Padre Ottomano

Padre Ottomano—the Supposed Heir of Sultan Ibrahim

In the year 1640, there lived in Constantinople one Giovanni Jacobo Cesii, a Persian merchant of high repute throughout the Levant. This man, who was descended from a noble Roman family, was on most intimate terms with Jumbel Agha, the Sultan's chief eunuch, who sometimes gave him strange commissions. Among other instructions which the merchant received from the chief of the imperial harem, was an order to procure privately the prettiest girl he could find in the slave marts of Stamboul, where at this time pretty girls were by no means rare. Jumbel Agha intended this damsel as an adornment for his own household, and a personal companion for himself, and particularly specified that to her beauty she should add modesty and virginity. Cesii executed his orders to the best of his ability, and procured for the bloated and lascivious Agha a Russian girl called Sciabas, as fair as a houri, and apparently as timid as a fawn. Unfortunately, notwithstanding her innocent demeanour, it only too soon became apparent that her virtue was not unimpeachable, and that ere long she would add yet another member to the household of her new master. Jumbel Agha, who was at first wroth with his pretty plaything, after the heat of his passion had passed, consented to forgive her if she would divulge the name of the father of her expected offspring; but the fair one, although frail, was firm, and despising alike threats and cajoleries, declined to give any hint as to its paternity. Thereupon her master handed her over to his major-domo to be re-sold for the best price she would fetch; but before she could be disposed of she was brought to bed of a goodly boy.

Some time after the child was born, the Agha, moved either by curiosity or compassion, expressed a strong desire to see it, and when it was brought into his presence, was so captivated by its appearance, that he loaded it with gifts, and gave orders that it should be sumptuously apparelled, and should remain with its mother in the house of the major-domo until he had decided as to its future fate. Just about this time the Grand Sultana had presented her Lord Ibrahim with a baby boy; and proving extremely weak after her delivery, it was found necessary to procure a wet-nurse for the heir to the sword and dominions of Othman. No better opportunity could have offered for Jumbel Agha. He at once introduced his disgraced slave and her "pretty by-blow" to his imperial mistress, who accepted the services of the mother without hesitation. For two years mother and child had their home in the grizzled old palace on Seraglio Point, until at last the Sultan began to display such a decided preference for the nurse's boy, that the jealousy of the Sultana was aroused, and she banished the offenders from her sight. Her anger was also excited against the unfortunate Agha, who had been the means of introducing them into the harem, and she set herself to plot his ruin. Her dusky servitor was, however, sufficiently shrewd to perceive his danger, and begged Ibrahim's permission to resign his office, in order to undertake the pilgrimage to Mecca. At first his request was refused; for Jumbel Agha was a favourite slave, and whoever obtains leave to go the holy pilgrimage is ipso facto  made free. But the chief eunuch having agreed to go as a slave, and to return to his post when he had performed his devotions, Ibrahim permitted him to set out.

A little fleet of eight vessels was ready to sail for Alexandria, and one of these was appropriated to Jumbel Agha and his household, amongst whom was his beautiful slave and her little son. After drifting about for some time in the inconstant breezes off the Syrian coast, they fell in with six galleys, which they at first supposed to be friendly ships of the Turkish fleet, but which ultimately proved Maltese cruisers, and showed fight. The Agha made a valiant resistance, and fell in the struggle, as did also Sciabas, the fair Russian—the cause of his journey and his misfortunes. The baby, however, was preserved alive; and when the Maltese boarded their prize, they were attracted by the gorgeously dressed child, and inquired to whom it belonged. The answer, given either in fear or in the hope of obtaining better treatment, was that he was the son of Sultan Ibrahim, and was on his way to Mecca, under the charge of the chief eunuch, to be circumcised. The captors, greatly exhilarated by the intelligence, at once made all sail for Malta, and there the glorious news was accepted without question. For a time the knights were so elated that they seriously began to consult together as to the possibility of exchanging the supposed Ottoman prince for the Island of Rhodes, which had slipped from their enfeebled grasp. The Grand Master of the Order and the Grand Croci had no doubt as to the genuineness of their captive, and wrote letters to Constantinople informing the Sultan where he might find his heir and his chief spouse, if he chose to comply with the Frankish conditions. It is true that Sciabas was dead, but the worthy knights had recourse to subterfuge in dealing with the infidel, and had dressed up another slave to represent her. Portraits also were taken of the reputed mother and child, and were sent with descriptive letters to the European courts. The French and Italians eagerly purchased these representations of the beloved of the Grand Turk; but that mysterious being himself preserved an ominous silence. Even the knights of Malta, who hated him as a Mohammedan, nevertheless supposed that the Ottoman ruler was human, and when he made no effort to recover his lost ones, began to have some doubt as to the identity of the child of whom they made so much. In their dilemma they despatched a secret messenger to Constantinople, who contrived to ingratiate himself at the seraglio, and lost no opportunity of inquiring whether any of the imperial children were missing, and whether it were true that the Sultana had been captured by the Maltese some years before. Of course his researches were fruitless, and in 1650 he wrote to his employers assuring them that they had all the while been on a false scent. It was deemed best to let the imposture die slowly. Little by little the knights forbore to boast of their illustrious hostage; by degrees they lessened the ceremonials with which he had been treated, and at last neglected him altogether. He was made a Dominican friar; and the only mark of his supposed estate was the name Padre Ottomano, which was conferred upon him more in scorn than reverence, and which he continued to bear till the day of his death.