The Story of Roxalana and Mustapha
Ferdinand’s attention was turned so entirely towards the affairs of Germany, and his treasures so much exhausted by his late efforts in Hungary, that he made no attempt to recover that valuable province, although a favorable opportunity for that purpose presented itself, as Solyman was then engaged in a war with Persia, and involved besides in domestic calamities which engrossed and disturbed his mind. Solyman, though distinguished by many accomplishments, from the other Ottoman princes, had all the passions peculiar to that violent and haughty race. He was jealous of his authority, sudden as well as furious in his anger, and susceptible of all that rage of love, which reigns in the East, and often produces the wildest and most tragical effects. His favorite mistress was a Circassian slave of exquisite beauty, who bore him a son called Mustapha, whom, both on account of his birthright and merit, he destined to be the heir of his crown. Roxalana, a Russian captive, soon supplanted the Circassian, and gained the sultan’s heart. Haying the address to retain the conquest which she had made, she kept possession of his love without any rival for many years, during which she brought him several sons and one daughter. All the happiness, however, which she derived from the unbounded sway that she had acquired over the mind of a monarch whom one half of the world revered or dreaded, was embittered by perpetual reflections on Mustapha’s accession to the throne, and the certain death of her sons, who, she foresaw, would be immediately sacrificed, according to the barbarous jealousy of Turkish policy, to the safety of the new emperor. By dwelling continually on this melancholy idea, she came gradually to view Mustapha as the enemy of her children, and to hate him with more than a stepmother’s ill-will. This prompted her to wish his destruction, in order to secure for one of her own sons the throne which was destined for him. Nor did she want either ambition to attempt such a high enterprise, or the arts requisite for carrying it into execution. Having prevailed on the sultan to give her only daughter in marriage to Rustan the grand vizier, she disclosed her scheme to that crafty minister, who, perceiving that it was his own interest to co-operate with her, readily promised his assistance towards aggrandizing that branch of the royal line to which he was so nearly allied.
As soon as Roxalana had concerted her measures with this able confidant, she began to affect a wonderful zeal for the Mahometan religion, to which Solyman was superstitiously attached, and proposed to found and endow a royal mosque, a work of great expense, but deemed by the Turks meritorious in the highest degree. The mufti whom she consulted, approved much of her pious intention; but having been gained and instructed by Rustan, told her, that she being a slave could derive no benefit herself from that holy deed, for all the merit of it would accrue to Solyman, the master whose property she was. Upon this she seemed to be overwhelmed with sorrow, and to sink into the deepest melancholy, as it she had been disgusted with life and all its enjoyments. Solyman, who was absent with the army, being informed of this dejection of mind, and of the cause from which it proceeded, discovered all the solicitude of a lover to remove it, and by a writing under his hand declared her a free woman. Roxalana having gained this point, proceeded to build the mosque, and reassumed her usual gayety of spirit.
But when Solyman, on his return to Constantinople, sent a eunuch, according to the custom of the seraglio, to bring her to partake of his bed, she seemingly with deep regret, but in the most peremptory manner, declined to follow the eunuch, declaring that what had been an honor to her while a slave, became a crime as she was now a free woman, and that she would not involve either the sultan or herself in the guilt that must be contracted by such an open violation of the law of their prophet. Solyman, whose passion this difficulty, as well as the affected delicacy which gave rise to it, heightened and inflamed, had recourse immediately to the mufti for his direction. He replied, agreeably to the koran, the Roxalana’s scruples were well founded; but added, artfully, in words which Rustan had taught him to use, that it was in the sultan’s power to remove these difficulties, by espousing her as his lawful wife.
The amorous monarch closed eagerly with the proposal, end solemnly married her, according to the form of the Mahometan ritual; though, by doing so, he disregarded a maxim of policy which the pride of the Ottoman blood had taught all the sultans since Bajazet I to consider as inviolable. From his time, none of the Turkish monarchs had married, because, when he was vanquished and taken prisoner by Tamerlane, his wife had been abused with barbarous insolence by the tartars. That no similar calamity might again subject the Ottoman family to the same disgrace, the sultans admitted none to their beds but slaves, whose dishonor could not bring any such stain upon their house.
