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ABSTRACT: While many important people receive their fair share of attention in modern historians' accounts, others have remained in the shadows despite playing a key role in matters. Historians of the Crusades focus their attention on the `Great Men' of the period: Richard the Lion Heart, Saladin, St. Louis, Baldwin of Boulogne, Baibars and Prince Edward, later Edward I of England. But there is at least one other figure of importance in this era. Shajarat al-Durr served many roles in thirteenth-century Egyptian history and politics. However, modern historians often ignore her historical role. When these scholars do discuss her political career and impact, Shajara assumes various roles depending upon the individual work. A review of these works leaves several questions unanswered. Who was Shajarat al-Durr? What are the differing views of historians writing about her. Finally, how do these views of Shajara compare to each other? This presentation attempts to answer these questions in five parts. Section 1 offers a brief composite biographical sketch of the Sultana drawn together from these disperate accounts. Section 2 analyzes some Europeanist views of the Crusades. Section 3 looks at some Islamicist accounts. Section 4 compares the writings of Susan Staffa and Fatima Mernissi to evaluate feminist studies of Shajara's career. Section 5 makes some points about other historical summaries of this woman's career. This paper suggests that, wherever possible, these views be combined in order to gain the fairest composite sketch of this Sultana who has been referred to as the `Jeanne d'Arc of Islam'.
KEYWORDS: Shajarat al-Durr, `Spray of Pearls', Aiyub, Aybek, Umm-Khalil, Turanshah, Ayyubids, Mamluks, mamlukah, European Historians, Middle Eastern Historians, Feminist Historians.
Chronicon 2 (1998) 4: 1-35
1. In the course of her life and political career, the Egyptian sultana, Shajarat al-Durr, played many roles and held great influence within the court system that she inhabited. She was a military leader, a mother, and a sultana at various points throughout her career with great success until her fall from power in 1257. As Götz Schregle suggested in his classic work, Die Sultanin von Ägypten: Sagarat ad-Durr in der arabischen Geschichtsschreibung und Literatur,2 Shajara's political importance comes from the period in which she reigned, which included many important events in Egyptian and Middle Eastern history. The Egyptian sultanate shifted from the Ayyubids to the Mamluks in the 1250s. Louis IX of France led the Sixth Crusade into Egypt, took Damietta and advanced down the Nile before the Mamluks stopped this army at Mansura. In the midst of this hectic environment, Shajara rose to preeminence, reestablished political stability and held on to political power for seven years in one form or another. Her life is a fascinating example of achievement in an arena usually closed to women in her culture.
2. The accounts of historians, however, differ widely in their treatment of her. For example, some historians choose to emphasize only certain events in her life, those needed to explain the particular events on which their focus rests. Others give her either a passive or active role in political affairs in accordance with their own scholarly agendas. Western Crusades' historians relegated her to a minor role in their drama. Middle East historians also marginalized her for different reasons. In direct contrast, feminist accounts pushed Shajara into the limelight at the cost of the events themselves. Given the fact that she played many roles on the political stage of her day, such depictions only offer fragmentary pictures of Shajara for the reader's consideration. With this in mind, this paper, after some attention to the sultana's biography and career, will consider her depiction by the western Crusades' historians, Middle Eastern historians and feminist historians. It will analyze the differences inherent in these scholars' approaches to this topic and suggest a path to a more complete view of this important Egyptian sultana and her career.
Shajarat al-Durr: A Brief Biographical Sketch
3. Shajara's life progressed through a series of stages as she ascended and declined from power. Each of these steps is marked by a significant event which changed her political situation. This section will discuss and differentiate these points in the sultana's life: her early career in the harem and marriage to Sultan Aiyub,3 the situation during the Sixth Crusade, her brief sultanate, her marriage and co-sultanate with Aybek and her fall and subsequent execution in 1257.4 These historically significant events helped shape the sultana's life and Egypt's fate.
4. Shajara's early career remains shrouded in the mists of time. She first appeared in the historical annals in 1239 as a mamlukah inmate of Turkish or Armenian origins in the Caliph Musta'sim's harem.5 In 1240, Aiyub acquired her for his harem. From this vantage point, the future sultana began to gain influence in the Sultan's eyes. When Aiyub was captured by his cousin, al-Nasir Da'ud, in 1248, for example, Shajara accompanied him to his confinement at al-Karak. There she gave birth to their son, Khalil. A year later, both the future sultana and her son accompanied Aiyub back to Cairo where she was named by Aiyub as his favorite wife. During her early career, Shajara's good fortune raised her to a position of good standing. Aiyub's death and Louis's invasion allowed the future sultana to establish her political mettle in her fellow mamluks' eyes. As noted above, Louis's crusade occurred at a horrible time for the Ayyubid regime. The French king's forces had taken Damietta and waited for an opportunity to strike at Cairo. Aiyub's death on November 23, 1249 seemed to offer that opportunity due to the fact that his son and heir, Turanshah, was away in Hisn Kayfa on the Tigris River near Diyarbekir. Through her political savvy and alliances with the Mamluk generalissimo, Fakhr al-Din, and the Sultan's chief eunuch, Jamal al-Din, Shajara managed to conceal her husband's death from the world outside of the palace.6 She accomplished this feat by denying official dignitaries access to Aiyub's chamber, having meals sent there, allowing Fakhr ad-Din to establish control over the Egyptian army and forging Aiyub's signature on official documents. By the time word leaked out of the palace, Shajara's coalition was in firm control of affairs. Louis, hearing of this coalition, marched his army towards Cairo and even managed to eliminate Fakhr ad-Din in an ambush. However, the future sultana managed to stabilize the political and military situation until Turanshah arrived on February 19, 1250. With this powerful woman in command behind the scenes, the Mamluk army defeated Louis's forces in February 1250 at Mansura and captured the French king and his forces. Her presence also preserved order after Turanshah was murdered by the Mamluks after the battle due to his favoring soldiers from the provinces over the established order. In the face of imminent disaster, Shajara held Egypt together and managed a victory against the crusaders.
