Mihrimah Sultan – The sun and moon of the Ottoman Empire (Part one)

mihrimah sultan
Pelin Karahan as Mihrimah in Magnificent Century (Screenshot/Fair Use)

Mihrimah Sultan was born in the fall of 1522 as the second child and first daughter of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and Hurrem Sultan, also known as Roxelana. Her father was away for much of the pregnancy and her subsequent birth and only returned home in February 1523. Mihrimah means “sun and moon” or “moon of the suns” in Persian.

Over the next few years, Mihrmah and her elder brother Mehmed were joined in the nursery by four more brothers – Selim, Abdullah, Bayezid and Cihangir. This in itself was an enormous break with tradition. However, he did have an elder son named Mustafa with Mahidevran Hatun. Hurrem’s rise to favourite was unprecedented and he eventually freed her and married her around 1533. However, this domestic bliss was disturbed by the death of young Abdullah as a toddler, and Cihangir was born with what appears to have been a deformity of the shoulder.

Mihrimah grew up in the harem with her mother and brothers, knowing that she would one day be called to marry one of her father’s favourites and to serve as a link between him and a powerful administrator. Her education would have been alongside the women in the harem who were being trained to eventually marry men of the administrative elite. Her letters to her father prove that she was literate.

While Mihrimah’s brothers would leave home eventually, Mihrimah remained behind as a companion of her mother. She was known to be devoted to both her parents and treasured by them. Mihrimah would have received lessons from her mother on her dynastic responsibilities and would become one of the greatest Ottoman philanthropists. Both Mihrimah and her mother were also known for their needlework.

At the age of 17, Mihrimah was married to Rüstem Pasha. He was of Croatian origin, and he had successfully worked his way up through the ranks. He had served as governor of Diyarbakir and Anatolia. Shortly before their wedding, Rüstem was appointed as third vizier, which also meant that he would reside in Istanbul – for now at least. Perhaps her parents were not ready to see her leave just yet, or perhaps Mihrimah herself put her foot down. Her husband had been chosen for her, and it was unlikely that it was a love match. He was also twice her age and not her mother’s first choice for her. Reportedly, Hurrem had her eye on the governor of Cairo, who was more handsome. Rüstem reportedly also spread the rumour that the governor of Cairo was infected with syphilis.1

In theory, Mihrimah, as a virgin, had the right to refuse the husband selected for her by her guardian, by Islamic law. However, in the end, she consented to the match, under perhaps a great deal of pressure. She would retain the privilege of being able to divorce her husband if the match turned out badly. Just two years after Mihrimah was married, her aunt Shah Sultan divorced her husband after he was physically violent towards her. Another one of her aunts, Fatma Sultan, had divorced her husband in 1520 after it turned out that he was more interested in men.

Mihrimah’s wedding took place at the same time as the circumcision ceremony of her brothers Bayezid and Cihangir, and the festivities lasted for around 15 days. They went on to have two children together, a daughter named Humashah and a son named Osman. Mihrimah visited her parents whenever she wished, but her husband was not accorded the same privilege. She “goes frequently to the palace of the Grand Signor to meet with her mother.”2 Mihrimah was not happy that her husband was not accorded the same privilege. The Venetian ambassador wrote, “I have learned through a reliable channel that they have tried many times to bring it about that Rustan (sic) might enter the palace of the sultan on such a familial basis as Ibrahim used to; the sultan has responded that committing folly once is enough.”3 Ibrahim was a grand vizier who had been executed.

Mihrimah and Rüstem’s daughter Humashah was close in age to Humashah, the only child of her brother Mehmed, and they may have been educated together as they grew up.4 Rüstem became the second vizier in 1541 and grand vizier in 1544. He held this position until his death in 1561, except for 1553-1555, when he was briefly dismissed.

Mihrimah also had an elder half-brother by the name of Mustafa, whose mother was Mahidevran. As the eldest son, he seemed like the most likely candidate to inherit the empire. This came with considerable risk to Hurrem’s children as it was an Ottoman practice that the successful candidate for the throne should execute his brothers to prevent unrest. Cihangir reportedly believed that Mustafa would spare him because of his deformity, but his father told him, “My son, Mustafa will become sultan and will take the lives of all of you.”5 Thus, promoting one of Mihrimah’s brothers for the succession was of vital importance. The most favoured to succeed was her eldest full brother Mehmed, but he tragically died of natural causes in 1543. This left Selim and Bayezid, with Cihangir not being a viable option due to his disability.

When King Sigismund the Old of Poland died in 1548, both Hurrem and Mihrimah sent letters of condolence to the new King Sigismund II Augustus and saw Mihrimah emerging as her mother’s political protege. Mihrimah also dispatched a set of gifts intended for his wife, Barbara Radziwiłł. Her familiar tone in these letters suggests that she may have been in contact with them before.

Read part two here.

  1. Empress of the East by Leslie Peirce p.207
  2. Empress of the East by Leslie Peirce p.243
  3. Empress of the East by Leslie Peirce p.249
  4. Empress of the East by Leslie Peirce p.244
  5. Living in the Ottoman Realm: Empire and Identity, 13th to 20th Centuries p.155

About Moniek Bloks 2749 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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