Nurbanu Sultan

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Nurbanu Sultan
نور بانو سلطان
Tomb of Sultan Selim II - 06.JPG
The türbe of Nurbanu located next to that of Selim II in the courtyard of Hagia Sophia
Valide Sultan of the Ottoman Empire
Tenure15 December 1574 – 7 December 1583
PredecessorHafsa Sultan
SuccessorSafiye Sultan
Haseki Sultan of the Ottoman Empire
(Imperial Consort)
Tenure7 September 1566 – 15 December 1574
PredecessorHürrem Sultan
SuccessorSafiye Sultan
BornCecilia Venier-Baffo or Rachel or Kalē Kartanou
c. 1525
Paros, Cyclades Islands, Republic of Venice?
Died7 December 1583(1583-12-07) (aged 57–58)
Bahçi Palace, Istanbul, Ottoman Empire
SpouseSelim II
Issuesee below
ReligionIslam, previously Roman Catholic or Jewish or Greek Orthodox

Nurbanu Sultan (Ottoman Turkish: نور بانو سلطان‎; c. 1525[1] – 7 December 1583) was Haseki Sultan of the Ottoman Empire as the principal consort and later legal wife of Sultan Selim II (reign 1566–1574), as well as Valide Sultan as the mother of Sultan Murad III (reign 1574–1595). Conflicting theories ascribe her a Venetian, Jewish[2] or Greek[3] origin. Her birth name may have been Cecilia Venier-Baffo,[4] Rachel[5] or Kalē Kartanou.[6] Nurbanu was one of the prominent figures during the era known as Sultanate of Women and she was an administrator[disambiguation needed] Empire from 1570 until 1583.

Theories about her origin[edit]

There are several theories about the ethnic roots of Nurbanu, none of which is generally accepted:

Jewish origin[edit]

Turkish historian Ahmet Refik believed she was of Jewish descent,[7] followed by some Turkish historians.[1]

Cecilia Venier-Baffo[edit]

In 1900, Emilio Spagni claimed that she was a Venetian patrician, daughter of Nicolò Venier and Violanta Baffo, abducted on Paros when it was captured by Ottoman admiral Hayreddin Barbarossa in the Third Ottoman-Venetian War. The Sultana, herself, would often say she was of Venetian patrician descent, but never named her family.[6]

Kalē Kartanou[edit]

In 1992, B. Arbel challenged the view that she was really of Venetian descent. For him, the most plausible theory is that she was a Greek from Corfou named Kale Kartanou.[6]

Haseki Sultan[edit]

Nurbanu's husband Selim

Nurbanu became the most favored consort of Ottoman Sultan Selim II, who came to the throne in 1566, and the mother of Murad III.

While her spouse Selim was still a şehzade, Nurbanu had been the head of his princely harem at Manisa.

Once sultan, Selim let his favorite wife remain at Topkapı throughout his reign, as his predecessor had done.[8]

Even after Selim began to take other concubines, Nurbanu persisted as a favorite for her beauty and intelligence. As the mother of the heir-apparent, she acted as an advisor to her husband. Although it was far from normal at the time, Selim II would often ask Nurbanu for her advice on various subjects because of his respect for her good judgment. Jacopo Soranzo, Venetian Ambassador reported:

"The Haseki is said to be extremely well-loved and honored by His Majesty both for her great beauty and for being unusually intelligent."[9]

She became a formidable figure with far-reaching influence during this time. According to some sources (mostly Venetian accounts), her influence was such that Nurbanu Sultan effectively ran the government alongside the Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmet Pasha. The Ottoman Empire was far from stable at the top and clashes over the imperial throne were common. It was also not unusual for the loser to have his entire family massacred along with him to prevent any future challenge. Nurbanu Sultan was determined, however, that when the time came for her son to succeed his father, nothing would interfere with that.

At the end of Selim II's reign, the haseki Nurbanu received 1,100 aspers a day, while Selim's other consorts, each the mother of a son, received only 40 aspers.[10][11]

Valide Sultan and regent[edit]

Murad III, to whom Nûr-Banû was a Valide sultan during 1574 - 1583.