5. After Turanshah's murder, Shajara rose to the sultanate and ruled well for a brief period. The Mamluks' exact reasoning for this act has remained an intense subject of debate. Did this event occur because of her links to Aiyub and Khalil, her military and political leadership in the recent crisis, or both? One would suspect that the third option is correct. The Mamluks, needing a link to the Ayyubids and their legitimacy, elevated Shajara to the throne and gave her the title Umm-Khalil, `Mother of Khalil'. Her mamlukah origins and performance in the recent crisis inspired her counterparts to break with Islamic tradition and allow her to become the first female leader to have coins struck and the Friday sermon pronounced in her own name. To begin her reign, she continued Turanshah's negotiations with Louis, preserved the lives of the French prisoners, regained Damietta and ransomed the French king for 1,000,000 bezants in addition to liquidating the Crusaders' position in Egypt. During the remainder of her reign, Egypt remained peaceful. Finally, the caliph, her former master, ended her sole rulership by threatening to send another man if the Mamluks could not find another male candidate. To avert this crisis, Shajarat abdicated her position to her new husband, Aybek.7 Thus, for a brief period, Shajara reigned effectively in her own name.
6. Over the last seven years of her political career, the former sultana maintained effective control behind the scenes until the end. Because of her abdication and the Caliph's wishes, as noted above, Aybek was the nominal sultan. However, due to his constant struggle with the Syrian Ayyubids in Damascus and Aleppo, the sultan remained on campaign for much of his early reign. Thus, Shajara exercised de facto power over Egypt and maintained political stability in her second husband's absence.8 Aybek, tired of his wife's control, proposed a new marriage with the lord of Mosul's daughter. Shajara discovered this plot through the mamluk servants and plotted to murder her husband. On April 29, 1257, she lured Aybek to her bath and her eunuchs brutally murdered him.9 As a result, the Mamluks arrested the former sultana and imprisoned her in one of the Citadel's towers. From this place, the Mamluks took her to the court of the new sultan's mother whose slaves beat her to death before tossing her corpse over the wall of the Citadel. Her remains were collected in a basket and interred in her mausoleum. In this fashion, Shajara finally lost a political gamble and her life as well.
7. Through her political maneuvering, Shajara had come full circle in court affairs. She started as a lowly harem slave, rose to preeminence, ruled both alone and in concert with her husband and finally was reduced by the mother of Ali, the new sultan, to the lowly harem inmate again before her brutal death. Given the events of her life and career, historians have depicted her in different ways. The next section will examine these views in detail.
Historical Views of Shajara in the Secondary Literature
8. Twentieth-century scholars have tailored their depictions of Shajara to fit the scope of their studies. Certain individuals such as Karen Armstrong, Christopher Marshall and Ulrich Haannann focused on only certain parts of her life. Other scholars, such as Amin Maalouf, Desmond Stewart, R. Steven Humphreys, John Glubb, Robert Irwin, Susan Staffa, Syedah Sadeque and Fatima Mernissi looked at every stage of her political drama. In addition, each scholar had a different agenda in recounting Shajara's career. Given the attention which she has received over the centuries, what do historians write about this sultana? What do they think of her? Why do they write about her in those fashions?
Historians of the Crusades
9. During the last century, Shajara has received limited attention from Crusades' historians. As Fatima Mernissi has suggested, the French `remember' her role at Mansura.10. But what of the Crusades' historians in general? Do they share this same recollection? In the introductory essay to The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades, Jonathan Riley-Smith traced western Crusades' historiography throughout the twentieth century. He concluded:
... [a]lthough until comparatively recently it [the crusading movement] tended to be thought of as something exotic and peripheral, it has never lacked historians. The foundations of modern scholarship were laid in the second half of the nineteenth century. This golden age, which ended with the outbreak of the First World War, was followed by a period of consolidation ...11
10. Riley-Smith added that, despite this extensive historiography, certain questions have remained unexplored, unanswered or even unasked, such as `What exactly was a crusade?', `What was the nature of the army/armies in the Levant?', `Which social structures were prevalent in the European kingdoms in the Middle East?' and `What role did numismatics play in this society?' In short, historians have focused on these issues in terms of Europe's drive east against its Islamic counterparts and the main `isms' behind the crusading movement. Thus, except for the `great men', other individuals, especially Muslims and women, did not appear in these accounts. Like the chroniclers before them, European scholars have tended to base their accounts on the former group of works. Jean de Joinville's Life of Saint Louis is probably the most cited work of these chronicles.12 Except as a historically fascinating curiosity, a woman, and especially a Muslim woman, could merit no more than a brief summary or perhaps a few pages. Accordingly, the western scholars' versions of Shajara's drama differ in length and content depending upon when they were written. For example, Riley-Smith, despite what he noted above, dismissed this sultana in two sentences,13 while Sir Steven Runciman devoted five pages to her situation on the battlefield and in the royal court. How did each historian write about Shajara? Which details from her life did each scholar choose to include in his or her account? Which sources did each author use in his or her account? This section will ask these questions of works by several well-known Crusades' historians.
