Kosem Sultan – The Dynamic Regent of The Ottoman Empire

Possibly Kösem Sultan and her son Murad or Ibrahim

Kosem Sultan was one of the most powerful women in the Ottoman Empire. She governed the empire for nearly 30 years. She lived through six reigns of the Ottoman Empire and became regent for two of her sons and grandson. Throughout her role as regent, she gained immense popularity and respect among her subjects. Her power came to a sudden and tragic end when she was assassinated by Turhan Sultan in a struggle for power.

Kosem Sultan was born around 1589 into either a Greek or Bosnian family. During her childhood, she was captured and brought to the imperial palace. We do not know her real name. Some historians suggest that it may have been Anastasia.[1] When she converted to Islam, her name was changed to Mahpeykar meaning, “Moon-shaped.”[2]  She became a concubine to Sultan Ahmed I, and was given the name of Kosem because of “her smooth and hairless skin”.[3]

Her beauty and intelligence quickly captured Ahmed’s attention. She quickly became the head of the harem. She bore Ahmed I five sons (two of which would become sultans) and three daughters.[4]

After the death of Ahmed I, Kosem organized the ascension of Ahmed I’s brother, Mustafa I. With Mustafa I’s ascension, she was able to prevent Ahmed I’s eldest son, Osman, from becoming Sultan. Mustafa I was mentally ill and through him, Kosem was able to exercise power in the state. However, Kosem’s power did not last long because Mustafa was deposed three months later in February 1618. Osman then became sultan. Under his reign until 1623, Kosem was sent back to the Old Palace and remained under his custody. In 1623, Osman was deposed and Kosem’s son, Murad became sultan. Kosem was now the queen mother of the Ottoman empire.

She ruled as regent for 10 years.[5] During her regency, there was a series of rebellions against the government.[6] She also spent her efforts in order to protect the dynasty. When Murad became old enough to assume the full authority of sultan, she let go of the regency. In 1632, he banished his mother from all political activities and harem duties.[7] In 1635, Kosem dissuaded Murad to spare her son, Ibrahim from execution[8]. Thus, this prevented the extinction of her dynasty. When Murad died in 1640, Kosem regained power through her son, Ibrahim. This was because Ibrahim had no experience or interest in ruling.[9] He loved the pleasures of the inner palace and spent most of his time with his concubines.[10] This allowed Kosem to rule in his stead.  However, Kosem and the grand vizier, Kemankes Kara Mustafa Pasha, did have a compatible relationship because both wanted unequal power.[11] Still, despite their dislike of each other, they both ruled the empire smoothly.[12] 

Eventually the weak Ibrahim fell under the influence of one of his concubines. Kosem lost her political influence and power. She retired to a summer palace outside of Topkapi.[13] Ibrahim executed Pasha in 1644. With Kosem and Pasha gone, the empire fell into a decline.[14] 

Ibrahim was deposed in 1648, and his son, Mehmed IV became sultan on 8 August 1648.[15] He was seven years old and needed a regent. Kosem was now back in power and ruled as regent. Kosem was given the title of “Grandmother of the Sultan”.[16] Ten days later after Mehmed IV’s ascension, Ibrahim was executed. Some sources claimed that the execution was ordered with Kosem’s consent.[17] Kosem was respected during her reign and gained the support of the Janissaries, which were an elite infantry unit.[18] However, during her reign as regent, Kosem experienced a decline in the treasury.

