Mahidevran's name (Turkish pronunciation: [ˌmaːhidevˈɾan], Ottoman Turkish: ماه دوران) means "one who is always beautiful", "one whose beauty never fades" or "beauty of the times". Another meaning of her name is "Moon of Fortune." Some sources name her Gülbahar (Turkish pronunciation: [ɟylbaˈhaɾ]), with gül meaning 'rose' and bahar meaning 'spring' in Turkish and Persian.
She is often referred to as "Mahidevran Sultan" in popular history books, TV series and touristic literature, and also by some historians. However she is mostly referred to as "Mahidevran Kadin" by popular authors and historians. Some historians have referred to her as "Mahidevran Hatun". According to Leslie P. Peirce, prior to the creation of the title Haseki Sultan for Hürrem Sultan, all the Ottoman consorts carried an alternative royal title, "Hatun". Also according to Peirce, during the 16th century (Suleiman's reign), the title Hatun for a Valide (mother of the Sultan) and the Sultan's favorite or chief consorts changed to Sultan (referred to as Sultana in western literature to distinguish between male and female). Hence it is possible that Mahidevran also carried the title Sultan.
Though Mahidevran may not have been a Haseki, she was the mother of Şehzade Mustafa, the eldest surviving son of the reigning Sultan and the most potential heir to the throne. Hence it can be asserted that she held an influential position in Suleiman's harem: according to Ottoman traditions, she was Suleiman's Baş Kadin (chief consort). As a Baş Kadin, she was second in ranking in the Harem after Valide sultan. However, she was supplanted as a favourite by Hürrem Sultan, when Suleiman stopped paying attention to Mahidevran and dedicated his full affection towards Hürrem in 1526. While Hürrem became Suleiman's new favorite and later his legal wife, Mahidevran retained the status of the mother of Suleiman's eldest son, and was considered the first wife.
Little is known of Mahidevran's early life. Her ethnic background is a matter of controversy. She was either an Albanian or Circassian. Theories of her origins are:According to some contemporary Venetian sources, she was of Circassian origin.The name of Mahidevran's father, given in contemporary documents as Abdullah, Abdürrahman or Abdülmennan, suggests she was a Muslim convert slave of an unknown origin.By some other (unidentified) accounts, she was of "Montenegrin origin".According to Nicolae Iorga, she was from Montenegro
She was listed among the seventeen women of the harem of Suleiman while he was governor of Manisa; she did not belong at this time to the first ranked consorts, as she earned 4 aspers a day along with two other concubines, while three others earned 5 aspers. Mahidevran became Sultan's favourite (possibly at age 15, when Mustafa was born in 1515 while they were in Manisa). She possibly bore her husband another son, Şehzade Abdullah.
When Selim I died in 1520, Suleiman moved to Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, along with his family to ascend the throne. In 1521, Suleiman lost his two other sons, nine-year-old Mahmud and the toddler Murad, Mustafa became the eldest of his princely generation. Mahidevran became Suleiman's Baş Kadin (a rank equivalent to main consort before the invention of the royal title Haseki Sultan for Hürrem Sultan). In the Istanbul harem, Mahidevran had a very influential rival, Hürrem Sultan (also known as Roxelana in Europe), who soon proved to be Suleiman's favourite.
Hürrem gave birth to her first son Mehmed in 1521 and then Selim (future Sultan Selim II) in 1524, destroying Mahidevran's status of being the mother of the Sultan's only son. The rivalry between the two women was partially suppressed by Hafsa, Suleiman's mother. According to Navagero's report, as a result of the bitter rivalry a fight between the two women broke out, with Mahidevran beating Hürrem, which angered Suleiman. According to Necdet Sakaoğlu, a Turkish historian, Turkish and foreign writers have written fictitious novels with dramatic scenes using Hürrem, Mahidevran, Gülfem and Hafsa Sultan, but these do not reflect the truth. Mahidevran left lstanbul with her son Mustafa due to his appointment as governor of Manisa subdivision and upon his death in 1553 she went into refuge in Bursa, where she eventually died.
The contention that Hürrem fought with Gülfem is rather dubious. On the contrary, Hürrem never left the palace with any of her sons. The rumor that Hürrem used witch-crafted to bewitch Suleiman is untrue and fictitious. Hürrem had underage princes who were not to leave the Imperial palace until they reached the age of 16. The youngest of Suleiman's princes, Şehzade Cihangir, was sick from birth. This required Hürrem to stay in the palace while her sons were sent for Sanjak-bey.
