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Mahmud II
Oil painting of Sultan Mahmud II, 19th century
Caliph of Islam
Sultan of the Ottoman Empire
Preceded by Mustafa IV
Succeeded by Abdülmecid I
Personal details
Born (1789-07-20)July 20, 1789
Died 1 July 1839(1839-07-01) (aged 49)
Spouse(s) Nevfidan Kadınefendi
Fatma Kadınefendi
Alicenab Kadınefendi
Mislinayab Kadınefendi
Ebrireftar Kadınefendi
Vuzlat Kadınefendi
Zernigar Kadınefendi
Bezmiâlem Sultan
Aşubican Kadınefendi
Haciye Hoşyar Kadınefendi
Nurtab Kadınefendi
Pervizifelek Kadınefendi
Lebrizifelek Hanımefendi
Hüsnimelek Hanımefendi
Zeyinifelek Hanımefendi
Tiryal Hanımefendi
Pertevniyal Sultan
Religion Sunni Islam

Mahmud II (Ottoman Turkish: محمود ثانى Mahmud-u sānī, محمود عدلى Mahmud-u Âdlî) (Turkish language: II. Mahmud) (20 July 1789 – 1 July 1839) was the 30th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1808 until his death in 1839. He was born in the Topkapi Palace, Constantinople,[1] the posthumous son of Sultan Abdulhamid I. His reign is notable mostly for the extensive administrative, military and fiscal reforms he instituted, which culminated into the Decree of Tanzimat (Reorganization) that was carried out by his sons Abdülmecid I and Abdülaziz I. In 1826 he abolished the Janissary corps of 135,000 men and executed thousands of its leaders, thereby removing a major obstacle to army reform.


His mother was Valide Sultan Naksh-i-Dil Haseki (who according to legend was a cousin of Joséphine de Beauharnais, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte).[2] In 1808, Mahmud II's predecessor, and half-brother, Mustafa IV ordered his execution along with his cousin, the deposed Sultan Selim III, in order to defuse the 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, Alemdar Mustafa Pasha, later became Mahmud II's vizier. Western Historians give Mahmud a bad reputation for simply being the Sultan during a time of deterioration of the Ottoman Empire.[3] 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 Mustafa 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.[4]

Reign overview

The vizier took the initiative in resuming reforms that had been terminated by the conservative of 1807 that had brought Mustafa IV to power. However he was killed during a rebellion in 1808 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 governor of Egypt 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.

The stylized signature of Mahmud II was written in an expressive calligraphy.

Among Mahmud II's most notable acts during his reign was the abolition of the Janissary corps in 1826, permitting the establishment of a European-style conscript army, recruited largely from Turkish speakers of Rumelia and Asia Minor. Mahmud was also responsible for the subjugation of the Iraqi Mamluks by Ali Ridha Pasha in 1831. He ordered the execution of the renowned Ali Pasha of Tepelena. He sent his Grand Vizier to execute the Bosniak hero Husein Gradaščević and dissolute the Bosnia Eyalet.

He began preparations for the Tanzimat reforms in 1839 which included introducing a Council of Ministers or the Meclis-i Vukela.[5]:49 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 was concerned also for aspects of tradition. He made great efforts to revive the sport of archery. He ordered archery master 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.[6]

Mahmud II died of tuberculosis - some say he was 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.


Mahmud II before his clothing reform in 1826.

Legal reforms

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 Kazasker (chief military judge) 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.

Mahmudiye (1829), built by the Imperial Naval Arsenal on the Golden Horn in Constantinople, was for many years the largest warship in the world. The 201 x 56 kadem (1 kadem = 37.887 cm) or 76.15 m × 21.22 m (249.8 ft × 69.6 ft) ship of the line was armed with 128 cannons on 3 decks and carried 1,280 sailors on board (kadem, which translates as "foot", is often misinterpreted as equivalent in length to one imperial foot, hence the wrongly converted dimensions of "201 x 56 ft, or 62 x 17 m" in some sources.) She participated in numerous important naval battles, including the Siege of Sevastopol (1854–1855) during the Crimean War.

