This article was written by Ezgi Özcan.
Mahidevran was chief consort as a mother of the oldest surviving son of Suleiman the Magnificent. Her full name was Gülbahar Mahidevran Sultan 1 due to her great beauty; Gülbahar means “rose of the spring” and Mahidevran means “the most beautiful in all”. She was the chief consort of Suleiman before the appearance of Hürrem Sultan.
Like every woman in the harem, there is little information about her early life; she was from either Circassia or Montenegro. In the end, she found herself in Manisa as one of the women in the Suleiman’s harem. Mahidevran became his favourite woman probably when she was fifteen, and she had a son (Mustafa). At that time Mustafa was the third son of Suleiman, without significant importance.
In 1520 after the death of Selim I, Suleiman moved to Istanbul to succeed his father, his court followed him a few weeks later. In 1521, Mustafa became chief prince due to his half-brothers’ deaths. Now Mahidevran became a chief consort as a mother of the only prince in the Empire. Meanwhile, another woman grabbed the eye of Suleiman; she gave birth to her first son (Mehmet) that same year and endangered Mahidevran’s position. This new woman was the famous Hürrem Sultan.
Mahidevran Sultan probably had a stillborn child or short-lived daughter somewhere between 1521 and 1524. On the other hand, Hürrem Sultan gave birth to another son named Selim in 1524, and the rivalry between two women became more intense than ever. In the end, they fought and Mahidevran beat Hürrem or Hürrem let herself be beaten. Whatever the case, the result was bitter for Mahidevran; Suleiman started to neglect her as punishment.
Around 1530, Mustafa was appointed to govern Manisa, as a part of his education and old Turkish tradition. According to the same tradition, Mahidevran had to leave Istanbul to accompany her son. Hürrem Sultan never left the capital to accompany her sons, and she became more and more precious for Suleiman, and a few years later they got married.
Mahidevran played a great role during her son’s education as governor. During those decades the Venetian Republic was following the Ottoman dynastic news closely due to their close links with the empire. According to reports of the Venetian ambassador, Mustafa was the whole joy in his mother’s life, and Mahidevran was a highly effective figure in her son’s court. Mustafa became very popular in the region under the guidance of his mother.
In 1541, when Mehmet (Hürrem’s first son) reached the proper age to be local governor, tensions between two women rose again. Manisa was the most important province, and according to the tradition, only the favourite prince could be appointed there. In the end, Mustafa was appointed to govern Amasya (close to Persian border) while Mehmet moved to Manisa. Amasya was one of the farthest provinces from the capital. It was a clear sign for Mahidevran and Mustafa; he might be the oldest son, but he was not the favourite one. Despite Suleiman’s disfavour, he was the favourite of the army and governors. Therefore, Suleiman had to announce that he sent Mustafa to the Persian border for safety reasons.
In fact, Suleiman was afraid of his eldest son’s power. The army, the governors and the people loved Mustafa dearly. He was a talented soldier from his childhood. He was very intelligent and had a strong politic education. Moreover, he was famous for his generosity and fair decisions. Around 1541, the Venetian ambassador wrote that Mustafa founded a great court in Amasya, which paralleled that of his father. Mahidevran was his most trustable advisor as well as chief of his harem.
In 1543, right after the sudden death of Prince Mehmet, the women’s war started up again. Mahidevran and Mustafa lost one more time, now Selim (the second son of Hürrem) became the governor of the Manisa. But with the same decree, Mustafa was appointed to govern Konya (middle Anatolia). Suleiman probably feared the reaction of the army.
In 1546, one more half-brother was on the governors’ market; Prince Beyazıt. He appointed to govern Konya instead of Mustafa. Mustafa and Mahidevran were sent back to Amasya. Mustafa had a great sympathy towards his half-brothers, especially to Beyazıt and Cihangir (the youngest ones). Despite Mahidevran’s warnings, he stayed in close contact with the other princes.
In 1553, Mustafa was very famous in Anatolia. That same year ambassador Navagero wrote, “It is impossible to describe how much he is loved and desired by all successors to the throne”. Suleiman started to see him as a great danger to his rule. Mahidevran made great efforts to protect her only son from assassinations, but she could not prevent his death. Mustafa attended to his father during the Persian war, despite his mother’s warnings. He was accused of collaborating with the Shah and was executed in the battle camp. Mahidevran tried to save her only grandson, but she failed again. Little Prince Mehmet (named after Mustafa’s half-brother) was executed at just six years old.
After the executions, Mahidevran moved to Bursa to build a proper grave for her son and lived there until her death in 1581. She often suffered from lack of money 2 until Suleiman’s death; Sultan Selim II later increased her income to help her.