Beyond Harem Walls: Ottoman Royal Women and the Exercise of Power

Leslie P. Peirce

in Servants of the Dynasty

Published by University of California Press

Published in print October 2008 | ISBN: 9780520254435
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520941519 | DOI:
Beyond Harem Walls: Ottoman Royal Women and the Exercise of Power

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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For roughly 100 years, from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth centuries, women of the Ottoman royal family exercised so much influence on the political life of the empire that this period is often referred to, in both scholarly and popular writing, as “the sultanate of women.” This period is notable for the important role acquired by dynastic women, the queen mother in particular, in the symbolics of sovereignty: the ceremonial demonstrations of imperial legitimacy and the patronage of artistic production. The standard historical treatment of this salience of the imperial harem in Ottoman politics views it, in the framework of the Islamic polity and Islamic society, as an illegitimate exercise of power. This chapter corrects certain misconceptions regarding harems in the Ottoman Empire and explores the networks through which royal women in this gender-segregated society exercised power in the world beyond the walls of the harem.

Keywords: Ottoman Empire; royal women; power; harems; politics; networks; queen mother

Chapter.  6838 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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