Friday, February 23, 2018

Abdul Hamid II, last Ottoman Sultan

Abdul Hamid II
Image of Abdul Hamid II from Wikimedia Commons

Abdul Hamid (Abdul "The Damned") left a $1.5 billion estate. He was known to be corrupt and had hidden money in multiple places. He had four legal wives and 400 other wives. He abdicated and was exiled to Salonica in 1909, was placed in house arrest in his palace in 1912, died in 1918, and, after a five-year legal battle, $50 million was given to nine of his widows and thirteen of his children.

He preferred blonde, slim, tall Circassian slave girls with small feet, and was repulsed by "American and French women". An article in the Cincinnati Enquirer (April 20, 1930) said: "He was extremely generous to his Circassian beauties. If they displeased him, or age was beginning to take toll of their beauty, he did not bundle them up in a sack and dump them Into the Bosphorus." Instead, he would either give the woman to a Pasha (along with a generous sum of money) or let her live out her life in luxury in the harem. The chief eunuch was also well compensated; he left a $2 million estate.

However, despite this penchant for human rights, the Enquirer article described him as "one of the world's wickedest men, and the most abject of cowards. He had all the cruelty of a Nero, without the courage." He was also paranoid: "While strolling through the Imperial gardens, Abdul Hamid came upon his workman who was on his knees planting some flowers. As soon as the gardener realized who was behind him he rose quickly to salute his sovereign. The Sultan, mistaking the movement for an attempt on his life, whipped out his revolver and shot the man dead."

Of his 1909 exit, the Enquirer article said:

"In the night he was being made ready for the trip to Salonica he fell to the floor in a wild convulsion. When he recovered consciousness he sent word by his chief eunuch to the harem that all who wished to join him in exile should make ready to follow him at once. It was a veritable bedlam into which the messenger walked, for the women were running about and screaming like a pack of wild animals. As soon as the official explained the object of his call, silent weeping replaced the shouting and screaming....And when the gates of Yildiz Palace swung open to permit Abdul Hamid and the women to depart from the scenes of their former glories for a prison in Salonica, the street mobs openly jeered and scoffed at their one-time ruler."

Francis McCullagh's book, The Fall of Abd-ul-Hamid

Francis McCullagh described seeing on Dec. 17, 1908 that, when Abdul Hamid paraded in public, he brought the harem ladies “to S. Sophia’s in half a dozen sumptuous, closed carriages, surrounded by a troop of eunuchs on horseback.” (McCullagh, p. 7) The Sultan insisted on daily intelligence reports. These were sent "through the secretaries, the eunuchs, the servants, the women of the harem and the Sultan’s sons.” (McCullagh, p. 19)

On the night of April 13, 1909: “Near the Yenijami telegraph office stood a stout black eunuch, elegantly dressed, and going, solemnly and tirelessly, through all the movements which a soldier carries out with his rifle, save that, instead of a rifle, he was armed with a walking-stick. ... This unfortunate eunuch was not the only person that lost his reason during the night of horrors.” (McCullagh, p. 120) Later in April, at Yildiz, after the coup: “The great palaces which the Sultan has distributed so liberally among his relations seemed to have been abandoned by their owners, for crowds of eunuchs and other servants hung out of the harem windows and trampled the flower-beds in a way that they would scarcely have presumed to do if their masters had been at home.” (McCullagh, p. 240) The deserted palace seemed to be being looted, and “eunuchs were sauntering about.” (McCullagh, p. 244) “The very multitude of servants and dependents in this over-grown household served to heighten the confusion. There were chamberlains, secretaries, body-guards, and aides-de-camp (350 persons), ladies and slaves (370 persons), sons and daughters of the Sultan with their respective suites (160 persons), eunuchs in the service of the harem (127), the personnel of the kitchens (390), the personnel of the stables (350), doorkeepers and other servants (250), troops forming the immediate Palace guard (1450).” (McCullagh, p. 249)

“The instant Yildiz surrendered... All who were not women were immediately summoned to leave the Harem, and nearly all obeyed the summons voluntarily. The eunuchs hesitated but were bodily cast forth by the more energetic of the young ladies inside. On being helped to their feet by the soldiers, these unhappy Nubians manifested as much fear as if they were about to be hanged on the spot. But they were not treated harshly on the whole. A military commission, after having controlled their identity and their number according to list which they possessed, sent some of them to the above-mentioned camp and others to the Old Seraglio in Stamboul.” (McCullagh, p. 265)

The chief black eunuch had relatively little influence under Abdul Hamid, he claims, and no influence whatsoever following 1909 coup, “though the eunuchs have not yet been dispensed with altogether.” (McCullagh, p. 275)

After three decades devoted to “love of power," Abdul Hamid "was thrown entirely out of employment. Was it extraordinary that his energies, thus denied their usual outlet, should turn entirely to intrigue?...we must not forget his up-bringing amid the intrigues of women and eunuchs and amid the traditions of a House like the unmentionable House of Ottoman. We must keep in view the natural effect on a secretive, suspicious mind like that of Abd-ul-Hamid...” (McCullagh, pp. 16-17)

Nadir and Djevher Aghas

Nadir Agha, the second most powerful eunuch, “admits having bribed the soldiers to mutiny [in April 1909]. The first eunuch confirms this story, and even better evidence is forthcoming in the shape fo the enormous collection of djournals...” (McCullagh, p. 46)

“Nadir Agha, the second eunuch of the Sultan and a man of whom I shall afterwards have a good deal to say in connexion with the mutiny of April 13, recently made in the Tanin some interesting revelations...” He explains that he brought a book to the Sultan, the Kahriat of Abdullah Djevdet Bey which was already an old book, and the Sultan asked him to read it for him to find out if anything bad was being said about him, and the book included intelligence papers. He found out it was sent by “Mustapha, the Sultan’s tobacco-cutter,” and the Sultan no longer trusted him as he was known to be a spy, so the Sultan made the eunuchs smoke the tobacco. (McCullagh, p. 21)