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

Sultan Mahmud II of the Ottoman Empire.

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.

One of his most notable achievement was the abolition (through use of military force, execution and exile, and banning of the Bektashi order) of the Janissary Corps, event known as The Auspicious Incident, in 1826 and the establishment of a modern Ottoman Army, named the Asakir-i Mansure-i Muhammediye (meaning 'Victorious Soldiers of Muhammad' in Ottoman Turkish).

Mahmud II after his clothing reform in 1826.

Following the loss of Greece after the Battle of Navarino against the combined British-French-Russian flotilla 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 world's largest warship for many years, the 201 x 56 kadem (1 kadem = 37.887 cm) or 76.15 m × 21.22 m (249.8 ft × 69.6 ft) ship of the line Mahmudiye, which had 128 cannons on 3 decks and carried 1,280 sailors on board, was built for the Ottoman Navy at the Imperial Naval Arsenal (Tersâne-i Âmire) on the Golden Horn in Constantinople (kadem, which translates as "foot", is often misinterpreted as equivalent in length to one imperial foot, hence the wrongly converted dimensions of "201 x 56 ft, or 62 x 17 m" in some sources.)

The mausoleum of Sultan Mahmud II during the period of 1860–1890.

Marriages and issue


  • 1822, Bezmiâlem Valide Sultan [7]
  • 1829, Pertevniyal Valide Sultan [8]
  • Fatma Kadınefendi (died February 1809)
  • Alicenab Kadınefendi (died 1839)
  • 1808, Haciye Pertev Piyale Nevfidan Kadınefendi (4 January 1793 - 25 December 1855)
  • Mislinayab Kadınefendi (died 1825)
  • Ebrireftar Kadınefendi (died 1825)
  • Zernigar Kadınefendi (died 1832)
  • 1808, Aşubican Kadınefendi (1793 - 10 June 1870)
  • Vuzlat Kadınefendi (died 1830)
  • Nurtab Kadınefendi (1810 - 2 January 1886)
  • 1811, Haciye Hoşyar Kadınefendi (died at Mecca, 1859)
  • Pervizifelek Kadınefendi (died 21 September 1863)
  • Hüsnimelek Hanımefendi (1812 - October 1886)
  • Zeyinifelek Hanımefendi (died 20 December 1842)
  • Lebrizifelek Hanımefendi (1810 - 9 February 1865)
  • 1826, Tiryal Hanımefendi (1810 - 1883)

The mausoleum (türbe) of Sultan Mahmud II, located at Divan Yolu street at Çemberlitaş in Eminönü, İstanbul.


Internal view of the mausoleum of Sultan Mahmud II.

Exterior view of the türbe of Sultan Mahmud II.

  • Şultan Abdülmecid I [9]
  • Sultan Abdülaziz I [10]
  • Şehzade Abdülhamid (6 April 1811 - 1815)
  • Şehzade Murad (25 December 1811 - 14 July 1812)
  • Şehzade Bayezid (27 March 1812 - 25 June 1812)
  • Şehzade Abdülhamid (6 March 1813 - 20 April 1825)
  • Şehzade Osman (12 June 1813 - 10 April 1814)
  • Şehzade Ahmed (25 July 1814 - 16 July 1815)
  • Şehzade Mehmed (26 August 1814 - 28 October 1814)
  • Şehzade Mehmed (died 4 August 1816)
  • Şehzade Suleiman (29 August 1817 - 14 December 1819)
  • Şehzade Ahmed (13 October 1819 - before 24 December 1819)
  • Şehzade Ahmed (born 25 December 1819)
  • Şehzade Abdullah (died 4 April 1820)
  • Şehzade Mahmud (18 February 1822 - 23 October 1822)
  • Şehzade Mehmed (18 February 1822 - 23 September 1822)
  • Şehzade Ahmed (6 July 1822 - 9 April 1823)
  • Şehzade Ahmed (5 December 1823 - 1824).
  • Şehzade Abdülhamid (18 February 1827 - 15 November 1828)
  • Şehzade Nizameddin (6 December 1835 - 24 February 1838)
  • Şehzade Hafiz (1836 - 24 January 1839)
  • Şehzade Kemalüddin (1813 - 1814)


