Showing posts with label 16th century. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 16th century. Show all posts

Friday, January 11, 2019

Damn, Girl-Mary of Austria, Queen of Hungary, Governor of the Netherlands

Sometimes called 'Mary of Hungary', it's easy to lose this Mary among the sea of other famous Mary's hailing from Austria and Hungary, not to mention the rest of Europe. This particular Mary was a master stateswoman, and arguably one of the most important politicians of her time. A member of the powerful Habsburg dynasty, and a contemporary of Henry VIII, Mary saved part of Hungary for her family after an Ottoman invasion, and governed the Netherlands for decades, suppressing rebellions, attempting to make peace with France. Though she is largely unknown today, she was a key political figure during her lifetime.

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Mary is described alternately as being very
beautiful, and as looking very manish. It
is also known that she was an unfortunate
possessor of a Habsburg lip.
The daughter of Philip the Handsome and Joanna the Mad, Mary was born in Brussels in 1505. She had five siblings, four older, the most notable being her brothers Charles and Ferdinand, both of whom later became Holy Roman Emperors.

About six months after her birth, Mary was engaged to the yet unborn heir of King Ladisla of Hungary. Thankfully, the presumed heir did materialize in the form of her future husband, Louis, was later born in 1506. The two were officially 'married' when Mary was nine, but they lived separately until 1522.

Prior to cohabiting with her husband, Mary was given a humanist education along with her sisters, Isabella and Eleanor, and her twice over sister in law, Anne of Bohemia. Young Mary was passionate about music as well as sport. There also must have been some introduction to philosophy, because she later became enamored of the scholar Erasmus.

When Mary moved to Buda in 1522 she was immediately coronated Queen of Hungary. Louis' father had had his son crowned while he was still alive in order to secure the succession. Ladislaw died in 1516, and Louis had been inexpertly ruling since the year before. When Mary arrived on the scene, Louis soon delegated running the country to her, and instead spent his time hunting and partying.

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Mary's husband, Louis. Mary refused to
remarry after his death, refusing offers from
numerous heads of state, including James V
of Scotland, the father of Mary, Queen of
Scots
Though Mary was only 15, she took to ruling like a fish to water. Renaissance Hungary was a mess, nobles fought each other and the crown incessantly, and the country was only ever a few steps away from anarchical collapse. Mary brokered peace between different noble families, and tried to inspire loyalty to her husband the King.

Unfortunately, Mary's efforts were too little, too late. When Suleiman I invaded in 1526 the nobility were unable to unify under the common cause of not being conquered by the Ottomans. Louis died in combat, leaving Mary a widow.

The couple were reportedly in love, but they had no children. This isn't entirely unexpected, the pair were 15 and 14 upon marriage, and they were only married for five years. However, this lack of an heir would make things difficult in Hungary after Louis' death. Though the Ottomans had taken Hungary, they hadn't gotten all of Hungary. Hungary was split into three--a third to the Ottomans, a third to the pretender John Zapolya, and a third went to Mary's brother Ferdinand.

Mary wrote to Ferdinand telling him about her sudden widowhood, and his sudden possession of a new country. He asked her to remain on as regent, a position that she only reluctantly accepted, protesting that the job should go to someone older and more experienced. Mary served as regent for more than a year until Ferdinand was coronated in 1527.

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Though borders were constantly changing, Europe looked
something like this during Mary's lifetime.
It is worth noting Mary's protests that she was unsuitable for the role of regent because of her age and inexperience. This is a pattern that would occur throughout her life when dealing with her male relatives. As governor of the Netherlands, she would frequently ask permission to resign, citing her inability to fully do her duty due to her gender, age, or lack of abilities. On the surface, it merely seems that Mary maybe struggled with self esteem, and the amount of reassuring letters her brother wrote to her certainly support this theory. However, it is also worth noting that in this first case, as well as most other cases of attempted resignation, Mary's attempt to resign came on the tail of her brothers denying her the basic things she needed to rule. It seems more likely that her shy projection of self doubt was merely her way of manipulating men who wanted results, but weren't willing to give her the necessary ingredients for success.

After leaving Hungary, Mary floated aimlessly until being appointed governor of the Netherlands after the death of Margaret of Austria in 1531. At the time, the Netherlands were a part of the vast and growing Habsburg Empire, ruled by Mary's brother, Charles V. The Netherlands was a notoriously tricky region, populated by a testy and nepotistic nobility, a wealthy and discontented bourgeois, and outer provinces that most definitely did not want to be under Habsburg rule. Add in the ever growing threat of Reformation, and the Netherlands was a hot seat of discontent.

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Not all of Mary's patronages were political
in nature. She was a great lover of music, and
retained talented musicians and composers at
her court.
The Reformation was a particular problem for Mary, because she frequently flirted with Lutheranism, much to the disapproval of her staunchly Catholic brothers. While Queen of Hungary, Mary had employed several reformist preachers, and read books by Martin Luther. It seemed likely that she may have had evangelical leanings herself, but when she took up as governor she became, at least publicly, staunchly Catholic.