Şehzade Murad had been sent to serve as Governor of Manisa on the Aegean coast and was there when Sultan Selim II died in 1574.[12] This would have been the perfect opportunity for someone to seize power with the Sultan dead and his son away from the capital. Nurbanu realized this as much, if not more, than anyone and took quick action. Security and privacy in the harem were the most strict anywhere and no one knew when Selim II had actually died. Nurbanu told no one and hid the dead body of her husband in an icebox and sent to Manisa for her son to come to Constantinople immediately. All the while no one was the wiser that Sultan Selim II had departed this life. It was not made known publicly until twelve days later when Murad arrived and Nurbanu delivered up the body of her late husband. Her son became Sultan Murad III and Nurbanu became Valide Sultan, the highest position a woman could hold in the Ottoman Empire. Unlike her predecessor Hürrem Sultan, Nurbanu outlived her husband and enjoyed absolute power between 1574 and 1583, although she was apparently not resident in the Palace after Selim II's death. Nurbanu had the ultimate power, and she became a formidable figure with far-reaching influence. Canfeda Hatun, Raziye Hatun, and Hubbi Hatun ladies-in-waiting to Murad and Nurbanu also appear to have been very powerful and influential during his reign.[13][14]

Foreign politics[edit]

After Nurbanu became the valide sultan to her son Murad III, she effectively managed the government together with the Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, who acted as co-regent with the sultan during the Sultanate of Women. Her intermediary to the world outside the harem was her "Kira", Esther Handali. "Kira" was so popular means of communication with the outside world when Nûr-Banû was the Valide Sultan that the two women were said to have been lovers. She corresponded with the queen Catherine de' Medici of France. Venetian accounts are the most prolific in describing Nurbanu Sultan as a woman who never forgot her Venetian origins.

Afife Nûr-Bânû Valide Sultan's Ṣalāt al-Janāzah and her Islamic burial (Shahan-Shah-Namah-i Lokhmann)

During her nine years of regency (1574–1583), her politics were so pro-Venetian that she was hated by the Republic of Genoa. Some have even suggested that she was poisoned by a Genoese agent. In any case, she died at the palace in the Yenikapı Quarter, Istanbul on 7 December 1583.

Charitable establishments and philanthropy[edit]

During her nine years of regency, Nurbanu ordered the renowned Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan to build the Atik Valide Mosque and its surrounding külliye at the district of Üsküdar in Istanbul, where previously a "Jewish bath" was located. The construction of the külliye was completed and put in commission at the end of 1583, just before the demise of Nurbanu on 7 December 1583. She was buried at the mausoleum of her husband Selim II located inside the Hagia Sophia (then a mosque) at Sultanahmet in Istanbul, Turkey.


Afife Nûr-Banû Valide Sultan's name is inscribed at the entrance of her husband Selim II's türbe.

Nurbanu died at Istanbul on December 7, 1583, during the reign of her son Murad III.[15] She was buried next to Selim II in his mausoleum in the courtyard of Hagia Sophia, thus becoming the first wife of a Sultan to receive the honor of being laid to rest next to her spouse.[16]


With Selim, Nurbanu is confirmed to have had at least four children, including:

  • Gevherhan Sultan (1544, Manisa Palace, Manisa – Istanbul, buried in Selim II Mausoleum, Hagia Sophia Mosque), married firstly in 1562 to Damat Piyale Pasha, married secondly to Damat Cerrah Mehmed Pasha.[17]
  • Şah Sultan (1544, Manisa Palace, Manisa – 3 November 1577, Istanbul, buried in Zal Mahmud Paşa Mausoleum, Eyüp), married firstly in 1562 to Damat Hasan Agha, married secondly to Damat Zal Mahmud Pasha.[17]
  • Ismihan Sultan (1545, Manisa Palace, Manisa – 8 August 1585, Istanbul, buried in Selim II Mausoleum, Hagia Sophia Mosque), married firstly in 1562 to Damat Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, married secondly in 1584 to Damat Kalaylıkoz Ali Pasha.[17]
  • Murad III (4 July 1546, Manisa Palace, Manisa – 15 January 1595, Topkapı Palace, Istanbul, buried in Murad III Mausoleum, Hagia Sophia)

Though the claim remains disputed,[18] several sources also mention her as the mother of:

In popular culture[edit]

