Monthly Archives: April 2018

Roxelena and Her Rise to Power – Witchcraft or Love? (Part 2)

(Continued from 4/22/18, find Part One here.)

Mustafa, the eldest of all the Suleiman’s sons, was next in line to rule. According to Ottoman Imperial custom, when a Sultan came into power, he had his brothers killed, to ensure the stability of the empire. Some believed that Roxelena, with the help of the grand vizier Rustem Pasha, and fearing for the safety of her own sons, influenced the Sultan against Mustafa.

Suleiman's Harem

Previously, one of Mustafa’s supporters, a commander in Suleiman’s army and later his grand vizier, Ibrahim Pasha, suffered execution at the hands of Suleiman. Although Ibrahim committed several grievances against the Sultan, many thought Roxelena, through her influence, encouraged his execution to make way for her own sons.

Several years later, Suleiman selected Roxelena’s son-in-law, Damat Rustem Pasha to become grand vizier. It soon became clear that a rivalry between the Sultan’s sons had surfaced and could not be ignored. In 1553, according to some accounts, Rustem circulated a rumor that Mustafa planned to dethrone his father. That same year, Suleiman had Mustafa executed for treason. Some, including Mahidrevan, believed Roxelena conspired with Rustem to slander Mustafa.

Suleiman soon dismissed Rustem as his grand vizier and appointed Kara Ahmed. Two years later, Kara Ahmed was killed at Suleiman’s behest. People believed Roxelena wanted her son-in-law, Rustem, back in power as grand vizier.

Suleiman's Bedroom

Although the stories of Roxelena’s evil doings have survived over the centuries, none of them are substantiated by evidence. Rumors and gossip of the time and embellished authorial accounts paint Roxelena in a negative light. We will never know if she had anything to do with these executions or not. I suppose the fact that a female slave rising to such influential power in the Ottoman Empire of the sixteenth century was so uncommon it would give cause to the idea she did so by dubious means.

However, Roxelena’s legacy survives. She has inspired artists, authors, musicians, and dancers throughout history and throughout the world. She gives proof that anything can happen—even the most unlikely scenario, like a slave becoming a queen.

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Roxelena and Her Rise to Power – Witchcraft or Love? (Part One)

It is not common in history for a slave to become an empowered ruler, much less a female slave. But, that is what happened with Roxelena, who became one of the most powerful and influential women in Ottoman history. What is common is when a person does rise to power in any empire or kingdom, it is often fraught with controversy. This, too, holds true for Roxelena, as she influenced and changed the fate of women of the Ottoman empire’s harems and beyond.

In 2009, my father and I took a tour of some of the cities surrounding the Black Sea. In Istanbul, we visited Suleiman’s palace and took a tour of the rooms of his royal harem. It was then I first learned of Roxelena, an unlikely empowered woman—a slave girl–who came to incredible power in a land and at a time where women had no power at all.

Roxelena’s birth name is unknown, but some historians claim her birth name to be Aleksandra Lisovska, and she might have been born to an Orthodox priest and his wife, in 1502-1505. Her family lived in the town of Rohatyn, part the Polish Kingdom, now known as western Ukraine.

In the early 1520’s, Crimean Tatars raided young Aleksandra’s town and kidnapped her, as they often did with Christian girls. They took her to Istanbul to sell her into the slave trade. Hasfa Sultan, wife of Salim I, and mother of Suleiman the Magnificent purchased Aleksandra for her son’s growing harem. Aleksandra had to forsake her Christian religion and to convert to Islam. She was educated in the Arabic, Persian, and Turkish languages, and schooled in the art of lovemaking.

Historians agree Aleksandra was about fifteen years of age when she became Suleiman’s concubine, around the time he came into power as Sultan. Aleksandra then became known as Hurrem, or “cheerful one” for her sunny disposition and cheerful nature. The name Roxelena came later from the Europeans, in reference to her Ruthenian roots.

As one of Suleiman’s two hundred concubines, it might have taken a girl a long time to get noticed by the Sultan, but not Roxelena. She quickly became his favorite, and a life-long love affair began—much to the disappointment and resentment of the other concubines, particularly Mahidevran, the previous favorite. A rivalry developed between the two women.

Roxelena
(ko.wikipedia.org)

Ottoman Imperial custom dictated that when a concubine gave birth to a son, she was elevated in status, but removed from the Sultan’s bed. This prevented undue influence over the Sultan and also prevented future feuds between the concubines’ sons for the crown. But when Roxelena gave birth to her son, Mehmed, Sulieman kept her close to him, in direct defiance of Imperial custom. As his most favored concubine, not only did Roxelena remain in Sulieman’s bedroom, but she bore him four or five other children.

Suleiman’s subjects did not know what to make of this affront to a hundreds-year-old tradition, so they surmised it must be witchcraft on Roxelena’s part. Suleiman further mystified his subjects when he married Roxelena—something else a Sultan rarely did. Any son a sultan bore became an heir, so marriage was unnecessary, especially marriage to a slave. In marrying Roxelena, it meant she became a free woman.

