Aimée du Buc de Rivéry

Aimée du Buc de Rivéry (4 December 1768 – ?)[1] was a French heiress who went missing at sea as a young woman. There is a legend that she was captured by Barbary pirates, sold as a harem concubine, and was the same person as Nakşîdil Sultan, a Valide Sultan (Queen Mother) of the Ottoman Empire; this has not been proven.[2]

Aimée du Buc de Rivéry
Aimée du Buc de Rivéry

4 December 1768
DisappearedAugust 1788
At sea


Aimée was born 4 December 1768, the daughter of wealthy French plantation owner Henri du Buc de Rivery (1748 - 1808) and Marie Anne Arbousset-Beaufond (1739 - 1811) in Pointe Royale, south-west of Robert on the Caribbean island of Martinique. Through marriage, she was an eighth cousin-in-law, once removed, of Empress Josephine,.[3][4] via Josephine's first marriage with Alexandre de Beauharnais, who had been executed during the Reign of Terror.

Having been sent to a convent school in France, she was returning home, in July or August 1788, when the ship on which she traveled vanished at sea. It is theorized that the ship was attacked and taken by Barbary pirates. It has been further suggested that she was enslaved, and eventually sent to Constantinople as a gift to the Ottoman Sultan by the Bey of Algiers.

Legend about her being Valide Sultan NakşidilEdit

According to the legend, Aimée became the wife of the sultan, taking the name of Nakşidil, who introduced French ideas to the sultan, and so to the Ottoman people. It has been theorized that her French-style reforms may have led to his death at the hands of the Janissaries and the Ulema, since both groups opposed liberalization of the empire. During the rule of Abdul Hamid I, she taught him French and, for the first time, a permanent ambassador was sent from Constantinople to Paris. Selim III, a son of Abdul Hamid I who later succeeded him as Sultan, started a French newspaper. He also allowed Nakşidil to decorate the palace in rococo style, which was popular in France at that time.

The legend of Aimée as Nakşidil continues, claiming that she had accepted Islam as part of the harem etiquette, as well as the religion of her husband, yet always remained a Roman Catholic in her heart. Her last wish was for a priest to perform the last rites. Her son, the sultan, did not deny her this: as Aimée lay dying, a priest passed for the first time through the Seraglio, to perform the Holy Sacrament before her death. Her tomb lies not far from the Hagia Sophia.

Controversy over the legendEdit

Some researchers have looked into the alleged history of Aimée du Buc de Rivéry in the royal harem and found it implausible.

According to Turkish historian Necdet Sakaoğlu, Nakşîdil Sultan was ethnically Georgian in origin.[5]

While several stories claimed that Aimée was abducted in 1781 - early enough that the seventeen year old could have been the mother of Mahmud II, born in 1785 - other stories took into account that Aimée was well in France with her family until the year 1788 at least.[2] In the latter recounts of the tale, Aimée is only the foster mother to Mahmud II, while his birth mother died in his childhood.

None of those accounts however are considering a contemporary source from the year 1817: Nakşidil was reportedly abducted when she was still two years old.[2] That version of her story, if true, would make it impossible for her to be identical with the missing Aimée.

Robert Vine wrote: "The myth of two cousins from a Carribean [sic?] island becoming respectively the wife of the French Emperor and the mother of the Ottoman Sultan has an obvious romantic attraction - but by the same token, is highly improbable, unless provided with solid factual proof".[6]

There are however indications that seeds of the legend have been carefully planted. Several older myths, dating back even to the early 16th century, already purported connections between the French and the Ottoman monarchy.[2] These have been traced to be politically motivated fabrications, so that alliances between the respective monarchs were seen as justifiable.[2] The Aimée-Nakşidil tale distinctly parallels to these older tales.[2] In times of monarchy, the stories about abducted French princesses weren't repudiated to maintain good relations - in fact, both Napoleon III and Abdülaziz were pleased to announce their kinship to each other, years later.[2] In later times this and similar harem tales have been used to perpetuate the prejudice of Turkey, the Middle East and the Islam in general as mysterious and despotic in nature, despite more accurate accounts available.[2] The legend furthermore reinforced prejudices of the Ottoman Empire as a backwater country, where even a western slave consort was able to initiate an overdue modernization while the primitive natives couldn't conceive necessary reforms.[2]

Popular fiction and uncritical recountsEdit

  • "The Veiled Empress: An Unacademic Biography" by Benjamin A. Morton. (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1923)
  • "Seven League Boots" by Richard Halliburton (Lowe and Brydone, 1936); Halliburton recounts a fairly complete version of the legend as fact in chapter XX.
  • "The Veiled Sultan" by March Cost (pen name of Margaret Mackie Morrison) (NY: Vanguard Press, 1969)
  • "A Distant Shore" by Susannah James (Signet, 1981), ISBN 0-451-11264-4
  • "Sultana" by Prince Michael of Greece (NY: Harper & Row, 1983), ISBN 0-06-015166-8
  • "Valide" by Barbara Chase-Riboud, 1986
  • Aimée's story, further fictionalized, was told in the 1989 movie Intimate Power (a.k.a. The Favorite), in which she was portrayed by Amber O'Shea, and which also starred F. Murray Abraham. It was based on the novel "Sultana" by Prince Michael of Greece.
  • "The Palace of Tears" by Alev Lytle Croutier (Delecorte Press, 2000)
  • "Seraglio" by Janet Wallach (NY: Nan A. Talese, 2003), ISBN 978-0-385-49046-7 (0-385-49046-1)
  • "The Janissary Tree" by Jason Goodwin (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux div. of Macmillan, 2006), ISBN 0-374-17860-7/978-0374178604; not just about her, but she is a major character in this and four subsequent novels in the Yashim investigator series.
  • "Si la Martinique m'était contée à travers l'histoire des chevaliers du Buc de la Normandie à la Martinique... en passant par la Turquie" by Y.B. du Buc de Mannetot, member of the family Du Buc (NY: du Buc, histoire coloniale et patrimoine antillais, 2008)
  • "The French Odalisque" by Sean Graham (London: Orbach and Chambers, 2009) ISBN 0-85514-502-1 ISBN 978-0-85514-502-6
  • "The Stolen Girl" and "The French Sultana" by Zia Wesley (ePublishing Works!, 2014)


  • Maurizio Costanza, La Mezzaluna sul filo - La riforma ottomana di Mahmûd II, Marcianum Press, Venezia, 2010 (appendix.1)


  1. ^ Yvan Brunet du Buc de Mannetot avec la collaboration de Fabrice Renard-Marlet, "La Saga des Du Buc", Volume II, Éditions du Buc, Paris, 2013, p.454
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i 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. ^ Yvan Brunet du Buc de Mannetot, Si la Martinique m'était contée à travers l'histoire des chevaliers du Buc de la Normandie à la Martinique... en passant par la Turquie, 2008, Ed. du Buc.
  4. ^ Anne-Marie Martin du Theil, Silhouettes et documents du Martinique, Périgord, Lyonnais, Île-de-France, Périgueux, Imprimerie commerciale et administrative, 1932.
  5. ^ Sakaoğlu, Necdet (2008). Bu mülkün kadın sultanları: Vâlide sultanlar, hâtunlar, hasekiler, kadınefendiler, sultanefendiler. Oğlak Publications. pp. 358–360. ISBN 978-9-753-29623-6.
  6. ^ Robert D. Vine, "Myth and Fact in History", p. 57

External linksEdit