She was portrayed by Turkish actress Merve Boluğur in television series Muhteşem Yüzyıl.[21]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b A.H. de Groot, s.v. in Encyclopaedia of Islam vol.8 p.124
  2. ^ Stanford J. Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey, Volume 1, p. 178, at Google Books
  3. ^ Arbel, Benjamin, Nur Banu (c. 1530-1583): A Venetian Sultana?
  4. ^ Godfrey Goodwin, The Private World of Ottoman Women, Saqi Book, ISBN 0-86356-745-2, ISBN 3-631-36808-9, 2001. page 128,
  5. ^ Valeria Heuberger, Geneviève Humbert, Geneviève Humbert-Knitel, Elisabeth Vyslonzil, Cultures in Colors, page 68. ISBN 3-631-36808-9, 2001
  6. ^ a b c Arbel, Benjamin, Nur Banu (c. 1530-1583): A Venetian Sultana?, Turcica, 24 (1992), pp. 241-259.
  7. ^ Çağatay Uluçay, Padişahların Kadınları ve Kızları p.68, citing Kadınlar Saltanatı I p.95
  8. ^ Peirce 1993, p. 121.
  9. ^ Peirce 1993, p. 228.
  10. ^ Peirce 1993, p. 108.
  11. ^ Peirce 1993, p. 129.
  12. ^ Peirce, Leslie P. (1993). The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195086775.
  13. ^ Maria Pia Pedani Fabris, Alessio Bombaci (2010). Inventory of the Lettere E Scritture Turchesche in the Venetian State Archives. BRILL. p. 26. ISBN 978-9-004-17918-9.
  14. ^ Petruccioli, Attilio (1997). Gardens in the Time of the Great Muslim Empires: Theory and Design. E. J. Brill. p. 50. ISBN 978-9-004-10723-6.
  15. ^ "Death in the Topkapı Harem - TASTE OF THE PAST". Hürriyet Daily News | LEADING NEWS SOURCE FOR TURKEY AND THE REGION. Retrieved 2017-10-21.
  16. ^ Peirce, Leslie P. (1993). The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195086775.
  17. ^ a b c Tezcan, Baki (2001). Searching For Osman: A Reassessment Of The Deposition Of Ottoman Sultan Osman II (1618-1622). unpublished Ph.D. thesis. pp. 327 n. 16.
  18. ^ Peirce, p. 92.
  19. ^ Uluçay 1985, p. 43.
  20. ^ Freely 1999.
  21. ^ "Merve Boluğur kimdir? Nurbanu Sultan nasıl öldü?". (in Turkish). Retrieved 2017-10-21.


  • Arbel, Benjamin, Nur Banu (c. 1530-1583): A Venetian Sultana?, Turcica, 24 (1992), pp. 241–259.
  • Peirce, Leslie Penn (1993). The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire. Studies in Middle Eastern History. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-507673-8.
  • A.D. Alderson, The Structure of the Ottoman Dynasty. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1956.
  • Almanach de Gotha: annuaire généalogique, diplomatique et statistique, Justes Perthes, Gotha, 1880-1944.
  • Burke's Royal Families of the World, Volume II: Africa & The Middle East, Burke's Peerage Ltd., London, 1980.
  • A.H. de Groot, s.v. in Encyclopaedia of Islam vol.8 p. 124
  • Yılmaz Öztuna, Devletler ve Hanedanlar, Turkiye 1074-1990, Ankara, 1989.
  • Osman Selâheddin Osmanoğlu, Osmanli Devleti'nin Kuruluşunun 700. Yılında Osmanlı Hanedanı, Islâm Tarih, Sanat ve Kültür Araştırma Vakfı (ISAR), Istanbul, 1999.
  • Emine Fuat Tugay, Three Centuries: Family Chronicles of Turkey and Egypt, Oxford, 1963.
  • Uluçay, Mustafa Çağatay (1985). Padışahların kadınları ve kızları. Türk Tarihi Kurumu Yayınları.
  • Freely, John (1999). Inside the Seraglio: Private Lives of the Sultans in Istanbul. Viking. ISBN 978-0140270563.

External links[edit]

Ottoman royalty
Preceded by
Hürrem Sultan
Haseki Sultan
7 September 1566 – 15 December 1574
Succeeded by
Safiye Sultan
Preceded by
Hafsa Sultan
Valide Sultan
15 December 1574 – 7 December 1583