Save

Legitimacy Through Female Lineage? The Role of In-Laws (aṣhār) in the Royal Mamluk Households of the Fifteenth Century

In: Eurasian Studies
Author:
Albrecht Fuess Philipps-Universität Marburg

Search for other papers by Albrecht Fuess in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
Full Access

Abstract

Presently, the role of in-law relationships in the Middle Eastern historical context has been understudied, even as it is known that high officials could bolster their political prestige and claim to power by marrying or being married to a royal princess. This is especially true in the Mamluk context of the fifteenth century, when it became impossible for sons of reigning sultans to succeed their fathers. These sons were only allowed to ascend the throne for short periods as mere placeholders, as the effective successors who replaced their fathers were usually drawn from among the membership of the inner circle of the Mamluk military elite. Their marker of identity was that they had been imported as young slave boys from regions to the north of the Black Sea or the Caucasian region. Because there were no direct dynastic ties present, a new Mamluk sultan would create a family bond to the old sultan and bolster his legitimacy by becoming his in-law. The following article will therefore look at the process of becoming an in-law at the Mamluk court and the possible consequences of a royal wedding in terms of transmission of legitimacy.

In medieval Western societies, marriage created a special bond. According to Roman law, which transcended widely into pre-modern religious law, the marriage of two people created a bond that merged the son-in-law and his family with the family of his wife into a larger new family. The blood-related family members and the new family of in-laws were treated almost equally in front of the law. Sexual relations between in-laws, i.e. family members within the larger family networks with or without blood relations, were punished as incest in most German states up to 1794 and the introduction of the Allgemeine Preußische Landrecht (General State Laws for the Prussian States).1 This is related to the fact that marriage per se could not be ended until death permanently separated the husband and wife. Marriage was therefore seen as creating everlasting bonds between all parties involved. A reminiscence to this practice is still to be found in the actual German civil code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch) § 1590 (2), where it states that marriage creates a special in-law kinship relationship, which continues even if the marriage has ended. With reference to this kinship relation in-laws are allowed in § 383 (3) to desist from giving evidence against an accused.2

In medieval Near Eastern societies, regulations and possibilities regarding marriages were similar with regards to the creation of close relations through marriage, except in one important point. Although marriage constituted an in-law relationship called ṣihr or muṣāhara – the root of which derives from the verb ṣahara (melting together) – the concluded marriage bond could be split apart again under the high temperatures of daily life. All rights resulting from the marital tie were only valid as long as the marriage continued. Divorce was an unwelcome but common practice and religiously allowed. Still, for the time of the duration of the marriage, a bond was forged which opened strong familial ties and helped the son-in-law to be recognized as part of his wife’s family. He received a treatment almost equal to real sons in his new family. Thus, one would assume that it would be important to marry as early as possible into respected and rich families in order to create a lifelong network.

What was peculiar in the context of Mamluk royal marriages is that they were often concluded after the preceding sultan had died. This is due to the fact that new sultans often married widows of the previous sultans but even when they married daughters there are hints that the marriage was actually concluded after the death of the former; however, the sources are not entirely clear on the issue.

However, the marriage arrangements in place after the death of the old sultan meant, either to royal widows or royal daughters, that these marriages created ever-lasting in-laws and a strong bond to the former sultan. This is a very intriguing practice, the mechanisms of which are not fully understood yet, and also quite different from the practice of the Mamluks’ biggest rival for political influence at the time, the Ottoman Empire.

Ottoman Marital Policy in the Fifteenth Century

The main difference in comparison to the Mamluks of the fifteenth century was that the Ottoman Empire was ruled according to the dynastic principle. A new ruler had to be the son of the preceding ruler. Therefore, one had to ensure that there were always eligible sons available. This dynastic policy of the Ottomans was clearly influenced by the need for royal reproduction of males. At the beginning of the Ottoman Empire in the early fourteenth century, Ottoman rulers still married with a foreign policy purpose. The most prominent example of these marriages is that of Sultan Orḫān (r. 1326-60) with Theodora, the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos.3 However, by the fifteenth century, Ottoman sultans were no longer marrying, with the exception of the wedding of Sultan Bāyezīd II (r. 1481-1512) with ʿAyşe Ḫātūn, daughter of ʿAlā al-Dawla of Dulqadir during a time of war with the Mamluks. The intent of this particular marriage was to strengthen the south-eastern border of the Ottoman Empire against the Mamluks, as well as provoke them, as the principality of Dulqadir was officially a vassal of the Mamluk Empire.

With this exception, Ottoman sultans generally did not marry at all until the middle of the sixteenth century. Western observers noticed this practice; “neither [this sultan] nor any of his ancestors has ever taken a wife”, explains the Genoese Giovanantonio Menavino, who served as page in the royal household at the turn of the sixteenth century.4 The Ottoman sultans relied – for the reproduction of the dynasty – mainly on slave girls who lived in the Royal Harem of the sultan at the Topkapı Sarayı.5 All male children born in the harem had the same right to his heritage and to succession. The Ottomans avoided the connection to any female lineage and were therefore accused by the Aqqoyunlus that the mothers of Ottoman sultans were no more than slaves.6

What made the Ottoman system of the time special was the single son policy. Evidence shows that since the time of the conqueror Meḥmed II, i.e. the mid-fifteenth century (but presumably even before), concubines bore birth to only one son. If the woman gave birth to a girl then she remained in the palace until she had a boy. After giving birth to a boy, she never entered the sultan’s bed again. Her son was a potential heir and rival of his brothers; and princes stayed with their mother and were raised separately from others. After the age of ten, the sultan appointed each son as governor of a province.7 When the sultan died, his sons started the race towards Istanbul in order to assume the sultanate. The winner became sultan, killed his brothers, and the cycle started anew.

