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|Valide Sultan of the Ottoman Empire|
|Tenure||10 September 1623 – 2 September 1651|
|Haseki Sultan of the Ottoman Empire
|Tenure||26 November 1605 – 22 November 1617|
|Regent of the Ottoman Empire|
|1st Tenure||10 September 1623 - 18 May 1632|
|2nd Tenure||9 February 1640 – 8 August 1648|
|3rd Tenure||8 August 1648 - 2 September 1651|
Tinos, Republic of Venice or Bosnia
|Died||2 September 1651(1651-09-02) (aged 61–62)
Constantinople, Ottoman Empire
|Spouse||Sultan Ahmed I|
(raised Greek Orthodox)
Kösem Sultan (Ottoman Turkish: كوسم سلطان, IPA: [cœˈsæm suɫˈtan]) (c. 1589 – 2 September 1651) – also known as Mahpeyker Sultan (Turkish pronunciation: [mahpejˈkæɾ suɫˈtan]; from the Persian compound ماه پيكر Māh-peyker meaning "moon framed") – was an Ottoman sultana and regent who effectively ruled the Ottoman Empire from September 1623 to May 1632, and then later from February 1640 until her death in September 1651. She became one of the most powerful and influential women in Ottoman history as well as a prominent and controversial figure during the era known as the Sultanate of Women.
Kösem Sultan achieved power and influenced the politics of the Ottoman Empire when she became haseki sultan as favourite consort of Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I (r. 1603–1617) and valide sultan as mother of Murad IV (r. 1623–1640) and Ibrahim (r. 1640–1648), and grandmother of Mehmed IV (r. 1648–1687).
Kösem lived in the Ottoman Empire as a courtier during the reign of six sultans: Ahmed I, Mustafa I, Osman II, Murad IV, Ibrahim, and Mehmed IV. After her death, she was known by the names "Valide-i Muazzama" (magnificent mother), "Vālide-i Maḳtūle" (murdered mother), and "Vālide-i Şehīde" (martyred mother).
Kösem is generally said to be of Greek origin, the daughter of a priest on the island of Tinos whose maiden name was Anastasia, but these views do not seem reliable. At the age of 15, she was kidnapped and bought as a slave by the Bosnian Beylerbey, and sent to the harem of Sultan Ahmed I. Upon her conversion to Islam, her name was changed to Mahpeyker , and later by Sultan Ahmed I to Kösem, meaning "leader of the herd", indicating Kösem's leadership and political intelligence.
Haseki Sultan, the Imperial Consort
Kösem rose to prominence early in Ahmed's reign as part of a series of changes to the hierarchy of the imperial harem. Safiye Sultan, Ahmed's once-powerful grandmother and manager of the harem, was deprived of power and banished to the Old Palace (Eski Saray) in January 1604, and Handan Sultan, Ahmed's mother and Valide Sultan, died in November of the following year. These two vacancies allowed Kösem to rise to the top of the imperial harem hierarchy from her previous position as the Sultan's second or third concubine.
As a Haseki Sultan to Ahmed I Kösem was considered his favorite consort and gave birth to many of his children. During her time as haseki sultan she received 1,000 aspers a day. As the mother to a number of princesses she had the right to arrange their marriages which were of political use. Venetian ambassador Simon Contarini mentions Kösem in his report in 1612 and portrays her as:
"[A woman] of beauty and shrewdness, and furthermore ... of many talents, she sings excellently, whence she continues to be extremely well loved by the king ... Not that she is respected by all, but she is listened to in some matters and is the favorite of the king, who wants her beside him continually."
Contarini reported in 1612 that the Sultan ordered a woman to be beaten for having irritated Kösem. She may have been Kösem's fellow consort Mahfiruz, mother of Ahmed's eldest son Osman. Kösem also made efforts to keep her brother-in-law Mustafa safe from execution, and may have regarded Mahfiruz as a rival intent on lobbying in favor of her own son. After Mahfiruz's apparent expulsion from the palace, probably in the mid-1610s, Kösem and Osman grew fond of each other. She used to let him join her in carriage rides where he showed himself to the crowd, but once this came to Ahmed's attention he forbade any conversation between them.
