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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