In 1553, Mihrimah’s husband would play a role in the downfall of her elder half-brother Mustafa. According to Rüstem, during an offensive by the Persians, there were mutterings that Mustafa should dethrone his father as he was too old to go against the enemy himself. Mustafa refused, despite accepting the reading of the political situation. Suleiman refused to believe the dispatch, which all but accused Mustafa of treason and joined the campaign himself. Mustafa was summoned for a rendezvous with his father, which wasn’t unusual as he had also greeted his two other sons earlier. Mustafa was advised not to go, including by his mother, Mahidevran. Mustafa refused to believe that his father would harm him and entered the tent where his father awaited him. The following horrific scene ended with Mustafa being strangled to death. By the end of the day, Mustafa was ready for burial, and his household had been all but erased. The following outrage was primarily aimed at Rüstem, who was blamed for convincing Suleiman of his son’s treason. Rüstem was dismissed from his post as grand vizier but escaped execution. He was sent into semi-exile in a palace owned by Mihrimah on the outskirts of Istanbul. Mustafa’s only surviving son Mehmed was also hunted down and strangled.1 It is not clear what role, if any, Mihrimah and her mother played in Mustafa’s downfall. In the end, Suleiman had plenty of reasons to fear Mustafa’s popularity.
Suleiman remained on the campaign following Mustafa’s death, and he spent the winter in Aleppo with Cihangir before continuing the campaign in the spring. Tragically, Cihangir died just three weeks after their arrival in Aleppo. He had fallen ill and died within just four days. Of Mihrimah’s five full brothers, just two now remained alive. Meanwhile, Rüstem was still in semi-exile as Hurrem pleaded for him in letters to her husband. She wrote, “My fortune-favoured, my happiness… Rüstem Pasha is your slave. Do not withhold your noble favour from him, my fortune-favoured. Do not listen to what anyone says. Let it be for the sake of your slave Mihrimah, my fortune-favoured, my emperor, for your noble sake, and for my, your slave’s, sake too, my prosperous sultan.”2 It was too soon to even consider reinstating his son-in-law. Suleiman would remain on campaign until July 1555. Just one month later, Rüstem was restored to his position as grand vizier.
By then, the health of Mihrimah’s mother, Hurrem, had started to decline. Hurrem Sultan died on 15 April 1558, and the day before, Suleiman had reportedly sworn to her “by the soul of his father Selim that he would never approach another woman.”3 Hurrem had been “unable to recover from the illness she had been suffering for quite a while and she was also stricken with malaria and colic.”4 It is not clear if Mihrimah was with her mother when she died, though she was reported as being at her palace in Istanbul a week earlier.
Mihrimah was widowed in 1561, and after her husband’s death, Mihrimah moved into the Old Palace and became a close companion of her father. She became his intimate adviser and often sent him news if he was away from Istanbul. Mihrimah was also known for having commissioned two mosque complexes, at Üsküdar and Edirnekapı. She was the first Princess to commission a mosque complex in Istanbul. She also supervised the construction of the mosques commissioned for her husband and his brother. Her father supported the commissions and perhaps also helped fund them. She continued to commission pious foundations during the final years of her father’s reign and throughout her widowhood. She was an extremely wealthy widow and was possibly even wealthier than the sultan.
The rivalry between her two surviving brothers came to a head during their father’s final years. Suleiman ordered both princes to be transferred to posts far away from Istanbul to prevent either from attempting a coup. Eventually, Bayezid began to rally an army and Selim was given permission by his father to do the same. Bayezid lost the Battle of Konya and fled to Iran with four of his sons. However, he was kept as a hostage, and Suleiman had to pay a ransom to free his son but declared him a rebel at the same time. In July 1562, Bayezid and his sons were handed over to Selim’s head sergeant at arms and were immediately strangled to death. Bayezid’s fifth son, still an infant, was hunted down and killed as well. Mihrimah had been sending Bayezid money and later confessed that she “had done this to execute the will of the mother, who had arranged this in her testament.”5
Mihrimah learned of her brother’s death during the triple wedding of Selim’s three eldest daughters and showed “enormous expressions of grief” during the festivities.6 Mihrimah had been devoted to Bayezid, even though he had seemed destined to lose the power struggle.
Her father died on 7 September 1566 in Hungary, and Mihrimah’s only surviving brother Selim made his way to Belgrade, where the army awaited him. However, he and Mihrimah managed to reconcile their differences, and she lived to see the beginning of her nephew Murad III’s reign. She died on 25 January 15787 and was buried in her father’s tomb, perhaps as a special tribute to her exalted status.
- Empress of the East by Leslie Peirce p.270-272
- Empress of the East by Leslie Peirce p.284
- Empress of the East by Leslie Peirce p.301
- Empress of the East by Leslie Peirce p.302
- Empress of the East by Leslie Peirce p.306
- Empress of the East by Leslie Peirce p.306
- The Structure of the Ottoman Dynasty – table xxx