11. Runciman's A History of the Crusades reveals more details concerning the sultana's political career. This scholar mentioned how Shajara held Egypt together through her coalition with Jamal ad-Din Mohsen, the chief eunuch and Fakhr ad-Din, Sultan Aiyub's viceroy, during the sultan's illness and summoned Turanshah from the Jezireh where he had been serving as a viceroy for the late sultan.14 Runciman, with copious citations, draws upon a combination of Christian and Muslim sources such as those of Maqrizi, Abu 'I Feda, Abu Shama, Ibn Khallikan, Joinville and Matthew Paris. Runciman illustrates that Shajara still needed the Mamluks' support in order to rule at three points: during the initial regency when her position appeared precarious to the Franks, against the threats of Turanshah and after the victory against the Crusaders. In fact, according to this account, she only retained power at the third of these points because she `represented [Ayyubid] legitimacy' which Aybek, her second husband, needed as the new sultan.15 As a result, in the last decade of her political career, Shajara could no longer control the court's affairs. For example, in order to control her second husband, the sultana had to kill him. As Runciman noted, Shajara did not have the support of most Mamluk soldiers in the army either. Her purpose in the political picture concerned her links to Sultans Aiyub and Turanshah. Once she had Aybek murdered in an act of desperation, enough Mamluks turned on Shajara to overthrow her position. Three days later, the former sultana met her fate. Runciman's narrative emphasizes the Mamluks' support as the essential element behind Shajara's successes and failures.
12. Joseph R. Strayer's `The Crusades of St. Louis' briefly examines the first stage of Shajara's career, depicting the sultana's tenacity and political savvy in holding the Ayyubid kingdom together. However, as with Runciman before him, Strayer offers a mitigating circumstance which almost seems to diminish Shajara's ability in that `the adjustment was aided by the slow advance of the Crusaders'.16 Strayer elaborates on this supposition by citing the French army's further difficulties in advancing toward Mansura. He does not mention the Mamluks' electing Shajara as their leader in this piece. In fact, Strayer implies that she had no further authority in Egyptian politics in any capacity due to the Mamluks' coup d'état. In his version, the army only preserved Shajara's political position as long as she was useful, after which she disappears from the account. Strayer's account makes no direct reference to specific sources, so the reader must guess at which chronicles were used. Overall, it credits Shajara with a strong regency for Turanshah after Sultan Aiyub's death but sweeps her aside soon afterwards in favor of the Mamluks.
13. H. A. R. Gibb's `The Aiyubids' mentions Shajara in her regal position following the Mamluks' victory. Like Strayer, Gibb asserts that as soon as `their [the Mamluks'] position was threatened they asserted themselves and disposed of the royal power in their own interests'.17 This rationale caused them to murder Turanshah, although the author also mentioned that `the mamluk officers ... proclaimed Shajarat-ad-Durr sultanah of Egypt and queen of the Moslems'. Gibb detailed the subsequent political difficulties caused by the remaining Ayyubids in Syria and Palestine who elected rival sultans to preserve Egypt for their dynasty. However, in light of this situation, Shajara `married Aybeg ... and abdicated in his favor'. After this point, Gibb uses Aybek's co-sultan, al-Ashraf Musa III, to assure a link to the Ayyubid lineage and legitimacy. Shajara seemingly blended into the political background and did not play a major role.
14. In his book The Crusades: a Short History, Jonathan Riley-Smith paints a picture of an intense power struggle occurring after Sultan Aiyub's death in 1249, suggesting Shajara's power was based solely on the Mamluks' shifting interests. After assassinating Turanshah, the Bahriyhah Mamluks `proclaimed as "queen" as-Salih's former concubine, Shajarat ad-Durr'.18 Riley-Smith notes that her Turkish origins helped Shajara to this position and that Aibek became her husband. He briefly mentions the murder of Aibek by Shajara `who was herself disposed of soon afterwards'.19 In the interest of portraying this `queen' in an unfavorable light, Riley-Smith mentions nothing of her role in preserving the Egyptian government before Turanshah's arrival or her governing role following his death. Curtailing the story after 1250, he portrays Shajara merely as a Mamluk puppet.
15. Several scholars, in short summaries of the Crusades, mention Shajara in the context of Mansura. Jean Richard's Saint Louis: roi d'une France féodale soutien de la Terre sainte only mentions Shajara's role at Mansura and the agreement between Shajara and Fakhr al-Din to conceal the sultan's death until Turanshah's arrival.20 Karen Armstrong, in Holy War: the Crusades and their Impact on Today's World, merely states that `... When a strong detachment of Crusaders marched on Mansurah on 20 November, the Muslims braced themselves for the coming struggle, and when the Sultan finally died three days later, the Sultana Shajarat ad-Durr acted swiftly and efficiently and kept his death a secret ...'.21 Others concur with this synopsis. Christopher Marshall, in Warfare in the Latin East, 1192-1291, reports Shajara's role at Mansura but little else.22 Ulrich Haarman, in Geschichte der arabischen Welt, reports the marriage between Aybek and the sultana, adding the Caliph's objections and the plot against Aybek, but failed to mention Shajara's role in the defensive preparations against Louis's invasion.23 Other differences appear in these accounts. Armstrong, for example, only mentions Shajara as `Sultana' and presents her as acting by herself, while Marshall adds the other military commanders and advisors who had served the dead sultan while adding that she was Aiyub's concubine. Finally, Haarman refers to the sultana as the widow of Aiyub.24 Most of these accounts relied on western primary or secondary sources. Only Marshall maintains some balance in his citations with references to Ibn 'Abd al-Zahir's Life of Baybars, Al-Makrisi's Historie d'Egypte, Ziada's `Mamluk Sultans Until 1293' and Irwin's The Middle East in the Middle Ages: the Early Mamluk Sultanate 1250-1382.
