In Empress of the East, historian Leslie Peirce tells the remarkable story of a Christian slave girl, Roxelana, who was abducted by slave traders from her Ruthenian homeland and brought to the harem of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent in Istanbul. Suleyman became besotted with her and foreswore all other concubines. Then, in an unprecedented step, he freed her and married her. The bold and canny Roxelana soon became a shrewd diplomat and philanthropist, who helped Suleyman keep pace with a changing world in which women, from Isabella of Hungary to Catherine de Medici, increasingly held the reins of power.Until now Roxelana has been seen as a seductress who brought ruin to the empire, but in Empress of the East, Peirce reveals the true history of an elusive figure who transformed the Ottoman harem into an institution of imperial rule.
Roxelana was an unlikely candidate to have made a mark in history. She was a young girl who was captured by slave traders and became a concubine in Suleiman’s harem. However, Roxelana overcame great odds and became Suleiman’s wife. She would bear the sultan six sons, one of whom would become the next Sultan. Yet, we know so very little about her. Leslie Peirce attempts to reconstruct the woman we know as Roxelana but she tantalisingly remains just out of reach. It was lovely to read some of her surviving letters and you can certainly tell the amount of research that has gone into this book. This is a must-read for those interested in the Ottoman Empire and the women who were a part of it.