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Osmanli-nisani.svg    Mahmud II
Ottoman Sultan
Tughra of Mahmud II.JPG
Reign 1808–39
Period Stagnation of the Ottoman Empire
Full Name Mahmud II
Predecessor Mustafa IV
Successor Abdülmecid I
Royal House House of Osman
Dynasty Ottoman Dynasty
Religious beliefs Sunni Islam

Mahmud II (Ottoman Turkish: محمود ثاني Mahmud-ı sānī) (20 July 1785  – 1 July 1839) was the 30th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1808 until his death in 1839. He was born at Topkapi Palace, Constantinople,[1] the son of Sultan Abdul Hamid I. His reign is notable mostly for the extensive legal and military reforms he instituted. His mother was Valide Sultan Naksh-i-Dil Haseki Sultan (there have been speculations that she was a cousin of Napoleon's wife Josephine, but this is now widely regarded as false;[2] see Aimée du Buc de Rivéry).



In 1808, Mahmud II's predecessor (and half-brother) Mustafa IV (1807–08) ordered his execution along with his cousin, the deposed Sultan Selim III (1789–1807), in order to defuse a rebellion. Selim III was killed, but Mahmud was safely kept hidden by his mother and was placed on the throne after the rebels deposed Mustafa IV. The leader of this rebellion, Mustafa Bayrakdar, then became Mahmud II's vizier.

There are many stories surrounding the circumstances of his attempted murder. A version by the 19th century Ottoman historian Cevdet Pasha gives the following account: one of his slaves, a Georgian girl named Cevri, gathered ashes when she heard the commotion in the palace surrounding the murder of Selim III. When the assassins approached the Harem chambers where Mahmud was staying, she was able to keep them away for a while by throwing ashes into their faces, temporary blinding them. This allowed Mahmud to escape through a window and climb onto the roof of the Harem. He apparently ran to the roof of the Third Court where other pages saw him and helped him come down with pieces of clothes that were quickly tied together as a ladder. By this time one of the leaders of the rebellion, Alemdar Pasha arrived with his armed men and upon seeing the dead body of Selim III proclaimed Mahmud as padishah. The slave girl Cevri Kalfa was awarded for her bravery and loyalty and appointed haznedar usta, the chief treasurer of the imperial Harem, which was the second most important position in the hierarchy. A plain stone staircase at the Altınyol (Golden Way) of the Harem is called Staircase of Cevri (Jevri) Kalfa, since the events apparently happened around there and are associated with her.[3]

Reign overview

The stylized signature of Mahmud II was written in an expressive calligraphy. It reads Mahmud Khan son of Abdülhamid is forever victorious.

The vizier took the initiative in resuming reforms that had been terminated by the conservative coup of 1807 that had brought Mustafa IV to power. However, soon the vizier was killed by Ibrahim's army, and Mahmud II temporarily abandoned the reforms. Mahmud II's later reformation efforts were more successful.

During the early years of Mahmud II's reign, his Egyptian viceroy Mehmet Ali Paşa successfully reconquered the holy cities of Medina (1812) and Mecca (1813) from the Nejdi rebels.

His reign also marked the first breakaway from the Ottoman Empire, with Greece gaining its independence following a rebellion that started in 1821. In 1827 the combined British, French and Russian navies defeated the Ottoman Navy at the Battle of Navarino; in the aftermath, the Ottoman Empire was forced to recognize Greece with the Treaty of Constantinople in July 1832. This event, together with the occupation of the Ottoman province of Algeria by France in 1830, marked the beginning of the gradual break-up of the Ottoman Empire. Non-Turkish ethnic groups living in the empire's territories, especially in Europe, started their own independence movements.

Among Mahmud II's most notable acts during his reign was, the Janissary corps was abolished in 1826, permitting the establishment of a Turkish dominated Ottoman Army; Mahmud was also responsible for the subjugation of the Iraqi Mamluks in 1831 and the preparation of the Tanzimat reforms in 1839. The Tanzimat marked the beginning of modernization in Turkey, and had immediate effects on social and legal aspects of life in the Empire, such as European style clothing, architecture, legislation, institutional organization and land reform. He is responsible for the destruction of Elite Muslim Military Orders.