This practice only changed in the mid-sixteenth century due to Sultana Ḫürrem, known as Roxelana in European sources. Captured as a girl in the western Ukraine, she managed to stay Süleymān’s royal consort until 1558 and was not forced to leave. Süleymān even set her free and married her.8 Having broken with the old marriage rule, accusations were levelled against Ḫürrem that she had used sorcery to ensnare and make infatuated her royal husband Süleymān.9 Even though contemporary critics were harsh, future relationships of sultans and their wives oriented themselves on the Süleymān-Ḫürrem model.

The Dāmād

Although the Ottoman system of succession presented here does not resemble the dynastic approach of the Mamluks during the fifteenth century nor how they organised their succession, there is a common point in the family policy of Ottoman and Mamluk ruling elites: a special role for the in-laws of a sultan or the creation of lineage bonds through marriage. In Ottoman Turkish Dāmād (from Persian “son-in-law”, but also “brother in-law” or “near ally”) became an official royal title for in-laws. The Ottomans would not tolerate the development of a local military nobility. On the other hand, they wanted to honour prominent and experienced men, who mostly had been educated and selected by the devşīrme system (selection of [Christian] boys).10

FIGURE 1
FIGURE 1

Mihrimāh Sulṭān, daughter of Süleyman Portrait by Cristofano dell’Altissimo titled Cameria Solimani, Sixteenth century.

Citation: Eurasian Studies 15, 2 (2017) ; 10.1163/24685623-12340036

(Pera Museum Istanbul) [Public domain].

However, the price such an honoured Dāmād had to pay was that the status of the sultan’s daughter “eclipsing his own”, as Olivier Bouquet puts it in a recent article. Children born from such a marriage were called sulṭānzādes (sons of a sultana).11 Contemporary chroniclers tell us that the status of a royal princess was always superior to their husbands, and it represented an immense “privilege to share the bed with a princess”.12 According to anecdotal evidence, the Mamluk Sulṭān Qāytbāy (r. 1468-1496) allegedly once asked the Ottoman Grand Vizier Dāmād Hersekzāde Aḥmed Pāşā (d. 1517) why Hersekzāde was given the daughter of Bāyezīd II (r. 1481-1512) as wife although he had only a slave origin. To this, Hersekzāde replied that this marriage had been the reward for his loyalty and good service. However, the Ottoman chronicler Aşıḳpāşāzāde who tells this story is full of critique for this new practice of marrying off royal princesses to former slaves which Bāyezīd had introduced.13 On the other hand, marrying royal princesses to military slaves was exactly what the Mamluks had done right from the beginning of their rule, as will be explained now, with an emphasis to the fifteenth century.

Mamluk Marital Policy and In-Law Strategies

Until now, family networks have been understudied within the Mamluk context,14 and the research potential of the issue, especially regarding royal spouses, princesses, and in-laws has been previously pointed out.15 The source situation seems quite good due to many available biographical dictionaries like al-Saḫāwīs al-Ḍaw’ al-lāmiʿ, although information about exact family lineages by different authors is sometimes contradicting. Moreover, the names of wives and princesses are not explicitly mentioned in all sources.

However this lack of scientific investigation was apparently sensed as well by Jo van Steenbergen and Kristof D’Hulster as they published an article on the “Family-In-Law Impulse” in Mamluk marriage policy in 2013.16 By looking at the marriage strategies of “sultans to be” between the beginning of the reign of Barqūq (r. 1382-1389 and 1390-1399) and the end of the reign of Ḫušqadam (1461-1467), the two authors enlarged our knowledge about marital ties and how they developed into an important factor of supporting careers. Besides, they analyzed these marriages within the conceptualization of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu about “forms of capital” within societies. By doing so, they discussed how marrying into the sultans’ families enhanced the economic, social, cultural and symbolic capital of Mamluk in-laws. The present contribution will build upon this article and take the discussion about marriages a bit further, especially in understanding the historical contexts more deeply and also look at the role of royal women as a token of legitimacy for new Mamluk sultans.

In order to achieve these goals, this study employs a slightly different timeline than van Steenbergen and D’Hulster. The time period chosen here is what can be coined the mulk ʿaqīm-phase (“barren kingship”) from 1412 to 1517.17 In this time period, the succession of Mamluk sultans was clearly decided by the merits and experiences of a Mamluk emir. Sons of Mamluk sultans, therefore, usually acted as a mere place holder until the “real successor” was decided upon by the powerful Mamluk emirs. As for the method used in this article, a focus will be placed mainly at reigning sultans whose rule lasted at least around two years thereby leaving out, for the moment, shorter reigns for future research. Another problem is that it is difficult to reconstruct at this stage a totally complete list of marriages and children of the sultans in question. The present study mainly draws upon the writings of Ibn Taġrībirdī (d. 1470), al-Saḫāwī (d. 1497), and Ibn Iyās (d. after 1522) as primary sources and ʿAbd al-Rāziq’s “La femme au temps des Mamlouks en Égypte”. Scrutinizing additional sources might lead to more relatives popping out.18

Marital Ties of Sultans with Former Rulers from 1412 to 1517

Al-Muʾayyad Šayḫ (r. 1412-21)

The ruler who opened the mulk ʿaqīm-phase is Sulṭān al-Muʾayyad Šayḫ. Al-Muʾayyad Šayḫ was purchased by Sulṭān Barqūq at the age of twelve, two years before Barqūq became sultan. According to Ibn Taġrībirdī, Sulṭān Barqūq was very fond of the young Šayḫ, although he had him more than once beaten for his “indulgence in intoxicating liquor and the like”. However, Šayḫ proved to overcome these vices and became sultan in 1421 after having lead a successful rebellion against Sulṭān Faraj (r. 1399-1405 and 1405-12), the son of his former patron Barqūq, and subdued his rival factions.19 He had married Zaynab, the daughter of Sulṭān Barqūq and a female slave of rūmī descent, before ascending the throne. Zaynab had previously been married when she was eight years old in 1403 to emir Sūdūn al-Ḥamzāwī by her brother Sulṭān Faraj.20 When Sulṭān al-Muʾayyad Šayḫ married Zaynab, al-Saḫāwī stated that al Muʾayyad through the marriage had thereby made her “a sultan’s daughter, a sultan’s sister and a sultan’s wife”.21 Furthermore Šayḫ emphasized his claims to royalty by the fact that his son Sārim al-Dīn Ibrāhīm, whose mother was the Circassian slave Quṭlubay, married the daughter of Sulṭān Faraj, a girl by the name of Sitītā, thereby strengthening on a second line the family ties with his Master Barqūq.22

FIGURE 2
FIGURE 2

Marriage networks of the sultans Barqūq, al-Muʾayyad Šayḫ and Ṭaṭar.