Foreign observers of the Ottomans, especially the ambassadors of the Venetian Republic followed Ottoman dynastic politics closely; their comments about Mahidevran glimpses of the vital role played by a prince's mother and of her necessary devotion to this welfare. Pietro Bragadin, ambassador in the early years of Suleiman's reign, reported that while both were still resident in the imperial palace in Istanbul, Mustafa was his mother's "whole joy".
It was recorded from Bernardo Navagero that Suleiman highly cherished Mahidevran in Topkapi Harem along with Hürrem. But by 1526, he had stopped paying attention to her and devoted his full affection to Hurrem.
In 1533 or 1534 (the exact date is unknown), after Mahidevran's departure to Manisa, Suleiman married Hürrem in a magnificent formal ceremony, replacing Mahidevran as a main consort. However, Mahidevran remained Suleiman's Birinci Kadin (first wife).
According to Turkish tradition, all princes were expected to work as provincial governors (Sanjak-bey) as a part of their training. Mustafa was sent to Manisa in 1533, in the formal ceremony and Mahidevran accompanied him. Describing his court at Kara Amid (Diyarbakır) near the Safavid border, Bassano wrote around 1540 that the prince had "a most wonderful and glorious court, no less than that of his father" and that "his mother, who was with him, instructs him in how to make himself loved by the people." At some point Mustafa returned to Manisa, and in 1542 he moved to Amasya. By 1546 three more of Suleiman's sons were in the field, and the competition for the succession began among the four princes, although the sultan would live for another twenty years. The ambassador Bernado Navagero, in a 1553 report, described Mahidevran's efforts to protect her son: "Mustafa has with him his mother, who exercises great diligence to guard him from poisoning and reminds him everyday that he has nothing else but this to avoid, and it is said that he has boundless respect and reverence for her."
Mustafa was an immensely popular prince. When he was only nine, that Venetian ambassador had reported that "he has extraordinary talent, he will be warrior, is much loved by the Janissaries, and performs great feats." In 1553, when Mustafa was thirty eight years old, Navagero wrote, "It is impossible to describe how much he is loved and desired by all as successor to the throne." The rumours and speculations said that, towards the end of Suleiman's long reign, the rivalry between his sons became evident and furthermore, both Hürrem and the grand vizier Rüstem Pasha turned him against Mustafa and Mustafa was accused of causing unrest. During the campaign against Safavid Persia in 1553, Suleiman ordered the execution of Mustafa on charges of planning to dethrone his father; his guilt for the treason of which he was accused has since been neither proven nor disproven.
Mahidevran was at the head of Mustafa's princely harem, she renovated the mosque founded by Hafsa Sultan at Manisa. She also established waqfs and multiple charitable foundations at both Konya and Amasya.
Up until the very end of her son's life, Mahidevran endeavored to protect Mustafa from his political rivals, and most probably maintained a network of informants in order to do so. The ambassador Trevisano related in 1554 that on the day Mustafa was executed, Mahidevran had sent a messenger warning him of his father's plans to kill him. Mustafa unfortunately ignored the message; according to Trevisano, he had consistently refused to heed the warnings of his friends and even his mother.
For several years after her son's execution, Mahidevran Sultan lived a troubled life. She went to Bursa, where her son was buried and became the last concubine to retire to Bursa. Less fortunate than her predecessors and presumably disgraced by her son's execution, she was unable to pay the rent on the house in which she lived, and her servants were taunted and cheated in the local markets. Mahidevran's situation improved towards the end of Suleiman's reign when her debts were paid at the sultan's order and a house was purchased for her, possibly by Suleiman's sole surviving son, Mustafa's half brother Selim. Financially secure at last, Mahidevran had enough income to create an endowment for the upkeep of her son's tomb.
Her rehabilitation have been possible only after the death in 1558 of her rival, Hürrem. Mahidevran died in 1581 outliving Suleiman and all of his children and was buried in Mustafa's tomb.
In the 2003 TV miniseries, Hürrem Sultan, Mahidevran was played by Turkish actress Hatice Aslan. In the 2011-2014 TV series Muhteşem Yüzyıl, Mahidevran is portrayed by Turkish actress Nur Fettahoğlu.