16. These texts provide several pieces of Shajara's life and career, but none of these sources gives a complete picture of the sultana's life. Rather, Shajara's presence in these scholarly depictions reflects what is seen as her `minor' role in the ebb and flow of Louis IX's first crusade. The Middle Eastern historiographical sources likewise tend to give one-sided accounts of Shajara's career but for different reasons.
Historians Using Middle Eastern Sources
17. In addition to these brief accounts, other scholars develop their own versions of Shajara's story with greater complexity. Why would they treat this sultana in such a fashion whereas their counterparts briefly skimmed over her career? Access to Arabic sources gives them a greater range of details from which to choose. This greater attention is also due to the fact that Shajara fits into the general scheme of their studies better than those of the other accounts examined above. Certain Arab historians such as Glubb, Irwin, and Humphreys describe Shajara's career as it affected Egyptian history. Others, such as Amin Maalouf, offer such descriptions to honor Shajara and the other heroes of the Arab conflict against the crusaders. As Maalouf explains in his foreword: `... The basic idea of this book is simple: to tell the story of the Crusades as they were seen, lived, and recorded on "the other side"--in other words, in the Arab camp ...'.25 Shajara proved to be a `providential personality' through her actions in the face of Louis's impending invasion.26
18. Maalouf's account portrays Shajara as a powerful woman who held control right up to her demise. In addition to listing the usual events portrayed in most histories, this author presents a unique picture of the sultana which kept with his personal agenda for writing this work. First, he listed several crucial events, only some of which were noted in other secondary accounts, including her regency for Turanshah, the concealment of Aiyub's death, her sultanate, Aybek's murder and her subsequent death.27 Maalouf also notes that the sultana ruled as Umm-Khalil, minted coins in her own name and had the Friday sermon pronounced in her name. In addition, he gives Shajara credit for the successful negotiations with Louis and the departure of the crusaders from Egypt. However, this account remained unique from its counterparts for its portrayal of the sultana's career. First, during the crisis following Aiyub's death, Maalouf mentions that Shajara asked Fakhr al-Din to write a letter pronouncing the jihad to the Muslim faithful during the crisis following Aiyub's death. Then, during Aybek's murder, the sultana beat her husband and rubbed soap in his eyes. Then, after Aybek's son spotted her holding the murder weapon, Shajara tripped and fatally struck her head on the marble floor while running from the pursuing Mamluks. Maalouf's sources included Jamal al-Din Ibn Wasil's chronicle of the Ayyubids and Mamluks in addition to the popular medieval epic, Sirat al-Malik al-Zahir Baybars. In keeping with his theme, Maalouf chose the best description of the sultana's career contained in the chronicles. As he states about the account of her downfall: `However highly romanticized, this version is of genuine historical interest inasmuch as it is in all probability a faithful reflection of what was being said on the streets of Cairo in April 1257, just after the tragedy ...'.28 In this account, the sultana's fall was a tragedy. She had accomplished great deeds in her career and maintained the Egyptian ship of state even on the choppiest of waters but was eventually wrecked upon the shore by political forces she could not control.
19. Sir John Glubb's Soldiers of Fortune: the Story of the Mamlukes provides a view of Shajara's career following Aiyub's death. As he notes at the beginning of his work, he presents the layman's version of the historical events; thus he cites no primary sources for his observations. In the beginning of his account, Glubb depicts Shajara as a regent in complete control of affairs after the sultan's demise, taking command of these affairs and, later on, of the Egyptian army against Louis's forces at Mansura.29 In justifying her accession to the throne, Glubb suggests that `[t]he Mamlukes were Turkish nomads, among whom women took more part in public affairs than they did among the Muslims. They enthusiastically proclaimed Spray-of-Pearls to be Queen of Egypt for her courage had shown her worthy to rule'.30 Glubb also criticized Al-Musta'sim's role in Shajara's abdication and marriage to Aybek. According to this scholar, the marriage was an unhappy one due to each partner's conceptions of their authority, Shajara's refusals to tell Aybek about the location of Aiyub's treasure, Aybek's attempted marriage to the daughters of Bedr al-Deen, the lord of Mosul, and Malik-al-Mansoor, the Ayyubid prince of Hama and Aybek's treatment of the River Mamluks. Eventually, these conflicts erupted in Aybek's murder and Shajara's subsequent arrest and execution. In this fashion, Glubb offers a sympathetic and heroic view of this sultana.