Halime Sultan, Mustafa I's mother, could have been Kösem's ally in carrying out her ambitions. She most likely spent Ahmed I's reign at the Old Palace, where she may have had the opportunity to spend time with Safiye Sultan, who was also sent to the Old Palace early in Ahmed I's reign. Kösem Sultan appears to have played a key role in the events that led to Mustafa I's execution being postponed, which proved to be a significant milestone in the Ottoman dynasty's evolution of the seniority rule.
Kösem's influence over the Sultan increased in the following years and it is said that she acted as one of his advisers. However, she refrained from involving herself constantly in serious issues as the Sultan refused to be overshadowed by his wife. Kösem is sometimes accused of trying to save her own position and influence throughout her long career "rather than that of the sultan or of the dynasty".
Kösem also had a long career as a guardian of şehzades. It is possible that the significant modifications in the pattern of succession to the throne during Ahmed's time owed something to her efforts. She must have realized the personal gain that might stem from the transition to seniority coupled with the fact that she was no longer haseki but had a son "in waiting". According to the Venetian ambassador, Kösem "lobbied to spare Mustafa the fate of fratricide with the ulterior goal of saving her own son from the same fate."
Kösem preferred to use her son-in-law Şehzade Mustafa (later Mustafa I), who was not willing to ascend the throne, but wanted to escape, especially since most of the statesmen were not convinced of the personality of Şehzade Mustafa, known for his wit and ambition. It took only an agreement between Kösem Sultan and statesmen for Şehzade Mustafa to rise to the Ottoman throne, making him the first Ottoman sultan's brother to do so in Ottoman history.
Death of Ahmed I
Sultan Ahmed I died on November 22, 1617, when he was 27 years old. His corpse was laid to rest close in Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul. With the Sultan Ahmed I’s death at such a young age, the question of who will take his place on the throne has arisen. Şehzade Musafa and Şehzade Osman were the most popular choices. When a Sultan died, however, one of his sons was supposed to take the throne, according to the pedestals. Finally, state officials decided it was time to hand it on to Şehzade Mustafa, who was older and had the best claim to the Ottoman throne. During Ahmed I's reign, he adopted the laws of succession to the throne, which he followed. Osman, Ahmed I's eldest son, was well-educated and well-behaved. In addition, Darüsaade Agha told the government that Mustafa’s mental equilibrium was off.
Mustafa I’s 1st reign
Initially, Mustafa refused to reign as Sultan, claiming that he was uninterested in state concerns, the Statesman ignored the matter. In actuality, he was overthrown on February 26, 1618, just 96 days after ascending to the throne, and was replaced by Şehzade Osman, the son of Ahmed I and Mahfiruz Hatice Sultan.
Osman II’s reign
Osman, ambitious and brave, launched a military war against Poland, which had interfered in Ottoman vassal principalities Moldavia and Walachia. Recognizing that his failure at Chocim in 1621 was partly due to the Janissary corps' lack of discipline and degeneracy, he punished them by lowering their pay and closing their coffee shops.
Then he claimed his intention to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca, but his true goal was to form a new army in Egypt and Syria to depose the Janissaries. When the Janissaries learned of the plot and were already enraged by Osman's prior tactics. In May 18, 1622, they revolted, ousted Osman on May 19, 1622, and murdered him the next day.
Mustafa I’s 2nd reign
Sultan Mustafa I returned to reign for a transitional time so that Murad could manage the Ottoman state's affairs, but Mustafa I was unable to do so. Kösem Sultan eventually reached an agreement with the grand vizier and the rest of the ministers to correct the situation, isolate Sultan Mustafa I, and install her son, Murad, as Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
Retirement at the Old Palace
Due to the emergence of seniority as the principle of succession, which meant that a prince's mother might mark time in the Old Palace between the death of her master and the accession of her son, Kösem was able to maintain her Haseki status and daily stipend of 1,000 aspers during her retirement there; still, after the end of Kösem's tenure as haseki, the position lost its prominence.
Back in 1619, her step-son Osman II paid her a three-day visit at the Old Palace, thus manifesting his special fondness for her. Even if their relation was cultivated, though, it did not yield consequential results for the young sultan, whose most exceptional weakness was the lack of a valide sultan to lobby in his favour.
