Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous: Suleiman and Hurrem’s Relationship Throughout the Ottoman Empire and Beyond

By Audrey Tovar
Submitted to Session S5055 (Undergraduate Research Poster Session, 2017 Annual Meeting
Ottoman Empire;
13th-18th Centuries;
Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous: Sultan Suleiman and Hurrem’s Relationship Throughout the Ottoman Empire and Beyond

In royal circles during the rise of the Ottoman Empire, intimacy or love did not characterize marriage. But in 1533, Sultan Suleiman married the love of his life, Hurrem, a concubine. Their marriage proved controversial because Suleiman broke the long-standing Ottoman court custom that Sultans did not take wives also he favored Hurrem over all others. This unique position pushed Suleiman to do more for her than he had ever done for previous concubines. My senior capstone explores their relationship and argues that Suleiman and Hurrem’s love, led them to break court customs and transform the culture surrounding Ottoman marriage and succession practices. Their actions also left a lasting legacy in European culture and continues to influence popular culture in contemporary Turkey.

Much of the literature on Suleiman and Hurrem’s relationship takes a gender studies approach, analyzing what their courtship demonstrates about women’s agency within the Empire. While this approach situates the immediate impact of their love, it does not address the relationship’s ability to transform cultural ideals about what a royal relationship meant. To answer this question, and add to the discussion on marriage during the early Ottoman Empire, I employ a cultural history approach, investigating the effects of their relationship throughout the empire. I explain how new cultural policies, such as marriage and limiting heirs during princedom, affected generations following the couple.

I use a variety of primary sources—ranging from personal letters between the couple to reports of foreign ambassadors—to define and chart the transformation of Ottoman cultural customs during Suleiman’s reign. I conclude my research by investigating how the couple’s relationship affected popular culture beyond the Ottoman Empire. This includes an analysis of plays on the couple in Baroque Germany, the couple’s inspiration for nineteenth-century Ukrainian nationalism, as well as modern-day Turkey’s soap operas.