1553: Prince Mustafa, heir to Suleiman the Magnificent

On this date in 1553, the capable heir apparent to Ottoman Emperor Suleiman the Magnificent was strangled at dad’s order — casualty of the the realm’s lethal harem politics.

If ’tis state thou seekest like the world-adorning sun’s array,
Lowly e’en as water rub thy face in earth’s dust every day.
Fair to see, but short enduring is this picture bright, the world;
‘Tis a proverb: Fleeting like the realm of dreams is earth’s display.
Through the needle of its eyelash never hath the heart’s thread past;
Like unto the Lord Messiah bide I half-road on the way.
Athlete of the Universe through self-reliance grows the Heart,
With the ball, the Sphere—Time, Fortune—like an apple doth it play.
Mukhlisi, thy frame was formed from but one drop, yet, wonder great!
When thou verses sing’st, thy spirit like the ocean swells, they say.

-Prince Mustafa, about himself

Suleiman’s first-born son by his first concubine, Mustafa seemed well-positioned to emerge in the Ottomans’ fratricidal succession.

The racket: when the current sultan dies, all his sons by his various concubines make a rush from their provincial outposts for the capital and fight it out, the winner killing off his half-brothers to consolidate his rule.

This disorderly ascension made, while dad still lived, for fraught internal politicking among the sons for the inside track: the most prestigious positions, and the assignments closest to Istanbul. The various mothers of the contenders jockeyed just as aggressively on behalf of their various entrants in the imperial sweepstakes.

Mustafa was the capable eldest son in a kingdom at its very acme,* but to his misfortune, and the empire’s too, he found himself pitted against one of the ablest women ever to call the Ottoman harem home: Hürrem Sultan, also known as Roxelana (or Roxolana).

A Ukrainian woman kidnapped to the harem by Tartar slavers, Roxelana enchanted Suleiman and soon became his favorite. Therefore, Roxelana also became the rival, with her son and her own potential heir, to Mustafa and his mother.

As the story is told, Roxelana at length contrived to convince Suleiman that Mustafa was in cahoots with the rival Safavid Empire to supplant Suleiman on the throne; Suleiman had his firstborn summoned to his tent on campaign in Anatolia, and straightaway put to death. He’s supposed to have sat by the body in grief for days afterwards, and barely averted a revolt by his elite Janissaries, who much favored the talented Mustafa.

“This terrible tragedy exercised an effect on Ottoman affairs resembling that which the Massacre of St. Bartholomew had on the history of France,” according to The Cambridge Modern History (vol. 3). Roxelana’s unimpressive son “Prince Selim, in whose favour the crime was committed, was the first of a series of degenerate Sultans, sunk in pleasure-seeking or stricken with Imperial mania, under whose sway the Empire went to ruin.”

Consequently, Mustafa is still mourned in Turkey as a tragic turning-point; visitors pay homage to his tomb at Bursa.

Westerners had word of this fascinating palace intrigue through diplomatic correspondents who were not privy to the actual harem, and adopted the story themselves while imaginatively filling in the orientalizing details. Inevitably these imaginings have helped shape the story as it comes to us.

The scenario blending the familiar and the exotic — a European in the court of the Turk; a slave woman dominating the conqueror; fratricidal princes and the alluring seraglio — all set in the heart of the feared Muslim state proved irresistible to literary interlocutors. These made of Suleiman, Mustafa (Mustapha), and Roxelana moral fables, theater (endorsed by Samuel Pepys!), symphony

… and opera (many librettos, this by Hasse):

Not to mention, of course, more titillating fare.

* The PBS documentary Islam, The Empire of Faith does engrossing coverage of Suleiman (including his relationship with Roxelana and the execution of Mustafa) in these video segments: 3, 4, 5.

On this day..

20 thoughts on “1553: Prince Mustafa, heir to Suleiman the Magnificent

  1. Historians know that ,THe Prince Mustapha was always the better choice for KingHe was extremely intelligent much moreso than his brothers . , He was kind gentle and of course he was loved respected by his Staff . His Guards The army janniseries , and of course his people .
    If You have the people and especialy the army behind you and willing to follow you anywhere and do everything for you and Love you for the man that you are .

    Prince Selim a hopeless choice , A man who cared only for pleasure and was actually known as the Drunk He was without doupt an alcholic dring huge amounts of red wine .

    Never left the palace or went on conquests left it to his Jannisseries He shoukd of course Led his army .
    He died in the bathroom slipped and died in a drunken state .
    His vizers staff did everything he was involved in nothing.

    Sullieman chose him because he knew he was to weak a man to rise against him . and Whilst Bayzed amuch braver man would have been a better choice that Selim the DRUNK Sullieman had Bayzed stragled and 4 of his small sons and wives .

