One of the First Great Valide Sultans
Hijri 931-991 (AH); Common Era 1525-1583 (CE)
The product of an illegitimate union between two noble Venetian families, Nurbanu Sultan, née Cecelia Venier-Baffo, was the concubine and later wife of Selim II and the mother of Murad III. Captured in 1537 at the age of twelve, she entered the Ottoman harem and became Selim’s choice to bear his children. Accordingly, she provided him with three daughters and his heir, Murad. She had been the head of his princely harem, and when he became sultan, she became head of the imperial harem. Even after Selim began to take other concubines, she persisted as a favorite for her beauty and intelligence. As mother of the heir-apparent, she acted as an advisor to her husband. After Selim’s death in 1574, Nurbanu concealed Selim’s body in an icebox to cloak his death until Murad could return from where he was posted as governor. Once he returned, Nurbanu along with the grand vizier acted as Murad’s chief advisors. First of a series of women during an era called the “Sultanate of Women,” she corresponded with the regent of France, Catherine de Medici, fostering a relationship between the two courts. Nurbanu commissioned the architect Mimar Sinan to build the Atik Valide Mosque in Istanbul. Her politics, and thus the politics of her son were so pro-Venetian that it caused bad blood between the Empire and the Republic of Genoa. It is suspected that her death in 1583 was the work of a Genoese agent.