She was, however, very tolerant of the protestants in the Netherlands. Charles frequently had to remind her to enforce anti-protestant laws, and the Netherlands was known as a place where protestant missionaries could preach without a huge amount of risk.

It was here in the Netherlands that Mary's master diplomatic and political acumen really shone. The role of governor was chronically underfunded in the Netherlands, and had only a limited number of patronages assigned to it. To control the area Mary needed both money and patronages¹, both of which were controlled by her brother Charles, who was so disinterested in the region, that he left the answering of her letters up to his secretary. Through a combination of persistent pestering and attempted resignations, Mary was able to not only get Charles to answer her letters, but also get him to allow her discretion over the dispensal of every third patronage.

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Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. He was Mary's
older brother and nagging boss.
Though she won the patronage issue, Mary still struggled against Charles and his neglect of the region. An inability to balance the state budget and increased tensions with France caused a rebellion to break out in 1537. Mary kept her head, and was eventually able to suppress the rebellion, but not without great difficulty.

War was particularly difficult for Mary because her generals refused to listen to or communicate with her. Mary encountered a great deal of misogyny in her capacity as governor and regent, which made her job infinitely more difficult than it would have been for a man. Officials refused to listen to her, and nobles consistently disobeyed her orders. This, along with a great dislike of her nephew Philip (who had just replaced his father), and protest of her age, led to her retirement in 1555

After she left the Netherlands, Mary went to Castille, her mother's homeland. She accompanied her sister Eleanor, intending to spend the rest of her days happy and away from politics. Unfortunately, Eleanor died in 1558, setting Mary adrift. Charles once again offered her governorship of the
Netherlands, and Mary was even persuaded to accept it, but stress over her brother Charles' death caused her to have a sudden heart attack in October of 1558. She died a few weeks later.

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Mary in her older years
Despite her great importance in the politics of the era, Mary has been largely forgotten in favor of her brothers and nephew. This is a major disservice to any lover of history, because Mary was just as wily and clever a politician as her aunt, Margaret of Austria, and she more than outshone her brothers at times. While she may not have had a huge, lasting impact, Mary of Austria more than deserves a place at the table with the great Renaissance stateswomen of her era.



¹A patronage is a job given to members of the nobility to reward good behavior and compel further favor from the monarch or reigning noble. These patronages brought wealth and title, all of which enabled a ruler to bind the nobility to them.


Sources
'En bruit d'estre bonne luteriene': Mary of Hungary (1505-58) and Religious Reform by B. J. Spruyt
The Sinews of Habsburg Governance in the Sixteenth Century: Mary of Hungary and Political Patronage by Daniel R. Doyle
Mary of Hungary-Historical Dictionary of Brussels
Mary of Hungary-Historical Dictionary of the Netherlands
Mary of Austria: "The Heart to do Anything"
Louis II of Hungary

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Sad Case of Joanna the Not-So-Mad

The last ruler of the house of Trastamara, Joanna, known natively as Juana, of Castile was the daughter of two brilliant, but ruthless monarchs--Queen Isabella of Castile, and King Ferdinand of Aragon. She married Philip, Duke of Burgundy, and scion of the house of Habsburg. She was a brilliant woman, speaking five languages, excelling in math, science, and philosophy. Yet when she inherited the throne of Castile in 1516 she found herself shoved aside, and imprisoned as a madwoman by her father and her husband, both of whom were deadlocked in a struggle for her crown.

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Joanna was the third child of
Ferdinand and Isabella.
The modern Iberian Peninsula has only three countries--Spain, Portugal, and Andorra, but when Joanna's parents took the throne the peninsula was fractured and split between the kingdoms of CastileAragon, Portugal, NavarreAndorra, and the Muslim controlled Andalus. When Ferdinand and Isabella married in 1469 they united Castile and Aragon, creating a country that contained almost all of the territory of modern Spain. Though they were supposedly equal monarchs, on paper and in practice Isabella ran the whole  show. So when she died in 1504, and left Castile to her daughter Joanna, Ferdinand's dreams of an united Espana were endangered.

To understand Joanna as an adult, you have to understand Joanna as a child. Joanna was, very much, a Renaissance princess. Like her sister, Catherine of Aragon, and later her daughter, Mary of Hungary, Joanna was given a full Humanist education. She was taught math, science, philosophy, writing, religious and secular law, as well as five languages--French, Latin, Castilian, Catalan, and Galaico-Portuguese. She was very bright, arguably the brightest of Ferdinand and Isabella's children, a fact that no doubt led her to questioning the Catholic faith.

Now, given that Isabella and Ferdinand had commited mass genocide on several continents in the name of Catholicism, to have a daughter who questioned their austere faith was completely unacceptable. Letters from Ferdinand's attendants report that Joanna was subjected to torture in order to correct her unorthodoxy.