Murad IV’s reign
Kösem came back in power when her son ascended to the throne on 10 September 1623 as Murad IV. Since her son was a minor, she was appointed not only as a valide sultan but also as an official regent (naib-i-sultanat) during his minority, from her son's ascension on 10 September 1623 until 18 May 1632.
"Her Majesty the Sultana Valide […] for the late Sultan Ahmed, whom Allah took with him, was a very important person and he loved her so much that he honored her by marrying her.”
In 1632, Kösem Sultan's 9-year term of office ended, and her son removed her from the political scene quickly, after Murad IV decided not to allow any power to interfere in his administration of the empire, and ordered Kösem Sultan to cut off her contacts with his statesmen, and threatened her with exclusion and exile away from the capital if she did not comply.
During the early years, the Empire fell into anarchy; the Safavid Empire invaded Iraq almost immediately, Northern Anatolia erupted in revolts, and in 1631 the Janissaries stormed the palace and killed the grand vizier, among others. Murad feared suffering the same fate as his elder brother, Osman II, and decided to assert his power. He later tried to quell the corruption that had grown during the reigns of previous sultans, and that had not been checked while his mother was ruling through proxy. His absolute rule started around 1632, when he took the authority and repressed all the tyrants, and he re-established the supremacy of sultan.
Ibrahim I’s reign
Kösem's other son, Ibrahim, lived in terror of being the next of his brothers to be executed by Murad's order. His life was only saved by the intercession of his mother Kösem Sultan. According to some historians, Murad was allegedly poisoned by Kösem Sultan, though this claim is debatable. After Mural's death, Ibrahim was left the sole surviving prince of the dynasty. Upon being asked by the Grand Vizier Kemankeş Kara Mustafa Pasha to assume the sultanate, Ibrahim suspected Murad was still alive and plotting to trap him. It took the combined persuasion of Kösem and the grand vizier to make Ibrahim accept the throne. For instance, Kosem had ordered his brother's corpse to be displayed before him, he was convinced that he may face ‘strangulation, not inauguration’ if he had refused to be crowned the Sultan.
When Ibrahim succeeded his brother in 1640, he proved too mentally unstable to rule. This enabled Kösem to continue in power. He was encouraged by his mother to distract himself with harem girls. The distractions of the harem allowed Kösem to gain power and rule in his name, yet even she fell victim to the sultan's disfavor and left the Imperial Palace.
During his sultanate, the harem achieved new levels of luxury in perfumes, textiles and jewellery. Ibrahim's love of women and furs led him to have a room entirely lined with lynx and sable. Because of his infatuation with furs, the French dubbed him "Le Fou de' Fourrures." Kösem helped to provide him with virgins and fat women, for whom he craved. When vigour flagged, he restricted himself to a new woman every Friday. He is said to have looked for the fattest woman in Istanbul. She was an Armenian, and he was so enamored with her that he made her the Governor General of Damascus.
Ibrahim's behaviour sparked talks of deposing the sultan. In 1647, Grand Vizier Salih Pasha, Kösem Sultan, and the şeyhülislam Abdürrahim Efendi unsuccessfully plotted to depose the sultan and replace him with one of his sons. Salih Pasha was executed and Kösem Sultan was exiled from the harem. The next year the Janissaries and members of the ulema revolted. For several hours, Kösem appealed with them. She agreed to surrender when they promised not to murder him but instead imprison him. On 8 August 1648, Ibrahim was dethroned, seized and imprisoned in Topkapı Palace. Kösem gave consent to her son's fall, saying "In the end he will leave neither you nor me alive. We will lose control of the government. The whole society is in ruins. Have him removed from the throne immediately." The new grand vizier, Sofu Mehmed Pasha, petitioned the Sheikh ul-Islam for a fatwā sanctioning Ibrahim's execution. It was granted, with the message "if there are two caliphs, kill one of them." Kösem also gave her consent. Two executioners were sent. As the executioners drew closer, it was reported that Ibrahim's last words were:
"Is there no one among those who have eaten my bread who will take pity on me and protect me? These cruel men have come to kill me. Mercy! Mercy!”
Ibrahim was strangled to death on 18 August 1648.
