A beautiful princess is given by her brother, the king, as wife to the very man who is conquering their lands: The story of Bulgarian princess Tamara Maria and her marriage to Ottoman Sultan Murad I in 1371, as part of a treaty with her half-brother King Ivan Shishman, is a powerful one. It gave rise to a novel, Tamara Shishman and Murad I, written by Anna Ivanova Buxton in 2013.
Tamara, however, was not the only European woman to become the wife of an Ottoman sultan. This little known fact has inspired Anna Ivanova Buxton to collect the stories of these women in a non-fiction book, The European Sultanas of the Ottoman Empire, published in 2016.
From the beginning of the empire Greeks, Bulgarians, Italians, Serbs, Ukrainians and Georgians found themselves in the sultan's harem. During the Ottoman conquest, princesses were married to sultans with the aim of forming an alliance between the invaders and the invaded, to act as guarantors of a fragile peace that never lasted long. When the empire reached its largest extent, the princesses were replaced by women brought from neighbouring lands. These women had the brains, courage and charm to rise to the position of a sultana, or a legal wife. Some of these amassed significant political influence, becoming the epitome of the power behind the throne.
All these women are characters in Anna Ivanova Buxton's book. Better known stories like the one of Ukrainian-born Hürem Sultan, the favourite of Süleyman the Magnificent, are told next to the probably mythical capture of a Greek beauty on her own wedding day to become the wife of the early Ottoman ruler Orhan. There is the story of the Venice-born Nurbanu Sultan, the wife of Selim II, who actively participated in government.
This book is of interest to all readers who would like to know more about the hidden history of the Ottoman empire and its women.
The European Sultanas of the Ottoman Empire (ISBN: 9781530166077) is available from www.amazon.co.uk