He was concerned also for aspects of tradition. He made great efforts to revive the sport of archery. He also ordered his archery student, Mustafa Kani, to write a book about the history, construction, and use of Turkish bows, from which comes most of what is now known of Turkish bowyery.[4]

Mahmud II died of tuberculosis - some say murdered - at the Esma Sultana Palace, Çamlıca, in 1839. His funeral was attended by crowds of people who came to bid the Sultan farewell. His son Abdülmecid succeeded him.


Marriages and issue

He married firstly an unknown wife and had:

  • HIH Prince Şehzade Suleiman Efendi (1818 - 1819)

He married secondly HH Valide Sultan Bezmiâlem, originally named Suzi (1807 - 1852), a Russian Jew, and had:

He married thirdly an unknown wife and had:

  • HIH Prince Şehzade Kemaluddin Efendi, unmarried and without issue

He married fourthly HH Valide Sultan Pertevniyal, originally named Bezime (1812 - 1883),[5][6] and had:

The name of his fourth wife is also spelled as "Partav-Nihal".[7] By 1868, Pertevniyal was settled in the Dolmabahçe Palace. That year Abdülaziz led the visiting Empress Eugénie of France to see his mother. Pertevniyal perceived the presence of a foreign woman within her quarters of the seraglio as an insult. She reportedly slapped Eugenie across the face, almost resulting in an international incident.[8] The Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Mosque was built under the patronage of his mother. The construction work began in November 1869 and the mosque was finished in 1871.[9]


Legal reforms

Mahmud II after his clothing reform

Among his reforms are the edicts (or firmans), by which he closed the Court of Confiscations, and took away much of the power of the Pashas.

Previous to the first of the Firmans the property of all persons banished or condemned to death was forfeited to the crown; and a sordid motive for acts of cruelty was thus kept in perpetual operation, besides the encouragement of a host of vile Delators.

The second firman removed the ancient rights of Turkish governors to doom men to instant death by their will; the Paşas, the Ağas, and other officers, were enjoined that "they should not presume to inflict, themselves, the punishment of death on any man, whether Raya or Turk, unless authorized by a legal sentence pronounced by the Kadi, and regularly signed by the judge." Mahmud also created an appeal system by a criminal to one of the Kazaskers of Asia or Europe, and finally to the Sultan himself, if the criminal chose to persist in his appeal.

About the same time that Mahmud II ordained these changes, he personally set an example of reform by regularly attending the Divan, or state council, instead of secluding himself from the labors of state. The practice of the Sultan avoiding the Divan had been introduced as long ago as the reign of Suleiman I, and was considered as one of the causes of the decline of the Empire by a Turkish historian nearly two centuries before Mahmud II's time.

Mahmud II also addressed some of the worst abuses connected with the Vakifs, by placing their revenues under state administration. However, he did not venture to apply this vast mass of property to the general purposes of the government.

In his time the financial situation of the Empire was troubling, and certain social classes had long been under oppression under difficult taxes. In dealing with the complicated questions that therefore arose, Mahmud II is considered to have demonstrated the best spirit of the best of the Köprülüs. A Firman of February 22, 1834 abolished the vexatious charges which public functionaries, when traversing the provinces, had long been accustomed to take from the inhabitants. By the same edict all collection of money, except for the two regular half-yearly periods, was denounced as abuses. "No one is ignorant," said Sultan Mahmud II in this document, "that I am bound to afford support to all my subjects against vexatious proceedings; to endeavour unceasingly to lighten, instead of increasing their burdens, and to ensure peace and tranquility. Therefore, those acts of oppression are at once contrary to the will of God, and to my imperial orders."

The haraç, or capitation-tax, though moderate and exempting those who paid it from military service, had long been made an engine of gross tyranny through the insolence and misconduct of the government collectors. The Firman of 1834 abolished the old mode of levying it, and ordained that it should be raised by a commission composed of the Kadı, the Muslim governors, and the Ayans, or municipal chiefs of Rayas in each district. Many other financial improvements were effected. By another important series of measures, the administrative government was simplified and strengthened, and a large number of sinecure offices were abolished. Sultan Mahmud II provided a valuable personal example of good sense, and economy, organising the imperial household, suppressing all titles without duties, and all salaried officials without functions.

Military reforms

Mahmudiye (1829), ordered by the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II and built by the Imperial Naval Arsenal on the Golden Horn in Constantinople, was for many years the largest warship in the world. The 62x17x7m ship-of-the-line was armed with 128 cannons on 3 decks. She participated in many important naval battles, including the Siege of Sevastopol (1854-1855) during the Crimean War (1854-1856). She was decommissioned in 1875.