Citation: Eurasian Studies 15, 2 (2017) ; 10.1163/24685623-12340036

© A. Fuess, 2017.

When al-Muʾayyad Šayḫ died he was succeeded by his son al-Muẓaffar Aḥmad, the real ruler however being the Grand Emir Ṭaṭar, who married a widow of the sultan and mother of al-Muẓaffar Aḥmad, by the name of Saʿādāt bint Amīr Ṣarġitmiš.23

By marrying her, Ṭaṭar created a direct link to his former master al-Muʾayyad Šayḫ. Ṭaṭar replaced him as husband and effective ruler. Then he deposed his new stepson al-Muẓaffar Aḥmad (r. 1421) and declared himself sultan. He had won the internal power struggles so far, only to die some months later from illness.24

al-Ašraf Barsbāy (r. 1422-38)

A long-lasting successor to al-Muʾayyad Šayḫ was found in the person of Sulṭān al-Ašraf Barsbāy (r. 1422-38). Here again is a repetition of the previous patterns. Barsbāy had been a Mamluk of Barqūq and served in the position of dawādār (bearer of the royal inkwell/head of the chancery) and as tutor for Ṭaṭar’s son al-Ṣāliḥ Muḥammad. But al-Ašraf Barsbāy dethroned the son of his former master. The young al-Ṣāliḥ Muḥammad was then to lead a calm life in the citadel in the palace of his mother.25

Sulṭān Barsbāy, who was successful in his power struggle with rival factions, then married Sulṭān Ṭaṭar’s daughter by the name of Fāṭima. Ḫawand (Princess) Fāṭima bint Ṭaṭar had been previously married to Yašbak Jakamī, an important emir, by Sulṭān Ṭaṭar who might have seen a future sultan in his son-in-law. However after the unexpected death of Ṭaṭar and the ensuing power struggle, Barsbāy managed to imprison him in Alexandria and apparently Fāṭima was divorced from Yašbak, so she could marry the new sultan Barsbāy.26 Barsbāy himself then went on to marry three other women: Julbān (a Circassian slave), Malikbāy al-Ašrafīya and Šahzāda bint Ibn ʿUṯmān.27

FIGURE 3
FIGURE 3

Marriage networks of the sultans Ṭaṭar, Barsbāy and Jaqmaq.

Citation: Eurasian Studies 15, 2 (2017) ; 10.1163/24685623-12340036

© A. Fuess, 2017.

al-Ẓāhir Jaqmaq (r. 1438-53)

Šahzāda bint Ibn Uṯmān would be married to two sultans: al-Ašraf Barsbāy and his successor al-Ẓāhir Jaqmaq, thereby creating the royal link between them. Šahzāda was an Ottoman princess. She had escaped with her brother Süleymān to Cairo after her father Orḫān, a grandson of Bāyezīd I, passed away around 1429 in fear of a personal persecution by Sulṭān Murād II (r. 1421-51). Once installed in Cairo, the royal siblings received highest honors. Sulṭān Murād II apparently demanded that they be returned to Ottoman territory, but instead Barsbāy married Šāhzāda some time prior to his death in 1438.28 Barsbāy’s successor, after the short reign of Barsbāy’s son Yūsuf, was yet another veteran of the Barqūqian military household: Sulṭān Jaqmaq.

It is unclear when Jaqmaq actually married Barsbāy’s widow Šahzāda, but it must have been quite soon after, or even immediately before, his ascension to the throne. Šahzāda was the obvious choice; as an Ottoman royal princess and the widow of a Mamluk sultan, she was certainly a prestigious bride. Moreover, she must have been still in her twenties while Jaqmaq was almost seventy years old when he started his rule.29

Before turning more directly to Jaqmaq, the following issue deserves attention. It is the fact that the Qāḍī Šaraf al-Dīn al-Anṣārī (seen on the left of Figure 3) married two sultanic widows. It does not appear that he was a professional “consoler of widows”. However, at this stage the intent of his marriages is not entirely clear, apart from the fact that ʿulamā nobility apparently starts to have an increasing role in the royal marriage game around the middle of the fifteenth century.30

Returning to Jaqmaq and his marriage situation. His preferred wife was the so-called “Ḫawand al-Kubrā”, Muġal bint al-Bārizī, daughter of a well-known Qāḍī. As a young woman, Muġal had been married twice before becoming the wife of the young emir Jaqmaq. She was first wed to Ibn Šihāb Maḥmūd, who allegedly died before the marriage was consummated, and then to Qāḍī ʿAllam al-Dīn al-Quwayz.31

Muġal bint al-Bārizī then married Jaqmaq long before he ascended the throne, and they had one surviving daughter together, which was unusual for royal marriages as others seem not to have resulted in children at all. In general, it appears that the aim of royal marriages in Mamluk times was more about providing legitimacy and prestige to the son-in-law and less about children, as they could usually not succeed their father in a military career.

The marriage of Muġal to Jaqmaq was quite long lasting, but in 1448 Jaqmaq divorced her because he accused her of having put a spell on and causing the death of his young slave girl Sūrbāy the Circassian.32 Two years later, he divorced as well Šahzāda bint Ibn ʿUṯmān, which is surprising as she was the one who created the link to the former sultan Barsbāy.

