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Hürrem Sultan
خُرَّم سلطان
Portrait by Titian titled La Sultana Rossa, c. 1550
Haseki Sultan
(Empress consort of Ottoman)
Tenure 19 March 1534 – 15 April 1558
Predecessor none, new title
Successor Nurbanu Sultan
Born c. 1502–04
Rohatyn, Kingdom of Poland (currently the territory of Ukraine)
Died 15 April 1558 (aged 53–56)
Topkapı Palace, Constantinople, Ottoman Empire
Burial Süleymaniye Mosque, Constantinople[1][2]
Spouse Suleiman the Magnificent
Issue Şehzade Mehmed
Mihrimah Sultan
Şehzade Abdullah
Sultan Selim II
Şehzade Bayezid
Şehzade Cihangir
Father Havrylo Lisowski[3][4]
Mother Leksandra Lisowska
Religion Islam, previously Orthodox Christian

Hürrem Sultan (Turkish pronunciation: ; Ottoman Turkish: خُرَّم سلطان‎; fully: Devletlu İsmetlu Hürrem Haseki Sultan Aliyyetü'ş-Şân Hazretleri; c. 1502 – 15 April 1558, also known as Roxelana[note 1]) was the favorite consort and later the legal wife of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and the mother of Şehzade Mehmed, Mihrimah Sultan, Şehzade Abdullah, Sultan Selim II, Şehzade Bayezid and Şehzade Cihangir.[6] She was one of the most powerful and influential women in Ottoman history and a prominent figure during the era known as the Sultanate of Women. She was "Haseki Sultan" (chief wife of the Sultan) when her husband, Suleiman I, reigned as Ottoman sultan. She achieved power and influenced the politics of the Ottoman Empire through her husband and played an active role in state affairs of the Empire.[7]


  • Names 1
  • Early life 2
  • Life with the Sultan 3
  • Charities 4
  • Death 5
  • Legacy 6
  • Gallery 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11


According to some historians, Roxelana was born as Aleksandra Ruslana Lisowska, or Anastazja Lisowska while her childhood nickname was Nastia. Among the Ottomans, she was known mainly as Haseki Hürrem Sultan or Hürrem Haseki Sultan; also known as Roxolena, Roxolana, Roxelane, Rossa, Ružica; in Turkish as Hürrem (from Persian: خرم‎‎ Khurram, "the cheerful one"); and in Arabic as Karima (Arabic: كريمة‎, "the noble one"). "Roxelana" might be not a proper name but a nickname, referring to her Rusyn heritage (cf. the common contemporary name "Ruslana"); "Roxolany" or "Roxelany" was one of the names of Ukrainians, up to the 15th century, after the ancient Roxolani. Thus her nickname would literally mean "The Ruthenian One".[8]

Early life

Modern sources do not contain information on Roxelana's childhood, limiting themselves to information about her Polish, Rusyn, or Ukrainian ethnic origin, and mentioning the Kingdom of Poland as her birthplace. In the middle of the 16th century, the ambassador of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the Crimean khanate Mikhalon Lytvyn in the composition of 1548–1551 "About customs of Tatars, Lithuanians and Moscow" (Latin: De moribus tartarorum, lituanorum et moscorum) at the description of trade specifies that "[...] the most beloved wife of the present Turkish emperor - mother of his primogenital [son] who will govern after him, was kidnapped from our land".[9]

According to late 16th-century and early 17th-century sources, such as the Polish poet Samuel Twardowski (died 1661), who researched the subject in Turkey, Hürrem was seemingly born to a father who was a Ukrainian Orthodox priest.[10][11][12] She was born in the town of Rohatyń, 68 km southeast of Lwów, a major city of the Ruthenian Voivodeship in the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland (today in Western Ukraine).[12] In the 1520s Crimean Tatars captured her during one of their frequent raids into this region, took her as a slave (probably first to the Crimean city of Kaffa, a major centre of the slave trade, then to Constantinople) and selected her for Suleiman's harem.[10][12]

Life with the Sultan

Roxelana quickly came to the attention of her master and attracted the jealousy of rivals. She soon became Suleiman's favorite consort or Haseki Sultan. Hürrem's influence over the Sultan soon became legendary. She was to bear the majority of Suleiman's children, and - in an astonishing break with tradition - she was eventually freed. Breaking with two centuries of Ottoman tradition,[13] a former concubine thus became the legal wife of the Sultan, much to the astonishment of observers in the palace and in the city.[14] It made Suleiman the first Ottoman emperor to have a wed wife since Orhan Gazi (bey from 1326 to 1362), and it strengthened Hürrem's position in the palace and eventually led to one of her sons, Selim, inheriting the empire in 1566.

