Shajar al-Durr was born at an unknown date. She was of Turkish origin and was purchased as a slave by the future Sultan of Egypt As-Salih Ayyub. They had a son named Khalil and they married shortly after his birth. The child probably did not live long.
In April 1249 her husband became seriously ill during an attack from a crusader army led by Louis IX of France. He died on 22 November 1249. The country was kept in the dark as it was currently under attack by the crusaders. As-Salih Ayyub had not left instructions as to who was to succeed him, but he had signed a number of blank papers for Shajar’s use. She used these papers to convince the people of Egypt that the Sultan was simply ill.
Eventually, the news leaked out and reached the Crusaders, who then marched on to Cairo. They were trapped inside the town of Al Mansurah and annihilated. Her husband’s son from an unknown mother, Al-Muazzam Turanshah, had been raised in Turkey to keep him away from Egyptian politics. He arrived back in Egypt in February 1250 to be enthroned. In April 1250 King Louis IX was captured at the Battle of Fariskur. He was eventually released after paying a ransom and surrendering the city of Damietta. Shajar was a threat to Turanshah as he knew he would never have full sovereignty. Shajar was in Jerusalem when she received a message requesting her to hand over jewels and wealth. Shajar had the support of the Mamluks, who were particularly angry at this request. Turanshah was assassinated by the Mamluks on 2 May 1250.
It was decided to install Shajar as the new monarch, and she took on the royal name “al-Malikah Ismat ad-Din Umm-Khalil Shajar al-Durr”. She used the names of her husband and son in an attempt to gain respect. Not everyone was happy with the new Sultana. The Syrian Emirs refused to pay homage and rebelled as did the Abbasid Caliph al-Musta’sim in Baghdad. This was a great setback, as it was a custom. The Mumluks decided on a different course of action. Izz al-Din Aybak was installed as the new Sultan, and he married Shajar al-Durr, who abdicated in his favour after a personal reign of just three months.
By 1257 their marriage was at a breaking point. Shajar wanted to rule Egypt alone and concealed affairs of state from him. Her husband needed a strong ally, and he married the daughter of Badr ad-Din Lo’alo’a the Ayyubid Emir of al-Mousil. Shajar responded by having her husband murdered by servants as he was taking a bath. She tried to claim that he had died suddenly in his sleep, but this was not believed, and the servants confessed to the murder under torture. Shajar and the servants were arrested. Shajar was stripped and beaten to death. Her naked body was eventually found lying outside the Citadel. Her body was left for a further three days. She was eventually buried in a tomb.