However, a new bride came to him from Anatolia in the summer of 1450: Bint Ḥamza Bak bint Nāṣir al-dīn bint Ḏūʾ l-qadir, who arrived in order to marry Sulṭān Jaqmaq.33 What is remarkable, in this context, is that in the year 1449 another wife of Jaqmaq, Nafīsa bint Nāṣir al-dīn bint Ḏūʾl-qadir, had died from plague.34 As it is likely that there were family relations between both women (I would assume a niece-aunt relation), it may be speculated that the new Bint Ḏūʾl-qadir came as replacement in order to keep the Mamluk sultan as son-in-law and part of the family of the rulers of this Anatolian buffer principality.

FIGURE 4
FIGURE 4

Marriage networks of the sultans Jaqmaq and Īnāl (part 1).

Citation: Eurasian Studies 15, 2 (2017) ; 10.1163/24685623-12340036

© A. Fuess, 2017.

However, in 1453 it was Jaqmaq’s turn to die, and he was succeeded briefly by his son al-Manṣūr ʿUṯmān, but then finally the last Mamluk sultan, who had still been raised in the household of Barqūq, came to power and ascended the throne.

Īnāl (r. 1453-61)

Sulṭān Īnāl represents a rare exception in the marriage pattern of Mamluk sultans of the fifteenth century. This is especially true when compared to his predecessor and “ladies man” sultan Jaqmaq, whose numbers of wives were apparently so numerous that Ibn Taġrībirdī gave in his necrology of the sultan only the names of wives he was married with during the sultanate and these were already six royal spouses.35

Sulṭān Īnāl was a more stable character in this respect. He had married Zaynab bint ʿAlā al-dīn ʿAlī ibn Ḫaṣṣbak more than twenty years prior to his ascension to power and she remained his only wife and woman with whom he apparently fathered children with. Sources depict her as a strong personality with a good sense of financial matters. She did, unusually for the time, not remarry after the death of her husband. However, Īnāl constructed another direct family line to his predecessor through marriage. He had his son, al-Muʾayyad Aḥmad, marry – at an unspecified date – the above-mentioned widow of Jaqmaq by the name of Bint Ḥamza Bak bint Nāṣir al-dīn bint Ḏūʾl-qadir, who had come from Anatolia in 1450.36 This marriage arrangement might have been made to bolster the claim for the throne for his son as an in-law of Jaqmaq, but it created a family link for the sultan Īnāl towards Jaqmaq as well.

In the case of Sulṭān Īnāl, the sources also tell us about his two daughters who were already of marrying age before he became sultan, which was not often the case for new sultans. He tried to use these daughters in order to strengthen his ties with two young, aspiring officers and possible successors. Both had the position of dawādār. His eldest daughter Badrīya had married Amīr Burdbak b. ʿAbdallāh al-Ašrafī prior to the ascension of the throne by her father Sulṭān Īnāl. Under the sultanate of Īnāl, Burdbak was promoted to the post of Third Head of the Chancery (dawādār ṯāliṯ). He then rose further up the career ladder and became an important aide to Sulṭān Īnāl helping him tremendously in the family’s financial matters like in the fostering of the family endowments. With the death of Īnāl and the short reign of his brother-in-law al-Muʾayyad Aḥmad in 1461, Burdbak’s career came to an end. The new Sulṭān Ḫušqadam had his endowments taken and banned Burdbak to Mecca. Suspicious were then the circumstances of his death; in 1464, he was invited to Cairo by Ḫušqadam but killed by Bedouins on the way.37 Getting rid of the son-in-law of his predecessor seems a logical thing to do for a new sultan, but no direct involvement of Ḫušqadam is to be found in the sources.

FIGURE 5
FIGURE 5

Marriage networks of the sultans Jaqmaq and Īnāl (part 2).

Citation: Eurasian Studies 15, 2 (2017) ; 10.1163/24685623-12340036

© A. Fuess, 2017.

The second son-in-law that Īnāl relied upon during his reign was the first dawādār Yūnus al-Āqbaʾī, husband of his daughter Fāṭima. He was the more powerful in-law as he had been at the head of a military expedition to return the kingdom of Cyprus into submission in 1460. Thus, he would have made a vital contender for the throne, but he passed away at the age of 60, some months after his father-in-law in the summer of 1461.38

These two cases are very interesting for the purposes of this paper, but they raise more questions than answers. It seems that Īnāl indeed tried to lay a family network politically and financially around his immediate family which included his two sons-in-law. Did he think that they could help his son to stay in power after his death or that one of the two would emerge as successor in order to safeguard the family? There is no answer yet, but it seems that the idea of in-laws as active family members in the lifetime of a reigning sultan is clearer here than with the other sultans who became in-laws only after the death of the old sultan.

Another intriguing question is why Sulṭān Ḫušqadam did not choose to marry one of the two available female members of Īnāl’s household, i.e. his widow or his daughter Fāṭima, as this would have been the case in the first half of the fifteenth century.

Ḫušqadam (r. 1461-7)

In similarity to Īnāl before him, Sulṭān al-Ẓāhir Ḫušqadam had been married for decades to the same woman prior to obtaining sultanhood. His wife by the name of Šukurbāy al-Nāṣirīya al-Aḥmadīya had been a slave girl of Sulṭān al-Nāṣir al-Faraj. When he died in 1412, she was manumitted and married a certain Amīr Abrak al-Jakamī, with whom she had a daughter. Afterwards she married Ḫušqadam who was at the time still an aspiring officer. By marrying her, the direct royal link to Sulṭān Barqūq was established and apparently did not need additional bolstering by a new marriage to the widow or daughter of his predecessor Īnāl.