Mehmed IV’s reign
Eventually Kösem presented her seven-year-old grandson Mehmed IV to the divan with the words "Here he is!, see what you can do with him!" Thus, she declared herself regent for the third time, and became the de facto ruler of the Ottoman Empire between 1648 and 1651. Initially, Kösem refused to send her grandson for the ceremony of allegiance, so a crowd of people went to the palace, where Kösem resisted and complained, in Kâtip Çelebi’s words:
"For so long you have permitted whatever my son wished [and] proved your loyalty; [and] not once has any of you admonished him or not wished him well. Now you wish to reverse the situation and criticize such an innocent one. This is an evil act.
The matter was discussed for two hours, at the end of which she seemed in despair:
"All are united in the opinion that the Sultan must be deposed; it is impossible to do otherwise. You tell me that if I don’t hand over the Prince, they will enter the palace and take him by force.”
As the senior valide sultan, Kösem Sultan continued to be incredibly powerful. For example, she forced Grand Vizier Sofu Mehmed Pasha into exile for refusing to follow her orders and replaced him with the former Janissary Kara Murat Pasha in 1649. She also accumulated a massive fortune through tax farming, owning and leasing commercial buildings, and investing extensively in diverse economic activities. She was addressed as "the Great Valide Sultan" (buyuk valide), in 1649.
At the head of the Ottoman Empire stood the child sultan, Mehmed IV. With Mehmed's ascendancy, the position of valide sultan ("mother of the reigning sultan") should have gone to his mother Turhan Sultan. However, Turhan was overlooked due to her youth and inexperience. Instead Kösem Sultan was reinstated to this high position. Kösem Sultan was a valide (mother) under two sons, thus having the more experience of the two women. The feud intensified between Turhan Sultan, the mother of Sultan Mohammed IV, whose influence began to increase. This feud continued for 3 years, until Kösem sought to overthrow her grandson Mehmed IV, particularly because of his powerful mother, Turhan Sultan, and replace him with Şehzade Suleiman.
Kösem Sultan, being a courtier to six Sultans, became regent for two of her sons and grandson. She gained enormous prominence and admiration among her subjects during her reign as regent, despite the fact that she would struggle to keep the powerful position to herself for as long as she could. Kösem Sultan achieved unprecedented influence over political decision-making in her role as protector of the Ottoman dynasty.
On Murad IV’s accession to the Ottoman throne on September 10, 1623, Kösem Sultan was appointed regent of the Ottoman Empire. Several rebellions against the government occurred during her reign. She also put in a lot of effort to keep the Ottoman dynasty secure. But years later, Kösem found both the Sultan and the empire hard to control. She wrote to the Grand Vizier:
"Something absolutely must be done about Yemen — it's the gate to Mecca. You must do what you can ... My son leaves in the morning and comes back at night. I never see him. He won't stay out of the cold, he's going to get sick again. I tell you, this grieving over the child is destroying me. Talk to him when you get a chance.”
Murad relinquished the regency of his mother when he was old enough to claim full authority of the Ottoman Empire. Murad despised his mother's meddling in his sultanship. As a result, he expelled his mother from all political and harem responsibilities in 1632. However, Valide Kösem Sultan always warned her son about some government issues and was secretly present in court hearings, contacting court officials, military commanders and religious scholars.
Kösem regained control after Murad IV’s death on February 8, 1640, through her son Ibrahim. This was due to Ibrahim's lack of experience and desire to rule. He enjoyed the inner palace's pleasures and spent much of his time with his concubines. Between 9 February 1640 and 8 August 1648, Kosem was able to effectively govern the Ottoman Empire. 
Kösem attended a conference with leading viziers at the entrance to the harem. The Aga of the Janissaries, who complained to her about Ibrahim’s failure to combat rebellions in the Balkans region, wrote:
“Gracious mistress, the folly and madness of the Padishah have put the world in danger; the infidels have taken forty castles on the frontiers of Bosnia and are blockading the Dardanelles with eighty ships while the Padishah thinks only of pleasure, debauch and selling offices.”
Kösem agreed to her son’s deposition, and Ibrahim was later executed.