But the more uncommon the step was, the more it convinced Roxalana of the unbounded influence which she had acquired over the sultan’s heart; and emboldened her to prosecute, with greater hope of success, the scheme that she had formed in order to destroy Mustapha. This young prince having been entrusted by his father, according to the practice of the sultans in that age, with the government of several different provinces, was at that time invested with the administration in Diarbequir, the ancient Mesopotamia, which Solyman had wrested from the Persians, and added to his empire. In all these different commands, Mustapha had conducted himself with such cautious prudence as could give no offence to his father, though, at the same time, he governed with so much moderation as well as justice, and displayed such valor and generosity, as rendered him equally the favorite of the people and the darling of the soldiery.
There was no room to lay any folly or vice to his charge, that could impair the high opinion which his father entertained of him. Roxalana’s malevolence was more refined; she turned his virtues against him, and made use of these as engines for his destruction. She often mentioned, in Solyman’s presence, the splendid qualities of his son; she celebrated his courage, his liberality, his popular arts, with malicious and exaggerated praise. As soon as she perceived that the sultan heard these encomiums, which were often repeated, with uneasiness that suspicion of his son began to mingle itself with his former esteem and that by degrees he came to view him with jealousy and fear she introduced, as by accident, some discourse concerning the rebellion of his father Selim against Bajazet his grandfather: she took notice of the bravery of the veteran troops under Mustapha’s command, and of the neighborhood of Diarbequir to the territories of the Persian sophi, Solyman’s mortal enemy. By these arts, whatever remained of paternal tenderness was gradually extinguished, and such passions were kindled in the breast of the sultan, as gave all Roxalana’s malignant suggestions the color not only of probability but of truth. His suspicions and fear of Mustapha settled into deep-rooted hatred. He appointed spies to observe and report all his words and actions; he watched and stood on his guard against him as his most dangerous enemy.
Having thus alienated the sultan’s heart from Mustapha, Roxalana ventured upon another step. She entreated Solyman to allow her own sons the liberty of appearing at court, hoping that by gaining access to their father, they might, by their good qualities and dutiful deportment, insinuate themselves into that place in his affections which Mustapha had formerly held; and though what she demanded was contrary to the practice of the Ottoman family in that age, the uxorious monarch granted her request. To all these female intrigues Rustan added an artifice still more subtle, which completed the sultans delusion, and heightened his jealousy and fear. He wrote to the bashaws of the provinces adjacent to Diarbequir, instructing them to send him regular intelligence of Mustapha’s proceedings in his government, and to each of them he gave a private hint, flowing in appearance from his zeal for their interest, that nothing would be more acceptable to the sultan than to receive favorable accounts of a son whom he destined to sustain the glory of the Ottoman name. The bashaws, ignorant of his fraudulent intention, and eager to pay court to their sovereign at such an easy price, filled their letters with studied but fatal panegyrics of Mustapha, representing him as a prince worthy to succeed such an illustrious father, and as endowed with talents which might enable him to emulate, perhaps to equal, his fame. These letters were industriously shown to Solyman, at the seasons when it was known that they would make the deepest impression. Every expression in recommendation of his son wounded him to the heart; he suspected his principal officers of being ready to favor the most desperate attempts of a prince whom they were so fond of praising; and fancying that he saw them already assaulting his throne with rebellious arms, he determined, while it was yet in his power, to anticipate the blow, and to secure his own safety by his son’s death.
For this purpose, though under pretence of renewing the war against Persia, he ordered Rustan to march towards Diarbequir at the head of a numerous army, and to rid him of a son whose life he deemed inconsistent with his own safety. But that crafty minister did not choose to be loaded with the odium of having executed this cruel order. As soon as he arrived in Syria he wrote to Solyman, that the danger was so imminent as called for his immediate presence; that the camp was full of Mustapha’s emissaries; that many of the soldiers were corrupted; that the affections of all leaned towards him; that he had discovered a negotiation which had been carried on with the sophi of Persia in order to marry Mustapha with one of his daughters; that he already felt his own talents as well as authority to be inadequate to the exigencies of such an arduous conjuncture; that the sultan alone had sagacity to discern what resolution should be taken in those circumstances, and power to carry that resolution into execution.
