muhteşem Yüzyıl, Hürrem Sultan is played by Turkish-German actress Meryem Uzerli.


See also


Further reading

  • Thomas M. Prymak, "Roxolana: Wife of Suleiman the Magnificent," Nashe zhyttia/Our Life, LII, 10 (New York, 1995), 15–20. A nicely illustrated popular-style article in English with a bibliography.
  • Zygmunt Abrahamowicz, "Roksolana," Polski Slownik Biograficzny, vo. XXXI (Wroclaw-etc., 1988–89), 543–5. A well-informed article in Polish by a distinguished Polish Turkologist.
  • Galina Yermolenko, "Roxolana: The Greatest Empresse of the East," The Muslim World, 95, 2 (2005), 231–48. Makes good use of European, especially Italian, sources and is familiar with the literature in Ukrainian and Polish.
  • Galina Yermolenko (ed.), Roxolana in European Literature, History and Culture (Farmham, UK: Ashgate, 2010). 318 pp. Illustrated. Contains important articles by Oleksander Halenko and others, as well as several translations of works about Roxelana from various European literatures, and an extensive bibliography.
  • There are many historical novels in English about Roxelana: P.J. Parker's Roxelana and Suleyman (2012); Barbara Chase Riboud's Valide (1986); Alum Bati's Harem Secrets (2008); Colin Falconer, Aileen Crawley (1981–83), and Louis Gardel (2003); Pawn in Frankincense, the fourth book of the Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett; and pulp fiction author Robert E. Howard in The Shadow of the Vulture imagined Roxelana to be sister to its fiery-tempered female protagonist, Red Sonya.
  • For Ukrainian language novels, see Osyp Nazaruk (1930), Mykola Lazorsky (1965), Serhii Plachynda (1968), and Pavlo Zahrebelnyi (1980). (All reprinted recently.)
  • There have been novels written in other languages: in French, a fictionalized biography by Willy Sperco (1972); in German, a novel by Johannes Tralow (1944, reprinted many times); a very detailed novel in Serbo-Croatian by Radovan Samardzic (1987); one in Turkish by Ulku Cahit (2001).

External links

  • University of Calgary | Roxelana
  • Roxelana's tomb

Royal titles
Preceded by
Ayşe Hafsa Sultan
Haseki Sultan
Succeeded by
Nurbanu Sultan

Template:Mothers of the Ottoman Sultans

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