Kösem’s grandson, Mehmed IV, became Sultan on 8 August 1648. Kösem Sultan was the de facto ruler of the Ottoman Empire from 8 August 1648 until her death in 2 September 1651. During the beginning of Mehmed IV‘s reign, Kösem would usually sit beside the Sultan, concealed behind a curtain, if the Sultan's presence was needed at the divan. Her candor outweighed her caution. She chastised the viziers in abrasive, thatcheresque tones in front of their faces:
“Have I made you vizier to spend your time in gardens and vineyards: Devote yourself to the affairs of the empire and let me hear no more of your deportments!”
During this time, Kösem also gained a political rival, the junior Valide Sultan, Turhan Sultan. This competition wreaked havoc throughout the empire. By enthroning Ibrahim's second son, Suleiman, and making his mother, Aşub Sultan, the future Valide Sultan, Kösem and the Janissaries attempted to depose Mehmed IV and Turhan Sultan. Turhan Sultan, on the other hand, was made aware of Kösem's plans. Turhan Sultan used Suleyman Agha and his followers to assassinate Kösem on September 2, 1651.
It was Mehmed IV's mother, Turhan, who proved to be Kösem's nemesis. When she was about 12 years old, Turhan was sent to the Topkapı Palace as a gift from the khan of Crimea to Kösem Sultan. It was probably Kösem Sultan who gave Turhan Sultan to Ibrahim as a concubine. Turhan turned out to be too ambitious a woman to lose such a high position without a fight. In her struggle to become valide sultan, Turhan was supported by the chief black eunuch in her household and the grand vizier, while Kösem was supported by the Janissary Corps. Although Kösem's position as valide was seen as the best for the government, the people resented the influence of the Janissaries on the government.
In this power struggle, Kösem planned to dethrone Mehmed IV and replace him with another young grandson. According to one historian, this switching had more to do with replacing an ambitious daughter-in-law with one who was more easily controlled. According to Mustafa Naima, Kösem Sultan secretly asked the palace guards to leave the palace gates open so that Janissaries could sneak in and kill Turhan Sultan in her chambers. Additionally, Valide Kösem Sultan gave two bottles of poisoned sherbet to Uveys Agha, the head helva (sweets) maker in the palace kitchen, to serve to Sultan Mehmed IV. She promised Uveys Agha a promotion if he succeeded in poisoning the sultan. The day before enacting the plan, however, one of Kosem’s slaves, Meleki Hatun, betrayed Kösem and revealed the plot to Turhan Sultan. The plan was unsuccessful.
On 2 September 1651, a large group of Turhan Sultan’s armed followers led by Lala Stileyman Agha approached Kösem Sultan's apartment. Her apartment was guarded by three hundred armed Janissaries. When Kösem Sultan's chief private guard (has odabap) refused to let the assassins in, they attacked and cut him to pieces. Lala Stileyman Agha and the armed men then broke into her apartment, swiftly killing the other guards on their way.
It has been said that a loyal slave of Kösem tried to save her by saying “I am the Valide!”, attempting to fool the eunuchs and pages, although they were not deceived. Kösem is said to have hidden in a cupboard in the wall of a staircase in the Valide's apartment. A piece of dress protruding under the door betrayed her to a halberdier. One of her assailants, Kucuk Mehmed Agha, found her and dragged her out by her long braids and started beating her. As she struggled to get away, Lala Siileyman Agha strangled her with a piece of cord that he tore off the curtains. She struggled so much that blood spurted out of her ears and nose and soiled the murderer's clothes. 'The massacred Valide', as she became known, left 2,700 shawls, twenty chests of gold and a lasting reputation in the city for piety and generosity. The assailants looted her chambers.
Whether Turhan Sultan sanctioned it or not, Kösem Sultan was murdered three years after becoming regent for her young grandson. It is rumoured that Turhan ordered Kösem's assassination. Furthermore, some have speculated that Kösem was strangled with a curtain by the chief black eunuch of the harem, Tall Suleiman. The Ottoman renegade Bobovi, relying on an informant in the harem, states that Kösem was strangled with her own hair.
When news of her death was known the next morning, the people of Istanbul spontaneously observed three days of mourning. By this time, a huge crowd had gathered by the gates of Topkapi Palace, the Sultan summoned his statesmen and the palace functionaries to the audience. Fired up, the crowd blamed the janissaries for Kösem’s murder and swore to avenge it.