20. Robert Irwin offers the reader a brief account of Shajara's career from 1249 onward in The Middle East in the Middle Ages: the Early Mamluk Sultanate 1250-1382, opening his discussion of the sultana with a description of her role during the interim government after Aiyub's death. `[T]he dominant figures in this junta seem to have been Shajara ... Fakhr al-Din ibn al-Shaykh ... Baha' al-Din ibn Hanna and Jamal al-Din Muhsin'.31 Like Marshall and Armstrong, Irwin credits Shajara with holding a firm resolve and playing a strong part in preserving the Egyptian sultanate during the crisis. However, he skips over the sultana's role in the battle and the subsequent negotiations and proceeds directly to her struggle for power with Aybek. Irwin suggests that Shajara's enthronement was `bizarre' and that she ruled, despite her trappings of power, without any real support. When al-Musta'sim, the Abbasid caliph, opposed her reign, the sultana had to abdicate and marry Aybek. Then, according to Irwin, she was pushed out of the political arena as Aybek and al-Ashraf Musa, an Ayyubid child puppet, shared the sultanate although the former minted coins in his own name.32 Shajara only appears again in this piece during her plot to kill Aybek and the subsequent events leading to her own death. In this manner, Irwin portrays Shajara as a powerful figure before the crusade, yet later in the account she becomes a victim of the political revolution which she helped to create.
21. Desmond Stewart's Cairo: 5500 Years depicts Shajara's career completely from start to finish. In addition to the usual listing of events, he begins by describing the sultana's origins as `derived from a nomadic society in which women rode unveiled and had equal standing with men'.33 Then, he details Shajara's role at Mansura, her elevation to the sultanate and her rule as Umm-Khalil, her `abdication' and continued de facto rule ...'.34 Stewart also explains how Shajara discovered from one of her Mamluks that Aybek planned to marry the Emir of Mosul's daughter and how she invited one of Aybek's Syrian enemies to come to Egypt, marry her and become sultan. However, as Stewart reported, `... [t]he Syrian emir either feared that the proposal concealed a trap, or felt that the queen's proposals were those of a praying mantis. In his alarm, he consulted the Emir of Mosul, who in turn warned Aibek ...'.35 Despite this warning, Aybek rode to the Citadel a few days later and was murdered in his bath. During the act, Stewart notes that Shajara wanted the Mamluks to stop before it was too late but they continued to beat the sultan until he died. She tried to conceal this act and even to marry the new chief Mamluk but was confined in the Citadel. Subsequently, Ali, the new sultan, handed the former sultana to his mother. This woman, Aybek's first wife, stripped and insulted Shajara before her serving women beat her rival to death. Shajara was then thrown into the pit `to feed the pariah dogs which haunt the desert parts of eastern towns ...'.36 Finally, the former sultana's remains were collected and interred in the mausoleum which she had erected for herself. Stewart depicts Shajara as a woman firmly in command of palace and harem politics until her tragic downfall.
22. Mustafa Ziada, in contrast to most of the historians described above, details Shajara's rise to power and early political career. According to his article, `The Mamluk Sultans to 1293', the future sultana influenced affairs first as a mamlukah inmate in the Caliph's and Sultan Aiyub's respective harems.37 After detailing Shajara's early career at Aiyub's court, Ziada covers her role in concealing the sultan's death at Mansura. Instead of detailing her advantages over the Crusades, this author credits the sultana with a great accomplishment under adversity as Fakhr-ad-Din, the commander-in-chief of the Egyptian army, was murdered in a Christian ambush while in his bath. After describing Shajara's victory over the Crusaders, Ziada turns to her later career. He considers her being named sultana after Turanshah's murder, only as a temporary measure. Ziada's view is that the Mamluks used her as a pawn against their competitors for the Egyptian throne. Shajara confirmed Turanshah's treaty with Louis IX and `shower[ed] favors and appointments with suitable fiefs on the Bahri mamluks, to whom she owed her position'.38 Then, Ziada depicts the caliph's objection to his former concubine's new position and her marriage to Aibek following her abdication from the sultanate in July 1250. The Bahri Mamluks' animosity towards Aibek's election may have led them to aid Shajara in her plot to murder this sultan in 1257. The former sultana, for her part, still held de facto power behind the scenes at this point. Ziada's account culminated with Aybek's death followed by Shajara's arrest and execution. Through this account of her deeds, the author of this piece depicts Shajara as a capable politician despite the Mamluks' opposing interests.
23. R. Steven Humphreys, in From Saladin to the Mongols: the Ayyubids of Damascus 1193-1260, uses a broad range of primary sources enabling him to present an illuminating view of Shajara's political career.39 The sultana's first appearance in this work comes during Aiyub's confinement at al-Karak by his cousin, Al-Nasir Da'ud, due to the latter's need of an ally in his struggle against Damascus. As Humphreys points out, the sultan had only two companions during this time, Shajara and Baybars. Humphreys then summarizes the various stratagems with which Shajara and Fakhr ad-Din hid Aiyub's death from outsiders. In the face of the victory over the crusaders and the issue of Ayyubid legitimacy, the Mamluks decided that Shajara would serve as their next leader. Here Humphreys makes two important points: first, that despite Shajara's abilities, it was her ties to the Ayyubid dynasty that put her on the throne; and second, in contrast to the other scholars' views described above, her sultanate was only intended to be a temporary measure. The Mamluks, according to Humphreys, never wanted her to be without a guardian, so they appointed Aybek, whose political decisions they could easily influence. Having skirted the issue of Shajara's political influence in this manner, Humphreys does not have to mention the caliph's order for the sultana's abdication. Shajara did not even hold power at the end of her career. According to Humphreys, Aybek had already married the lord of Mosul's daughter and Shajara only acted out of self-preservation, not political intrigue. Despite the warnings and objections of several key officials, her plot was carried out and the sultan was murdered. A week later, Aybek's Mamluks revolted and took power for themselves. These soldiers crucified the murderers, raised Ali to the sultanate and handed Shajara over to Aybek's first wife who beat the former to death. Humphreys portrays Shajara as a woman who was ruled by the Mamluks' whims even at the height of her power.