Suleiman's Harem
Suleiman’s Harem

Roxelena and Suleiman had a marriage based on love and mutual respect. When separated by travel and the responsibilities of the Sultanate, they wrote many love letters and poems to one another. Suleiman also consulted with Roxelena on matters of state. She corresponded with the King of Poland and other important world leaders on the Sultan’s behalf. Having access to the Sultan’s riches, she used the money to build mosques, schools, baths, and a hospital.

Despite a happy marriage and the privilege of power, Roxelena also experienced her share of controversy. Not only did the Sultan’s subjects believe Roxelena had bewitched him, they also believed she was instrumental in the assassination of several rivals to the throne. The most prominent being Mustafa, the son of the Sultan’s former favorite, Mahidevran. (To be continued next week.)

annie oakley mystery series kari bovee novel authorAre you a historical fiction fan? Do you love a good adventure and an empowered female lead? Check out my Annie Oakley Mystery Series here!

 

 

 

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Nellie Bly – Mad, Committed or Both? (Part Two)

(Continued from 4/8/18 – Find Part One here.)

Bly remained at Blackwell’s Island for ten days. What she saw, she could never forget. Doctors seemed oblivious to their patients’ illnesses. Orderlies and nurses abused their charges. They served their patients spoiled food. There was no access to warm clothing or clean linens. In short, the place was a rat-infested hell-hole. Bly herself had to endure one of the “treatments” which consisted of buckets of freezing water poured over her head. She and the others had to sit for twelve to fourteen hours straight-backed benches, unable to talk or move. Many of the women there were foreigners, not insane. Their inability to communicate in English rendered them “crazy.”

When her ten days were up, Joseph Pulitzer sent an attorney for Nellie’s release.

Bly’s story, done in a series, rocked New York and the world at large. Her writings forced Blackwell’s and other asylums around the country to change the way they treated and provided for their patients. Bly herself became an overnight sensation as the world’s newest and most provocative “investigative journalist.” She later compiled the articles into a book called Ten Days in a Madhouse.

Nellie Bly
(Wikipedia)

In 1889, Bly would make the news again. She had just read the fictional book, Around the World in Eighty Days, by the French writer Jules Verne, and she wanted to see if she could make history again. She suggested to her editor at the New York World, that she try to beat the record set by Phileas Fogg, the possible inspiration for Verne’s novel. A year later, she boarded the steamship the Augusta Victoria, and Bly was on her way to complete the journey. She took with her the dress on her back, an overcoat, several changes of underwear and toiletry essentials.

The itinerary included England, France, Brindisi, the Suez canal, Ceylon, Penang, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. She traveled by steamer and railway. While in France, she met Jules Verne, and while in China she visited a leper colony. In Singapore, she bought a monkey.

Despite occasional setbacks due to weather or other complications, Bly returned to New York seventy-two days later. She had beat the record. However, a few months later by a man named George Francis Train beat her record. He completed the journey in 67 days. Still, Bly’s accomplishment had been duly noted.

Bly married at 30 years of age. Never one for convention, she married a man 40 years her senior, a millionaire named Robert Seamen, the owner of a manufacturing company called the Iron Clad Manufacturing Company. Nellie joined her husband in running his business and retired from journalism. She then became one of the leading women industrialists in the United States. She herself invented and patented a unique milk can, and a stacking garbage can.

The couple had a happy marriage, but Seaman died in 1904 leaving Bly with control of his company. Bly continued her quest for social reform and installed fitness gyms and libraries at the company and provided health care for her employees. However, the cost of these additional perks took a toll and her inheritance dwindled. In her later years, Bly returned to her journalistic roots. She covered women’s issues in World War I and also wrote extensively about the suffragette movement.

At age 57, Bly died in 1922 from pneumonia. But her legacy lives on. Articles, books, television shows and movies have been made about the courageous woman who, committed to her causes and the plight of women around the world, had herself committed to an insane asylum to affect change in her own life and reformation around the globe.

annie oakley mystery series kari bovee novel authorAre you a historical fiction fan? Do you love a good adventure and an empowered female lead? Check out my Annie Oakley Mystery Series here!

 

 

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Nellie Bly – Mad, Committed, or Both? (Part One)

In fact, Nellie Bly was not mad. She was, however, “committed”–in more ways than one.

(TodayFoundOut.com)

Born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in 1864, Nellie, as she was known after she became a journalist, always had a deep sense of morality and a desire to help those who could not help themselves.

Perhaps this stemmed from her own hardships as a young girl. Nellie’s father, Michael Cochran, owned and ran a successful mill in Cochran, Pennsylvania. However, when he died six years after Nellie was born, the family could no longer make ends meet and her mother, Mary Jane, moved her children to Pittsburgh. Due to the family’s financial situation, young Elizabeth had to give up her education to help her mother run the boarding house she had purchased for her family’s survival.

Although she had to quit school as a youngster, Nellie had a gift for writing. Especially when something piqued her interest. At eighteen years old, after reading a column in the Pittsburgh Dispatch that insinuated a woman’s place is in the home, bearing children and keeping house, Elizabeth wrote a rebuttal under the name “The Lonely Orphan,” and sent it to the editor. To her surprise, the editor not only published the rebuttal but offered her a job as a columnist. It was then she took the pen name, Nellie Bly, after a popular Stephen Foster song.

