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The Sultan Assassinated at His Circumcision

M. AHMET KARABAY

Today, I will talk about two Ottoman sultans who ascended to the throne uncircumcised. These are Ahmed I and Mehmed IV, known as ‘Hunter Mehmed’ due to his fondness for hunting parties. Both were enthroned at a young age following the death of the preceding sultan and were circumcised only after becoming sultans.

Let me tell the story of Ahmed I’s circumcision and therefore his accession to the throne in chronological order.

Although his name was Ahmed I, he was actually more fittingly called “The Sultan of the Fourteens.” He ascended to the throne at the age of 14, was the 14th Ottoman Sultan, and ruled for 14 years. He died at the age of 14×2=28.

His father, Mehmed III, had killed most of his 19 infant siblings when he came to the throne. Sultan Ahmed I, after becoming the ruler, built his father’s mausoleum over the graves of his murdered uncles.

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Prince Ahmed was the son of Mehmed III and Handan Haseki during his governorship in Manisa. When he became the sultan, the Celali rebellions in Anatolia were so dangerous that he did not send his son Ahmed to a provincial governorship but instead kept him at the palace for education.

Towards the end of his reign, fearing that his son, Prince Mahmud, would overthrow him with the help of his tutor, he had Mahmud strangled. Thus, Mehmed III became the third sultan after Murad I (Hüdavendigar) and Süleyman I (the Magnificent) to kill his own son. The Sultan died seven months later at the age of 37.

His father, Murad III, had celebrated a legendary circumcision ceremony for himself, so he wanted to do the same for his son Ahmed but was never able to.

THERE WAS NO TRADITION FOR HOW A SULTAN SHOULD BE CIRCUMCISED

After Mehmed III died from an undiagnosed illness, Ahmed I ascended to the throne on December 22, 1603, at the age of 14. His brother Mustafa was 13. Ahmed I, far from having children, had not even been with a concubine. Therefore, considering the risk of the throne being left without an heir, he did not have his brother Mustafa strangled.

Thus, the Ottoman tradition of ascension to the throne, which had lasted three centuries, was transformed into a system where the oldest and most competent would ascend, a practice that would continue for the next three centuries.

Ahmed I was circumcised in an unostentatious ceremony 33 days after taking the throne. There was a tradition for how Ottoman princes should be circumcised, but there was no precedent for a sultan’s circumcision. He must have been a bit embarrassed, as he chose to do it quietly.

After his circumcision, Ahmed I quickly delved into the affairs of state. Influenced by his tutor and advisor Mustafa Efendi, he executed Kasım Paşa, the former deputy grand vizier whom he had appointed as governor of Baghdad, and then Sarıkçı Mustafa Paşa, the new deputy grand vizier, in his presence.

In 1606, the execution of Grand Vizier Derviş Mehmed Paşa in his presence is noted in Naima’s history as, “After some time, as the deceased’s leg twitched, the sultan cut his throat with a dagger.” Ahmed I’s last major bureaucratic purge was the strangling of Grand Vizier Nasuh Paşa at Paşakapısı 35 days before his death.

Spending half his life as a child and the other half as a ruler, Ahmed I laid the first foundation of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque opposite the 11-century-old Hagia Sophia when he was 19 years old.

During his reign, a series of construction projects were undertaken in Istanbul and Mecca-Medina. The Celali rebellions in Anatolia, which had been ongoing for years, were suppressed by Grand Vizier Kuyucu Murad Paşa. Ahmed I died of a feverish illness on November 22, 1617, at the age of 28.

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KÖSEM SULTAN, WHO MARKED THE 17TH CENTURY

Those interested in Turkish history often hear the term “Byzantine intrigues.” However, the events that took place in the Ottoman palaces far surpassed Byzantine intrigues. Mehmed IV became the sultan at the age of 7 in 1648, following the overthrow and murder of his father, Sultan Ibrahim, in a coup. His mother, Hatice Turhan Sultan, ascended him to the throne on August 8, 1648, with a fatwa from the Anatolian Chief Judge Hanefi Efendi stating, “The clergy, for the sake of public interest, consider it legitimate for the child to be the ruler. In this case, the child ruler appoints a regent. This continues until he comes of age.”

Known as “Great Mother” because she was the wife of Ahmed I, Kösem Sultan was a dominant figure in the first half of the 17th century. She effectively ruled the country from behind the scenes for the first 10 years (1622-1632) of her son Murad IV’s reign. Later, when Murad IV took control and distanced his mother from governance, she returned to power with the accession of her other son Ibrahim in 1640.

Eventually, when Ibrahim also kept his mother Kösem Sultan out of his affairs, she played a key role in his overthrow and subsequent murder in 1648.

Hatice Turhan Sultan, acting as regent for Mehmed IV, had an ‘aleph’ letter marked between his eyebrows to ward off the evil eye. The 26-year-old mother sultan was inexperienced. After Mehmed IV’s accession to the throne, he and his brothers were circumcised. In palace tradition, the chief eunuch served as the godfather for the princes’ circumcision. The chief eunuch, İbrahim Ağa, also served as godfather for the child sultan. However, Kösem Sultan, Mehmed IV’s grandmother, had other plans.

Kösem Sultan intended to dethrone Mehmed IV and replace him with Prince Süleyman. İbrahim Ağa, the chief eunuch who served as godfather and was a loyal man to Kösem Sultan, used a poisoned razor during the circumcision. The bleeding from the child sultan’s circumcision wound did not stop, and it was only with the help of a medicine prepared by a palace page skilled in surgery that the severely weakened child sultan’s bleeding was barely stopped.

Historian Naima writes that rumors of Kösem Sultan and her chief eunuch İbrahim Ağa’s attempt to murder the child sultan circulated throughout the palace.

Over time, as Turhan Sultan gained experience, the rivalry between the mother sultans deeply affected palace governance. A palace official named Melekî Kadın, who had connections on both sides, informed Turhan Sultan of Kösem Sultan’s plan. According to the plan, the eunuchs working for Kösem Sultan, along with their men, would enter the palace and eliminate Turhan Sultan, and poison would be administered to Mehmed IV.

The plan began to backfire. Turhan Sultan’s agent, Head Eunuch Uzun Süleyman Ağa, stormed Kösem Sultan’s quarters on September 2, 1651. They found Kösem Sultan trying to hide on a cupboard and killed her.

When Sadrazam Siyavuş Paşa, a supporter of Kösem Sultan, arrived at the palace upon hearing of the commotion and saw what had happened, he withdrew without intervening. Kösem Sultan’s body, after the necessary religious rites, was buried next to her husband Ahmed I in the cemetery of the Sultanahmet Mosque.

Kösem Sultan, known as one of the most influential figures in the Ottoman palace for nearly half a century, became the first and only mother sultan in Ottoman history to be murdered.

Mehmed IV, who survived two assassination attempts by his grandmother, reigned for 39 years. He became the longest-reigning sultan after Süleyman I and made significant efforts for the construction, especially of Istanbul.

During the final years of his reign, the defeat of the Second Siege of Vienna, followed by the loss of Eger, Pest, and Buda, and then a heavy defeat in the Battle of Mohács, led to a deep distrust of the sultan.

The Janissaries revolted and deposed the sultan on November 8, 1687, placing Prince Süleyman on the throne. Mehmed IV, along with his two sons, was confined to the Edirne Palace. He died there on January 10, 1693, and was buried next to his mother, Turhan Valide Sultan, in her mausoleum near the New Mosque in Eminönü.

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