Monday, October 8, 2012
Nurbanu Sultan, Italian Empress of Turkey
Prince Murad had been sent to serve as Governor of Manisa on the Aegean coast and was there when Sultan Selim II passed away in 1574. This would have been the prefect opportunity for someone to seize power with the Sultan dead and his son away from the capital. Nurbanu realized this as much, if not more, than anyone and took quick action. Security and privacy in the harem were the most strict anywhere and no one knew when Selim II had actually died. Nurbanu told no one and hid the dead body of her husband in an icebox and sent to Manisa for her son to come to Constantinople immediately. All the while no one was the wiser that Sultan Selim II had actually departed this life. It was not made known publicly until twelve days later when Murad arrived and Nurbanu delivered up the body of her late husband. Her son became Sultan Murad III and Nurbanu became Valide Sultan (effectively “Queen Mother”), the highest position a woman could hold in the Ottoman Empire. She became a formidable figure with far-reaching influence during this time, so much so that it is regarded by some historians as the beginning of the so-called “Sultanate of Women”. According to some sources (Italian mostly, from Venetian accounts) Nurbanu Sultan effectively ran the government alongside the Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmet Pasha. Because women of the imperial household, no matter how lofty, were quite restricted in their movements, she depended on her long-time friend Esther Handali, a jeweler, to bring messages back and forth for her. The two became so close rumors began to surface about the nature of their relationship.
Unfortunately, the Ottoman Empire did not fare so well after her loss as the reign of Sultan Murad III was generally one of decline, though certainly not resoundingly disastrous. Considering his mother’s correspondence with the Queen of France, one of the things Sultan Murad III is remembered for was his own correspondence with Queen Elizabeth I of England, arguing that the Protestants and Muslims had much in common and should unite against the Catholic powers, something the Queen very seriously considered during the war with Hapsburg Spain. In any event, both sides benefited from the sale of English tin and lead to the Ottoman Turks to update and expand their military arsenal.