Nellie wrote for the Pittsburgh Dispatch for several years. She wrote about the lives of working women, particularly women factory workers. However, the newspaper received complaints from factory owners and the editor reassigned her to cover fashion, society, and gardening. Frustrated with these assignments, Nellie left the Dispatch and traveled to Mexico to serve as a foreign correspondent. There, she wrote articles reporting on the customs of the Mexican people. When a fellow journalist wrote an article criticizing the Mexican government, he was thrown in jail. Nellie protested with her own writings and the Mexican authorities threatened her with arrest. She had to leave the country.

Bly moved to New York City in 1886. She took a while to find work, but in 1887, she submitted a story idea concerning the immigrant experience in the U.S. to the editor of the New York World, one of the countries leading newspapers, owned by Joseph Pulitzer. The editor turned down her idea but challenged her to go undercover for a different story. A story to expose the abusive treatment of mental patients on nearby Blackwell’s Island, an insane asylum for women.

Bly rose to the challenge.

But she had to be convincingly crazy. To do this, she stopped bathing and brushing her hair. She practiced looking like a lunatic in the mirror. She checked herself into a temporary boarding house for women under the name “Nellie Moreno” and immersed herself deeper into her role. For twenty-four hours, she yelled and screamed at the other tenants, she snarled, she pulled at her hair. She later wrote, “It was the greatest night of my life.”

As she’d hoped, the police took her away and soon she was declared hopelessly insane. Local newspapers wrote about the “mysterious waif with the wild, hunted look in her eyes.” After a few days at the Bellevue Hospital’s psychiatric ward, Bly ended up at Blackwell’s Island. (To be continued)

annie oakley mystery series kari bovee novel authorAre you a historical fiction fan? Do you love a good adventure and an empowered female lead? Check out my Annie Oakley Mystery Series here!

 

 

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Henry and Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn – Did She or Didn’t She? (Part Two)

(Continued. For Part One, click here.)

Anne Boleyn
(Anne-Boleyn.com)

Catherine of Aragon and Henry had one child, Mary Tudor, who had now reached teenager-hood. While her mother was cast out of Henry’s court, Mary, also stripped of her title of princess and declared a bastard, had been allowed to remain. Until the birth of her baby sister, Elizabeth. Desiring the baby to be raised away from the proclivities of the court, and in the fresh air of the countryside, Anne sent Elizabeth to Hatfield House with a full staff of servants—including the bastard Mary.In 1534, to Henry’s delight, Anne became pregnant again. But when she miscarried a few months later, Henry began discussions with his advisors Archbishop Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell, to start divorce proceedings. Learning that Anne was again pregnant in late 1535, the King relented.

Anne lived with extravagance. She continued to have wild parties long into the morning, and spent incredible amounts of money, which caused further resentment among Henry’s subjects. But, Anne gave the matter little thought. After all, she had every hope to believe she carried a son for the King. She further rejoiced when she learned that Catherine of Aragon had died. Now, nothing stood in her way. Except for the fact that the King had developed a passion for someone else. The young and beautiful Jane Seymour.

In January 1936, while taking part in a jousting tournament, the King was struck from his horse and knocked unconscious. More bad luck ensued when Anne, five days later—the same day Catherine of Aragon was buried—miscarried again. Once the King recovered, he moved Jane Seymour into the royal household. He claimed Anne had seduced or bewitched him, and because of that, the marriage was not valid. He wanted Anne gone.

By April of that year, several men of the court were accused of adultery with the queen, plotting with her to kill the King, and thus, treason. The first, Mark Smeaton, a Flemish musician and a favorite of Anne’s. At first, he denied the charges, but then later confessed—some say under torture. Next, a nobleman and friend of the King, Henry Norris, who’d enjoyed himself at Anne’s many parties. She had been overheard discouraging him from paying her too much attention. He denied the charges and swore to the Queen’s innocence. Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton, and Sir Richard Page were also accused, as well as Sir Thomas Wyatt, a friend of the Boleyn family, and possible sweetheart of Anne in her youth.

The final blow to Anne was the accusation of her incestuous relationship with her brother George, on two different accounts.

Historians, authors, and movie-makers have had a field day with this historical information. Some believe and or portray the adultery as truth, and some do not. Either way, all the accused, accept Wyatt and Page, were executed, as was Anne in the summer of 1536. In her last speech before her death, she maintained her innocence and spoke nothing but praise of her “merciful prince.”

So, did she or didn’t she? Was Anne so empowered she felt she could have numerous affairs with all these men and not suffer the consequences? Was she so desperate to have a son that she slept with these men—including her brother—to give the King his desired heir? Or, did she suffer her fate because she fell out of favor with the King who had moved heaven and earth to wed her?

annie oakley mystery series kari bovee novel authorAre you a historical fiction fan? Do you love a good adventure and an empowered female lead? Check out my Annie Oakley Mystery Series here!

 

 

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