Abducted by slave traders from her home in Ruthenia – modern-day Ukraine – around 1515, Roxelana was brought to Istanbul and trained in the palace harem as a concubine for Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, ruler of the Ottoman Empire and one of the world’s most powerful men.
Suleyman became besotted with Roxelana and foreswore all other concubines, freeing and marrying her. The bold and canny Roxelana became a shrewd diplomat and philanthropist, helping Suleyman keep pace with a changing world in which women – Isabella of Hungary, Catherine de Medici – were increasingly close to power.
Until now Roxelana has been seen by historians as a seductress who brought ruin to the empire, but in Empress of the East, acclaimed historian Leslie Peirce reveals with panache the compelling story of an elusive woman who transformed the Ottoman harem into an institution of imperial rule.
‘A riveting story of power, patronage and harem politics in sixteenth-century Istanbul’ -- Sarah Gristwood, author of Game of Queens
‘A brilliantly researched account of the life and times of Roxelana, the extraordinary 16th-century Ottoman slave girl who triumphed against all odds to become a queen. Played out against a complex tapestry of exotic court life, rivalry, and passion, Leslie Peirce expertly sifts through the historical record, separating myth from reality to reveal the undeniable significance of this exceptional woman.’-- Nancy Goldstone, author of Daughters of the Winter Queen: Four Remarkable Sisters, the Crown of Bohemia, and the Enduring Legacy of Mary, Queen of Scots
‘Engaging...Peirce persuasively recasts Roxelana as a pragmatist adept at navigating both palace politics and international relations, and as a pioneer who established a more powerful role for Ottoman women.’-- The New Yorker
‘Leslie Peirce’s erudition and long dedication to the study of Ottoman society and the imperial harem have yielded an engrossing and wonderfully readable portrait of Roxelana, embedded in the lives of her contemporaries and the tumult of her times. Peirce’s scholarly authority allows for a deftly crafted narrative: a lively, sympathetic and cautiously imaginative vision of the family at the centre of the 16th-century Ottoman world, grounded in deep social history.’-- Marilyn Booth, Khalid bin Abdullah Al Saud Professor for the Study of the Contemporary Arab World, University of Oxford
‘The fascinating story of one remarkable harem slave, who broke through [the] rocky ceiling, claiming unprecedented authority for women and forever changing the nature of the Ottoman government ... This lively book resurrects Roxelana.’