Skip to main content

Empress of the East: How a European Slave Girl Became Queen of the Ottoman Empire by Leslie Peirce: A Book Review

Empress of the East: How a European Slave Girl Became Queen of the Ottoman Empire
Author: Leslie Peirce
Genre: Nonfiction, History, Biography
Publisher: Basic Books
Release Date: September 19, 2017
Pages: 354
Source: This book was given to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: The extraordinary story of the Russian slave girl Roxelana, who rose from concubine to become the only queen of the Ottoman empire.

     In Empress of the East, historian Leslie Peirce tells the remarkable story of a Christian slave girl, Roxelana, who was abducted by slave traders from her Ruthenian homeland and brought to the harem of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent in Istanbul. Suleyman became besotted with her and foreswore all other concubines. Then, in an unprecedented step, he freed her and married her. The bold and canny Roxelana soon became a shrewd diplomat and philanthropist, who helped Suleyman keep pace with a changing world in which women, from Isabella of Hungary to Catherine de Medici, increasingly held the reins of power.

     Until now Roxelana has been seen as a seductress who brought ruin to the empire, but in Empress of the East, Peirce reveals the true history of an elusive figure who transformed the Ottoman harem into an institution of imperial rule.

     My Review: Roxelana is one of history’s most controversial figures. She was an unlikely girl who rose at great odds to become Suleyman’s wife. However, Roxelana has been known for her ruthlessness and was the cause of many of her rivals’ deaths. However, in Empress of the East, Peirce has contradicted many of the rumors that have circulated about Roxelana for centuries, and she has given us a portrait of the true Ottoman queen.

     Roxelana was a young girl from Ruthenia who was captured by slave traders. She was given as a gift to the Ottoman sultan, Suleyman. Roxelana, with her beauty, intelligence, and vibrant personality, quickly caught Suleyman’s eye. It was not long until she became his favorite. Suleyman broke the the tradition of the Ottoman harem by forswearing all other concubines. Roxelana gave Suleyman six children. Suleyman eventually freed her and married her. As queen, Roxelana became the most powerful woman in the Ottoman empire. She was a politically-adept diplomat and a philanthropist. Many of her philanthropist works would become her lasting legacy.

     Peirce does a great job in portraying Roxelana. Roxelana was a woman that knew how to make the best of her situation. She was determined and ambitious. She could also be jealous and temperamental. Despite these flaws, Peirce emphasizes Roxelana intelligence and her charitable work. She had an interest in the poor and the hungry. She was also very religious in her new faith and built many mosques. Therefore, Peirce brought out a balance in Roxelana’s character between the questionable and the positives.

     Overall, this was a fascinating biography of Roxelana. Roxelana’s story is very intriguing, and her rise to be empress was eye-opening. Empress of the East made for compelling reading, and it gave me a deep understanding of the Ottoman empire. Roxelana’s contemporaries were Isabella of Hungary, Catherine de Medici, and Elizabeth I. It is sad that she is often overlooked during a time of great queens. I recommend Empress of the East, not only to people interested in the Ottoman Empire or the Renaissance, but also to people who admire these other women as well. Roxelana has been maligned by her contemporaries. Hopefully, by reading Empress of the East, we can see her in a more positive light.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars 


Popular posts from this blog

The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post by Allison Pataki: A Book Review

The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post Author: Allison Pataki Genre: Historical Fiction Publisher: Ballantine Release Date: February 15, 2022 Pages: 381 Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review. Synopsis: Mrs. Post, the President and First Lady are here to see you. . . . So begins another average evening for Marjorie Merriweather Post. Presidents have come and gone, but she has hosted them all. Growing up in the modest farmlands of Battle Creek, Michigan, Marjorie was inspired by a few simple rules: always think for yourself, never take success for granted, and work hard—even when deemed American royalty, even while covered in imperial diamonds. Marjorie had an insatiable drive to live and love and to give more than she got. From crawling through Moscow warehouses to rescue the Tsar’s treasures to outrunning the Nazis in London, from serving the homeless of the Great Depression to entertaining Roosevelts, Kennedys, and Hollywood’s biggest stars, Marjorie Merriweath

The Seven Sisters (The Seven Sisters #1) by Lucinda Riley: A Book Review

The Seven Sisters (The Seven Sisters #1) Author: Lucinda Riley Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance Publisher: Atria Release Date: 2015 Pages: 463 Source: My State Public Library Synopsis: Maia D’Apliese and her five sisters gather together at their childhood home, “Atlantis”—a fabulous, secluded castle situated on the shores of Lake Geneva—having been told that their beloved father, who adopted them all as babies, has died. Each of them is handed a tantalizing clue to her true heritage—a clue which takes Maia across the world to a crumbling mansion in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Once there, she begins to put together the pieces of her story and its beginnings. Eighty years earlier in Rio’s Belle Epoque of the 1920s, Izabela Bonifacio’s father has aspirations for his daughter to marry into the aristocracy. Meanwhile, architect Heitor da Silva Costa is devising plans for an enormous statue, to be called Christ the Redeemer, and will soon travel to Paris to find the right sculptor to

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn: A Book Review

The Rose Code Author: Kate Quinn Genre: Historical Fiction Publisher: Harper Collins Release Date: 2021 Pages: 635 Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review. Synopsis: 1940, Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire.        Three very different women are recruited to the mysterious Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes.       Vivacious debutante Osla has the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses – but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, working to translate decoded enemy secrets. Self-made Mab masters the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and the poverty of her East-End London upbringing. And shy local girl Beth is the outsider who trains as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts.       1947, London.        Seven years after they first meet, on the eve of the royal wedding between Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, disaster threatens. Osla, Mab and Beth are estranged,