24. Syedah F. Sadeque's Baybars I of Egypt also discusses Shajara's reign in relation to the growing power of the Mamluks during this period.40 She assesses Shajara's reign as strong during her sultanate and marriage but notes that Aybek's moves in the last stage wore away her power base. Sadeque first credits the sultana with preserving political stability in Egypt against the impending tide of disaster rushing up the Nile in the form of Louis's crusading army. The next mention of Shajara concerns her ascent to the Egyptian throne. Sadeque simply states that `The Bahri generals placed Shajara on the throne ...'.41 Sadeque does not tie her placement on the throne to the issue of legitimacy, noting that `an Ayyubid prince--a child six years of age' was named co-sultan with Aybek.42 In fact, she fails to give a reason behind the Mamluks' actions. Following this remark, she maintains that `the real power remained with Shajara, who ruled the kingdom in the name of the joint kings, in co-operation with the leading Bahri amirs such as Aqtai, Baybars and Balaban'. The sultana's power came from the Bahri Mamluks, whom Aybek took great pains to disband between 1251 and 1254.43 Sadeque sums up the final events in this drama in one phrase: `... Aybek was killed by his queen, Shajara'.44 This study stresses the importance of balanced (Christian and Muslim) source materials and provides a textual overview and a good summary, but Shajara's story is only a backdrop to Baibars' rise to power.
25. Abdul-Aziz Khowaiter's portrayal of Shajara's reign, in Baibars the First: his Endeavors and Achievements, puts the Mamluks in complete command over this sultana while she was on the throne.45 Although Shajara handled the government well with the aid of a few advisors, after the Mamluks' coup d'état she was removed from power almost immediately by a multi-step process. The first step was her marriage to Aybek. Then, the Mamluks installed Musa ibn Yusuf, a great-grandson of the Sultan al-Kamil, as co-ruler. Finally, Aybek's purge of the Bahri Mamluks eliminated Shajara's power base from which she influenced court affairs. Khowaiter then disputes the traditional reasoning behind the sultana's plot against Aybek's proposed marriage to the lord of Mosul's daughter. In this fashion, he presents Shajara as a victim of the Mamluks' continuous revolution. As she tried to gamble and influence court politics, she badly erred in murdering Aybek. In this account, the Mamluks, not Ali, decided to hand the former sultana over to Aybek's first wife for execution and so to finish off their tool, who had outlived her usefulness. Like Humphreys, Khowaiter places the Mamluks in control of every aspect of Shajara's reign.
26. Like the Crusaders' scholars, these Middle Eastern scholars present brief summaries of Shajara's life. However, given the fact that a woman's role in history and society was covered up until recently, such brevity, though expected, should not be tolerated. The feminist scholars examined next may be expected to give a larger place to Shajara's role in the course of events.
The Feminist Historians
27. ... The historical record contains comparatively few cases of women who wielded political power in an official capacity or played leading roles on the political scene. These, however, reveal the essential character of women's power as well as their principal mode of obtaining it. Like most other civilians, women achieved their political ends through channels to the elite who were the keystone in the power structure, and their special status facilitated access even as it denied them ultimate authority ...46
28. In contrast to the historical accounts detailed above, those of feminist historians have a different agenda, i.e. to glorify the woman's role as a leader. Two authors, Susan Staffa and Fatima Mernissi, focus on the sultana, emphasizing her life and accomplishments and minimizing the events of the Crusade and the male supporting cast around her. As Staffa suggests in the quotation above, too often the woman's accomplishments are pushed into the background for the sake of the male status quo. She also points out that `the story of Shajara is a woman's story from first to last; outstanding talents brought into play through clientage, realized through crisis and inevitably frustrated by law, tradition, and brute force ...'.47 Shajara rose from the lowest depths of Aiyub's harem to political preeminence before sinking back into the morass of the changing politics at the Mamluk court. As with Hürrem Sultan's control of the late sixteenth-century Ottoman court, as long as women stayed in the harem and continued to exercise power from behind the scenes, they continued unabated in this role. However, as both Shajara and Hürrem Sultan discovered, when a woman posed an obvious threat to male patriarchy, she was eliminated without consideration of her talents. Furthermore, according to Staffa, Shajara's career `also shows how completely women were involved in affairs of state even in the early sultanate'.48 Mernissi made a similar lament at the beginning of her book, The Forgotten Queens of Islam, asking if anyone had heard of a Muslim queen (or any woman for that matter) in a prominent role. This point was embellished at the end of her work by Mernissi's telling her audience to keep quiet lest the establishment's secret police should catch them telling such tales. Are such allegations correct? The histories described in the previous two sections tended to focus on three things: great events, great men and, especially in the European accounts, great white men. Through the inclusion of Staffa's `Dimensions of Women's Power in Historic Cairo' and Mernissi's work, this section will attempt to provide a counterbalance to the other sources' anti-feminist biases.
