Abdulmejid I

Abdulmejid I ( Abdülmecîd-i evvel , Birinci Abdülmecid ; 25 April 182325 June 1861) or Tanzimatçı Sultan Abdülmecid (Sultan Abdulmejid the Reorganizer) due to the Tanzimat reforms he conducted, was the 31st Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and succeeded his father Mahmud II on 2 July 1839. His reign was notable for the rise of nationalist movements within the empire's territories. Abdulmejid wanted to encourage Ottomanism among the secessionist subject nations and stop the rise of nationalist movements within the empire, but failed to succeed despite trying to integrate non-Muslims and non-Turks more thoroughly into Ottoman society with new laws and reforms. He tried to forge alliances with the major powers of Western Europe, namely the United Kingdom and France, who fought alongside the Ottoman Empire in the Crimean War against Russia.

In the following Congress of Paris on 30 March 1856, the Ottoman Empire was officially included among the European family of nations. Abdulmejid's biggest achievement was the announcement and application of the Tanzimat (reorganization) reforms which were prepared by his father and effectively started the modernization of the Ottoman Empire in 1839. For this achievement, one of the Imperial anthems of the Ottoman Empire, the March of Abdulmejid, was named after him.

Early life

Abdulmejid was born on 25 April 1823 at the Beşiktaş Sahil Palace or at the Topkapı Palace, both in Istanbul. His mother was his father's first wife in 1839, Valide Sultan Bezmiâlem, originally named Suzi (1807–1853), either a Circassian or Georgian slave.

Abdulmejid received a European education and spoke fluent French, the first sultan to do so. Like Abdülaziz who succeeded him, he was interested in literature and classical music. Like his father Mahmud II, he was an advocate of reforms and was lucky enough to have the support of progressive viziers such as Mustafa Reşit Pasha, Mehmet Emin Ali Paşa and Fuad Pasha. Throughout his reign he had to struggle against conservatives who opposed his reforms. Abdulmejid was also the first sultan to directly listen to the public's complaints on special reception days, which were usually held every Friday without any middlemen. Abdulmejid toured the empire's territories to see in person how the Tanzimat reforms were being applied. He travelled to İzmit, Mudanya, Bursa, Gallipoli, Çanakkale, Lemnos, Lesbos and Chios in 1844 and toured the Balkan provinces in 1846.


When Abdulmejid succeeded to the throne, the affairs of the Ottoman Empire were in a critical state. At the time his father died, the news reached Istanbul that the empire's army had been defeated at Nizip by the army of the rebel Egyptian viceroy, Muhammad Ali. At the same time, the empire's fleet was on its way to Alexandria, where it was handed over to Muhammad Ali by its commander Ahmed Fevzi Pasha, on the pretext that the young sultan's advisers had sided with Russia. However, through the intervention of the European powers, Muhammad Ali was obliged to come to terms, and the Ottoman Empire was saved from further attacks while its territories in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine were restored. The terms were finalised at the Convention of London (1840). Egyptian governor Mehmed Ali Pasha, who came to Istanbul as the official invitation of the sultan on July 19, 1846, was shown privileged hospitality by the sultan and vükela. So much so that the old vizier built the Galata bridge in 1845 so that he could drive between Beşiktaş Palace and Babıali.

In compliance with his father's express instructions, Abdulmejid immediately carried out the reforms to which Mahmud II had devoted himself. In November 1839 an edict known as the Hatt-ı Şerif of Gülhane, also known as Tanzimat Fermanı was proclaimed, consolidating and enforcing these reforms. The edict was supplemented at the close of the Crimean War by a similar statute issued in February 1856, named the Hatt-ı Hümayun. By these enactments it was provided that all classes of the sultan's subjects should have their lives and property protected; that taxes should be fairly imposed and justice impartially administered; and that all should have full religious liberty and equal civil rights. The scheme met with strong opposition from the Muslim governing classes and the ulema, or religious authorities, and was only partially implemented, especially in the more remote parts of the empire. More than one conspiracy was formed against the sultan's life on account of it.