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Europe, 1500
Like all royal women of the age, Joanna was expected to make a brilliant marriage, and strengthen Spanish ties with a suitable foreign power. For Joanna, that power was the Habsburg family, the family that, at the time, ruled modern Germany, Austria, and much of the Benelux area. Maximilian I was head of the family at the time, and he had a single son, Philip, Duke of Burgundy.

Philip was later referred to as 'Philip the Handsome', and that sums up his character excellently. Philip was handsome; he liked women, wine, and sport. He didn't care much for affairs of state, and he especially didn't care much for fidelity in marriage, a fact which would torment Joanna all her life.

However, when the pair first met in 1496 the dark clouds of infidelity and alleged mental illness were nowhere in sight. Upon clapping eyes on each other, the pair were overcome with lust. They immediately summoned a priest, and had their marriage blessed, not even waiting for the official wedding the day after to consummate their union. Unsurprisingly, the pair had six children.

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Philip the 'Handsome'
For the first years of their marriage Joanna and Philip lived in Burgundy. Joanna enjoyed the freedom and relaxed atmosphere of the Lowlands, but unfortunately gained herself no real political allies. Though she had been tasked to advance Spain's interests by her mother, Joanna had no real interest in playing politics at this point in her life, she was more worried about wrangling her philandering husband, who had the habit of attempting to seduce everything that walked.


At the time, fidelity wasn't necessarily expected from royal men. Political marriages like Joanna and Philip's were based on the unspoken agreement that so long as there were a few heirs in the royal nursery, the man was allowed to do whatever (or whoever) he wished. The woman, on the other hand, was expected to remain faithful to her husband, and occupy her time with her children and charity projects. Joanna's mother, Isabella, understood this. Ferdinand had at least four children outside of marriage, and Isabella hadn't made a scene. Joanna, on the other hand, was in love with her husband, and wasn't going to stand for his philandering. The couple descended into a toxic cycle of her catching him being unfaithful, her yelling at him, then him avoiding her and having her confined to her rooms. Joanna's passionate outbursts and tempestuous reactions to her husband's behavior were recorded, and later used against her as evidence of her 'insanity', especially after she physically attacked one of Philip's many mistresses.

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Joanna, 1500
Back in Spain Trastamara's were dropping like flies. Joanna had never been expected to inherit her mother's throne, but with the death of her brother, Juan, in 1497, and her older sister, Isabella in 1498 Joanna was set to inherit a large chunk of the Iberian Peninsula--probably.

Problem was, women could not legally inherit in Aragon, the country of Joanna's father. While Joanna did have a son, Charles (later Holy Roman Emperor Charles V), he was still a child, and should Ferdinand die before Charles reached majority the issue of who would rule Aragon became unclear.

Enter Philip. Young and already ruling a duchy of his own, Philip was eager to add to his father's empire by taking Spain off the hands of the Trastamara's. This, however, didn't sit well with Isabella or Ferdinand, neither of whom wanted their country to go to a foreigner. Worried that Castile would end up in Philip's hands, Isabella added a codicil to her will that allowed Ferdinand to rule in Joanna's stead should Joanna die or leave Spain, cutting Philip out of the deal altogether.

When Isabella died in 1506 Ferdinand immediately had his daughter declared queen in Madrid, and around Castile. When word reached Joanna and Philip in Brussels, the pair had themselves declared sovereigns of Castile, and started the long journey to Madrid.

Though he was outwardly supportive of his daughter, Ferdinand started undermining her almost immediately. He seized state revenues, and circulated rumors that she was insane, producing the reports sent from Burgundy to back up his claims.

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Map of the Iberian Peninsula in Joanna's lifetime.
Missing is Andorra.
The Cortes--the Spanish Courts--declared Ferdinand custodian of Castile, and Ferdinand and his bishops started working on persuading Joanna to declare her father her regent. Philip, meanwhile, had landed in northern Spain, and was making his way to Madrid with Joanna. He had himself declared king in every town he went through, and seized revenues and assigned government positions to favored supporters. He was determined to become king, and he had come prepared. Protecting Philip was 2,000 German mercenaries, practically an army.


Joanna, on the other hand, was in a state of distress. Philip had told her of her father's attempts to rob her of her throne. However, she hadn't heard from her father directly, and she had witnessed her husband's attempts to steal her throne first hand. Joanna was much more inclined to trust her father than her husband, and refused to take any serious action until she's spoken with Ferdinand herself. She dressed in black in protest, and refused to appear at any oath swearing ceremony, or proclaim her husband King.

There was no doubt to Joanna that she was queen. She had been left the throne by her mother, and she intended to rule. The only problem was that nobody seemed to want her to rule. While she had some support among the populace, her strange attire and absence from the public eye isolated her from any real political supporters. She was caught between two very politically ambitious men, one of whom was wily and experienced, the other of whom had a large army and a political heavyweight for a father. Both parties owned a penis which, as so often is the case, made them both a more popular candidate than Joanna herself.

