Twice a princess, twice exiled, Neslishah Sultan had an eventful life. When she was born in Istanbul in 1921, cannons were fired in the four corners of the Ottoman Empire, commemorative coins were issued in her name, and her birth was recorded in the official register of the palace. After all, she was an imperial princess and the granddaughter of Sultan Vahiddedin. But she was the last member of the imperial family to be accorded such honors: in 1922 Vahiddedin was deposed and exiled, replaced as caliph-but not as sultan-by his brother (and Neslishah’s other grandfather) Abdülmecid; in 1924 Abdülmecid was also removed from office, and the entire imperial family, including three-year-old Neslishah, were sent into exile.
Sixteen years later on her marriage to Prince Abdel Moneim, the son of the last khedive of Egypt, she became a princess of the Egyptian royal family. And when in 1952 her husband was appointed regent for Egypt’s infant king, she took her place at the peak of Egyptian society as the country’s first lady, until the abolition of the monarchy the following year. Exile followed once more, this time from Egypt, after the royal couple faced charges of treason. Eventually Neslishah was allowed to return to the city of her birth, where she died at the age of 91 in 2012.
Based on original documents and extensive personal interviews, this account of one woman’s extraordinary life is also the story of the end of two powerful dynasties thirty years apart.
Princess Neslişah Sultan was the granddaughter of Sultan Wahideddin, the 36th and last Ottoman ruler, therefore an acknowledged descendant of the Ottoman dynasty who once ruled over half of the world. At her death, in 2012, in Istanbul, the Turkish authorities organised a national funeral and recognised her as being of the same bloodline as Sultan Mohamed Al-Fatih and Suleiman the Magnificent, important figures of the Ottoman history.
Her life was marked by repeated exiles: in 1924, her family had been deported from Turkey when Mustafa Kemal Ataturk declared the country a republic; in 1953, the Egyptians attempted to displace her from her adopted country. It was as if her own destiny was played between two countries taking turns in welcoming and sending her away following unpredictable twists of history. But her discipline and sense of duty always won the day. Assuming the role of head of the imperial Ottoman family in Egypt, after the death of her father, Neslişah was undeterred by Nasser’s secret services who constantly harassed the remaining members of the royal family after 1953.
Neslishah: The Last Ottoman Princess by Murat Bardakçi draws from Neslishah’s own writings and pieces together her life and times. The book goes through a huge amount of people, which can be confusing at times but if you stick to it, you’ll find that it is well worth the read. Neslishah is quoted often and you can clearly hear her voice throughout the book. I would highly recommend this glimpse into a forgotten world.
Neslishah: The Last Ottoman Princess by Murat Bardakçi is available now in both the UK and the US.
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