Kösem Sultan

Portrait of Kösem Sultan by Hans Ludwig Graf von Kuefstein after an original (c. 1650–1699). Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Katia Wright

Kösem Sultan the wife of Ahmed I, Sultan of Ottoman Empire, was born in c.1589. Her origin is unknown, though suspected to be Greek, Italian or Bosnian. Kösem quickly became the favourite consort of her husband, earning the title of haseki sultan, and gained authority and influence over his other wives due to her beauty and intelligence.

 Kösem’s popularity and influence at court was vital to the succession of three sultans. Between 1617, when her husband died, and 1648, Kösem was involved in the succession of four sultans: Mustafa I, Ahmed’s brother, Murad IV (1623) and Ibrahim (1640), two of her sons, and Mehmed IV (1648) her grandson. Kösem was heavily involved in the early reigns of these sultans but when her authority was removed by the sultan they were later deposed by the Janissary corps due to Kösem’s influence. 

As the mother of the sultan, Kösem gained the honoured title of validé sultan, but during the regency of Mehmed IV, as grandmother she was the first to use the new title of büyük validé, meaning grandmother of the sultan.

Mehmed’s mother, Turhan, who held the title of validé sultan, sought power from Kösem and a rivalry developed between the two women. On 2nd September 1651 Turhan acted, when Kösem was murdered by Turhan’s entourage.

Kösem was buried at the mausoleum in the palace of Eski Saray. Throughout her life she committed numerous acts of charity and patronage, helping to pay for the daughters of poorer families to be married and founding several mosques.

Kösem has been portrayed in several films and television series, most recently in the show The Magnificent Century, in which she is portrayed by Anastasia Tsilimpiou, Beren Saat, and Nurgül Yeşilçay.

Recommended Reading

Leslie P. Pierce, “Beyond Harem Walls: Ottoman Royal Women and the Exercise of Power,” in Servants of the Dynasty: Palace Women in World History, ed., Anne Walthall, 81-95 (Oakland: University of California Press, 2008)

Renee Langlois, “Comparing the French Queen Regent and the Ottoman Validé Sultan during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,” in A Companion to Global Queenship, ed., Elena Woodacre, 271-284 (Leeds: ARC Humanities Press, 2018).

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