In order to keep Joanna away from her father, Philip had her confined to her rooms, and kept under guard. Both Philip and Joanna issued edicts under Joanna's name, and the pair were inches away from declaring war. Eventually, the King of France, stepped in to mediate. Ferdinand conceded to Philip, giving up all claims to Castile, and both men had Joanna declaed mad, and unfit to rule.

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Joanna attending Philip's casket, painted by Charles
de Steuben
Philip took the reigns of power in Castile, and Ferdinand retreated to his holdings in Naples. Philip didn't have long to enjoy his power though, because in the fall of 1506 he died abruptly from a fever, leaving his wife six months pregnant.

With her father in Naples and her husband dead, Joanna was closer to holding her throne than she had ever been. She was pregnant, which put her in a precarious position, but Joanna was unwilling to let the Spanish nobility take the throne from her. She stayed in seclusion for three months after her husband's death, and upon emerging took his body on a cross country processional to prepare for burial.

This journey through Spain is one of the stranger episodes of Joanna's life. Historians, as well as Joanna's contemporaries, are baffled by her motives for dragging a corpse across Spain while more than six months pregnant. While one would have to ask Joanna herself to be sure, there are several theories.

The most popular and prevalent theory is that Joanna was capital C crazy, and that she had finally come unhinged. Stories of her flinging her body upon her husband's lifeless corpse and weeping hysterically spread around the countryside. This report, while likely propaganda put out by Ferdinand, and later Joanna's son Charles, is substantiated by the fact that Joanna did have Philip's casket opened several times on the journey.

Another theory is that Joanna was traveling as an act of calculated defiance. After being apart from her people for so long Joanna was showing herself and the dead 'king' to remind the populace of her son and heir, Charles. Joanna had Philip's casket opened to prove that she did, indeed, possess his remains. This would have been seen as a message to Ferdinand that while he may wish to rule Castile, Joanna wasn't going to go quietly.

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Charles V, Joanna's son and heir
Both theories have merit, and fall on opposing sides of the debate that always arises whenever Joanna is mentioned--was Joanna insane, or merely the unlucky pawn of two rulers. However, this historian would like to pose a third theory (and a third answer to that question), that being that taking Philip's body on a tour of Spain was a stalling tactic on Joanna's part. Much like Penelope weaving her husband's burial shroud, then undoing her work in the dead of night, Joanna was putting off contracting a second marriage. The 'Queen' of Castile was quite the catch, and there were several rulers out for her hand (including Henry VII, her sister Catherine's father-in-law). By prolonging her mourning, and taking her time to bury Philip's body, Joanna bought time for herself to find a solution that suited her.

It was her pregnancy that eventually brought Joanna back into her father's clutches. Joanna gave birth to her youngest daughter Catalina in January of 1507, and afterwards Ferdinand sent his men to have her confined to a nunnery in Tordesillas. It was there that she stayed for the rest of her life.

The rest of Joanna's life was spent in captivity at Tordesillas, the only changes being her jailers and the man who usurped her throne. While in Tordesillas, Joanna was physically and emotionally abused, and denied visitors. Her only companion was her daughter, Catalina, who was stolen away and married off in 1525. Much of the money that was to be spent on Joanna's food and clothing was stolen by unscrupulous jailers, and she was purposely kept out of the loop on important events in order to make her seem insane. When Ferdinand died in 1516 Joanna was not told. She died believing that her father was still alive.

When Ferdinand died in 1516 Joanna's son, Charles, inherited Aragon. Since his mother was still alive Charles could not legally take control of Castile, so, like his grandfather, Charles kept his mother imprisoned, and had rumors of her continued insanity spread around Europe. Charles ruled as her regent for nearly 40 years.

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Joanna was buried next to her husband in Tordesillas.
Joanne died on Good Friday of 1555 at the age of 75. She was quietly buried, and almost immediately forgotten. Charles, now Holy Roman Emperor, would rule for another three years before abdicating in favor of his brother, Ferdinand. Joanna never saw her children again.

Joanna has gone down in history as 'Joanna the Mad'. She's little more than an historical footnote, only referred to when talking about the many genetic issues of the Habsburg family. She is frequently blamed as being the origin of the many mentally ill Habsburgs, perhaps not without reason. Joanna's grandmother, Isabella of Portugal, Queen of Castile suffered from severe depression, as did many of Joanna's descendents. However, upon close inspection, contemporary claims of her insanity dissipate into dust, revealing a passionate, but naive woman who had the misfortune to be surrounded by people who loved power more than her.

Probably. While claims of Joanna being a stark raving mad woman who groped corpses and violently accosted innocent maidens, it is highly unlikely that she was completely sane. It would, in fact, be insane, if a person who had been tortured as a child, physically and emotionally abused, gaslit, and neglected most of her life died happy and well adjusted. It seems likely that Joanna did suffer from sort of mental illness; there are reports of her falling into melancholy and refusing to eat or move. The real question is which came first: the abuse or the mental illness?


