Alexandra Anastasia Lisowska – Hürrem Sultan
Alexandra Anastasia Lisowska was born in 1500 in Ruthenia. Ruthenia is just north and west from Istanbul on the western side of the Black Sea. Born into the Eastern Orthodox Christian faith, Alexandra did not become part of the Islamic religion until she entered Ottoman society.
In her early years she was kidnapped during a raid in her homeland and was taken as a slave to be sold in the Empire. She was sold in Istanbul and was a gift from Grand Vizier Ibrahim to Sultan Suleiman. When she arrived in the harem, she quickly came to the attention of her master, and attracted the jealousy of her rivals. Especially, a concubine named Mahidevran was the favorite companion of the Sultan. She was also the mother of Prince Mustafa, the sultan-to-be.
Alexandra and Mahidevran often disagreed and, generally did not get along very well. During one particular argument Mahidevran became very violent and beat Alexandra.
On account of her violence the Sultan sent Mahidevran and her son to Manisa. At the time he told the people that this was the customary sancak beyligi- the heir’s training.
While Prince Mustafa and his mother were away, Alexandra, now known as Hürrem, quickly took Mahidevran’s place as the Sultan’s favored companion. She became very influential with the Sultan and in the harem itself. Using this influence she negotiated for the harem to be moved from the Old Palace to Topkapi palace. Along with the rest of the harem she was accompanied by her own 100 ladies-in-waiting, slaves, as well as a complete guard of eunuchs. Eventually she convinced Suleiman to legally marry her and she became the first concubine to marry a sultan. She had five children, including her son Selim and her daughter Mihrimah. She was the Sultana, but she was not yet satisfied.
Prince Mustafa was already considered the heir to the throne because he was the eldest son of the Sultan. He was also the only claim to power that Mahidevran had. Hürrem created a plan to put her youngest son Selim first in line for the throne. She knew that the Sultan feared being over-thrown and used this to her advantage. She convinced him that Prince Mustafa was putting together a revolution with the Janissaries, the highly trained professional imperial army. She told him he was plotting to take the throne before his rightful time. Suleiman ordered Mustafa to be strangled to death. With the death of her son, Mahidevran was no longer valued in the court, and she moved away from Constantinople all together and lived in Bursa.
Hürrem also had an impact on the politics during Suleiman’s reign. She advised him on matters of international policy as well as foreign affairs. She greatly influenced the growth of The Ottoman Empire and, with the help of her cleverness and intelligence, rose from slave to Sultana in a very short time. “She was determined, strong and never gave up until the work was done. She lived by the phrase ‘It is never done until it is right.’” says son Selim.
Hürrem died on April 18, 1558. She is buried in a domed mausoleum decorated in exquisite İznik tiles depicting the garden of paradise, perhaps in homage to her smiling and joyful nature. Her mausoleum is adjacent to Süleyman’s, a separate and more somber domed structure, at the Süleymaniye Mosque.