Suleiman The Magnificent
Suleiman the Magnificent earned his epithet because of his expansion of the Ottoman Empire, his architectural transformation of Constantinople into Istanbul and his patronage of law and the arts. What he is not so well known for, however, is the casual way he killed his sons.
Suleiman, like most Sultans, had an extensive harem- but only two consorts. His favorite wife, Roxelana had ascended through the ranks of the harem and Suleiman was so besotted with her that he went against tradition and married her. However, this did not satisfy Roxelana. Suleiman had six sons, and she knew that if one of the sons of the other consort, Mahidevran succeeded Suleiman, her own son’s lives were in danger. So she set about ensuring that Suleiman removed them-from the succession and life.
Suleiman’s eldest son by Mahidevran, Mustafa was regarded as Suleiman’s natural successor. He was such an intelligent and able man that the Austrian ambassador, Busbecq prayed that: “God never allow a Barbary of such strength to come near us.” In 1553, Mustafa was commanding his father’s forces in the Persian campaign while a partisan of Roxelana, Rustem Pasha acted as commander of the chief of the expedition. Rustem began to report back to the Sultan that the soldiers favored making Mustafa Sultan immediately rather than on Suleiman’s death- and Mustafa wasn’t against the idea.
Suleiman ordered Mustafa to leave the front line and attend him to explain himself. When Mustafa arrived at Suleiman’s tent, the Sultan was nowhere to be seen. However, his eunuch bodyguards were very much apparent. While Suleiman directed events from behind a curtain, with gestures and nods, the bodyguards set about the prince. Mustafa fought bravely, but in the end, he was overcome and strangled with a bowstring.
Not even the children of Roxelana were safe. With their elder brother out of the way, two of these sons, Selim and Bayezid began to squabble about the succession. In 1559-61, the Princes, who each commanded of different parts of Suleiman’s empire started a civil war over the issue. Suleiman supported Selim and gave him the use of his army. This loan ensured the defeat of Bayezid, who promptly fled into exile with his four sons.
But Suleiman pursued him. He demanded that Beyezid’s host, Safavid Shah make a choice: return Beyezid or execute him. Suleiman promised Safavid would be well rewarded in gold for any breaches of his obligations as a host. So in 1561, Safavid ordered Beyezid and his sons strangled. Roxelana may have lost one son. But she had the satisfaction of seeing Selim become Sultan Selim II on Suleiman’s death.
Elsewhere in time and history, warring siblings waited until they had ascended the throne before killing each other.