Sources
The Tragic Story of Joanna the Mad by Fernando Espi Forcen, M.D., Department of Psychiatry, The University of Chicago
Juana 'The Mad' Queen of a World Empire by Lisa Andrean
Was Joanna of Castile Truly 'Mad' or a Pawn For the Men in Her Family?
Joan, Queen of Castile
Juana the Mad of Castile
House of Habsburg

Friday, June 1, 2018

Damn, Girl-Nur Jahan, a Woman Worthy to be Queen

Either the twelfth or the twentieth wife of Mughal Emperor Jahangir, Nur Jahan was thrust into a life of fear and uncertainty. She was born while her parents were fleeing Persia, and was left on the road. Luckily, she was returned to her family, and was regarded as a lucky symbol from then after. Indeed, Nur Jahan was lucky for her family, because she would later become the Emperor Jahangir's favorite wife, and would, essentially, rule India in his stead, raising her family to the higher echelons of power with her.

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Contemporary portrait of Nur Jahan
Born Mehrunnisa, Nur Jahan was the child of Mirza Ghiyas Beg and Asmat Begum, both high ranking members of the Persian court. Although it is unknown precisely why Mirza and Asmat had to flee Persia, it is known that they were fleeing to the court of Emperor Akbar (Jahangir's father) in search of a better life. Asmat was heavily pregnant, and gave birth along the road. Shortly after Nur Jahan was born, their caravan was attacked by robbers, leaving the family with little goods or money to start over in their new life. Fearing that they would be unable to provide for their daughter, her parents abandoned Mehrunnisa on the road.

According to legend, Mehrunnisa's mother was so distraught at having left her daughter behind, Mirza agreed to go back for the infant. When Mirza found Mehrunnisa underneath the tree they'd left her, a large cobra was looming over her, ready to swallow her whole. Mirza rushed at the snake, shouting, and the snake slunk off to do it's snakely business elsewhere. Mirza took his daughter back to his wife, and after telling the tale of his daughter's miraculous escape, their fellow travelers gave them the money to continue with their journey.

Other accounts say that Nur Jahan was left on the road, but was returned to her parents by other members of their caravan. Either way, shortly after the return of their daughter Mirza and Asmat arrived at Akbar's court, and settled into life as a mid-level bureaucrat.

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Prince Selim, later the Emperor Jahangir
-World Grabber
Mehrunnisa, who's name means 'The Sun of Women', grew up to become a beauty with an excellent education. She was an accomplished musician, poet, dancer, and artist, and she was also known for being witty and charming. She was also a fashionista, cook, and landscape artist. It is unsurprising that around 1594 she enchanted Prince Selim (later Jahangir) to the point that "he could hardly be restrained, by the rules of decency, to his place."

Prince Selim, heir to the throne, was so besotted with Mehrunnisa that he sought her hand in marriage. However, Mehrunnisa was already betrothed, and Emperor Akbar refused to break the engagement in favor of his son. So, at the age of 17, Mehrunnisa was married to Sher Afghan, a Persian courtier and adventurer. Her first marriage, while not a love match (or particularly propitious), gave Mehrunnisa Ladili Begum, Mehrunnisa's only child.

Sher Afghan wasn't destined to live to a ripe old age. He died in 1607, after 13 years of marriage. There are many rumors saying that Selim, angered by Sher Afghan's refusal to break his betrothal, and lust for Mehrunnisa, had Sher Afghan killed. The History of Hindostan, a somewhat sketchy contemporary source, gives an account of Selim's many failed attempts to have Sher Afghan killed, culminating in Selim ordering a small army to attack Sher Afghan. While if Selim actually arranged Sher Afghan's death is in doubt, it's proven fact that in 1607 Mehrunnisa was widowed at age 30.

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Ladili Begum
Shortly after her husband's death, Mehrunnisa was summoned to Delhi to act as a lady-in-waiting to Prince Selim, now Emperor Jahangir's stepmother. In 1611 Mehrunnisa was married again, this time to the Emperor, becoming his 12th (or 20th, sources disagree) wife.

Emperor Akbar, Jahangir's father, had been a brilliant Emperor. Starting with only a small part of what is today Pakistan, Akbar managed to conquer all of north India, swallowing modern Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and parts of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and China. He'd been a strict Sunni Muslim, but had encouraged religious discourse between Muslims, Hindus, Parsis, and Christians. He'd managed to woo local leaders of all religious persuasions to his side, yet retained his own religious supremacy (while building up a cult around himself).

Jahangir was a pale imitation of the brilliance of his father. Jahangir tried, undoubtedly; he extended his empire further down the Indian subcontinent, and managed to keep the empire more or less together. However, where Akbar had been focused on reform and expansion, Jahangir was focused on art and culture. Where Akbar had strictly followed the tenants of Islam (which forbid drugs and alcohol), Jahangir saw them more as guidelines, and at the time of his marriage to Mehrunnisa, was well on his way to becoming a non-functioning addict.