The most important reform measures promoted by Abdulmejid were:
  • Introduction of the first Ottoman paper banknotes (1840)
  • Reorganisation of the army, including the introduction of conscription (1842–1844)
  • Adoption of an Ottoman national anthem and Ottoman national flag (1844)
  • Reorganisation of the finance system according to the French model
  • Reorganisation of the Civil and Criminal Code according to the French model
  • Reorganisation of the court system, establishing a system of civil and criminal courts with both European and Ottoman judges.
  • Establishment of the Meclis-i Maarif-i Umumiye (1845) which was the prototype of the First Ottoman Parliament (1876)
  • Institution of a council of public instruction (1846)
  • Creation of the Ministry of Education
  • According to legend, plans to send humanitarian aid of £10,000 (£1,225,053.76 in 2019) to Ireland during its Great Famine, but later agreed to reduce it to £1,000 (£122,505.38 in 2019) at the insistence of either his own ministers or British diplomats to avoid embarrassing Queen Victoria, who had made a donation of £2,000.
  • Plans to abolish slave markets (1847)
  • Plans to build a Protestant chapel (1847)
  • Establishment of modern universities and academies (1848)
  • Establishment of an Ottoman school in Paris
  • Abolition of a capitation tax which imposed higher tariffs on non-Muslims (1856)
  • Non-Muslims were allowed to become soldiers in the Ottoman army (1856)
  • Various provisions for the better administration of the public service and for the advancement of commerce
  • New land laws confirming the right of ownership (1858)
  • Decriminalisation of homosexuality (1858)Another notable reform was that the turban was officially outlawed for the first time during Abdulmejid's reign, in favour of the fez. European fashions were also adopted by the Court. (The fez would be banned in 1925 by the same Republican National Assembly that abolished the sultanate and proclaimed the Turkish Republic in 1923).

    Samuel Morse received his first ever patent for the telegraph in 1847, at the old Beylerbeyi Palace (the present Beylerbeyi Palace was built in 1861–1865 on the same location) in Istanbul, which was issued by Sultan Abdulmejid who personally tested the new invention.

    When Kossuth and others sought refuge in Turkey after the failure of the Hungarian uprising in 1849, the sultan was called on by Austria and Russia to surrender them, but he refused. He also would not allow the conspirators against his own life to be put to death. The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica says of him, "He bore the character of being a kind and honourable man, if somewhat weak and easily led. Against this, however, must be set down his excessive extravagance, especially towards the end of his life."

    In 1844 he created the Ottoman lira and in 1852 he instituted the Order of the Medjidie.

    The Ottoman Empire received the first of its foreign loans on 25 August 1854 during the Crimean War. This major foreign loan was followed by those of 1855, 1858 and 1860, which culminated in default and led to the alienation of European sympathy from the Ottoman Empire and indirectly to the later dethronement and death of Abdulmejid's brother Abdülaziz.

    On the one hand, financial imperfections, and on the other hand, the discontent caused by the wide privileges given to the non-Muslim subjects again led the country to confusion. Incidents took place in Jeddah in 1857 and in Montenegro in 1858. The major European states have taken the opportunity to intervene in their own interests. The Ottoman statesmen, who panicked in the face of this situation, started following a policy that fulfilled their every wish. The fact that Abdulmecid could not prevent this situation further increased the dissatisfaction caused by the Edict of Tanzimat.

    The opponents decided to eliminate Abdulmejid and put Abdulaziz on the throne in order to prevent the European states from acting like a guardian. Upon a notice, this revolt attempt, which was referred to as the Kuleli Foundation in history, was suppressed before it even started on 14 September 1859. Meanwhile, the financial situation deteriorated and foreign debts, which were taken under heavy conditions to cover the costs of war, placed a burden on the treasury. All of the debts received from Beyoğlu consumers exceeded eighty million gold liras. Some of the debt securities and hostages were taken by foreign traders and bankers. The Grand Vizier who criticized this situation harshly, was dismissed by the sultan on 18 October 1859.

    His success in foreign relations was not as notable as his domestic accomplishments. His reign started off with the defeat of his forces by the Viceroy of Egypt and the subsequent signing of the Convention of London (1840), which saved his empire from a greater embarrassment. The Ottomans successfully participated in the Crimean War and were winning signatories at the Treaty of Paris (1856). His attempts at strengthening his base in the Balkans failed in Bosnia and Montenegro, and in 1861 he was forced to give up Lebanon by the Concert of Europe.

    Although he emphasized his commitment to the ceremonial rules imposed by his ancestors at the ceremonies reflected outside, he adopted radical changes in the life of the palace. For example, he completely abandoned the Topkapı Palace, which was a place for four centuries, about the Ottoman dynasty. The traditions of the British, French, Italian troops and officers and diplomats who came to Istanbul during the Crimean War (1853-1856) directed even middle-class families to consumerism and luxury.

    He restored the Hagia Sophia between 1847 and 1849, and was responsible for the construction of the Dolmabahçe Palace. He also founded the first French Theatre in Istanbul.

    He was made the 717th Knight of the Order of the Garter in 1856 and the 52nd Grand Cross of the Order of the Tower and Sword.


    Abdulmejid died of tuberculosis (like his father) at the age of 38 on 25 June 1861 in Istanbul, and was buried in Yavuz Selim Mosque, and was succeeded by his younger half-brother Sultan Abdülaziz, son of Pertevniyal Sultan.


