The Historically Incompetent Reign Of Sultan Ibrahim The Mad
History is filled with incapable leaders (the modern world is too, but that’s another story), but it’s hard to find any that are quite as incompetent as Sultan Ibrahim of the Ottoman Empire. Reigning from 1640 until his inevitable execution in 1648, he earned the title Ibrahim the Mad. However, considering the guy spent his entire upbringing in a cage, it’s not really a shock that he wasn’t a good ruler.
Poor Ibrahim grew up without much expected of him. He was the youngest child of Sultan Ahmed I, who died when Ibrahim was just two years old. Because there were eight sons of Ahmed ahead of him in the line of succession, it seemed unlikely that Ibrahim was going to be Sultan.
However, the Ottoman Empire was in a place of almost satirical levels of violence and paranoia. Sultans worried that their brothers and other contenders to the throne were out to get them, and because of this, Ibrahim was confined to the kafes, luxurious prisons, starting when he was two. The experience of growing up in an environment like this likely contributed largely to the “mad” state he is known for. Not only was his development halted by the isolated life, but he also had to deal with the very real fear that his brothers would try to kill him.
The brothers in question murdered each other like it was a game. His brother, Murad IV, ruled as Sultan for 17 years and, during that reign, ordered the executions of four of his brothers. Ibrahim was seemingly not thought of as a threat, likely because he was known for suffering from poor physical and mental health.
All of these executions meant that Ibrahim was legitimately the last guy left to possibly take the throne when Murad IV died in 1640. According to some accounts, though, Murad tried to order Ibrahim’s execution while on his deathbed. Kösem Sultan, Ibrahim’s mother who exerted a great deal of power both before and during Ibrahim’s rule, stopped the execution from happening. With Murad’s death and Ibrahim’s miraculous survival, Ibrahim became Sultan. Again, because no one else was alive.
With an absolute mess of a start to his life, the lack of success he had while Sultan was the only possible outcome. His eight-year reign was marked by comical levels of extravagance. For example, Ibrahim liked fur. That’s fine because seemingly every rich and powerful person in olden days liked fur, but no. Ibrahim really liked fur, to the extent that he raised taxes to pay to decorate his palace in fur.
Then there was his rocky history with women. The most infamous story of his time as Sultan is that he allegedly drowned 280 women who were in his harem. Like many of his other missteps in life, this was the result of paranoia, in this case paranoia that the women were conspiring against him.
However, the drowning story might just be gossip. That’s the trend with poor Ibrahim the Mad. He was in no way fit to rule; that much seems certain. But stories like this often came across more like gossip, and it isn’t known what truly happened.
No matter what did or did not happen, however, Ibrahim did not make a lot of friends or allies. Kösem Sultan, who, again, was his mother, was always looking to gain more influence while her son was in power, and plots were hatched by her and others to overthrow Ibrahim. In 1648, a plot between Kösem and the Janissaries, an elite Ottoman guard, resulted in Ibrahim’s capture and imprisonment. Being the loving mother that she was, Kösem bargained that Ibrahim would not be executed and would instead be sent back to the kafes. This deal was kept up for just ten days before he was executed on August 18, 1648.
And so, the story of Ibrahim ended the same way it started, with the poor dude stuck in a cage. Whether he was a malicious ruler or merely an incompetent one, Ibrahim’s reign was not a high point for the Ottoman Empire.
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