Letter of Hürrem Sultan to Sigismund II Augustus, congratulating him on his accession to the Polish throne in 1549.

In the Istanbul harem Hürrem Sultan became a very influential rival to Mahidevran Sultan. Hürrem gave birth to her first son Mehmed in 1521 (he died in 1543) and then to four more sons, destroying Mahidevran's status as the mother of the sultan's only son.[15] Suleiman's mother, Ayşe Hafsa Sultan, partially suppressed the rivalry between the two women,[16] but after her death in 1534, a fight broke out, with Mahidevran beating Hürrem. This angered Suleiman, who subsequently sent Mahidevran to live with her son, Şehzade Mustafa, in the provincial capital of Manisa. This exile was shown officially as the traditional training of heirs apparent, Sanjak Beyliği.

A portrait of Roxelana in the British Royal Collection, c. 1600–70

Hürrem and Mahidevran had borne Suleiman six sons, four of whom survived past the 1550s: Mustafa, Selim, Bayezid, and Cihangir. Of these, Mustafa was the eldest and preceded Hürrem's children in the order of succession. Hürrem knew that should Mustafa become Sultan, her own children would be strangled. Yet Mustafa was recognized by many of the people as the most talented of all the brothers and was supported by Pargalı İbrahim Pasha, who became Suleiman's Grand Vizier in 1523. A number of sources have suggested that Ibrahim Pasha had been a victim of Hürrem Sultan's intrigues and rising influence on the sovereign, especially in view of Ibrahim's past support for the cause of Şehzade Mustafa. Hürrem is usually held at least partly responsible for the intrigues in nominating a successor. Although she was Suleiman's wife, she exercised no official public role. This did not, however, prevent Hürrem from wielding powerful political influence. Since the Empire lacked, until the reign of Ahmed I, any formal means of nominating a successor, successions usually involved the death of competing princes in order to avert civil unrest and rebellions. In attempting to avoid the execution of her sons, Hürrem used her influence to eliminate those who supported Mustafa's accession to the throne.[17]

Thus in power struggles apparently instigated by Hürrem,[18] Suleiman had Ibrahim murdered in 1536 and replaced with her sympathetic son-in-law, Rüstem Pasha (Grand Vizier 1544-1553 and 1555-1561), the husband of her daughter by Suleiman, Mihrimah Sultan. Many years later, towards the end of Suleiman's long reign, the rivalry between his sons became evident. Furthermore, both Hürrem Sultan and the grand vizier Rüstem Pasha helped turn Suleiman against Mustafa and Mustafa was accused of causing unrest. During the campaign against Safavid Persia in 1553, because of a fear of rebellion, Sultan Suleiman ordered the execution of Mustafa.[19] According to a source he was executed that very year on charges of planning to dethrone his father; his guilt for the treason of which he was accused remains neither proven nor disproven.[20] After the death of Mustafa, Mahidevran lost her status in the palace (as the mother of the heir apparent) and moved to Bursa and lived a troubled life.[15] She did not spend her last years in poverty, however, for her stepson Selim II, the new sultan after 1566, put her on a salary.[20] Her rehabilitation may have been possible only after the death of Hürrem in 1558.[20] Cihangir, Hürrem's youngest child, allegedly died of grief a few months after the news of his half-brother's murder.[21]

After Suleiman executed Mustafa in October 1553 a degree of dissatisfaction and unrest arose among soldiers who blamed Rüstem Pasha for Mustafa's death. Then Suleiman dimissed Rüstem Pasha and appointed Kara Ahmed Pasha as his grand vizier in October 1553. But almost two years later, Kara Ahmed Pasha became the victim of vicious calumnies brought against him by Hürrem Sultan, who wanted her son-in-law, Rüstem Pasha, to become the grand vizier again. Kara Ahmed Pasha was strangled in September 1555, and Rüstem Pasha became the grand vizier (1555-1561) once more.

Suleiman also allowed Hürrem Sultan to remain with him at court for the rest of her life, breaking another tradition—that when imperial heirs came of age, they would be sent along with the imperial concubine who bore them to govern remote provinces of the Empire; the concubines were never to return unless their progeny succeeded to the throne (Sanjak Beyliği).[22] Hürrem also acted as Suleiman's advisor on matters of state, and seems to have had an influence upon foreign policy and on international politics.[7] Two of her letters to King Sigismundus II Augustus of Poland (reigned 1548-1572) have survived, and during her lifetime the Ottoman Empire generally had peaceful relations with the Polish state within a Polish–Ottoman alliance.