29. Staffa gives a brief account of Shajara's life in this piece. She opens her account with Aiyub's death and Shajara's role at Mansura in preserving the Muslim victory over Louis IX's crusading army, followed by her three-month rule as regent for Turanshah, her rule as the widow of Aiyub, in `[recognition] of the courage and capability she had shown' and as Umm-Khalil,49 her continued de facto rule after her marriage to Aybek, Aybek's murder and her own capture and death. This author shows that women could perform in offices of state when given a chance to do so. Staffa's article sheds light on the sultana's accomplishments in the face of the Egyptian patriarchy. The author lists Shajara's accomplishments and then provides a great deal of analysis given the short coverage that her article contained on the sultana despite her failure, other than using coin inscriptions, to provide specific sources. As noted above, the questions that Staffa raised can be applied to any potential woman ruler throughout Islamic history. As long as women allowed men to keep the de nomine authority, i. e., the royal title, the latter allowed the former to rule. When Shajara crossed that boundary, the caliph and the male patriarchy, realizing her potential threat, began reducing her authority and power base accordingly.
30. Mernissi also lists the sultana's accomplishments and criticizes her at certain points.50 This author's sources, which include most of the `official' Arab histories, provide a good basis for her argument. Shajara, as she points out, was known for numerous achievements including her handling of the crisis preceding the Sixth Crusade and her regency for Turanshah. In addition, Mernissi mentions several key attributes which served Shajara well, such as great military leadership: `She brought the Muslims a victory which the French remember well, because she routed their army during the Crusades and captured their king, Louis IX'.51 This account notes that even after her abdication, Shajara was still successful at manipulating palace politics to her advantage. Thus, through such high praise, Mernissi endorses Shajara's ability to lead Egypt in this period. However, she is also quick to point out that Aybek's polygynous practices and the caliph's refusal to endorse her sultanate doomed the sultana's political fortunes. Aybek's strategy in terms of remarriage worked against Shajara's control over him. As Mernissi points out, monogamy favored a woman while polygyny supported patriarchy. While it was true that Shajara loved Aiyub, the sultana's marriage to her second husband was a matter of convenience. And so, monogamy was a political leash on which she kept the sultan under control. Mernissi saw Shajara's abdication, in the face of Aybek's second marriage, as `more than a gesture of allegiance to Caliph al-Musta'sim ... It was a pathetic act of her weakness, a desperate attempt to gain his good will ...'.52 The Mamluks granted her the post partially out of her racial origins and family ties. The caliph al-Musta'sim, on the other hand, applying the Qur'anic and his own personal prohibitions to this situation, failed to admit that she was the best candidate and split the Mamluks in order to have her dethroned immediately. Although Mernissi's description reveals her twentieth-century agendas, it aptly illustrates the barriers against a woman in Mamluk Egypt during this period, illuminating Shajara's life with surprising clarity given the lack of depth available in most sources. As with Staffa's work listed above, this quality separates her work from other accounts of Shajara's life and career.
31. Most scholars of the Crusades, for example, use Shajara's story as a brief backdrop for their preferred subjects. These authors, as noted above, vary in their coverage of the sultana's life and deeds. Only Runciman concerns himself with all six stages of her career. Many of the works noted here describe only the first stage, choosing to show Shajara's role in the coalition government after her husband's death. In these accounts, the perceptions of the sultana range from a collaborator (Richard) to a Mamluk puppet (Strayer). The interpretations of the second stage of her career, from the victory over the Crusaders to the sultana's abdication on July 30, 1250, also contradict each other. Riley-Smith, following Strayer, portrays Shajara as an impotent figure, but credits her with the approval of the treaty with Louis IX. Riley-Smith also illustrated how she ruled effectively for 80 days in her own name. The third stage, Shajara's last years (1250-1257), is also depicted differently in each of the accounts. Who was in control of the political cat and mouse game: Aybek or Shajara? Runciman's account gives Aybek dominance over his wife in court affairs making Shajara's plotting an act of desperation rather than an attempted consolidation of power. The authors' aims and intentions affect the coverage of the sultana in these works. Ziada and Runciman grant the reader a complex view of Mamluk history during the Crusades, an approach warranting a complete view of Shajara's political career. Strayer and Gibb wish to detail the Egyptian government and the Crusaders' defeat in April 1250; thus they emphasize only the first two stages. In contrast, Riley-Smith's discussion barely touches on the sultana and the Mamluk regime. Marshall and Armstrong only include her in their works to explain how the Egyptians rallied against Louis's troops. To Haarman she is less important; he barely mentions the sultana's being raised to the throne as Aiyub's widow, an act not due to her talents in any way. Maalouf, concentrating on the Arab historiography of the Crusades, places himself in a different camp by praising the sultana and granting the reader a picture of her career. Going further, feminist scholars such as Mernissi and Staffa explain these events and their significance to the Islamic world, to Ayyubid and Mamluk Egypt and to Shajara herself. These scholars differentiate themselves from the others by telling the woman's side of the story. Staffa's account, as noted above, clearly stresses the woman's ability to manage political responsibilities in a largely patriarchal society. Mernissi's study, while unduly critical at points, also presents a feminist view of royal authority in medieval Islam and expands upon Staffa's contentions with plenty of supporting evidence.
32. Uniquely, Schregle combines all of these scholarly aspects in his meticulous study. In addition, he combed the archives for every chronicle from Shajara's day up to the modern era, producing a balanced and complete study of this sultana's historical and legendary personas. Through such scholarship, as Mernissi herself points out, it can be seen that Shajara was not just a ruler and a political opportunist but a woman with great attributes as well.