Mahmud II dealt effectively with the military fiefs, the "Tımar"s and the "Ziamet"s. These had been instituted to furnish the old effective military force, but had long ceased to serve this purpose. By attaching them to the public domains, Mahmud II materially strengthened the resources of the state, and put an end to a host of corruptions. One of the most resolute acts of his ruling was the suppression of the Dere Beys, the hereditary local chiefs (with power to nominate their successors in default of male heirs), which, in one of the worst abuses of the Ottoman feudal system, had made themselves petty princes in almost every province of the empire.

The reduction of these insubordinate feudatories was not effected at once, or without severe struggles and frequent insurrections. Mahmud II steadily persevered in this great measure and ultimately the island of Cyprus became the only part of empire in which power not emanating from the Sultan was allowed to be retained by Dere Beys.

His most notable achievement was the abolition of the Janissary corps in 1826 and the establishment of a modern Ottoman Army, named the Nizam-ı Cedid (meaning New Order in Ottoman Turkish).

Following the loss of the Ottoman Vilayet of Greece after the Battle of Navarino against the combined British-French-Russian fleets in 1827, Mahmud II gave top priority to rebuilding a strong Ottoman naval force. The first steam ships of the Ottoman Navy were acquired in 1828. In 1829 the 62x17x7 m ship of the line Mahmudiye, the world's largest warship for many years, which was armed with 128 cannons on 3 decks, was built by the Imperial Naval Arsenal on the Golden Horn in Constantinople.

In Fiction

The 2006 historical detective novel, "The Janissary Tree" by Jason Goodwin is set in 1836 Istanbul, with Mahmud II's modernising reforms (and conservative opposition to them) forming the background of the plot. The Sultan himself and his mother appear in several scenes.

See also


  1. ^ Finkel, Caroline, Osman's Dream, (Basic Books, 2005), 57; "Istanbul was only adopted as the city's official name in 1930..".
  2. ^ Christine Isom-Verhaaren, "Royal French Women in the Ottoman Sultans' Harem: The Political Uses of Fabricated Accounts from the Sixteenth to the Twenty-first Century", Journal of World History, vol. 17, No. 2, 2006
  3. ^ Davis, Claire (1970). The Palace of Topkapi in Istanbul. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 214–217. ASIN B000NP64Z2. 
  4. ^ Paul E Klopsteg. Turkish Archery and the Composite Bow. Chapter I, Background of Turkish Archery. Second edition, revised, 1947, published by the author, 2424 Lincolnwood Drive, Evanston, Ill.
  5. ^ His profile in the Ottoman Web Site
  6. ^ Daniel T. Rogers, "All my relatives: Valide Sultana Partav-Nihal"
  7. ^ Daniel T. Rogers, "All my relatives: Valide Sultana Partav-Nihal"
  8. ^ "Women in Power" 1840-1870, entry: "1861-76 Pertevniyal Valide Sultan of The Ottoman Empire"
  9. ^ "Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Mosque Complex". Discover Islamic Art.;ISL;tr;Mon01;30;en. Retrieved 2008-01-26. 
  • Incorporates text from "History of Ottoman Turks" (1878)

External links

Mahmud II
Born: July 20, 1785 Died: July 1, 1839
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Mustafa IV
Sultan of the Ottoman Empire
Nov 15, 1808 - Jul 1, 1839
Succeeded by
Abdulmecid I
Sunni Islam titles
Preceded by
Mustafa IV
Caliph of Islam
Nov 15, 1808 - Jul 1, 1839
Succeeded by
Abdulmecid I

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

MAHMUD II. (1785-1839), sultan of Turkey, was the son of Abu-ul-Hamid I., and succeeded his brother, Mustafa IV., in 1808. He had shared the captivity of his ill-fated cousin, the ex-sultan, Selim III., whose efforts at reform had ended in his deposition by the janissaries. Mahmud was thus early impressed with the necessity for dissembling his intention to institute reforms until he should be powerful enough to carry them through. The reforming efforts of the grand vizier Bairakdar, to whom he had owed his life and his accession, broke on the opposition of the janissaries; and Mahmud had to wait for more favourable times. Meanwhile the empire seemed in danger of breaking up. Not till 1812 was the war with Russia closed by the treaty of Bucharest, which restored Moldavia and the greater part of Wallachia to the Ottoman government. But though the war was ended, the terms of the treaty left a number of burning questions, both internal and external, unsettled. This was notably the case with the claim of Russia to Poti and the valley of the Rion (Phasis), which was still outstanding at the time of the congress of Vienna (1814-1815) and prevented the question of a European guarantee of the integrity of Turkey from being considered.