“The Mohammedan League or Association was publicly founded a few weeks before the Mutiny, but it must have been guiding events for months before, although the Ahrar thought that they were the inspiring spirits. Its founders were the Kis-Agassi or chief eunuch at Yildiz, Nadir Agha the second eunuch at Yildiz, one for the Sultan’s sons, one of the Sultan’s nephews, the elvish Vahdeti, and several others of the same type. All those I have mentioned lived in Yildiz.” (McCullagh, p. 53)

Of everyone in the Association:

“The most brilliant of them all, intellectually, was Nadir Agha, the eunuch, who, in the tenth year of his age, that is twenty-five years ago, was bought for the Sultan from a slave-merchant in Egypt for a hundred and fifty francs, and had developed during the last few years into Abd-ul-Hamid’s most trusted adviser. The first thing the Macedonians did after taking Yildiz was to fix the place and time of Nadir’s execution, but the clever eunuch afterwards made himself so useful to his captors by pointing out to them the places wherein the ex-Sultan had hidden his valuables, that he was soon released. In order to explain his release, the Macedonians circulated pathetic tales of how, after the proclamation of the Constitution, Nadir had patriotically refused to convey to the Sultan any of the secret denunciations and spies’ reports that had again begun to flow in, and how the enraged Abd-ul-Hamid inflicted on him une verte correction, in the course of which the eunuch lost several of his front teeth. Graf Sternberg declares, however, that Nadir was saved by German influence, because he had previously been in the confidence of the German Embassy.

However that may be, he was soon released, and is now to be seen — a pleasant-faced, very youthful-looking man of slight, girlish figure, and with regular Aryan features and dark Abyssinian complexion — daily promenading the streets of Pera dressed in the fashionable and ultra-European garb affected by his kind. A request on his part to see the present Sultan met, however, with an abrupt refusal…” (McCullagh, pp. 55-56)

For 15 years Nadir Agha, the second-most powerful eunuch, had a “deadly enemy” in Djevher Agha, the chief eunuch. Djevher was

“hanged on the Galata bridge, hanged, for some reason or other, in a black coat, while all the others were executed in white. Always as light-boned as a girl, these unhappy beings are either slim, like Nadir, or else one mass of bloated flesh. Djevher Agha belonged to the latter category, being a huge, swollen, balloon-like man of extraordinary stature. Owing to vindictiveness (for, in Stamboul, the arrogance and cruelty of the Palace eunuchs towards the lower orders is proverbial), or to inexperience, the gipsy executioner bungled his work by getting the rope round the chin and the nape of the neck, so that the man was killed, not by strangulation but by dislocation of the vertebrae, with the result that the unnaturally prolonged and slender neck offered, after death, a horrible contrast to the corpulent trunk.

So perished His Highness (to give him his full title) the Dar-us-seadet-us-sherifé-aghassy or Guardian of the Gates of Felicity.


The next man to be hanged was so affected by the sight of Djevher Agha’s body that he offered to hang himself.


As for Djevher Agha’s fortune it was confiscated and the furniture of his villa at Kuru-Tchechu was sold by public auction. Djevher Agha seems to have had a great affection for a beautiful Egyptian slave-girl, whom he maintained in luxury in a house that he had had constructed for her in his garden, and on whom he used to lavish valuable presents. The girl seemed to be heart-broken by the fate which overtook her unfortunate admirer. It is a strange but well-authenticated fact that, in Turkey and Persia and probably in other Mohammedan countries, wealthy slaves of Djevher Agha’s unfortunate condition have commonly some such protégée to whom they are, or fancy themselves to be, passionately attached. The reader will remember that Montesquieu deals in one of his works with these strange friendships and that Rycaut and Oliver also refer to them.” (McCullagh, pp. 275-276)

This description of Djevher Agha's hanging was likely the source for Dennis Wheatley's 1935 novel The Eunuch of Stamboul and N. M. Penzer's 1936 nonfiction The Harem, as both mentioned the same information about the hanging with the same spelling of the eunuch's name. Penzer had read McCullagh's book and quotes it at length at the beginning of The Harem. Wheatley and Penzer were friends.

Abdul Hamid had a strained relationship with his second-most powerful eunuch, Nadir Agha. “On learning of the executions at Constantinople, Abd-ul-Hamid expressed keen regret that the name of Nadir Agha did not figure in the list of the hanged...” (McCullagh, p. 303) Likewise, Nadir Agha “has, as a rule, very little good to say of his old master.” (McCullagh, p. 250) Nadir Agha described him as having “a stone in the place where his heart ought to be, and innocent blood flowing in floods had no effect on him whatever.” (McCullagh, p. 132) “The services of the ex-Sultan’s eunuchs have also of course been dispensed with. Tormented by a longing for home and for kindred — a longing which their own inability to form domestic ties renders all the more intense — some of them have returned to seek in Abyssinia the kind relatives who mutilated and sold them in infancy and of whom they have not now the faintest recollection. The most intelligent of them all, the famous Nadir Agha, still remains in Constantinople, but he has not yet found any employment.” (McCullagh, p. 274) In addition to chickens, two cows, and a dog, Abdul Hamid, in exile, asked for “two more black eunuchs, Nureddine and Shehreddine Aghas, and all these persons and animals have been duly forwarded to him and have arrived in good condition.” (McCullagh, p. 286)


Francis McCullagh. The Fall of Abd-ul-Hamid. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1910.

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