In Ottoman history, Sultan Ibrahim I is known as one of the most extravagant rulers. Though he only ruled for a period of roughly eight years, his reign was defined by decadence, nepotism, sensuality, and, according to some, outbursts. Like many of the most captivating historical figures and celebrities, Ibrahim's life was tragic and curious.
Born in Istanbul in 1615, he was a son of Sultan Ahmed I. Ibrahim succeeded his brother, Murad IV, after Murad passed in 1640. His reign quickly became notorious. Lascivious tales of Sultan Ibrahim I's decadence soon began to spread. His subjects whispered about Ibrahim I's polyamorous encounters and other stories of over-the-top decadence. He also displayed moments of cruelty that can be read alongside other shocking acts in history.
A small disclaimer is necessary, however: outlandish Ottoman Empire stories about Sultan Ibrahim should be taken with a grain of salt. Some historians believe Ibrahim may well have suffered from mental illness, or that stories of his indulgence and peculiar ways were spread at the time of his downfall to discredit him and tarnish his memory. After all, his court and those of his predecessors and successors were unstable and divided into various political factions. They knew smear campaigns were a reliable way to oust a leader. And oust Ibrahim they did: he was executed in 1648, and the throne went to his young son.
Whether or not these stories are 100% true, they nonetheless contribute to the memory of Ibrahim I as an intriguing, tragic historical figure.
In 1623, when his older brother Murad IV took the throne, 8-year-old Ibrahim was confined to a palace cage. But this wasn't a typical cage: The Ottoman Kafe — literally "cage" — was a form of security for the reigning emperor, who locked away royal rivals or possible successors in a special part of the imperial palace. That way, they could be constantly monitored so as not to organize a coup or get into dangerous mischief.
During accession struggles, it was not uncommon for sultans, or prospective heirs, to be slain. Indeed, Murad actually got rid of several powerful officials and three of his brothers, but decided to spare Ibrahim's life.
By the time Ibrahim succeeded his brother to the throne in 1640, he had spent the better part of his life locked away in the Kafe.
Ibrahim lived in constant fear that his life was in danger. It was not an altogether irrational thought. After all, he saw his uncle and two brothers push and slay their way to the throne. So when Ibrahim's older brother, Murad, passed in 1640 and Ibrahim was informed he was the new sultan, he was skeptical — he had to see his brother's remains to believe it, since he was afraid his brother was testing him and would off him if he appeared too eager.
Perhaps as a result of his years spent locked away in the Kafe, Ibrahim was constantly anxious that his life was in danger, and Ibrahim suffered from poor health throughout his relatively short adult life. He was allegedly diagnosed with neurasthenia, for example.
Due to his bouts of illness, his first Grand Vizier often made many political decisions for him. His so-called spiritual advisor, whom he turned to when he was ill, managed to wield significant power as well.
After being locked away for years, actually ruling the Ottoman Empire was likely the last thing on Ibrahim's mind. Instead he devoted much of his energy to his harem. Even there, Ibrahim was manipulated, since some of the harem women held considerable influence over the sultan. He was reputed to sleep with 24 different concubines in a single day. Over the course of about seven years, his concubines bore him 18 children.
He lavished goods and favors on his concubines and dressed them like queens in the finest silks and velvets. He also bestowed the elite title of "royal consort" on no less than eight concubines, and gave those women royal land and wealth he revoked from his sisters and niece. An Armenian concubine known as "Sugar Cube" — for her physique — was appointed Governor General of Damascus.