Evliya Çelebi, a famous Ottoman traveler, writer, and admirer of Kösem Sultan, described the regicide:
The mother of the world, wife of Sultan Ahmed (I); mother of Osman (II), Orhan, Bayezid, Murad (IV), and Ibrahim; the grand Kösem Valide—was strangled by the Chief Black Eunuch Div Süleyman Agha. He did it by twisting her braids around her neck. So that gracious benefactress was martyred. When the Istanbul populace heard of this they closed the mosques and the bazaars for three days and nights. There was a huge commotion. Several hundred people were put to death, secretly and publicly, and Istanbul was in a tumult.”
Kösem made charities and donations both for people and ruling class in the state. She visited the prisons every year, paid the debts of imprisoned people, supplied the trousseaus of daughters of poor families and servant girls trained by her, wedded them and won their confidence. She had Çinili Mosque (tr) and a school near it constructed in Üsküdar in 1640 and she also had the small mosques and fountain of the Valide madrasa of Anadolu Kavağı, fountain in Yenikapı, Valide Han mosques, fountains in Beşiktaş and Eyüp and Valide Caravanserai in Çakmakçilar Yokuşu built. It is also known that she had also laid fountains built outside the city of Istanbul.
Kösem established a foundation to meet the needs of pilgrims in need of water, to assist the poor in Haremeyn, and to have the Koran read in this place. She also funded the construction of Büyük Valide Han in Istanbul, which served a variety of purposes, including providing accommodation for foreign traders, storing goods or merchandise, housing artisan workshops, and providing offices from which to conduct business.
Kösem Sultan (like the other six sultans who ruled during this time) destroyed the palace’s budget. Kösem had no sympathy for her political foes, but she appeared to care about the needy individuals who sought her assistance.
Kösem Sultan was a woman who refused to be just another Ottoman court widow, and instead rose to become the empire's true ruler. Her judgments had such an impact that noblemen in her empire vowed that no woman would ever be so influential again after she died. It marked the end of a period of prominence for women in Topkapi Palace (also known as the Sultanate of Women.)
Kösem's sons were:
- Murad IV (26/27 July 1612 – 8 February 1640), sultan from 20 January 1623 until his death
- Şehzade Süleyman (1613 – murdered 27 July 1635).
- Şehzade Kasım (early 1614 – 17 February 1638), heir apparent since 1635
- Ibrahim (5 November 1615 – 18 August 1648), sultan from 9 February 1640 until 12 August 1648
In popular culture
- Genç Osman ve Sultan Murat Han (1962) movie, starring Muhterem Nur as Kösem Sultan
- IV. Murat (1980) TV series, starring Ayten Gökçer as Kösem Sultan
- Istanbul Kanatlarımın Altında (1996) movie, starring Zuhal Olcay as Kösem Sultan
- Ankara Theatre (2013–2014 season) Özlem Ersönmez as Kösem Sultan.
- Mahpeyker: Kösem Sultan (2010), starring Damla Sönmez (as young Kösem) and Selda Alkor (as old Kösem)
- Tims Production produced a historical fiction television series following Muhteşem Yüzyıl, titled Muhteşem Yüzyıl: Kösem, starring Anastasia Tsilimpiou as young Kösem and Beren Saat as adult Kösem in season one. In season two, middle aged Kösem was portrayed by Nurgül Yeşilçay.
- List of mothers of the Ottoman sultans
- List of consorts of the Ottoman sultans
- Ottoman dynasty
- Ottoman family tree
- Hurrem Sultan
- Sultanate of Women
- Mansel, Philip (1995), Constantinople: City of the World's Desire, 1453–1924; New York: St. Martin's Press.
- Imber, Colin (2009), "The Ottoman Empire"; New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
- Peirce, Leslie P. (1993), The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0195086775
- Tezcan, Baki (2007). "The Debut of Kösem Sultan's Political Career". Turcica. Éditions Klincksieck. 39–40.
- Lucienne Thys-Senocak, Ottoman Women Builders (Aldershot: Ashgate 2006).
- Piterberg, Gabriel (2003). An Ottoman Tragedy: History and Historiography at Play. California: University of California Press. p. 271. ISBN 0-520-23836-2.
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