This charge of courting the friendship of the sophi, Roxalana and Rustan had reserved as the last and most envenomed of all their calumnies. It operated with the violence which they expected from Solyman’s inveterate abhorrence of the Persians, and threw him into the wildest transports of rage. He set out instantly for Syria, and hastened thither with all the precipitation and impatience of fear and revenge. As soon as he joined his army near Aleppo, and had concerted measures with Rustan, he sent a chiaus, or messenger of the court, to his son, requiring him to repair immediately to his presence. Mustapha, though no stranger to his stepmother’s machinations, or to Rustan’s malice, or to his father’s violent temper, yet relying on his own innocence, and hoping to discredit the accusations of his enemies by the promptitude of his obedience, followed the messenger without delay to Aleppo. The moment he arrived in the camp, he was introduced into the sultan’s tent. As he entered it, he observed nothing that could give him any alarm; no additional crowd of attendants, no body of armed guards, but the same order and silence which always reign in the sultan’s apartments. In a few minutes, however, several mutes appeared, at the sight of whom Mustapha, knowing what was his doom, cried with a loud voice, “Lo, my death!” and attempted to fly. The mutes rushed forward to seize him; he resisted and struggled, demanding with the utmost earnestness to see the sultan; and despair, together with the hope of finding protection from the soldiers, if he could escape out of the tent, animated him with such extraordinary strength, that for some time, he baffled all the efforts of the executioners. Solyman was within hearing of his son’s cries, as well as of the noise which the struggle occasioned. Impatient of this delay of his revenge, and struck with terror at the thoughts of Mustapha’s escaping, he drew aside the curtain which divided the tent, and thrusting in his head, darted a fierce look towards the mutes, and with wild and threatening gestures, seemed to condemn their sloth and timidity. At sight of his father’s furious and unrelenting countenance, Mustapha’s strength failed, and his courage forsook him; the mutes fastened the bow-string about his neck, and in a moment put an end to his life.
The dead body was exposed before the sultan’s tent. The soldiers gathered round it, and contemplating that mournful object with astonishment, and sorrow, and indignation, were ready, if a leader had not been wanting, to have broke out into the wildest excesses of rage. After giving vent to the first expressions of their grief, they retired each man to his tent, and shutting themselves up, bewailed in secret the cruel fate of their favorite; nor was there one of them who tasted food or even water, during the remainder of that day. Next morning the same solitude and silence reigned in the camp; and Solyman, being afraid that some dreadful storm would follow this sullen calm, in order to appease the enraged soldiers, deprived Rustan of the seals, ordered him to leave the camp, and raised Achmet, a gallant officer much beloved in the army, to the dignity of vizier. This change, however, was made in concert with Rustan himself; that malty minister suggesting it as the only expedient which could save himself or his master. But within a few months, when the resentment of the soldiers began to subside, and the name of Mustapha to be forgotten, Achmet was strangled by the sultan’s command, and Rustan reinstated in the office of vizier. Together with his former power, he reassumed the plan for exterminating the race of Mustapha which he had concerted with Roxalana; and as they were afraid that an only son whom Mustapha had left, might grow up to avenge his death, they redoubled their activity, and by employing the same arts against him which they had practised against his father, they inspired Solyman with the same fears, and prevailed on him to issue orders for putting to death that young innocent prince. These orders were executed with barbarous zeal, by an eunuch, who was despatched to Bursa, the place where the prince resided; and no rival was left to dispute the Ottoman throne with the sons of Roxalana.
Such tragical scenes, productive of so deep distress, seldom occur but in the history of the great monarchies of the East, where the warmth of the climate seems to give every emotion of the heart its greatest force, and the absolute power of sovereigns accustoms and enables them to gratify all their passions without control. While this interesting transaction in the court of Solyman engaged his whole attention, Charles was pursuing, with the utmost ardor, a new scheme for aggrandizing his family.