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Mughal Empire
As far as marriages went, Jahangir and Mehrunnisa, renamed Nur Jahan (meaning 'Light of the World), were pretty happy. Jahangir was smitten with Nur Jahan, and she seemed to have returned his affection. While the couple never had children, Nur Jahan became Jahangir's Empress, and she was, by all accounts, a loving step mother. Jahangir and Nur Jahan had a great deal in common--they both loved the arts, and were passionate about hunting. Most importantly, Nur Jahan was more than willing to take over running the country, leaving Jahangir to lose himself in opium and mindless pleasure to his heart's content.

As the de facto ruler of India, Nur Jahan put herself in the forefront of government work. She signed her name to royal decrees, along with her husband's, essentially giving herself the power to issue decrees, as well as promote and dismiss officials within the empire. She struck coinage in her own name, something that had never happened in Mughal history. She presided at Court, hearing cases about disputes between nobles, and passing judgement. She conducted international relations with other powerful women in foreign countries, and cemented trade deals. She was a shrewd businesswoman, and under her guidance India enjoyed an era of peace and prosperity.

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Nur Jahan
Nur Jahan was also a philanthropist. She was particularly concerned with the women of her empire. Concerned that poor women would be unable to marry, she personally provided a dowry for over 500 women. She was the patroness of dozens of female poets and artists, many of whom's works survive today.

Despite her peaceful reputation, Nur Jahan had no scruples about warfare. She was an excellent sharpshooter herself, known as 'Tiger Slayer' for her remarkable feat of killing four tigers with six bullets. (keep in mind, these are 17th century bullets.) She planned and led several expansionist campaigns herself. When her husband was captured, she rescued him with a contingent of soldiers, riding in on an elephant, and successfully winning the battle despite the fact that both her and her elephant were injured.

Though the empire was prospering, Nur Jahan reigning after the death of her husband was out of the question. It was widely assumed that Khurram (later Shah Jahan), Jahangir's third son, or Shahryar, Jahangir's youngest son. Nur Jahan initially supported Khurram, even marrying her niece Mumtaz Mahal to him. However, Khurram's hunger for power as he grew older led to Nur Jahan throwing her support behind Shahryar (who was married to her daughter Ladili).

When Khurram, now Shah Jahan, took power in 1628 he had Nur Jahan sent into exile in Lahore along with Ladili Begum, who was widowed after the death of Shahryar. Nur Jahan lived for another 18 years. Though she had backed his rival, Shah Jahan, kept her in comfort, and Nur Jahan was allowed to continue her building and artistic projects. She was kept from the political workings of the empire, but put her efforts into charity work instead, building mosques and assisting the poor. She died quietly in 1645.

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Silver rupees with Nur Jahan's name on them
After her death, Shah Jahan did his best to erase Nur Jahan from history, having the coins with her name rescinded, and erasing her from official records. However, Shah Jahan was not at all successful--a testament to Nur Jahan's incredible influence. The hundreds of mosques and gardens she had constructed, as well as the waystation system for travelers she had established could not be demolished. Her artistic influence continues to influence India to this day. She invented several dishes which are now a staple of Indian cuisine, and the flowering patterned muslin she favored is a favorite in Indian fashion. Her style of stitched clothing and structured saris is still the norm for Indian dress. A wealth of poetry written by her still survives, as do many of her buildings and gardens.

Nur Jahan was an extraordinary woman for any era, but especially for the era into which she was born. She ran an empire so skillfully that even her staunchest enemies grudgingly admitted that she was, what would later become her most famous epithet, 'A Woman Worthy to Be Queen'.


Sources
A History of Hindostan: Translated from the Persian: to Which are Prefixed Two Dissertations, the First Concerning the Hindoos, and the Second on the Nature of Despotism in Indian. Volume III by Muhammad Qasim Hindu Shah Astarabadi Firishtah
Indian-Jahangir
Nur Jahan
Nur Jahan: Mughal Empress
Empress of Mughal Indian: Nur Jahan
World Changing Women: Nur Jahan

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Sultanate of Women

Alternately argued as the reason for the decline of, or the reason for the longevity of the Ottoman Empire, the Sultanate of Women was a 130 year period in which the Ottoman Empire was ruled by the Valide Sultan--or the Sultan's mother--either in place of or alongside the Sultan. It started with the marriage of Suleiman the Magnificent to Hurrem Sultan, whom we have discussed before, and ended with the death of Turhan Sultan in 1683.¹ This century was filled with sultans who were children or mentally incapacitated, and marked the shift from the Empire's expansion to its settling into a period of peace and prosperity.

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Turhan Hatice Sultan, the most powerful of the
Valide Sultan's
The was, largely in part, due to the women of the Harem who did the actual ruling. Harem's are often painted as dens of lust and depravity, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. The harem was where the women of the Sultanate lived, including the Sultan's wives, concubines, mother, and sisters. It was also a place of assassinations, political machinations, and governing. Any foreign entity looking to treat with the Ottomans needed to go through the Harem first, and the Sultanas wielded tremendous influence. If you think that the women of the Ottoman Empire were delicate, repressed flowers, veiled and shut off from power, hold on to your hats--you're in for quite a ride.