Roxelana memorial in Rohatyn, Ukraine.

Under his pen name, Muhibbi, Sultan Suleiman composed this poem for Hürrem Sultan:

"Throne of my lonely niche, my wealth, my love, my moonlight.
My most sincere friend, my confidant, my very existence, my Sultan, my one and only love.
The most beautiful among the beautiful...
My springtime, my merry faced love, my daytime, my sweetheart, laughing leaf...
My plants, my sweet, my rose, the one only who does not distress me in this world...
My Istanbul, my Caraman, the earth of my Anatolia
My Badakhshan, my Baghdad and Khorasan
My woman of the beautiful hair, my love of the slanted brow, my love of eyes full of mischief...
I'll sing your praises always
I, lover of the tormented heart, Muhibbi of the eyes full of tears, I am happy."[23]


The Turkish bath (hamam) constructed by Hürrem Sultan, Constantinople, 1556

Aside from her political concerns, Hürrem engaged in several major works of public buildings, from Mecca to Jerusalem, perhaps modeling her charitable foundations in part after the caliph Harun al-Rashid’s consort Zubaida. Among her first foundations were a mosque, two Koranic schools (madrassa), a fountain, and a women's hospital near the women's slave market (Avret Pazary) in Constantinople. She commissioned a bath, the Haseki Hürrem Sultan Hamamı, to serve the community of worshippers in the nearby Hagia Sophia. In Jerusalem she established in 1552 the Haseki Sultan Imaret, a public soup kitchen to feed the poor and the needy.

Some of her embroidery, or at least that done under her supervision, has also survived, examples being given in 1547 to Tahmasp I, the Shah of Iran, and in 1549 to King Sigismund II Augustus.

Esther Handali acted as her secretary and intermediary on several occasions.


The türbe (mausoleum) of Hürrem Sultan in Süleymaniye Mosque at Fatih, Istanbul.

Hürrem Sultan died on 15 April 1558 and was buried in a domed mausoleum (türbe) decorated in exquisite Iznik tiles depicting the garden of paradise, perhaps in homage to her smiling and joyful nature.[24] Her mausoleum is adjacent to Suleiman’s, a separate and more somber domed structure, at the courtyard of the Süleymaniye Mosque.


Hürrem Haseki Sultan, or Roxelana, is well-known both in modern Turkey and in the West, and is the subject of many artistic works. In 1561, three years after Hürrem's death, the French author Gabriel Bounin wrote a tragedy titled La Soltane about the role of Hürrem Sultan in Mustafa's death.[25] This tragedy marks the first time the Ottomans were introduced on stage in France.[26] She has inspired paintings, musical works (including Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 63), an opera by Denys Sichynsky, a ballet, plays, and several novels written mainly in Ukrainian, but also in English, French, and German.

In early modern Spain, she appears or is alluded to in works by Quevedo and other writers as well as in a number of plays by Lope de Vega. In a play entitled The Holy League, Titian appears on stage at the Venetian Senate, and stating that he has just come from visiting the Sultan, displays his painting of Sultana Rossa or Roxelana.[27]

In 2007, Muslims in Mariupol, a port city in Ukraine, opened a mosque to honor Roxelana.[28]

In the 2003 TV miniseries, Hürrem Sultan, she was played by Turkish actress and singer Gülben Ergen. In the 2011–2014 TV series Muhteşem Yüzyıl, Hürrem Sultan is portrayed by Turkish-German actress Meryem Uzerli from season one to season three and at the series last season she is portrayed by Turkish actress Vahide Perçin.