Meanwhile, within the empire, ambitious valis were one by one attempting to carve out dominions for themselves at the expense of the central power. The ambitions of Mehemet Ali of Egypt were not yet fully revealed; but Ali of Jannina, who had marched to the aid of the sultan against the rebellious pasha Pasvan Oglu of Widdin, soon began to show his hand, and it needed the concentration of all the forces of the Turkish empire to effect his overthrow and death (1822). The preoccupation of the sultan with Ali gave their opportunity to the Greeks whose disaffection had long been organized in the great secret society of the Hetaeria Philike, against which Metternich had in vain warned the Ottoman government. In 1821 occurred the abortive raid of Alexander Ypsilanti into the Danubian principalities, and in May of the same year the revolt of the Greeks of the Morea began the war of Greek Independence (see Greece: History). The rising in the north was easily crushed; but in the south the Ottoman power was hampered by the defection of the sea-faring Greeks, by whom the Turkish navy had hitherto been manned. After three abortive campaigns Mahmud was compelled, infinitely against his will, to summon to his assistance the already too powerful pasha of Egypt, Mehemet Ali, whom he had already employed to suppress the rebellious Wahhabis in Arabia. The disciplined Egyptian army, supported by a well organized fleet, rapidly accomplished what the Turks had failed to do; and by 1826 the Greeks were practically subdued on land, and Ibrahim was preparing to turn his attention to the islands. But for the intervention of the powers and the battle of Navarino Mahmud's authority would have been restored in Greece. The news of Navarino betrayed Mahmud into one of those paroxysms of rage to which he was liable, and which on critical occasions were apt fatally to cloud his usual good sense. After in vain attempting to obtain an apology for " the unparalleled outrage against a friendly power " he issued on the 10th of December a solemn hatti sheriff summoning the faithful to a holy war. This, together with certain outstanding grievances and the pretext of enforcing the settlement of the Greek Question approved by the powers, gave Russia the excuse for declaring war against Turkey. After two hardly fought campaigns (1828, 1829) Mahmud was at length, on the 14th of September 1829, compelled to sign the peace of Adrianople. From this moment until his death Mahmud was, to all intents and purposes, the " vassal of Russia," though not without occasional desperate efforts to break his chains. (For the political events of the period between the first revolt of Mehemet Ali (Sept. 1832) and the death of Mahmud see Mehemet Alt.) The personal attitude of the sultan, which alone concerns us here, was determined throughout by his overmastering hatred of the upstart pasha, of whom he had stooped to ask aid, and who now defied his will; and the importance of this attitude lies in the fact that, as the result of the success of his centralizing policy, and notably of the destruction of the janissaries (q.v.), the supreme authority, hitherto limited by the practical power of the ministers of the Porte and by the turbulence of the privileged military caste, had become concentrated in his own person. It was no longer the Porte that decided, but the Seraglio, and the sultan's private secretary had more ififluence on the policy of the Ottoman empire than the grand vizier.

