Aimée du Buc de Rivery ( Empress Josephine's cousin), was still a child when she found herself in the hands of pirates while en route from France to her home in Martinique. The genteel young girl was a valuable commodity, and she was soon placed in service in the harem at Topkapi Palace—the Ottoman emperor’s private world...There, at Topkapi Palace, she became the wife of one Turkish sultan and the mother of another. Her rise from lowly slave to valide sultan and her influence over her son, Sultan Mahmud II, one of the great reformers of the Ottoman Empire who turned Turkey toward the West, have intrigued generations of writers and scholars.

Yet the story has always been controversial. Was Aimée, in fact, the same person as the harem woman called Nakshidil? If so, when did she arrive in Istanbul, what was her relationship with Selim, and was she the real mother of Mahmud?  Llittle specific information exists about Aimée/Nakshidil or, for that matter, any of the women in the Ottoman sultans’ harems. No journals or diaries were permitted inside the imperial harems, no contact was allowed with the world outside; the women’s pasts were deliberately erased, their futures defined by their rulers.

It was Father Chrysostome, the Jesuit priest, who told of the last rites given to Nakshidil on her deathbed. That the sultan’s mother was born a Christian was not unusual; it was her wish to die as a Christian, and her son’s acceptance of it, that set her apart. It was harder to prove that she was the missing daughter of the Martinique plantation family du Buc de Rivery, yet many students of Turkish history believe it to be true. And when Sultan Abdul Aziz journeyed to France in 1867, he was greeted with great enthusiasm by Napoleon III, who told the press that their grandmothers were related. What’s more, the sultan brought with him a miniature of Nakshidil that had a likeness to an earlier portrait of Aimée. And while in France, Abdul Aziz sent out word that he was looking for members of Nakshidil’s family.

From the 'Journal de France', July 10, 1867

Sultan Abdul Aziz arrived in Paris this week for a state visit. As the first Ottoman emperor to visit France, he was given a warm welcome by the government, which provided him with a huge suite at the Elysée Palace and a staff to assist his own vast retinue of servants. Among the sultan’s wishes were hardboiled eggs at breakfast, napoleon pastries at lunch, chocolates in the evening, and private performances in his suite by the girls from the Folies Bergères. When asked why he had invited Sultan Abdul Azis to Paris, Emperor Louis Napoleon replied he was most curious to meet Sultan Abdul Azis because “we are related through our grandmothers.”

For more reading on Nakshidil, go see a book review of Janet Wallach's "Seraglio"
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