2 Reasons Why Hurrem Sultan and Empress Ki were similar

4 Reasons Why Hurrem Sultan and Empress Ki were similar (Part 1)

Real(ish) pictures of Empress Ki (Left) and Hurrem Sultan (Right)
(Public domain)

Ever gone to other countries to travel and had trouble asking for directions from people walking by? Well, I’m sure that’s a picturable frustration for everyone. Whether in history or now, living away from home was never easy. There are new places, people, cultures, and other inconveniences to get accustomed to. 

Empress Ki and Hurrem Sultan: The true story?

Left: Empress Ki from the Korean drama, Empress Ki, starring Ha Ji-won
Right: Hurrem Sultan from the Turkish series, Magnificent Century, starring Meryem Sarah Uzerli
(Screenshots/fair use)

Our main characters today are Empress Ki and Hurrem Sultan. The former is the Empress consort of the last Emperor of the Yuan dynasty in China, while the latter is the first ever “Empress Consort” of the Ottoman Empire.

Both of these ladies became popular because of TV shows. Hurrem sultan was the main character in the Turkish series, Magnificent Century, while the Korean drama, Empress Ki, portrayed the story of Empress Ki (well, obviously).

Although from different countries and times, these two women are exceptional examples who managed to gain hold of power in foreign soils.

What were Empress Ki and Hurrem Sultan like in real history? How were their stories similar?

Let’s find out now!

Forced into being slaves as teenage girls

Peace at the cost of the people

Bukhansan, a famous Mountain near Goyang, Empress Ki’s hometown
by Nagyman, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

(Because no one knows what Empress Ki’s real name was, let’s just call her Ki for simplicity)

In 1315, Ki was born in Haengju, Goryeo (present-day Goyang, South Korea) to Ki Ja-Oh, a low-level commander that belonged to a minor noble family. But being a daughter of a government official was nothing to be proud of. Instead, it was something to be worried about.  

Having suffered a devastating defeat during the Mongol invasions, Goryeo sued for peace and became a vassal Kingdom of the Mongol Empire. As a vassal, Goryeo was forced to pay tributes to the Yuan Dynasty (The Chinese division of the Mongol Empire) from time to time. 

Other than the typical gold, silver, and fabrics, women were also a big part of the tribute.

Over the 97 years of the Yuan Dynasty’s existence, a total of more than 1400 Goryeo women were sent to the Yuan Dynasty as a tribute.

Women who were sent as tributes often came from underprivileged families and minor aristocrats, who had no right to say no. As the daughter of a minor noble, 15-year-old Ki was among those women who were sent to the Mongol Empire. After arriving in the Mongol royal court, she became a maid who was in charge of serving tea to the Emperor. 

Roxelana, the girl from the Kingdom of Poland

Church of the Holy Spirit in Rohatyn, Ukraine, Hurrem’s hometown
Heiliggeistkirche by ipernity.com/doc/d-f [hat Suckr verlassen] on Flickr

Similarly, Hurrem was also taken away from her homeland.

Hurrem Sultan, also known as Roxelana (meaning “Maid from Ruthenia”) was born between 1502 and 1506 in Ruthenia, Kingdom of Poland (present-day Rohatyn, Ukraine), most likely to a priest. 

Hurrem is not Hurrem’s real name, she was only named that later when she was in the Ottoman Empire. Nobody really knows what her real name was, and her childhood life is still a mystery. Though, it is widely believed that Hurrem was originally named Anastasia. Mmm, sure sounds Slavic. 

Hurrem’s hometown wasn’t peaceful. Many areas ruled by Russia, Poland, and Lithuania were under slave raids by Crimean Tartars at the time. As a 15-year-old girl, Hurrem was captured during a slave raid. She was taken to the slave markets in Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. 

There, she was supposedly either sold to Ibrahim Pasha, the friend and later Grand vizier, or Hafsa Sultan, Sultan Suleiman’s mother (aka Valide Sultan). Regardless of whoever bought her, Hurrem was later presented as a gift to Suleiman I. She became a member of the Sultan’s vast Harem, where all of the Sultan’s many wives, sisters, mothers, and daughters lived. 

Becoming the Emperor’s one true love, and the first of a new order

Winner winner, chicken dinner

(Screenshot/ fair use)

For her beauty and cleverness, Ki had the emperor, Toghon Temür, wrapped around her finger. She was promoted from a servant to an official royal concubine. The emperor spent much more time with Ki than with Danashiri, the Emperor’s primary Empress(aka the empress who actually holds power, as the Emperor was allowed to have multiple Empresses at the same time). 