It seems that even concubinage already created a kind of binding in-law relationship (muṣāhara). Only when Šukurbāy died, he married his concubine Surbāy, the mother of his daughter Faraj.39

One aspect was unique about the reign of Ḫušqadam. Shortly before he died, the leading emirs had decided on the Atābak (commander-in-chief) Yalbay to be successor, as no “interim son” was available, only that Yalbay was soon to be succeeded and overthrown by the later Sulṭān Qāytbāy in 1468.40

al-Ašraf Qāytbāy (r. 1468-96)

With Qāytbāy we witness the return of direct family ties. However, his lineage goes back to Sulṭān Īnāl as we encounter Zaynab, his widow, again. Zaynab’s sister Fāṭima bint ʿAlā al-dīn ʿAlī ibn Ḫaṣṣbak was the wife of Qāytbāy, which enhanced the legitimacy of his claim to the throne as he was married into a royal family, which made himself royal.41 Fāṭima was the only official wife of Qāytbāy during his reign, which is usually perceived as the last heyday of Mamluk power and a real period of stability. Things would change quickly after his death and his concubine Aṣalbāy the Circassian, the mother of his son and successor al-Nāṣir Muḥammad II ibn Qāytbāy, was to play a major role in these changes as transmitter of royal legitimacy.

FIGURE 6
FIGURE 6

Marriage network of the Sulṭān al-Ẓāhir Ḫušqadam.

Citation: Eurasian Studies 15, 2 (2017) ; 10.1163/24685623-12340036

© A. Fuess, 2017.
FIGURE 7
FIGURE 7

Marriage networks of Qāytbāy and his successors.

Citation: Eurasian Studies 15, 2 (2017) ; 10.1163/24685623-12340036

© A. Fuess, 2017; Image of al-Nāṣir Muḥammad II after: Die Pilgerfahrt: p. 90.

As with other sons of a sultan during the fifteenth century, al-Nāṣir Muḥammad II tried to stay in power. He succeeded for a while with the help of a network of relatives, such as his maternal uncle Qānṣūh. However, al-Nāṣir Muḥammad II could not overcome the old Mamluk establishment and was overthrown by leading Mamluks. They had managed to bring his uncle Qānṣūh on their side by promising him to become the new sultan, despite the attempts of Aṣalbāy to reconcile her brother and her son. In September 1498, al-Nāṣir Muḥammad II even had a heavy dispute with his mother about his marriage to a Circassian lady named Miṣirbāy, the widow of Kurtbāy, the former governor of Gaza. Ibn Iyās says, in this context, that this marriage only brought him bad luck, as he would be killed less than a month later.42 His uncle became the new ruler under the regal title of Sulṭān al-Ẓāhir Qānṣūh (r. 1498-1500) and he immediately married Miṣirbāy, the widow of his nephew, to strengthen his claim.43 Still this in-law lineage did not help him too much as he was ousted in 1500. This time his sister Aṣalbāy married or had to marry the successor Sulṭān Jān Bulāṭ (r. 1500-1).44

FIGURE 8
FIGURE 8

Marriage networks of Qanṣūh al-Ġūrī and Tumānbāy.

Citation: Eurasian Studies 15, 2 (2017) ; 10.1163/24685623-12340036

© A. Fuess, 2017; Image of Qanṣūh al-Ġūrī after: Boissard, Abbildungen: fig. 20; Image of Tumānbāy after: Ḫwāja Efendi, Selīm-Nāma, Supplément Turc 524, f. 211v, © Bibliothèque nationale de France.

One gets the impression that former royal spouses were increasingly used in these times of turmoil and inner crisis to bolster the claims of sultans as in-laws to the former sultan, as there is a remarkable speed of changing royal marriages at that time. A remarkable point in this respect is that Qāytbāy’s official wife Fāṭima, sister of Zaynab the widow of Īnāl, married the short lived Sulṭān al-ʿĀdil Tumānbāy when she was well in her sixties, either to seek personal protection in unsteady times or to grant legitimacy to a new ruler or probably both.45 The question of offspring was here completely irrelevant. As it seems, in general, that royal marriages of reigning Mamluk sultans or new sultans were not really concluded to create offspring. The number of children resulting from these relations is too small, and the sons of the Mamluk sultans did not succeed to hold on to the throne anyway. Marriage was more about providing legitimacy, lineage and wealth instead.

Sulṭān Qanṣūh al-Ġūrī (r. 1501-16) and Sulṭān al-Ašraf Tumānbāy (r. 1516-7)

Looking to the last great Mamluk ruler, i.e. the Sulṭān Qanṣūh al-Ġūrī (r. 1501-16), it seems that he did not have to rely on a former royal widow for any of the various reasons given. However, very little is known so far about his marriages. Only in 1505, four years after his ascension to the throne, he felt it apparently safe enough for his personal harem to come up to the citadel from the Bayn al-Qaṣrayn quarter in the middle of the town.46 Ibn Iyās mentions then in the year 1514, towards the end of his reign, that the wife of Qanṣūh al-Ġūrī, Umm Sīdī Muḥammad, mother of his son Nāẓir al-Dīn Muḥammad, went on a pilgrimage.47 When Qanṣūh al-Ġūrī lost his life battling the Ottoman advance in Syria, his nephew Tumānbāy, son of an otherwise unknown brother of al-Ġūrī, took over in Cairo in order to organize the defense. The remaining Mamluk military elite certainly gathered behind him as these were times of an existential crisis, but his lineage was strong, too. He was not only royal by having an uncle as sultan, but his wife was a niece of the royal Ḫaṣṣbak sisters, Fāṭima and Zaynab.48 Their sister, whose name is not known, had been married to powerful amirs as well. Being a son-in-law of the Ḫaṣṣbaks certainly played in Tumānbāy’s favour as well, except that in the end, he was unable to defend against the Ottomans and was hanged by them at the Bāb al-Zuwayla in spring of 1517.

