Kösem Sultan Biography

(Chief Consort and Legal Wife of the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I)

Born: 1589

Born In: Greece

Kösem Sultan was the chief consort and legal wife of the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I, ‘valide sultan’ as the mother of sultans Murad IV and Ibrahim, and büyük ("elder") ‘valide sultan’ as the grandmother of Sultan Mehmed IV. She often took part in the government during the reign of her husband Ahmed and later wielded unparalleled political power as regent during the early reign of her son Murad and then again during the minority of her grandson Mehmed. One of the central figures during the Sultanate of Women, she was instrumental in putting an end to the centuries-old practice of fratricide in the Ottoman Empire by convincing Ahmed to spare his brother Mustafa. She also supported enthronement of Mustafa I and retained her status and power despite her banishment during the reign of Osman II.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Mahpeyker Sultan

Died At Age: 62


Spouse/Ex-: Sultan I. Ahmed (m. 1605–1617)

children: Atike Sultan, Ayşe Sultan, Fatma Sultan (daughter of Ahmed I), Gevherhan Sultan, Hanzade Sultan, Ibrahim I, Murad IV, Şehzade Kasım, Şehzade Mehmed

Born Country: Greece

Turkish Women Women Historical Personalities

Died on: September 2, 1651

place of death: İstanbul, Turkey

Childhood & Early Life

Kösem Sultan was born as Anastasia in around 1589 in the island of Tinos, Republic of Venice, to a Greek Orthodox priest and was kidnapped by Ottoman raiders when she was 14 or 15. She was noticed for her beauty and intelligence by the kızlar ağa, the head eunuch guarding the imperial harem, who sent her to Constantinople.

She was trained with other slave girls to be in the harem of Sultan Ahmed I as an imperial court lady and was taught religion, theology, mathematics, embroidery, singing, music and literature. She quickly captivated Ahmed and became his haseki or chief consort by 1605, with her name changed to Mahpeyker upon her conversion to Islam.

Her name was changed again that year upon her marriage to Ahmed to Kösem, meaning either "leader of the herd”, pointing to her leadership, or "hairless”, due to her smooth and hairless skin. She quickly rose up the hierarchy of the imperial harem as Safiye Sultan, Ahmed's once-powerful grandmother was banished to the Old Palace in 1604 and Handan Sultan, Ahmed's mother, died the next year.

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Kösem Sultan became Haseki Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, the Imperial Consort, in November 1605 and received lavish gifts and a stipend of 1,000 aspers a day from her husband. Her first four children were all daughters: Ayşe Sultan, Fatma Sultan, Hanzade Sultan and Gevherhan Sultan, while she bore him four sons as well: Murad, Süleyman, Kasım and Ibrahim.

Upon the birth of her first son in 1612, she took interest in the succession and lobbied to convince Ahmed to spare his half-brother Mustafa, thereby abolishing the common practice of fratricide. The modification of succession to the throne from primogeniture to agnatic seniority was a well-planned initiative taken to secure the future of her own children from Ahmed’s eldest son Osman.

After the sudden death of Ahmed from typhus and gastric bleeding on November 22, 1617, she led a faction that successfully installed Mustafa to the throne. Despite her earlier contribution to abolish fratricide, she had reasons to fear Osman’s ascension to the throne as a threat to her sons.

Mustafa I had no prior experience of government and proved to be a feeble and incompetent ruler. After just 96 days, he was deposed due to rumors of his insanity, following which Ahmed’s eldest son Osman ascended the throne.

Immediately upon ascension, Osman II took power away from Mustafa's supporters, including Kösem, her eight children and entourage, who were banished to the Old Palace (Eski Sarayı). However, she was able to retain her haseki status and daily stipend of 1,000 aspers, and even Osman was affectionate towards her and broke Ottoman convention by paying her a three-day visit at the Old Palace.

Osman further gave her income from eight villages to the north-west of Athens that she incorporated into her waqf to provide services to pilgrims traveling from Damascus to Mecca. Through her influence, she was also able to secure the lives of Mustafa and her own children as Osman, before departing on the Polish campaign of 1621, executed only Mehmed, who was not her son.

Nevertheless, fears of Osman eventually executing Mustafa and his younger brothers remained, which prompted Mustafa's mother Halime Sultan and Kösem to support a planned counter-strike by the eunuch corps and the palace soldiery. Osman, who wanted to create a more loyal army consisting of Anatolian sekbans, was imprisoned in Yedikule at the age of just 17 and strangled by members of the Janissary corps on May 20, 1622.

While Kösem supported restoring Mustafa to the throne for a second time with her and Halime orchestrating from the behind, many reacted violently to the regicide and attempted to protect Ahmed’s other sons from Halime. Mustafa had ordered the execution of everyone involved in Osman’s murder, including Kösem’s sons, but she used the eunuch corps to depose him and negotiated with the viziers to install her son Murad as sultan.

As her minor son ascended to the throne on September 10, 1623, Kösem returned to the Topkapı Palace with a great ceremony as valide sultan as well as official regent. Upon Murad’s ascension, his brothers and Mustafa were confined in the Kafes, a part of the imperial harem where possible successors to the throne were kept under house arrest.

During the early years of Murad's reign, she had to deal with foreign enemies and powerful local nobles who attempted to undermine the Ottoman state's power and authority. While Murad took power for himself and ruled with a heavy hand after coming of age, he was known to consider inputs from his mother until his death, possibly from chronic alcohol consumption, in 1640.

Murad had previously executed his brothers Süleyman and Kasım, stepbrother Bayezid, and also uncle Mustafa according to some sources, making Kösem's last surviving son, the mentally unstable Ibrahim, his successor. Ibrahim, who lived in fear of being executed next, had to be convinced to take the throne by showing him his brother's corpse.

Kösem, who was forced to cut her political ties by Murad, again gained power as she ruled in her son’s name. She also focused on ensuring the dynasty's survival when, due to Ibrahim’s erratic behaviour, statesmen decided to dethrone him in August 1648, but was forced to give her consent to Ibrahim's execution.

Ibrahim was succeeded by his seven-year-old son Mehmed, following which Kösem developed a rivalry with his mother, Turhan Sultan, who was denied the opportunity to be valide sultan and regent due to inexperience. As Turhan began to assert her rightful authority, Kösem promoted herself to the previously non-existent rank of büyük ("elder") valide to outrank the former.

She reportedly plotted to dethrone Mehmed and replace him with his half brother to get rid of Turhan Sultan, but ministers and public figures who resented her alliance with the Janissaries called for her execution. On the night of September 2, 1651, Kösem was assassinated by being strangled with either curtain strings or her own hair by men in Turhan Sultan’s entourage.


While Kösem Sultan had accumulated enormous wealth through illegitimate means, she was concerned about avoiding public censure and undertook various charitable initiatives. She established soup kitchens to feed all of Constantinople's starving people; often arranged the release of imprisoned debtors and other offenders under disguise; offered a mahr, a home and furnishings to orphan girls; and more.

See the events in life of Kösem Sultan in Chronological Order

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