Kosem also gained a political rival, the junior queen mother, Turhan. Turhan was the favorite concubine of Ibrahim and the mother of Mehmed IV. The reason why she was not regent for her son was because Kosem had more experience in ruling and had given her supporters important positions in the court.[19] However, Turhan eventually gained a faction within the court. She was supported by her eunuch, Suleyman Agha and the grand vizier, Siyavus Pasha.[20] This rivalry caused unrest throughout the empire. Kosem and the Janissaries attempted to overthrow Mehmed IV and Turhan Sultan by enthroning Ibrahim’s second son, Suleyman and making his mother, Dilasub, queen mother.[21] However, Turhan learned of Kosem’s plans. On 2 September 1651, Turhan Sultan used Suleyman Agha and his followers to kill Kosem.[22] She was strangled with a curtain-string.[23] Her body was taken out of Topkapi Palace and was eventually buried in the mausoleum beside Ahmed I.[24]

The death of Kosem, who was widely respected, caused sadness among the public.[25] The mosques and markets in Istanbul were shut down for three days. After Kosem’s murder, Turhan Sultan and her grand vizier had to execute Kosem’s supporters because of the influence they held in court. However, this led to anger among that people and Turhan was forced to let her grand vizier go.[26]

Kosem was known for powerful influence within the empire. However, this made historians view her as power-hungry and so ambitious for power that she would kill her own son, Ibrahim.[27] Kosem was also known for her charity. She built a mosque, financed irrigation works in Egypt, and helped the poor in Mecca.[28] Thus, Kosem was a powerful woman who did what she needed to preserve the throne for her sons. Even the son that she made enemies with honored her before the fallout.

Sources:

Erçetin, Åžefika Åžule., and Aylin Gorgun-Baran. “A Woman Leader in Ottoman History: Kosem

      Sultan (1589-1651).” Women Leaders in Chaotic Environments Examinations of Leadership

      Using Complexity Theory, Springer International Publishing, 2016, pp. 71–100.

Gibb, Sir H. A. R., “Kosem Walide.” The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Brill, 1960, pp. 272–273.

Kia, Mehrdad. “Kosem Sultan 1589-1651.” The Ottoman Empire: A Historical Encyclopedia [2

      Volumes], ABC-CLIO, 2017, pp. 92–94.

Peirce, Leslie P. Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire. Oxford

       University Press, 1994.

Somel, Selçuk Aksin. “Kosem Sultan.” Historical Dictionary of the Ottoman Empire, The

        Scarecrow Press, 2012, pp. 158–158.


[1] Gibb, “Kosem Walide” p. 272

[2] Kia, “Kosem Sultan” p. 92

[3] Gibb, “Kosem Walide” p. 272

[4] Gibb, “Kosem Walide” p. 272.

[5] Somel, “Kosem Sultan,” p. 158

[6] Kia, “Kosem Sultan”p. 92

[7] Kia, “Kosem Sultan” p. 92

[8] Peirce, p. 259

[9] Gibb, “Kosem Walide” p. 272

[10] Gibb, “Kosem Walide” p. 272

[11] Peirce, p. 250

[12] Peirce p. 250

[13] Gibb, “Kosem Walide” p. 272

[14] Peirce, p. 250

[15] Gibb, “Kosem Walide”, p. 272

[16] Gibb, “Kosem Walide”, p. 272

[17] Erçetin, Åžefika Åžule., and Aylin Gorgun-Baran, “A Woman Leader in Ottoman History: Kosem Sultan (1589-1651)” p. 81

[18] “Erçetin, Åžefika Åžule., and Aylin Gorgun-Baran, “A Woman Leader in Ottoman History: Kosem Sultan (1589-1651)” p. 81

[19]  Erçetin, Åžefika Åžule., and Aylin Gorgun-Baran, “A Woman Leader in Ottoman History: Kosem Sultan (1589-1651)” p. 81

[20] Peirce, p. 252

[21] Peirce, p. 252

[22] Peirce, p. 252

[23] Gibb, “Kosem Walide” p. 273

[24] Gibb, “Kosem Walide” p. 273

[25] Peirce, p. 252

[26] Peirce, p. 252

[27] “Erçetin, Åžefika Åžule., and Aylin Gorgun-Baran, “A Woman Leader in Ottoman History: Kosem Sultan (1589-1651)” p. 85-86

[28] Gibb, “Kosem Walide” p. 273

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