Conclusion

To conclude, marriages played an important role in the marital policy of the Mamluks in the fifteenth century. Becoming a son-in-law of the former sultan or the new husband of a royal widow was apparently a vital element for a new sultan. Most of the cases shown here, highlight the fact that new sultans introduced themselves in the lineage of the old sultan through marital ties, i.e. they became his in-law and part of his family. The royal bride was taken apparently by the strongest among the peers; it seems that the emirs waited for the new sultan to emerge from the power struggle before they agreed to such marital arrangements. Unfortunately, it is not clear how the marriages were concluded. Maybe it was part of the deal when the power struggle was over, or maybe it was an unwritten custom which one followed automatically. The goal of such marriages, as has been shown, was not to create offspring as royal spouses were often quite old on both sides; it seems more as a transmission of legacy and reputation.

Through the marriage the new sultan was now part of the integral family of the old for good. Despite the fact that divorce was not uncommon in the Mamluk society, there was only one case to be found that one of these royal marriages concluded after the death of the sultan ended by a divorce as this would have broken the link to the former sultan and would mean to leave the royal family lineage. Therefore, looking at this case study, we have to change our view on in-laws in pre-modern societies and especially the Mamluk one.

Bibliographical References

Primary Sources

  • al-Saḫāwī, al-Ḍawʾ al-lāmiʿ fī aʿyān al-qarn al-tāsiʿ, 6 vols. (Beirut: Dār Maktabat al-Ḥayāh, 1975).

  • al-Ṣayrafī, Nuzhat al-nufūs wa-ʾl-abdān fī tawārīḫ al-zamān, edited by Ḥasan Ḥabašī (Cairo: Dār al-Kutub, 1971).

  • Boissard, Jean-Jacques, Abbildungen der Türckischen Kayser und Persischen Fürsten (Frankfurt: Ammon 1648).

  • Die Pilgerfahrt des Ritters Arnold von Harff, edited by Eberhard von Groote (Hildesheim: Georg Olms 2004): p. 90.

  • Ibn Iyās, Histoire des Mamlouks Circassiens, transl. Gaston Wiet, 2 vols. (Cairo: Imprimerie de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale, 1945).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ibn Iyās, Badāʾiʿ al-ẓuhūr fī waqāʾiʿ al-duhūr, edited by Mohamed Mostafa, 5 vols. (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1960-1975).

  • Ibn Taghrībirdī, History of Egypt 1382-1469, transl. William Popper (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1954-1960).

  • Ibn Taġrībirdī, al-Nujūm al-ẓāhira fī mulūk Miṣr wa-ʿl-Qāhira, edited by Muḥammad Fuhaym Šaltūt, 16 vols. (Cairo: Dār al-Kutub al-Miṣrīya, 1348-1392/ /1929-1972).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ibn Taġrībirdī, Ḥawādiṯ al-duhūr fī madā ʿl-ayyām wa-l-šuhūr, edited by William Popper (Berkeley: University of California Publications in Semitic Philology, 1931).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ibn Taġrībirdī, al-Manhal al-ṣāfī wa-ʿl-mustawfī baʿda al-wāfī, edited by Muḥammad Muḥammad Amīn, 5 vols. (Cairo: al-Hayʾa al-Miṣrīya al-ʿĀmma li-ʿl-Kitāb, 1984-1988).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

Secondary Literature

  • ʿAbd al-Rāziq, Aḥmad, La femme au temps des Mamlouks en Égypte (Cairo: IFAO, 1973).

  • Bouquet, Olivier, “The Sultan’s Sons-in-Law: Analysing Ottoman Imperial Damads”, JESHO, LVIII (2015): pp. 327-361.

  • Brunshvig, R., “ ‘Abd”, in EI (2) (Leiden: Brill, 1986): I, pp. 24-40.

  • Fuess, Albrecht, “Was Cyprus a Mamluk Protectorate? Mamluk Influence on Cyprus between 1426 and 1517”, Journal of Cyprus Studies, XI [28/29] (2005): pp. 11-28.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fuess, Albrecht, “Mamluk Politics”, in Conermann, Stephan (ed.), Ubi Sumus? Quo Vademus? Mamluk Studies-State of the Art (Bonn: Bonn University Press, 2013): pp. 95-117.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Holt, Peter Malcolm, The Age of the Crusaders. The Near East from the Eleventh century to 1517 (London: Longmann, 1997).

  • Imber, Colin, The Ottoman Empire, 1350-1650. The Structure of Power (London: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2002).

  • Jarzebowski, Claudia, “Eindeutig uneindeutig. Verhandlungen über Inzest im 18. Jahrhundert in Preußen”, in Eming, Jutta, Jarzebowski, Claudia, and Claudia Ulbrich (eds.), Historische Inzestdiskurse. Interdisziplinäre Zugänge (Königsstein i. T.: Ulrike Helmer, 2003).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Johnson, Kathryn, “Royal Pilgrims: Mamlūk Accounts of the Pilgrimage to Mecca of the Khawand al-Kubrā (Senior Wife of the Sultan)”, StIs, XCI (2000): pp. 107-132.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Muslu, Cihan Yüksel, The Ottomans and the Mamluks. Imperial Diplomacy and Warfare in the Islamic World (London: I.B. Tauris, 2014).

  • Pierce, Leslie P., The Imperial Harem. Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).

  • Reinfandt, Lucian, Mamlukische Sultansstiftungen des 9./15. Jahrhunderts. Nach den Urkunden der Stifter al-Ašraf Īnāl und al-Mu’ayyad Aḥmad Ibn Īnāl (Berlin: Schwarz, 2003).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Van Steenbergen, Jo, and D’Hulster, Kristof, “Family Matters: The ‘Family-in-Law’ Impulse”, Annales Islamologiques, XLVII (2013), dossier “Histoires de famille” (Loiseau, Julien, ed.): pp. 61-82.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Yosef, Koby, “Ethnic Groups, Social Relationships and Dynasty in the Mamluk Sultanate (1250-1517)”, Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg Working Paper [University of Bonn], VI (2012): pp. 1-15: http://www.mamluk.uni-bonn.de/publications/working-paper/ask-wp-6.pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

Biographical Note

Albrecht Fuess studied history and Islamic studies at the University of Cologne and Cairo University. He obtained his PhD in Cologne in 2000, with a dissertation on the history of the Syro-Palestinian coast in the Mamluk era (1250-1517). He specializes in the history of the Near and Middle East (13th-16th centuries) and the presence of Muslims in contemporary Europe. Since 2010, he is a Professor of Islamic Studies at the Center for Near and Middle Eastern Studies (CNMS) at the Philipps-Universität Marburg. Recently, he has published in co-authorship with Bernard Heyberger: La frontière méditerranéenne (XVe-XVIIe siècles). Échanges, circulations, et affrontements (Turnhout: Brepols, 2014 [Études Renaissantes, 12]).

