Saturday 5 June 2021

The Mad Sultan Ibrahim: Harem, Eunuchs', Silk Rope, Golden Cage, "Sweet Lump of Sugar", and Death

The Ottoman Empire was one of the greatest powers that world has ever known. With territory spanning 3 continents and a reign of over 600 years the “House of Osman” was not to be trifled with. The empire was ruled by the all powerful Sultan, the king of kings, the khan of khans, he ruled by decree.


Some Sultans were warriors, others thoughtful poets. But of the 36 or so Sultan’s that ruled during the empire, there is one who stands out to both the Turkish people and historians alike as…different from the rest. Sultan Ibrahim I, more commonly known as Ibrahim the mad. 

But to do justice to the story of Ibrahim the Mad, we must first tell the story of his mother, the beautiful Greek concubine Maypeyker Kösem, and his father, the compassionate Sultan Ahmed.


Kösem Sultan: (1589 –1651) known as Mâh-Peyker Sultan. She was one of the most powerful women in Ottoman history, Favorite Consort and wife of Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I (1603–1617).


She achieved power and influenced the course of the Ottoman Empire through her consort Sultan Ahmet I, then through her sons Murad IV (1623–40) and Ibrahim I (1640–48) and finally through her minor grandson Mehmed IV (1648–87).

Ottoman Sultan Ibrahim I

 Kösem Sultan was of Greek origin, the daughter of a priest on the island of Tinos.

Her maiden name was Anastasia. She was sent to Constantinople the capital of the Ottoman Empire by Bosna Beylerbeyi where she was sold at the age of fifteen to the harem of Sultan Ahmed I.


Kösem Sultan

Her name was changed after her capture to Mahpeyker (Moon-Shaped), and later by Sultan Ahmed I to Kösem. She was transferred to the old palace on the death of Sultan Ahmed in 1617, but returned as Valida Sultan (Queen Mother), when her son Murat IV was installed in 1623.

Mehmed mother--Turhan Hatice

It was Mehmed's mother Turhan Hatice who proved to be Kösem's arch-rival.

It is rumored that Turhan ordered Kösem's assassination when she heard that Kösem was said to be plotting Mehmed's removal and replacement by another grandson with a more pliant mother.

Furthermore, some have speculated that Kösem was strangled with a curtain by the chief black eunuch of the harem, Tall Süleyman.

Sultan Ahmaed Majid (Blue Masjid)--Istanbul

After her death her body was taken from Topkapi to the Old Palace (Eski Sarayı) and then buried in the mausoleum of her husband Ahmad I. 

Kösem was renowned for her charity work and for freeing her slaves after 3 years of service. When she died the people of Constantinople observed three days of mourning.

Mahperkey Kösem Sultan had 8 children, 4 boys and 4 girls.

Male-Murad IV, Prince Süleyman, Prince Kasım, İbrahim I.

Girl-Ayşe Sultan, Fatma Sultan, Gevherhan Sultan, Hanzade Sultan


When the Sultan died a sort of deadly musical chairs for would-be Sultans began.


Often, the son who was closest to the throne at the time of the Sultans death, literally the one nearest in physical distance from the throne, would become the new Sultan by jumping into the chair and declaring himself so.


Upon ascending to the throne, the triumphant new Sultan would shout his first decree, usually something like “All my brothers are to be immediately killed.”


Kösem Sultan

An army of deadly eunuchs would then be sent forth to do just that. All brothers, including infant children, and mothers carrying as of yet unborn brothers were quickly eliminated.


(These eunuch assassins were curious in that, in addition to having been castrated, they had also had their eardrums poked out, so as not to hear the screams of their victims, and their tongues split, so that they could not speak of their dastardly deeds.

The preferred method for royal fratricide was strangulation by silk rope…a classy way to go at least.)


Royal fratricide was the standard and regarded as simply part of the bargain.

So far the policy of brother killing was working out great. But it had one major drawback; it nearly wiped out the Osman family line. Once the Sultan had killed all his brothers it was up to him to carry on the Osman name, a risky business.


All of this changed in 1590 with the rule of Ahmed I. He is well known for commissioning the building of the the amazing Sultan Ahmed Mosque, aka the Blue Mosque. In fact, the entire old town of Istanbul is also known by his name, as the Sultan Ahmet district.