See also


  1. ^ Birth name unknown, according to later traditions either Anastasia, or Aleksandra Lisowska[5]
  1. ^ The Encyclopædia Britannica, Vol.7, Edited by Hugh Chisholm, (1911), 3; Constantinople, the capital of the Turkish Empire...
  2. ^ Britannica, Istanbul:When the Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923, the capital was moved to Ankara, and Constantinople was officially renamed Istanbul in 1930.
  3. ^ Dr Galina I Yermolenko (2013). Roxolana in European Literature, History and Culturea. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 275.  
  4. ^ Ukrainian Orthodox priest, Havrylo Lisowsky, father of Roxelana
  5. ^ Leslie P. Peirce, The imperial harem: women and sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire, Oxford University Press US, 1993, ISBN 0-19-508677-5, pp. 58-59.
  6. ^ The Imperial House of Osman GENEALOGY
  7. ^ a b Ayşe Özakbaş, Hürrem Sultan, Tarih Dergisi, Sayı 36, 2000
  8. ^ Ahmed, Syed Z (2001). The Zenith of an Empire : The Glory of the Suleiman the Magnificent and the Law Giver. A.E.R. Publications. p. 43.  
  9. ^ Yermolenko, G. Roxolana: "The Greatest Empresse of the East". — p. 234
  10. ^ a b The Speech of Ibrahim at the Coronation of Maximilian II, Thomas Conley, Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric, Vol. 20, No. 3 (Summer 2002), 266.
  11. ^ Kemal H. Karpat, Studies on Ottoman Social and Political History: Selected Articles and Essays, (Brill, 2002), 756.
  12. ^ a b c Elizabeth Abbott, Mistresses: A History of the Other Woman, (Overlook Press, 2010), [4].
  13. ^ Kinross, Patrick (1979). The Ottoman centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire. New York: Morrow. ISBN 978-0-688-08093-8. p, 236.
  14. ^ Mansel, Phillip (1998). Constantinople : City of the World's Desire, 1453–1924. New York: St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 978-0-312-18708-8. p, 86.
  15. ^ a b Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire
  16. ^ Selçuk Aksin Somel: Historical Dictionary of the Ottoman Empire, Oxford, 2003, ISBN 0-8108-4332-3, p. 123
  17. ^ Mansel, Phillip (1998). Constantinople : City of the World's Desire, 1453–1924. New York: St. Martin's Griffin. p. 84.  
  18. ^ Mansel, 87.
  19. ^ Kinross, 233.
  20. ^ a b c Leslie, 55.
  21. ^ Mansel, 89.
  22. ^ Imber, Colin (2002). The Ottoman Empire, 1300–1650 : The Structure of Power. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-333-61386-3. p, 90.
  23. ^ A 400 Year Old Love Poem
  24. ^ Öztuna, Yılmaz (1978). "Şehzade Mustafa". İstanbul: Ötüken Yayınevi.  
  25. ^ The Literature of the French Renaissance by Arthur Augustus Tilley, p.87 [5]
  26. ^ The Penny cyclopædia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge p.418 [6]
  27. ^ Frederick A. de Armas "The Allure of the Oriental Other: Titian's Rossa Sultana and Lope de Vega's La santa Liga," Brave New Words. Studies in Spanish Golden Age Literature, eds. Edward H. Friedman and Catherine Larson. New Orleans: UP of the South, 1996: 191-208.
  28. ^ Religious Information Service of Ukraine

Further reading

  • Thomas M. Prymak, "Roxolana: Wife of Suleiman the Magnificent," Nashe zhyttia/Our Life, LII, 10 (New York, 1995), 15–20. An illustrated popular-style article in English with a bibliography.
  • Zygmunt Abrahamowicz, "Roksolana," Polski Slownik Biograficzny, vo. XXXI (Wroclaw-etc., 1988–89), 543–5. A well-informed article in Polish by a distinguished Polish Turkologist.
  • Galina Yermolenko, "Roxolana: The Greatest Empresse of the East," The Muslim World, 95, 2 (2005), 231–48. Makes good use of European, especially Italian, sources and is familiar with the literature in Ukrainian and Polish.
  • Galina Yermolenko (ed.), Roxolana in European Literature, History and Culture (Farmham, UK: Ashgate, 2010). 318 pp. Illustrated. Contains important articles by Oleksander Halenko and others, as well as several translations of works about Roxelana from various European literatures, and an extensive bibliography.
  • There are many historical novels in English about Roxelana: P.J. Parker's Roxelana and Suleyman (2012); Barbara Chase Riboud's Valide (1986); Alum Bati's Harem Secrets (2008); Colin Falconer, Aileen Crawley (1981–83), and Louis Gardel (2003); Pawn in Frankincense, the fourth book of the Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett; and pulp fiction author Robert E. Howard in The Shadow of the Vulture imagined Roxelana to be sister to its fiery-tempered female protagonist, Red Sonya.
  • For Ukrainian language novels, see Osyp Nazaruk (1930), Mykola Lazorsky (1965), Serhii Plachynda (1968), and Pavlo Zahrebelnyi (1980). (All reprinted recently.)
  • There have been novels written in other languages: in French, a fictionalized biography by Willy Sperco (1972); in German, a novel by Johannes Tralow (1944, reprinted many times); a very detailed novel in Serbo-Croatian by Radovan Samardzic (1987); one in Turkish by Ulku Cahit (2001).

External links

  • University of Calgary | Roxelana
  • Hürrem Sultan's tomb
Ottoman royalty
Preceded by
New Title
Haseki Sultan
19 March 1534 – 15 April 1558
Succeeded by
Nurbanu Sultan
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