1

Jarzebowski, Claudia, “Eindeutig uneindeutig. Verhandlungen über Inzest im 18. Jahrhundert in Preußen”, in Eming Jutta, Jarzebowski, Claudia, and Ulbrich, Claudia (eds.), Historische Inzestdiskurse. Interdisziplinäre Zugänge (Königsstein i. T.: Ulrike Helmer 2003): pp. 165-6.

2

http://dejure.org/gesetze/BGB/1590.html (last accessed on August 31st, 2017), see § 1590 Schwägerschaft (2): “Die Schwägerschaft dauert fort, auch wenn die Ehe, durch die sie begründet wurde, aufgelöst ist.”

3

Imber, Colin, The Ottoman Empire, 1350-1650. The Structure of Power (London: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2002): p. 92.

4

Menavino, Giovanantonio, I cinque libri della legge religione et vita de’ Turchi della corte (Venice: Valgrisi 1548): ch. 34, 134, here cited after: Pierce, Leslie P., The Imperial Harem. Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993): p. 30.

5

Brunshvig, R., s.v. “ ‘Abd”, in EI2 I (1986): p. 28.

6

Pierce, Imperial Harem: p. 41.

7

Ibid.: pp. 89, 90; Imber, Ottoman Empire: pp. 89-91.

8

Pierce, Imperial Harem: pp. 58-60; Imber, Ottoman Empire: p. 90.

9

Luigi da Zara Bassano, Costumi et i modi particolari della vita de’ Turchi (repr. Munich: M. Hueber, 1963): p. 18v, here cited after: Pierce, Imperial Harem: p. 63.

10

Bouquet, Olivier, “The Sultan’s Sons-in-Law: Analysing Ottoman Imperial Damads”, JESHO, LVIII (2015): p. 351.

11

Ibid.: p. 330.

12

Ibid.: p. 345.

13

Ibid.: p. 329.

14

There is a dissertation by Koby Yosef entitled “Ethnic Groups, Social Relationships and Dynasty in the Mamluk Sultanate (1250-1517) [Hebrew]”, written in the University of Tel-Aviv in 2010. However, at is it in Hebrew, it is difficult to use for the wider scientific community; but according to the author, an English version is to appear in due course. For some thoughts on Mamluk in-law relationship, see Yosef, Koby, “Ethnic Groups, Social Relationships and Dynasty in the Mamluk Sultanate (1250-1517)”, in Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg Working Paper [University of Bonn], VI (2012): pp. 7-8. (http://www.mamluk.uni-bonn.de/publications/working-paper/ask-wp-6.pdf).

15

Fuess, Albrecht, “Mamluk Politics”, in Conermann, Stephan (ed.), Ubi Sumus? Quo Vademus? Mamluk Studies-State of the Art (Bonn: Bonn University Press, 2013): pp. 101-2.

16

Van Steenbergen, Jo, and D’Hulster, Kristof, “Family Matters: The ‘Family-in-Law’ Impulse”, Annales Islamologiques, XLVII (2013), dossier “Histoires de famille” (Loiseau, Julien, ed.): pp. 61-82.

17

For a periodization of different phases of Mamluk rule, see Fuess, “Mamluk Politics”: p. 99.

18

Ibn Taġrībirdī, al-Nujūm al-ẓāhira fī mulūk Miṣr wa-ʿl-Qāhira, edited by Muḥammad Fuhaym Šaltūt, 16 vols. (Cairo: Dār al-Kutub al-Miṣrīya, 1348-92/1929-72). Partial English translation in Ibn Taghrībirdī, History of Egypt 1382-1469, transl. by William Popper (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1954-60); Ibn Taġrībirdī, al-Manhal al-ṣāfī wa-ʿl-mustawfī baʿda al-wāfī, edited by Muḥammad Muḥammad Amīn, 5 vols. (Cairo: al-Hayʾa al-Miṣrīya al-ʿĀmma li-ʿl-Kitāb, 1984-8); al-Saḫāwī. al-Ḍawʾ al-lāmiʿ fī aʿyān al-qarn al-tāsiʿ, 6 vols. (Beirut: Dār Maktabat al-Ḥayāh, 1975); Ibn Iyās, Badāʾiʿ al-ẓuhūr fī waqāʾiʿ al-duhūr, edited by Mohamed Mostafa, 5 vols. (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1960-1975). Partial translation of the work in Ibn Iyās, Histoire des Mamlouks Circassiens, transl. by Gaston Wiet, 2 vols. (Cairo: Imprimerie de l’Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale, 1945). Aḥmad ʿAbd al-Rāziq, La femme au temps des Mamlouks en Égypte (Cairo: IFAO, 1973).

19

Ibn Taġrībirdī, al-Nujūm: XIV, pp. 1-2; Ibn Taghrībirdī, History of Egypt: III, p. 15.

20

al-Ṣayrafī, Nuzhat al-nufūs wa-ʾl-abdān fī tawārīḫ al-zamān, edited by Ḥasan Ḥabašī (Cairo: Dār al-Kutub, 1971): II, p. 161.

21

al-Saḫāwī, al-Ḍawʾ: XII, p. 234. Van Steenbergen, and D’Hulster, “Family matters”: p. 68.