Ahmed was a kind ruler, and was very much in love with a young and beautiful Greek girl named Maypeyker Kösem. Kösem, however, was more then just beautiful, she was cunning, brilliant and hungry for power.


Ahmed was the first Sultan to break with the practice of royal fratricide. Ahmed had grown up with a slightly retarded brother named Mustafa. Ahmed was well known for his compassion, and when it came time to have his mildly retarded brother Mustafa done in, he just couldn’t do it.


Instead the childish Mustafa lived with his grandmother in a single room of the Harem known as the Kafe or the Golden Cage. A special room, it had windows only on the second floor, and a slot for delivering food. Though it was beautifully decorated on the inside, it was merely an exquisite prison cell.

Sultan Ahmet I

For the first time in Ottoman history a royal brother was spared the silk rope and allowed to live. This simple act of kindness was to change the way the entire Osman line of succession worked and Mustafa would be the first of many royal brothers who would spent most of their lives in this gilded jail.


When Ahmed died of typhoid fever, Mustafa, despite being retarded or perhaps because of it was installed to the throne. Another first, it was the first time in Osman house history, a Osman brother was made Sultan instead of a son. His rule didn’t last long.

Kösem Sultan

After a few months the confused Sultan was sent on a hunting trip only to come back and find he had been deposed by his nephew Osman II and Mustafa was sent back to the golden cage. (This was the first deposing in Ottoman history).


The young Osman II was then himself deposed and killed.

Mustafa was dragged back out of the golden cage, re-enthroned, only to be deposed again by his other nephew Murad IV.


Mustafa was finally sent happily back to his safe Golden Cage where he could read in peace…before eventually being strangled by the silk rope.


The cause of all this conflict really lay between the Janissaries (special soldiers) and the Greek beauty Maypeyker Kösem.

Kösem, the widow of Ahmed I and mother of Murad IV was in league with the eunuch corp. Kösem and the eunuchs ruled through the mentally disabled Mustafa, while the Janissaries ruled through Osman II… whom they decided they didn’t like after all, and killed.


It was a time of firsts, this being the first regicide in Ottoman history. (When the Janissaries killed Osman II they killed him by “compression of his testicles”, “a mode of execution reserved by custom to the Ottoman sultans.” They also cut off his ear and sent it to his mother Hadice show who was in charge.)


Kösem took the opportunity presented by the death of Osman II. Her oldest son Murad IV was only 11, still a minor, so when he took the throne, the seductive Kösem became official regent of the Ottoman Empire.


Murad IV

Murad IV’s rule (and his mother Kösem’s by proxy) was iron fisted. He banned alcohol, tobacco, and coffee on pain of death. He also returned to the practice of brother killing, (and son killing if Mama Kösem was behind it) offing a couple of his brethren. But Murad IV didn’t kill all his brothers. History tends to repeat itself.


Like his father Ahmet with his retarded brother Mustafa, Murad IV also had a slightly weird brother whom he allowed to live. His name was Ibrahim.


Murad IV was determined not to make the same mistake his father had with Mustafa. Murad IV ordered that upon his death, his weird brother Ibrahim was to be killed as well. 

All fine and well, except had these orders be carried out the Osman line would have ended. It seems Murad IV would have rather seen the end of the house of Osman, and then has the mad Ibrahim as Sultan.


Murad died at the age of 27 of cirrhosis of the liver (Ironically, the prohibition crazy Murad may have been a closet alcoholic).

As Murad IV lay on his death bed his mother Kösem lied to him, saying that Ibrahim had already been strangled. Happy at the news, Murad IV died smiling.


After Murad’s death Kösem promptly placed Ibrahim;- (The Mad Sultan on to the throne).

Ibrahim was in no shape to rule a nation. Odd to begin with, it didn’t help that he had spent his entire life living as a prisoner in the golden cage, staring longingly out the unreachable stained glass windows.


Inside the prince was kept company by a few deaf-mute servants, and a couple of harem girls, barren ones, to prevent him from fathering possible heirs to the throne.(The servants were, by default, prisoners as well.)


Ibrahim also lived under the constant and reasonable fear of deaf-mute eunuchs throttling him with a silk rope. So it makes sense that when guards showed up to bring him to the throne, he refused to go, thinking it was a trick.


Ibrahim wouldn’t even open the door until Murad’s body was produced. When Ibrahim was finally convinced that he was not about to be garroted to death, he ran deliriously through the halls screaming “the butcher is dead”, “the butcher of the empire is dead.”