    Abdulmejid married nineteen times and had forty-four children. He left several sons, of whom four eventually succeeded to the throne. His marriages were:

  • Circassian (of the Kabardian tribe) Servetseza Kadın ( 1823, Maykop, Russia24 September 1878, Kabataş Palace, Istanbul), married in Istanbul, Topkapı Palace, in 1839, daughter of Prince Mansur Bey Temruko and Princess Fülane Hanım Dadeşkeliani, without issue.
  • Circassian (of the Shapsug tribe) Tirimüjgan Kadın ( 1822Istanbul, Feriye Palace, 2 November 1852), married in Istanbul, Topkapı Palace, in 1839, daughter of Bekhan Bey and Almaş Hanım, and had:
  • Naime Sultan (11 October 18401 May 1843, buried in Laleli türbesi);
  • Sultan Mehmed Abdul Hamid II, 34th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire;
  • Şehzade Mehmed Abid (22 April 18487 May 1848, buried in New Mosque – Refia Sultan türbesi);
  • Circassian (of the Ubykh tribe) Düzdidil Kadın (née Ayşe Dişan, 1824, North Caucasus18 August 1845, Old Çırağan Palace, Istanbul), married in Istanbul, Topkapı Palace, in 1839, daughter of Şıhım Bey Dişan and Princess Fülane Hanım Çaçba, and had:
  • Mevhibe Sultan (31 May 18409 February 1841, buried in Bahçekapı, Hamidiye Türbesi);
  • Neyyire Sultan (13 October 184118 December 1843);
  • Münire Sultan (13 October 184118 December 1843);
  • Cemile Sultan (Old Beylerbeyi Palace, Bosphorus, 17 August 1843Erenköy, 26 February 1915);
  • Samiye Sultan (23 February 184518 April 1845, buried in New Mosque, Istanbul);
  • Circassian (of the Ubykh tribe who temporarily sought refuge in present-day Georgia) Şevkefza Valide Sultan, ( 1824, Poti, Georgia17 September 1889, Istanbul, Ortaköy, Çırağan Palace), married in Istanbul, Topkapı Palace, in 1839, daughter of Mehmed Bey Zaurum and Cemile Hanım, and had:
  • Sultan Mehmed Murad V, 33rd Sultan of the Ottoman Empire;
  • Aliye Sultan (20 October 184210 July 1845, buried in New Mosque);
  • Abkhazian Zeynifelek Hanım ( 1824, North CaucasusOld Çırağan Palace, Istanbul, December 1841), married in Istanbul in 1839, daughter of Prince Aslan Bey Klıç and Princess Şaşa Hanım Loo, and had:
  • Behiye Sultan (22 February 18413 June 1847).
  • Bosniak Gülcemal Kadın, (Caucasus, 1825Istanbul, Ortaköy, Ortaköy Palace, 16 November 1851), married in Istanbul, Topkapı Palace, in 1840 and had:
  • Fatma Sultan (1 November 184026 August 1884);
  • Refia Sultan (Beşiktaş Palace, 7 February 1842Defterdarburnu Palace, 4 January 1880);
  • Sultan Mehmed V Reşad, 35th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire;
  • Abkhazian Verdicenan Kadın (née Saliha Açba, 1829, Sukhumi, Abkhazia9 December 1889, Istanbul, Beşiktaş, Beşiktaş Palace), married in Istanbul, Topkapı Palace, in 1844, daughter of Prince Kaytuk Giorgi Bey Açba and Princess Yelizaveta Hanım, and had:
  • Münire Sultan (daughter of Abdulmejid I) (Topkapı Palace, Istanbul, 9 December 1844Istanbul, 29 June 1862);
  • Şehzade Ahmed Kemaleddin (Old Çırağan Palace, Istanbul, 3 December 1847Beşiktaş Palace, Istanbul, 26 April 1905);
  • Circassian (of the Ubykh tribe) Rahime Perestu Valide Sultan (née Rahime Gogen, 1829, Sochi, Russia Maçka Palace, Istanbul), married in Istanbul, Topkapı Palace, in 1844, daughter of Gök Bey Gogen, without issue. Adoptive mother and Valide Sultan to Abdul Hamid II.
  • Abkhazian Nükhetsezâ Hanım (née Hatice Baras, Abkhazia, Russian Empire, 1830Beşiktaş, 15 May 1850), married in Istanbul, Topkapı Palace, in 1845, daughter of Hatuğ Bey Baras and Ferhunde Hanım, and had:
  • Şehzade Ahmed (5 June 18466 June 1846);
  • Nazime Sultan (26 November 18471 December 1847, buried in New Mosque – Refia Sultan türbesi);
  • Şehzade Mehmed Burhaneddin (Old Beylerbeyi Palace, Bosphorus, 23 May 1849Dolmabahçe Palace, Istanbul, 4 November 1876);
