Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Story Behind the Story: Roxelena Sultan by Rita Bay

Where does a writer look for inspiration when writing a book? When writing historical romance, history itself provides the best inspiration.  Imagine the stories that could evolve from Roxelena’s story.

Known to the Western world as Roxelena (or some such spelling), this slave in the Ottoman Sultan’s harem became Haseki Hürrem Sultan, Her Imperial Highness, Imperial Empress of the Ottoman Empire when she married Süleyman the Magnificent, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Little is known of her early life. She was born in 1506 and may have been named Alekandra Lisowska, the daughter of a Ukrainian Orthodox priest in Rohatyn in what is now the Ukraine. In the 1520s she was captured by Crimean Tatars and eventually sold as a slave in Istanbul into Suleyman’s harem.

She quickly became a favorite of Suleyman and, after a fight where she was badly injured, managed to displace one of the Sultan’s other favorites who was exiled with her son, Prince Mustafa, who was the Sultan’s heir (He was eventually strangled after leading an unsuccessful rebellion.). Roxelena became the sole favorite and exerted extensive influence over Suleyman, including giving political advice. While it was the custom of the Sultans to remain unmarried for political reasons, she was freed and they married. They had five children  and her son Selim was named heir.

She built several public buildings, including baths, schools, fountains, a hospital, and a soup kitchen. She died at Topkapi Palace on April 15, 1558 and was buried in a tomb adjacent to her husband’s. Her son Selim who had become an alcoholic, succeeded his father but was a disastrous ruler.  Check out the 19 th century Orientalist painting called The Wedding Gift by Rudolph Ernst. Learn more about it on my daily posts at Rita Bay’s Blog at  ‘Til next time. 

Rita Bay
"Into the Lyon's Den" Champagne Books, August, 2012


  1. My husband loves these stories. He's read all of Beatrice Small's.