Suddenly out of the cage and the supreme ruler of an enormous empire, Ibrahim barely knew what to do with himself. While his mom did most of the actual decision making, Ibrahim busied himself with his new harem.


He first decorated his room with mirrors so that he might get a better view of himself in action. He then called the girls in.

One time the Mad Sultan saw the beautiful daughter of the Grand Mufti, the empire’s highest religious authority, and asked for her hand in marriage. 

Her father, aware of Ibrahim’s depravities, urged his daughter to decline. So the Mad Sultan ordered her kidnapped and carried to his palace, where he ravished her for days, before returning her to her father.


Ibrahim’s harem was full of young, nubile, girls from around the world. But after a while, the slender things from Russia and the Balkans didn’t do it for him anymore.


One day Ibrahim happened to see the genitalia of a female cow.

Pleased by what he saw, Ibrahim had a gold cast made and, hoping to find a human match to the bovine privates, he ordered his aides to “bring him the fattest woman in the world.” They did their best, finding a 300 pound Armenian girl named “Sugar Cube” (Sechir Para or more literally translated “Sweet Lump of Sugar”).


Ibrahim loved her, and spent many a night curled in her large arms. It wasn’t long until the big woman had gained power over Ibrahim equal only to that of her girth.


It would be Sugar Cube who would spell the final downfall of Ibrahim the Mad.

Sugar Cube told Ibrahim that a member of his concubine was sleeping with an outsider and conspiring against him. The paranoid Ibrahim, decided to clean house and had the majority of his harem, some 280 girls, tied up in sacks and drowned in the river.


This worried his mother Kösem, who was actually ruling the foundering empire. Concerned about Sugar Cube’s rising power, she in turn had Sugar Cube strangled. The palace was indeed a rough place.


They knew her everywhere as “the Filthy Sultana.” One day one of her many enemies caught up with her and poisoned her coffee with chopped hair and ground glass, causing a long and painful death.”)


With permission from Kösem, the Grand Mufti whose daughter Ibrahim had had his way with, lead the overthrow.

Between heavy taxes, the mismanaged wars, and with a Venetian blockade reducing the Ottoman capital to starvation, discontent boiled over. In 1648, a popular revolt broke out, and an angry mob tore Ibrahim’s Grand Vizier to pieces.


Ibrahim was deposed in favor of his 6 year old son, and a fatwa was then issued for the Mad Sultan’s execution, which was carried out by strangulation.


Ibrahim was deposed, sent back to the golden cage, and 10 days later his worst fears were realized at the hands of a deaf-mute eunuch wielding a silk rope. This time Ibrahim met his end gleefully, assuming that the guards were there to reinstate him as Sultan.

Murder of Sultan Ibrahim I (The Mad Sultan)

This would mark the end of Ibrahim the Mad’s rule, but not the rule of his mother Kösem.

After Ibrahim’s death, she had Ibrahim’s son, and her grandson, Mehmed IV put onto the throne with the words “Here he is! See what you can do with him!” While Mehmed IV was still a child, Ibrahim apparently stabbed him in the face, and tried to drown him.


An Eunuch in Hrem

In a certain irony, Kösem’s reign would finally come to an end at the hands of another woman. Her daughter-in-law and Mehmed’s IV mother Turhan had Kösem killed and started her own rule of the Ottoman Empire. (She was the only other woman besides Kösem to officially rule the Ottoman Empire.)


Murder in Topkapi Palace by an Eunuch

For a woman who ruled the empire for well over 30 years Kösem met with a very ignoble fate.

When she was confronted by the eunuchs sent to kill her “she went mad, stuffıng her precious jewels into her pockets and fleeing through the intricate mazes of the harem, which she knew better than anyone.

Kösem Sultan

She crept into a small cabinet, hoping that the eunuchs would go past her and the janissaries come to the rescue. But a piece of her skirt caught in the door, betraying her hiding place.


The eunuchs dragged her out, tearing her clothes, stealing her jewels. She fought; but she was an old woman now. One of her attackers strangled her with a curtain. Her naked, bleeding body was dragged outside and flaunted before the janissaries.”

Murder of Kösem Sultan

The rule of Ibrahim the Mad, Kösem and the period surrounding it, marked a turning point in the Ottoman Empire, and the beginning of its decline. 


The End

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