  • Chechen Mahitab Kadın (née Nuriye, 1832, Makhachkala, Russia 1888, Feriye Palace, Istanbul), married in Istanbul, Topkapı Palace, in 1845, daughter of Hişam Bey and Malika Hanım, and had:
  • Sabiha Sultan (15 April 184827 April 1849);
  • Şehzade Ahmed Nureddin (Çırağan Palace, 31 March 18523 January 1884);
  • Georgian Nesrin Hanım (née Adile Asemiani, 1832, Poti, Georgia2 January 1853, Istanbul), married in Istanbul, Topkapı Palace, in 1846, daughter of Manuçar Bey Asemiani and Mahra Hanım, and had:
  • Şehzade Mehmed Ziyaeddin (22 November 184627 April 1849);
  • Behice Sultan (26 August 184821 December 1876);
  • Şehzade Mehmed Bahaeddin (24 June 18509 November 1852);
  • Şehzade Mehmed Nizameddin (24 June 18509 November 1852);
  • Circassian (of the Natukhai tribe) Nergizev Hanım ( 1832, Anapa, RussiaIstanbul, 26 October 1848), married in Istanbul, Topkapı Palace, in 1847, daughter of Albora Bey and Dadüse Hanım, and had:
  • Şehzade Mehmed Fuad (7 July 184828 September 1848);
  • Circassian Bezmiara Kadın, married in Istanbul, Topkapı Palace, in 1847 and divorced in 1859, and had:
  • Mükbile Sultan (Çırağan Palace, 22 February 1850 – 21 March 1850, buried in New Mosque);
  • Circassian (of the Natukhai tribe) Nalandil Hanım (born 1835, Caucasus), married in Istanbul, Topkapı Palace, in 1851, daughter of Prince Natıkhu Bey Çıpakue, and had:
  • Seniha Sultan (Çırağan Palace, 21 December 1851Nice, France, 15 September 1931);
  • Şehzade Mehmed Abdüssamed (20 March 18535 May 1855);
  • Şehime Sultan (Old Beşiktaş Palace 31 January 185522 May 1857);
  • Circassian (of the Ubykh tribe) Ceylanyar Hanım (née Nafiye Berzeg, 1836, Sochi, Russia23 April 1856, Feriye Palace, Istanbul), married in Istanbul, Topkapı Palace, in 1851, daughter of Mustafa Bey Berzeg and Princess Daruhan Hanım Dudaruk, and had:
  • Şehzade Mehmed Rüşdü (31 March 18525 August 1852);
  • Abkhazian Serfiraz Hanım (née Ayșe Liah, 1836 Abkhazia9 June 1905, Istanbul, Ortaköy, Ortaköy Palace), married in Istanbul, Topkapı Palace, in 1851, daughter of Prince Osman Bey Liah and Zeliha Hanım Tapsın, and had:
  • Şehzade Osman Seyfeddin (9 June 18522 July 1855);
  • Bedia Sultan (October 185712 July 1858);
  • Şehzade Selim Süleyman (Beşiktaş, 25 July 1860Bebek Palace, Bosphorus, 16 June 1909), married and had issue;
  • Abkhazian Şayeste Hanım ( 1837 Sukhumi, Abkhazia11 February 1912, Istanbul), married in Istanbul, Topkapı Palace, in 1852, daughter of Prince Tataş Bey İnalipa and Sarey Hanım, and had:
  • A stillborn son (3 February 18533 February 1853);
  • Naile Sultan (Dolmabahçe Palace, Istanbul, 30 September 185618 January 1882), married at the Dolmabahçe Palace, Istanbul, 6 October 1876, Damat Mehmed Pasha (died 24 May 1909), 1st ADC to Abdul Hamid II;
  • Abkhazian Navekmisal Hanım ( 1838, North Caucasus5 August 1854, Şemsipaşa Palace, Istanbul), married in Istanbul, Topkapı Palace, in 1853, daughter of Prince Rustem Bey Biberd and Princess Fatma Hanım Kızılbek, without issue.
  • Abkhazian Gülüstü Hanım (née Fatma Çaçba, 1840 1865, Eyüp Palace, Istanbul), married in Istanbul, Topkapı Palace, in 1855, daughter of Prince Tahir Bey Çaçba and Afişe Hanım Lakerba, and had:
  • Zekiye Sultan (24 February 185518 February 1856);
  • Fehime Sultan (24 February 185510 November 1856);
  • Mediha Sultan (Beşiktaş, 31 July 1856Nice, France, 7 November 1928);
  • ''Sultan Mehmed VI Vahideddin, last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire;
  • The mothers of following children are unknown.
  • Şehzade Mehmed Vamik (19 April 18506 August 1850, buried in New Mosque);
  • A stillborn daughter (16 December 185816 December 1858);
  • A stillborn daughter (30 May 186030 May 1860);

    In fiction

  • A fictionalized version of Abdulmejid I appears in the 2008 novel The Bellini Card, by Jason Goodwin.