The Valide Sultan exercised such great power in part because of the Islamic belief in the importance and power of mothers. The Prophet Mohammed's statement that 'Heaven lies under the feet of mothers' was taken very seriously, and as such the Sultan frequently put his mother in charge of the harem. It was the Valide who oversaw the running of an enormous household, and picked the women who would be going to her son's bed. She managed the thousands of people who worked in the palace, and ensured the safety, security, and tranquility of the palace.

Related image
Mihrimah Sultan, the second Valide Sultan of the Sultanate
of Women
The Valide wasn't confined to the domestic sphere, however. It was the Valide Sultan who negotiated with foreign ambassadors, and mediated between the sultan and religious leaders. The Valide served as regent in times of need, and she frequently counseled with the Pashas. She reached out to, and maintained relationships with foreign leaders. It was said of Hurrem, and the Sultana's after her, that if you wanted to gain an audience with the sultan, you had to go through his Valide.


It wasn't just religious belief that handed these women such power. A Valide Sultan could be weak and pushed aside the same as a Sultan. The Valide's who held power, and the Valide's of the Reign of Women were skilled politicians and stateswomen, capable of running a vast empire.

As mentioned, the Sultanate of Women started with the marriage of Hurrem Sultan to Suleiman the Magnificent in 1531. Hurrem was Suleiman's Haseki Sultan--or official wife--not the Valide Sultan, and was the only Sultana to exercised great power as Haseki.² Hurrem kicked off the Reign of Women by being one of the first Sultana's to maintain diplomatic and personal relationships with foreign monarchs. In addition to maintaining diplomatic relations, she was also known for her building and public work projects--another large part of being Valide Sultan. Hurrem was Suleiman's closest adviser, and he frequently deferred to her in matters of state.

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Ottoman Empire map
Hurrem, unfortunately, never lived to be Valide Sultan, as she predeceased Suleiman. She was 'replaced' (as much as any beloved wife can be replaced) in Suleiman's confidences by their daughter Mihrimah. Mihrimah is another noted sultana from the era. She rode with Suleiman on his campaigns--touring and conquering. Like her mother, Mihrimah maintained diplomatic relationships with foreign monarchs, and because of her travels she was well known by even common people in foreign countries. When Suleiman died her brother, Selim II, installed her as Valide Sultan, making Mihrimah the first of the great Valide Sultans.

 There were eight women who ruled during the Sultanate of Women, and we'll undoubtedly discuss each of them in their own 'Damn, Girl' post, but for the sake of brevity we'll only mention the most notable following Mihrimah here.

Nurbanu Sultan, wife of Selim II, Mihrimah's brother, was noted for her wisdom and intelligence. Like Hurrem, she was Selim's adviser during his life (though not as close an adviser as Mihrimah.). She was Selim's favorite wife, and it was understood that her son Murad--later Murad III--would become sultan. At the time of Selim's death Murad was away from Istanbul, leaving him vulnerable to a coup. She hid Selim's corpse in an icebox in the harem for twelve days, and didn't tell anyone he had died until Murad had arrived in the capital. Following her son's investiture, Nurbanu continued to more or less rule the empire through, and sometimes in spite of her son.

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Selim II
Kosem Sultan was Valide Sultan for 62 years, and saw the reign of six different sultans, and was the regent for three of them. Her eldest son--Murad IV--and her grandson--Mehemed IV--were both too young to rule when they came to the throne, and her second son--Ibrahim--was mentally ill. As regent, Kosem oversaw all matters of the empire, and attended cabinet meetings from behind a screen. She assisted in the installation and removal of sultans (she had her son Ibrahim deposed and executed), and helped clear out the corruption of the palace.

Kosem's daughter-in-law, Turhan Hatice Sultan, was the last of the great Valide Sultans. After Kosem's death in 1651, she served as regent for Mehemed IV. Turhan was, by far, the most powerful of the Valide Sultans. Not only did she listen to cabinet meetings from behind a screen like Kosem, but she also spoke from behind the screen, taking an active part in cabinet meetings. After her son reached the age of majority she continued to co-rule the empire with her son's consent. She was instrumental in modifying the government structure of the Ottoman Empire, which gave the Grand Vizier more power.

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Kosem Sultan
Following Turhan's death the power of the Valide Sultan began to die out. The increasing of the power of the Grand Vizier was in part responsible for this, but the larger part was the fact that the sultan following Mehemed--Suleiman II--didn't want to share power.

These women rose to prominence because of the weakness of the Sultan's at the time. Following Suleiman the Magnificent, the sultans became increasingly incompetent until the situation came to a head with Ibrahim. Rather than allowing the empire to crumble, the Valide Sultans took control of the empire, and saved the empire's collective turkey bacon. The 130 years that marked the Sultanate of Women were years that saw great prosperity and political stability for the Ottoman Empire. This was largely in part because of the remarkable women who ruled.