    To this day historians and people studying the Ottoman Empire feel for the amazing Prince Mustapha , Whilst Bayzed did organise a revolt against Selim Prince Mustaph never did . and Historians cannot understand why .

    Tome it was clear he said <he would never murder his brothers and we allknow he would rather die than try to take the throne from his father . HE could have done as he had the army behind him and ALLof the people .but No he did not .

    Sullieman spent the rest of his blife in deepest regret murdering both his son and his lover Ibrahim Pasha .who was his lover for many years .

    It is said that after the .

  2. I might be late for comment, but i personally feel ’bout those years, what horroble ,unmorality & unspeakable of humand carracthers it was. Its say Sulayman The Great, but actually, he was not great at all? Of course he was won of all wars he had, but in His personally life of build a Family, he was defeated just bcoz of love to Hurrem Sultan. This is the great sin of Adams, of every Man alife weakness is Women. I dont want to judge Hurrem Sultan Character, at some point, i understand why she did all of those angered caused.. lets looked back after hurrem & sulayman was in loved, she was attacked and being tortured by sulaymans family included Valide Sultan & Mahidevran Sultan. They were angry n jeaolus to Hurrem just bcoz they did not accepted if the hareem member (slave) could bcame a sultan. But bcoz hurrem streight and loyalty to sulayman, she finally bcome a legally wife. But when her first eldest, syehzade Mehmed died (Mahidevrans plot), The Angered of revanged and ego of Hurrem had appeared andall those who was linked to his sons dead, one by one disseppeared from the world.included the innocent of Syehzade Mustava. This is one of the tragic history in the world . Syehzade Mehmed & Syehzade Mustava, They had to pay of those sins of their horrible mothers . Very tragic, heartbreaking and sad history it was.

  3. can anybody say what was Suleiman’s reaction when he could know the conspiracy against Mustafa ? did he punished Hurrem or anybody or did he repent what he mistake he did ?

  4. It was said that Mustafa’s mother killed Hurrem’s eldest son, Prince Mehmed. Yes I agree that Prince Mustafa should of been the next Sultan. He was and amazing leader and he would of been an extraordinary Sultan. The fact of the matter is that Maihdevran killed her son so in return she did the same to her, she just had more to loose because Mustafa was her only child.

  5. I loved the integrity, bravery, obedience and trust from Mustafa. He was a great person. But the greed from Hurrem and the weakness from his Father that was very arrogant. Suleiman knowing that Hurrem was not to trust he did not investigated the accusation on Mustafa. If mustafa was to be the Great Sultan I don’t think he would executed his brothers and Hurrem.

    Mustafa you will live in my heart forever!!!

  6. can any one help me understand this: Sultan Sulieman the magnificent was very string and intelligent, how come he did not gather all of his children and sort out the problems among all for better governors by sharing equall duties of the impire instead of killing each other. At the least elections. Sad to know how the ottoman impier turned to after sulieman. Mustafa & beyazeed. It teaches us that power and killing is the key for success or to reach your dreams.

  7. It is a reality that when Mustafa was put to death, Suleiman’s kingdom was put to death. It is during Selim’s reign that the Ottoman Empire saw its final days. It shows also that Sultan Suleiman had his own shortcomings and could not see Mustafa’s greatness. The old story of greed and ambition plays itself like a violin!

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  9. Shehzada mustafa was a honest and truthfull man.He was a true muslim king of the future.I like uuuuu very like uuu very like uuu.Allah shehzada mustafa ko kabar ki azab sa mehfuz raka. Ameem summa Ameen

  10. Hiram I ask a question from u when u will in front of me in front of Allah that did u get some thing from ur ful of mud mind stupid now time proves that u were the queen bastered or Mustafa was the true Muslim king of future.

  11. If u study deeply then Prince Mustafa was the turning point of the turk kingdom.because after his death the demoralization had started in the nation as well as army,
    So it was the turning point.me too depress after his demise,can feel the pain of Prince jahangeer and the pain of his father king Suleiman,but now time had taught us that Mustafa was right and would be on the top of heaven with his father the great king suleman

  12. Whatever but still I can say that what hurrem did is for his sons
    Love u hurrem forever even I like mustafa but hurrem is hurrem no one can’t compete her

  13. it is said that hurrem has a very big part in not only in mustafas death but many other i get the point that if she does not get rid of him he will get rid of her but no matter what a father should not kill his own son it is said suleiman had 15 sons at the end only 1 surived selim the next king suleiman even had his 3 years old son killed

    • you should do more research, mustufa was most loved even by his halfblood brother from all hurrum sons except the drunk sultan saleem, jahangir died of her grief hurrum’s son. he never did anything against hurrum or er sons , and how hurrum has a right to give punishment to mustufa for the sin he has not done,

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