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Royal French Women in the Ottoman Sultans' Harem: The Political Uses of Fabricated Accounts from the Sixteenth to the Twenty-first Century

From: Journal of World History
Volume 17, Number 2, June 2006
pp. 159-196 | 10.1353/jwh.2006.0038


The Ottoman sultans' harem has provided fertile ground for the invention of tales that have been incorporated into the historical tradition. The purported presence of royal French women in the harem has been used for political purposes since the sixteenth century. These tales fall into two groups: myths about a fictional fifteenth-century French princess and fantasies concerning Nakshidil, a nineteenth-century valide sultan who some authors claim was a relative of Napoleon's wife Josephine. The earlier myths explained the alliance between the Ottoman sultan and the king of France. Fables about Nakshidil have come to symbolize the oppression of women by Islam.