22

ʿAbd al-Rāziq, La femme: p. 295. Zaynab who should survive al-Muʾayyad Šayḫ later on married the Atabāk Qipčaq al-ʿAysāwī. See al-Ṣayrafī, Nuzhat: II, p. 161.

23

Ibn Taġrībirdī, al-Nujūm: XIV, p. 190; Ibn Taghrībirdī, History of Egypt: III, p. 137.

24

Ibn Taġrībirdī, al-Nujūm: XIV, p. 206; Ibn Taghrībirdī, History of Egypt: III, p. 150.

25

Ibn Taġrībirdī, al-Nujūm: XIV, pp. 211, 232-3; Ibn Taghrībirdī, History of Egypt: III, pp. 154, 170-1.

26

Ibn Taġrībirdī, al-Nujūm: XIV, pp. 215-20; Ibn Taghrībirdī, History of Egypt: III, pp. 157-61. The sources do not tell all of the details of this imprisonment. It could be as well that Jašbak was executed.

27

ʿAbd al-Rāziq, La femme: pp. 273, 287, 293.

28

Muslu, Cihan Yüksel, The Ottomans and the Mamluks. Imperial Diplomacy and Warfare in the Islamic World (London: I.B. Tauris, 2014): p. 100. Van Steenbergen, and D’Hulster, “Family matters”: p. 68.

29

Muslu, The Ottomans and the Mamluks: p. 100; Holt, Peter Malcolm, The Age of the Crusaders. The Near East from the Eleventh century to 1517 (London: Longmann, 1997): p. 190.

30

ʿAbd al-Rāziq, La femme: pp. 277, 302. The fact that Jaqmaq’s preferred wife, Muġal bint al-Bārizī, originated from a household of Cairene ʿulamā and her brother Kamāl al-Dīn served under Jaqmaq as confidential secretary (kātib al-sirr), might also hint to ʿulamā families penetrating the royal realm.

31

ʿAbd al-Rāziq, La femme: p. 302; Johnson, Kathryn, “Royal Pilgrims: Mamlūk Accounts of the Pilgrimage to Mecca of the Khawand al-Kubrā (Senior Wife of the Sultan)”, StIs, XCI (2000): p. 112.

32

Johnson, “Royal Pilgrims”: p. 113.

33

Ibn Taġrībirdī, Ḥawādiṯ al-duhūr fī madā ʾl-ayyām wa-l-šuhūr, edited by William Popper (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1931 [University of California Publications in Semitic Philology, I/2]): p. 85.

34

Ibn Taġrībirdī, al-Nujūm: XV, p. 464; Ibn Taghrībirdī, History of Egypt: V, p. 166. In the Ḥawādiṯ Ibn Taġrībirdī calls her Bint Sulaymān Ḏūʾl-qadir. Popper omits her completely in his translation as he might have confused her with her aunt (?), who had a very similar name.

35

Ibn Taġrībirdī, al-Nujūm: XV, p. 464; Ibn Taghrībirdī, History of Egypt: V, p. 166.

36

Ibn Taġrībirdī, Ḥawādiṯ: p. 393. She then died of plague in 1460.

37

al-Saḫāwī, al-Ḍawʾ: III, pp. 4-6. Reinfandt, Lucian, Mamlukische Sultansstiftungen des 9./15. Jahrhunderts. Nach den Urkunden der Stifter al-Ašraf Īnāl und al-Mu’ayyad Aḥmad Ibn Īnāl (Berlin: Schwarz, 2003): pp. 43-5.

38

al-Saḫāwī, al-Ḍawʾ: X, p. 345; Reinfandt, Mamlukische: pp. 45-6. For Mamluk Cyprus see Fuess, Albrecht, “Was Cyprus a Mamluk Protectorate? Mamluk Influence on Cyprus between 1426 and 1517”, Journal of Cyprus Studies, XI [28/29] (2005): pp. 11-28.

39

Johnson, “Royal Pilgrims”: p. 119; ʿAbd al-Rāziq, La femme: p. 294.

40

Holt, The Age of the Crusaders: p. 195.

41

Reinfandt, Mamlukische Sultansstiftungen: p. 47. Reinfandt confirms that Zaynab was in fact the sister of Fāṭima. Besides the right mention by al-Saḫāwī (al-Ḍawʾ: XI, p. 245) he found an endowment document which confirms the sister relationship. According to Reinfandt (Mamlukische Sultansstiftungen: p. 47, n. 115), the mentioning by Ibn Taġrībirdī (al-Nujūm: VII, p. 678) and Ibn Iyās (Badāʾiʿ: III, p. 157), who did not speak of sisters, is wrong.

42

Ibn Iyās, Badāʾiʿ: III, p. 399; Ibn Iyās, Histoire: p. 441.

43

This was not the last royal wedding for Miṣirbāy. She married again in the summer of 1517 immediately after the Ottoman conquest and was brought up to the citadel by procession for the third time. Her new husband was Ḫāʾir Bāk, the new Ottoman governor of Egypt, who was a former high official of the Mamluks and who had defected to the Ottomans. Still there was no happy end for Miṣirbāy. According to Ibn Iyās, her husband once beat her so badly that she almost died. Then he made her descend from the citadel and she lived in downtown Cairo until she died in autumn of 1522, see Ibn Iyās, Badāʾiʿ: V, pp. 211, 439, 483.

44

Ibn Iyās, Badāʾiʿ: IV, pp. 131, 159. She was later forced to stay in exile after a pilgrimage to Mecca by Sulṭān Qānsūh al-Ġawrī (r. 1501-16) in 1508; she died in Mecca one year later.

45

Johnson, “Royal pilgrims”: pp. 122-3.

46

Ibn Iyās, Badāʾiʿ: IV, p. 81.

47

Johnson, “Royal pilgrims”: p. 124; Ibn Iyās, Badāʾiʿ: IV, p. 409.

48

ʿAbd al-Rāziq, La femme: p. 278.

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 150 0 0
Full Text Views 444 61 9
PDF Views & Downloads 468 88 9