royal etiquette: eye of the Sultan

His Majesty’s seamy service.Throne Room Without and Within. Modern Turkish history contains much to be proud of, but it was preceded by a long and unbroken seamy past of plots hatched and destinies decided within the walls of the Grand Seraglio in which Turkish Sultans, as mad and criminally sane as some of them were, sought the answer to and age old question: Can absolute power bring absolute bliss?

---Hürrem aka Roxolana and the Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent by Anton Hickel, 1780, courtesy of the Landesmuseum Mainz.---Read More:

The walls and ceiling of the Hall of the Divan, the imperial council, glittered with gold and gems, and the floor was paved with gold, a decorative touch that never failed to stun Western visitors. The Sultan did not appear in this room, but there was a latticed bay window high up in its wall which was known as the Eye of the Sultan. “The King’s private awful window,” it was called. No one in the room below could tell whether His Majesty was there or not.

---Lady Mary Wortley:The female paradise is separate from the male – but women don’t mind this (emic). Mohammed requires women to merit the enjoyment of future happiness but when alive to make babies. Virgins and widows who die – are excluded from paradise! It is then very interesting to learn how beliefs affect social structure and hierarchy! Mohammed says that women are not capable of managing affairs of state or war. God has not ordered them to govern or reform world but entrusted them with important job of multiplying. So if they don’t make babies they are rebelling against God. “What will become of your saint Catherines, your saint Theresas, your saint Claras and the whole bead roll of your holy virgins and widows, who, if they are to be judged by this system of virtue will be found to have been infamous creatures that passed their whole lives in a most abominable libertinism”. ….very fine paradise to the Turkish women. He says indeed that this paradise will be a separate place from that of their husbands. But I fancy the most part of them won't like it the worse for that, and that the regret of this separation will not render their paradise the less agreeable....Read More:

a Sitting on a velvet couch, the ambassador was served pilau, about fifty different and rather monotonous dishes involving lamb or poultry, baklava, and rose-water sherbet, which, if it were summer, was cooled with ice brought by camel caravan from the Asiatic Mount Olympus, two hundred miles to the south. If the Turks wanted to be especially cordial, a brazier filled with burning aloe wood was passed under the ambassador’s chin so that he could have the pleasure of saturating his beard with its incense.

Meanwhile, the presents brought by the ambassador from his sovereign were unpacked and paraded around the Court of the Divan for all to take stock of. The Venetians always made sure to tuck in, among the glass and cut velvet,some Parmesan cheeses, for cheese was not made in Turkey. Louis XV sent mirrors for the harem. Queen Elizabeth sent Murad III an organ; and to his favorite, Safiyeh, a Venetian woman who had been captured by Turkish pirates, she sent a small picture of herself in a diamond frame, enough cloth of gold for ten dresses, a case of crystal bottles and some musk. Safiyeh sent Elizabeth some silk bloomers.

Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. The Favorite. Read More:

After dinner with the viziers, the ambassador and ranking gentlemen of his party were bundled into robes of silver or gold brocade trimmed with sable in order to make them presentable enough for the royal eye, and were at last ushered into the audience chamber. This room, called the Throne Room Without, -as opposed to the within- was even more glittering than the Hall of the Divan, with ropes of pearls dangling from the ceiling.

An ambassador of Charles II of England, who was probably considered a good show, found the Sultan sitting on a cloth of gold sewn with diamonds, with his feet in little white leather shoes soft-soled like a baby’s, planted on a green satin rug that was thickly barnacled with gold, pearls, and turquoises. Two pashas led the ambassador forward, pushed his head down until it almost touched the ground, and permitted him to kiss the hem of the Grand Seigneur’s brocade sleeve. In response to this, His Majesty merely stared at the wall, as he never took any notice of a Christian. If he wished to communicate with him, it was through the vizier, who would refer to the

assador’s sovereign as “my brother” in order to make clear the Sultan’s exalted position among rulers. The audience concluded, the visitors were attended back to their embassy by a great many janissaries and whirling dervishes, all of whom required tips.

In response to this, His Majesty merely stated at the wall


( see link at end) …Ibrahim grew up in the Kafes, never knowing from day to day when the door might slowly open and the mutes enter with the fatal bowstring ready to do its deadly work. When the day came that the reigning Sultan, Murad IV, died the Seraglio attendants hastened to tell Ibrahim the good news and to proclaim him Sultan. He heard the noise of the approaching crowd just in time to barricade the door with the help of his concubines, and, crazed with fright, could see nothing but lies and traps in the explanations shouted through the door. Still he would not believe, until the door was broken down and the dead body of Murad was flung at his feet. For a moment he stood transfixed with a feeling of mingled joy and fear, and then, realizing the truth, danced round the corpse in hideous triumph, crying out, ” The Butcher of the Empire is dead at last ! ”

But Ibrahim had not done with the Kafes yet, for after his ignoble and vicious reign of nine years the nation rose and flung him back into it again. There he waited, hoping daily to be restored to the throne. Then one day the door opened and the expectant ex-Sultan and his concubines prepared for the good news. But the Sultan Valide had abandoned him, and this time it was the bowstring.

In more recent days, when the janissaries mutinied in 1807, Selim III anticipated their demands by voluntarily exchanging places in the Cage with his cousin Mustafa. The new Sultan soon proved his incompetency, and when Bairakdar marched to Selim’s aid Mustafa in his turn ordered Selim to be kiUed. The murderers entered the Cage, and after a terrific fight for his hfe SeHm was strangled. Read More:

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