A Study of Shajara
33. In his Die Sultanin von Ägypten: Sagarat ad-Durr in der arabischen Geschichtsscheibung und Literatur, Schregle presents a complete report with two fulfilled purposes. First, he generates a creative depiction of Shajara predating Mernissi's analysis of her career and Maalouf's search of the chronicles. Schregle sees Shajara's unique importance as the transitional link between the Ayyubid and Mamluk dynasties.53 As a result, he extends his coverage beyond the traditional summary and into the realm of complex analysis. For example, as he examines the historiography of his contemporary scholars, Schregle concludes that `A woman as Queen over the Egyptians in the thirteenth century--in view of the established place of the woman in Islam, that is an irregularity which necessarily implies an abundance of questions of a historical, legal and cultural sort ...'.54 Thus, he poses the crucial question that has plagued scholars throughout the ages: are they studying her historical figure or her legendary figure? Schregle notes that many twentieth-century scholars have fallen into this deadly trap over the last century. To avoid this dilemma, he delves into both sides of the issue and recounts the stories of other scholars and chroniclers such as Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Wasil with only a brief mention of his own view in the Introduction. Furthermore, unlike the other works noted above, this work's focus on Shajara's life and career allows Schregle to consider several themes within his treatise. In Part A, his `Search for the Historical Portrait of Shajarat al-Durr', he groups primary sources into several categories: thirteenth-century Arab sources such as Ibn Wasil and Ibn Halikan, later fourteenth- to sixteenth-century histories, Christian-Western sources, `foreign' portraits in addition to letters and memoirs of the Crusaders. To complete his investigation, Schregle also looks at coinage and the sultana's tombstone for cultural information on her life.55 Parts B-D analyze the sultana's image over the centuries. Part B analyzes accounts written before 1600 and asks several questions of Shajara's life, acquaintances, the meaning of her name, her relationships with Aiyub and Turanshah and her personality. Part C looks at how the Baibars-Roman chronicle presented Shajara's life while distorting her historical portrait. This account emphasizes her roles as the founder of the Mahmal and as the Caliph's daughter.56 Part D analyzes the use of the sultana's life by nineteenth- and twentieth-century historians. Egypt sought to forge a new destiny separated from both the Ottoman Empire and the European colonial powers. Shajara's accomplishments, as detailed in the historical annals, inspired Egyptians to work towards independence. Nationalistic writers such as Ali Mubarah, Amir Ali and Zainab Fawwaz spread this view in their works.57 Furthermore, Schregle points out that feminist writers latched onto Shajara's image as a justification for their cause as well. In this way, scholars such as Qadriya Husain, Mahmud Badawi, Umar Rida Kahhala, az Zirikli and Fu 'ad Abu Hatir show that leadership qualities crossed gender and class boundaries. Such a connection should not prove surprising, as French feminists adopted Joan of Arc's image in the 1920s for the same reasons and in search of the same result. Abu Hatir makes this comparison in his `Shagar el Dorr et Baibars' when he refers to Shajara as the `Jeanne d'Arc of Islam'.58 Schregle attempts to present an unbiased view of Shajara's life to his readers and let them decide on the exact meaning of her life. Schregle's work stands out in this field of scholarship for many reasons: he considers the sources and legends expanding his coverage to all accounts from all areas (East and West) and from all periods. In this fashion, Schregle should inspire future scholars to discover exactly who Shajara really was.
34. However, despite Schregle's labors, the questions of `Who was Shajara?' and `What did she accomplish?' have remained unanswered due to the differing agendas and conflicting facts in each account. The complexity and depth of these scholars' focus on the sultana varies in accordance with its relevance to their respective topics. Armstrong, Marshall and Haarman only skim the surface of the sultana's life in the context of the Crusades. Irwin, Glubb, Khowaiter, Maalouf and Sadeque summarize her career's importance to the foundation of the Mamluk regime but add little analysis of her achievements. Staffa and Mernissi shed the most light on this powerful woman by listing and explaining her personal achievements.
35. Having brought all of these sources together, however, the task of writing an authoritative biography of Shajara remains to be done. Section II and Schregle's summaries provide an initial sketch of this woman's life, but problems still confound this project. First, there is an attitudinal adjustment to be made. This essay has detailed the various agendas in Levantine historiography as related to the sultana's career. Scholars, in trying to piece together the institutions and protect their own confessional backgrounds, have formed the three historiographical traditions seen above. In order to write successfully about Shajara, these conflicting opinions somehow must be brought together.59 The story of the blind men and the elephant is relevant here. Shajara's career progressed through many stages differing in terms of her personal influence and position. Given the complexity of her story, these scholars, like the blind men, try to piece together enough pieces of this account to acquaint themselves with this sultana to an extent that varied widely according to the authors' purposes. Second, Shajara's home region and many details of her life remain undetermined. Third, other Muslim women's biographies may unlock some aspects of Shajara's story. For example, Hürrem Sultan's biography contained a similar pattern: a mamlukah beginning, the ruler's enamorment, the birth of a son, a junta at court in alliance with the ruler's elite guards, temporary ascendancy, competition with other harem women and an eventual demise. Kösem Sultan's life in the seventeenth-century Ottoman Empire provides similar parallels. Bringing together all of the facts on Shajara's life and molding them into such a framework may make it possible to construct an authoritative biography of this fascinating woman.
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