  • Fatma Sultan (4 February 1809 - 5 August 1809)
  • Ayshe Sultan (5 July 1809 - February 1810)
  • Fatma Sultana (30 April 1810 - 7 May 1825)
  • Saliha Sultana (16 June 1811 - 5 February 1843)
  • Şah Sultana (22 May 1812 - September 1814).
  • Mihrimah Sultan (10 June 1812 - 3 July 1838)
  • Emine Sultan (12 June 1813 - 20 June 1814)
  • Emine Sultan (born 30 July 1814)
  • Şah Sultan (14 October 1814 - 13 April 1817).
  • Emine Sultan (7 January 1815 - 29 September 1816)
  • Zeynep Sultan (18 April 1815 - 8 January 1816)
  • Hamide Sultan (14 July 1817 - before 1818)
  • Cemile Sultan (born 1818)
  • Hamide Sultan (4 July 1818 - 15 February 1819)
  • Atiye Sultan (2 January 1824 - 11 August 1850)
  • Munire Sultan (16 October 1824 - 23 May 1825)
  • Hadice Sultan (6 September 1825 - 19 December 1842)
  • Adile Sultan (23 May 1826 - 12 February 1899)
  • Hayria Sultan (22 March 1831 - 1832)
  • Hayria Sultan (12 January 1832 - 15 February 1833)
  • Refia Sultan (January 1836 - 24 January 1839)

In fiction

The 2006 historical detective novel The Janissary Tree, by Jason Goodwin, is set in 1836 Constantinople, 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.

The 1989 film Intimate Power, also known as The Favorite, is adapted from an historical fiction novel by Prince Michael of Greece. It portrays a legend about Aimée du Buc de Rivéry as a young captured French girl who, after spending years in an Ottoman harem, outlives two Sultans and protects Mahmud as his surrogate mother. Mahmud is a minor role in the film but is portrayed as both an adult and a child. The film concludes with a variation of his dramatic succession.

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. A history of the Modern Middle East Cleveland and Burton p. 71.
  4. Davis, Claire (1970). The Palace of Topkapi in Istanbul. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 214–217. ASIN B000NP64Z2. 
  5. Shaw, Stanford J.; Shaw, Ezel Kural (1977). History of the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey Shaw. 2. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521291668. 
  6. 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.
  7. Madeline Zilfi, Women and Slavery in the Late Ottoman Empire: The Design of Difference, (Cambridge University Press, 2010), 227.
  8. The Concubine, the Princess, and the Teacher: Voices from the Ottoman Harem, transl. Douglas Scott Brookes, (University of Texas Press, 2008), 288.
  9. Madeline Zilfi, Women and Slavery in the Late Ottoman Empire: The Design of Difference, 227.
  10. The Concubine, the Princess, and the Teacher: Voices from the Ottoman Harem, transl. Douglas Scott Brookes, 288.
  • Incorporates text from Edward Shepherd Creasy, History of the Ottoman Turks; From the beginning of their empire to the present time (1878).

Further reading

  • Levy, Avigdor. "The Officer Corps in Sultan Mahmud II's New Ottoman Army, 1826–39." International Journal of Middle East Studies (1971) 2#1 pp: 21–39. online
  • Levy, Avigdor. "The Ottoman Ulema and the military reforms of Sultan Mahmud II." Asian and African Studies 7 (1971): 13–39.
  • Levy, Avigdor. "The Ottoman Corps in Sultan Mahmud II New Ottoman Army." International Journal of Middle East Studies 1 (1971): pp 39+
  • Palmer, Alan. The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire (1992) ch 6

External links

Mahmud II
House of Osman
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
Abdülmecid I
Sunni Islam titles
Preceded by
Mustafa IV
Caliph of Islam
Nov 15, 1808 – Jul 1, 1839
Succeeded by
Abdülmecid I

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