¹Given that the Ottoman Empire would survive for a little more than 200 years after the death of the last great Sultana, I think that the 'women-ruined-the-ottoman-empire' theory is easy to disprove.
²The Haseki Sultan held much less power, despite being the sultan's wife. It was only through becoming the mother of a sultan that a women could hold such power. Hurrem Sultan, and her daughter Mihrimah are notable exceptions.


Sources
The Woman Who Oversaw 3 Generations of the Ottoman Empire
Sultanate of Women
Ottoman Royalty's Most Powerful Woman: Kosem Sultan
Sultanate of Women: Various Dimensions of the Ottoman Harem
Harem and Ottoman Women
Kosem Sultan
Nurbanu Sultan
Turhan Hatice Sultan
Mihrimah Sultan

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Damn, Girl-Sayyida al-Hurra

Though she's been largely forgotten to history, Sayyida al-Hurra--known as the 'Pirate Queen of Morocco'--ruled the entire west Mediterranean, as well as a sizable Moroccan city state in the 1500s. She harried the Spanish and Portuguese, invaded modern Gibraltar, and forced the smitten King of Morocco to marry her on her own terms. She was a remarkable woman, and we don't even know her name.

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Artists rendering of Sayida al-Hurra. There are no
surviving portraits that are definitively of her.
'Sayyida al-Hurra' is a title, not a name. It means 'noble lady who is free'. The title al-Hurra was given to women who ruled a kingdom (or queendom!) in their own right. For Sayyida, that kingdom was the coastal city state of Tétouan, where she ruled for a quarter of a century.

Sayyida was born in the then Muslim held Andalusia region of Spain. Her father, Moulay Ali ibn Rashid, was a tribal chief, and a wealthy man of Moroccan descent. However, they, along with many other Muslims, were forced out of Spain during the Reconquista. They fled south to Morocco, and with other refugee families, established the city of Chefchaouen. Sayyida's father was declared king, and as his daughter, Sayyida was given a good education, learning at least two languages and gaining an understanding of international diplomacy.

When she was sixteen Sayyida was married to the ruler of Tétouan. Though she was very young, her husband relied on her for political advice and support¹, and she soon became his chief wife. Tétouan had important trading connections with the Portuguese city of Ceuta, and Sayyida's language skills as well as her grasp of economics and diplomacy was an enormous asset to her husband.

Sayyida's husband died sometime between 1515 and 1519, and Sayyida was made the queen of Tétouan. As we've discussed before, it wasn't too unusual for a woman to be a regent to a young heir, or be a regent and then refuse to relinquish power, but in Sayyida's case she was named queen in her own right, and not a regent. According to Islamic historians, she was the last such queen to hold a city or region in her own right.²

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Modern Tétouan
At this time, thousands of refugees were still streaming in from Andalusia, and the Spanish and Portuguese were starting to sniff around Morocco. They were raiding, colonizing, and enslaving everyone and everywhere they could, and Sayyida, justifiably, had a massive beef with the Iberian's, so she decided to team up with the notorious pirate--Barbarossa.

With the help of Barbarossa, Sayyida assembled a fleet, and set about dominating the west Mediterranean. With Barbarossa controlling the east and Sayyida the west the pair gave the Spanish and Portuguese hell, invading and raiding all over the Iberian peninsula, seizing money, goods, and prisoners.

All of this raiding made Sayyida ridiculously wealthy, and extremely popular. In 1541 she caught the eye of Sultan Ahmed al-Wattasi, and he proposed. Sayyida accepted his proposal, but refused to leave her city, and marry in Fez. The fact that the Sultan acceded to her demand and married her in Tétouan is a testament to her strong will and the respect that Moroccans had for her.

However, Sayyida's power was waning. The Portuguese had had enough of her raiding, and the city of Ceuta cut off trade ties, putting many of Sayyida's people out of work. That combined with a coup led by her son-in-law led to Sayyida fleeing Tétouan in 1542. She returned to the city of her childhood--Chefchaouen--where she lived for another twenty years.

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Tétouan, Morocco
Today Sayyida is known as a great pirate queen, but there's more to her than that. She robbed and pillaged Spanish and Portuguese ships, but she also conducted refugees from Andalusia safely to Morocco. She used her network of pirates to protect her people from Iberian incursions into Morocco. The Moroccan's had no formal navy at the time, so Sayyida used her pirates to protect Morocco's coast This raises the question--was Sayyida a pirate or a protector?


¹This sort of thing was not uncommon. Andalusian Muslims had a strong tradition of women in leadership positions, and as such women's opinions and advice were respected and followed. This, however, does not nullify the fact that Sayyida was a remarkable leader.
²'al-Hurra' denotes a woman who is queen of a region in her own right.


Sources
Sayyida al Hurra
Lady Pirates: Queen of the Barbary Corsairs
Sayyida al-Hurra, Islamic Pirate Queen
Malika VI: Sayyida al-Hurra