The Portrait of Roxalena (Hurrem Sultan)




Harem Woman




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The Baş Hasseki was the mother of the eldest son and she more than anyone had to be secluded were the prince to die before her .She was the chief royal lady for so long as she lived and on her son's accession became Valide and ruled the Harem. In theory, his death meant her seclusion and the loss of all her powers. Thus the V alide Mosque of Safiye Sultan could not be completed by her when Mehmet lll died in 1603 and it was left decaying for sixty years. She was welllooked after in the Old Saray but had no access to any funds except her own. There was one Valide whose personality was such that she overruled custom: Kösem.Troubles began when a girl became an ikbal because she could not help but be seen as a rival to those of the same rank and therefore be involved in the factional politics which were the zest of Harem life.

In the sixteenth century and afterwards, when the sultan selected his girl for the night, he usually came to see her or wrote to her in the morning so that she could prepare herself down to the last eyelash and the last drop of balm besides assuming clothes the like of which she could only have dreamed of wearing. The consummation of her mission took place in a special room within the Harem: never in the bedchamber of the selamlık, where pages and old women were on guard with candles all night. There was no question ofthe sultan conquering the ikbals; it was theywho had to conquer the sultan.

Humility at the entrance to the bedchamber was something different, once between the sheets, for a woman of spirit like Hasseki Hürrem when she turned one night into thirty-eight years oflove. It is untrue that girls crawled in at the foot of the bed, as if a slave deserved humiliation: this is merely western gossip. But there was humility and obedience unless teasing pleased the monarch more.

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