The Emperor never liked Danashiri, and things only got worse when she beat Empress Ki out of jealousy. 

Why did the Emperor dislike Danashiri? Because he was forced to marry her.

Danashiri’s father, El Temür, was a powerful prime minister whom Toghon hated deeply because of how he tried to stop him from becoming Emperor.

Luckily, El Temür died quickly in 1333. Yet with Danashiri’s prominent family supporting her, he couldn’t depose Danashiri without a reason.

His chance came in 1335 when Danashiri’s power-hungry brothers rebelled against the Emperor. She tried to protect her brothers but was found out by the Emperor. She was immediately deposed and killed. 

“Finally, now Toghon can make Ki his lawful wife.”

If you thought so, then you’re wrong. (Oops)

Bayan, the new prime minister who was dripping with Mongol pride, disliked the Han Chinese and the Korean people. So, he strongly disagreed when the Emperor proposed to make Ki a legitimate Empress. 

Bayan was the one who helped Toghon Temür put down the rebellion, and he was backed by the army. In order to keep Bayan happy, the Emperor had no choice but to once again, marry someone else in 1337.

The new primary Empress, Bayan Khutugh (ironically, not related to Bayan) lived a quiet life by herself without complaints. Because of that, she was respected by the Emperor.

Together with Toqto’a, Bayan’s nephew, the Emperor plotted against Bayan. He lost power and was exiled in 1340. With Bayan out of the way, Ki was made secondary Empress that same year.

Becoming Empress (Screenshot from Empress Ki/ fair use)

When Bayan Khutugh died in 1365, Ki finally became the primary Empress. She was the first and only Empress Consort of a Chinese dynasty that was born on foreign soil. 

(I feel so sorry for Bayan Khutugh though, simply cannot imagine living 28 years alone. )

Hurrem Sultan: Mother of five children

The harem in Topkapı Palace, where Hurrem and other harem women lived
A.Savin, FAL, via Wikimedia Commons

For Hurrem sultan, she was probably the biggest royal rule-breaker. Being the first to break several of Ottoman’s 234-year-old traditions. 

It was custom that the Sultan would sleep with the same concubine for a few nights and then move on to another one when the Sultan got tired of her or if she got pregnant. 

The harem expected the same when Hurrem was chosen to serve the Sultan, yet her beauty, intelligence, and cheerfulness captivated Suleiman. Suleiman gave her the name Hurrem, meaning “the cheerful one”. Night after night, she was summoned by the Sultan. Soon, she was the harem’s most favored concubine.

All previous Sultans and harem women followed the rule that one harem woman can only bear one child, but Suleiman decided to trash this for good. 

Over 5 years (approximately 1521 to 1525), Hurrem and Suleiman had 5 children together, 4 sons and 1 daughter. Later in 1531, Hurrem gave birth to another son as well. 

Hurrem became the first woman to be allowed to have multiple children with the Sultan. The historical rule-breaking stunned the court.

Hurrem’s power and influence grew. By the time the Sultan’s mother died in 1534. It was certain that Hurrem would be Hafsa Sultan’s successor, but Suleiman decided to take it to the next level. 

In the same year, Hurrem and Suleiman were officially pronounced husband and wife. She was no longer a harem slave, but the ruler of the harem; She was no longer a concubine, but the official wife of Suleiman the Magnificent

Hurrem was given the title Haseki Sultan, meaning that she was now the Sultan’s only legal wife and partner. By giving her this title, Suleiman effectively elevated Hurrem’s status to a legit member of the Ottoman royal family. 

Her glory at the time was impeccable. She was the first woman in Ottoman history to be legitimized; The first Haseki Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Most importantly, the first of the Sultanate of Women, a period in Ottoman history in which Ottoman women exercised great political power in court. 

Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamamı, a Bathhouse commissioned by Hurrem Sultan next to the famous Turkish attraction, Hagia Sofia in Istanbul
Navjot Singh, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Despite going through a lot of turbulence at a young age, Empress Ki and Hurrem Sultan were strong, influential women who eventually rose to prominence in foreign countries by becoming their husbands, aka the most prestigious man of the realm’s one true love.

Thanks for reading!

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One response to “2 Reasons Why Hurrem Sultan and Empress Ki were similar”

  1. 索菲的遊人生 Avatar

    Impressive, good article!


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