This omnipotence of the sultan in deciding the policy of the government was in striking contrast with his impotence in enforcing his views on his subjects and in his relations with foreign powers. Mahmud, in spite of - or rather because of - his well-meant efforts at reform, was hated by his Mussulman subjects and stigmatized as an " infidel " and a traitor to Islam. He was, in fact, a victim to those " halfmeasures " which Machiavelli condemns as fatal to success. Ibrahim, the conqueror of Syria, scoffed at the sultan's idea that reform consisted in putting his soldiers into tight trousers and epaulettes." The criticism is not entirely unjust. Mahmud's policy was the converse of that recommended by Machiavelli, viz. in making a revolution to change the substance while preserving the semblance of the old order. Metternich's advice to Mahmud to " remain a Turk " was :sound enough. His failure to do so - in externals - left him isolated in his empire: rayahs and true believers alike distrusted and hated him. Of this hatred he was fully conscious; he knew that his subjects, even many of his own ministers, regarded Mehemet Ali as the champion of Islam against the " infidel sultan;" he suspected the pasha, already master of the sacred cities, of an intention to proclaim himself caliph in his stead. This, together with the weakness due to military reforms but recently begun, drove him to rely on foreign aid; which, in the actual conditions of Europe, meant the aid of Russia. The long tradition of French friendship for Turkey had been broken, in 1830, by the conquest of Algiers. Austria was, for the time, but the faithful ally of the tsar. On the 9th of August 1832 Mahmud made, through Stratford Canning, a formal proposal for an alliance with Great Britain, which Palmerston refused to consider for fear of offending France. Mahmud bitterly contrasted the fair professions of England with the offers of effective help from Russia. His old ally having deserted him, he accepted the aid of his hereditary foe. The Russian expedition to the Bosporus, the convention of Kutaiah, and the treaty of Unkiar Skelessi (July 8, 1833) followed. Mahmud was under no illusion as to the position in which the latter placed him towards Russia; but his fear of Mehemet Ali and his desire to be revenged upon him outweighed all other considerations. He resented the action of France and England in forcing the settlement of Kutaiah upon him, and remained shut up in his palace, inaccessible to all save his favourites and the representative of Russia. With his single aim in view he busied himself with the creation of a national militia, with the aid of Moltke and other German officers. In 1834 the revolt of Syria against Ibrahim seemed to give him his opportunity. He pleaded the duty of a sultan to go to the aid of his subjects when oppressed by one of his servants; but the powers were obdurate, even Russia, much occupied in affairs nearer home, leaving him in the lurch. He was astute enough to take advantage of the offence given to the powers by Mehemet Ali's system of monopolies, and in 1838 signed with Great Britain, and afterwards with others, a commercial treaty which cut at the root of the pasha's system. A few months later his passionate impatience overcame his policy and his fears. The hand of death was upon him, and he felt that he must strike now or never. In vain the powers, now united in their views, warned him of the probable consequences of any aggressive action on his part. He would rather die, he exclaimed, or become the slave of Russia, than not destroy his rebellious vassal. On his sole initiative, without consulting his ministers or the council of the empire, he sent instructions to Hafiz Pasha, commanding the Ottoman troops concentrated at Bir on the Euphrates, to advance into Syria. The fatal outcome of the campaign that followed he did not live to hear. When the news of Ibrahim's overwhelming victory at Nessib (June 24, 1839) reached Constantinople, Mahmud lay dying and unconscious. Early in the morning of the 1st of July his proud and passionate spirit passed away.

Mahmud II. cannot be reckoned among the great sultans, neither had he any of the calculating statecraft which characterized Abd-ul-Hamid II.; but his qualities of mind and heart, none the less, raised him far above the mass of his predecessors and successors. He was well versed in state affairs and loyal to those who advised and served him, personally brave, humane and kindly when not maddened by passion, active and energetic, and always a man of his word. Unhappily, however, the taint of the immemorial corruption of Byzantium had fallen upon him too, and the avenue to his favour and to political power lay too often through unspeakable paths. In view of the vast difficulty of the task before him at his succession it is less surprising that he failed to carry out his ideas than that he accomplished so much. When he came to the throne the empire was breaking up from within; one by one he freed the provinces from the tyrannical rulers who, like Ali of Jannina, were carving out independent, or quasi-independent, empires within the empire. If he failed in his wider schemes of reform, this was only one more illustration of a truth of which other " enlightened " sovereigns besides himself had experienced the force, namely, that it is impossible to impose any system, however admirable, from above on a people whose deepest convictions and prejudices it offends.

There is a great deal of valuable material for the history of Mahmud and his policy in the unpublished F.O. records (1832-1839), volumes of correspondence marked Turkey. - From Sir Stratford Canning. - From Mr. Mandeville. - From Lord Ponsonby. See further works mentioned under TURKEY: History; and MEHEMET AL I. (W. A. P.)

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Simple English

[[File:|thumb|Mahmud II]] Mahmud II (Ottoman Turkish: محمود ثاني Mahmud-ı sānī) (July 20, 1785July 1, 1839) was the 30th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. He ruled from 1808 until his death. Mahmud was the son of Sultan Abdül Hamid I. His time as sultan is notable mostly for the major legal and military changes he caused.


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