Hürrem Sultan or Karima, born Alexandra Anastasia Lisowska, known to Europeans informally as simply Roxelana (c. 1500–1506 – April 18, 1558) was the wife of Süleyman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire.
Sixteenth-century sources are silent as to her maiden name, but much later traditions, for example Ukrainian folk traditions first recorded in the 19th century, give it as "Anastasia" (diminutive: "Nastia"), and Polish traditions give it as "Aleksandra Lisowska". She was known mainly as Hürrem Sultan or Hürrem "balsaq" Sultan; in European languages as Roxolena, transliterated as "Roksolana" Roxolana, Roxelane, Rossa, Ruziac; in Turkish as Hürrem (from Persian: خرم – Khurram, "the cheerful one"); and in Arabic as Karima (Arabic: كريمة, "the noble one"). "Roxelana""Roksolana" might be not a proper name but a nickname, referring to her Ukrainian heritage (cf. the common contemporary name Ruslana); "Roxolany" or "Roxelany" was one of the names of East Slavs, inhabitants of the present Ukraine, up to the 15th century. Thus her name would literally mean "the Ruthenian one".
According to late-16th-century and early-17th-century sources, such as the Polish poet Samuel Twardowski, who researched the subject in Turkey, Hürrem was seemingly born to a father who was a Ukrainian (Ruthenian in the terminology of the day) Orthodox priest. She was born in the town of Rohatyn, 68 km southeast of Lviv, a major city of Red Ruthenia (Chervona Rus') which was then part of the Kingdom of Poland, today in western Ukraine. In the 1520s, she was captured by Crimean Tatars during one of their frequent raids into this region and taken as a slave, probably first to the Crimean city of Kaffa, a major center of the slave trade, then to Constantinople, and was selected for Süleyman's harem.
She quickly came to the attention of her master, and attracted the jealousy of her rivals. One day Süleyman's favorite, the concubine Mahidevran (also called "Gülbahar", Gül meaning Rose and Bahar meaning Spring ), got into a fight with Hürrem and beat her badly. Upset by this, Süleyman banished Mahidevran to the provincial capital of Manisa, together with her son, the heir apparent, Shahzade Mustafa. This exile was shown officially as the traditional training of heir apparents, sancak beyligi. Thereafter, Hürrem became Süleyman's unrivaled favorite or haseki. Many years later, because of a fear of rebellion (a fear probably incepted by Hürrem), the Sultan ordered Mustafa to be strangled. After the death of her son, Gulbahar lost her state in the palace (as being the mother of the heir apparent) and moved to Bursa.
Hürrem's influence over the Sultan soon became legendary; she was to bear Süleyman sixth children: Mehmed,Mihrimah (daughter), Selim,Ahmed, Beyazıt, Cihangir and, in an astonishing break with tradition, eventually was freed and became his legal wife, making Suleyman the first Ottoman Emperor to have a wed wife since Orhan Gazi. This strengthened her position in the palace and eventually led to one of her sons, Selim, inheriting the empire. Hürrem also may have acted as Süleyman's adviser on matters of state, and seems to have had an influence upon foreign affairs and international politics. Two of her letters to the Polish King Sigismund II Augustus have been preserved, and during her lifetime, the Ottoman Empire generally had peaceful relations with the Polish state within a Polish-Ottoman alliance. Some historians also believe that she may have intervened with her husband to control Crimean Tatar slave-raiding in her native land.
Aside from her political concerns, Hürrem engaged in several major works of public buildings, from Mecca to Jerusalem, perhaps modeling her charitable foundations in part after the caliph Harun al-Rashid's consort Zubaida. Among her first foundations were a mosque, two Koranic schools (madrassa), a fountain, and a women's hospital near the women's slave market (Avret Pazary) in Istanbul. She also commissioned a bath, the Haseki Hürrem Sultan Hamamı, to serve the community of worshipers in the nearby Hagia Sophia. In Jerusalem she established in 1552 the Hasseki Sultan Imaret, a public soup kitchen to feed the poor and the needy.
As well, some of her embroidery, or at least that done under her supervision, has survived, examples being given in 1547 to Tahmasp I, the Shah of Iran, and in 1549 to King Sigismund Augustus of Poland.
Esther Handali acted as her secretary and intermediary on several occasions.
Hürrem died on April 18, 1558. She is buried in a domed mausoleum (türbe) decorated in exquisite Iznik tiles depicting the garden of paradise, perhaps in homage to her smiling and joyful nature. Her mausoleum is adjacent to Süleyman's, a separate and more somber domed structure, at the Süleymaniye Mosque.
Hürrem, or Roxelana, as she is better known in Europe, is well-known both in modern Turkey and in the West, and is the subject of many artistic works. She has inspired paintings, musical works (including Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 63), an opera by Denys Sichynsky, a ballet, plays, and several novels. These works are mainly composed by Ukrainians, but in English, French, and German, In 2007, Muslims in Mariupol, a port city in Ukraine, opened a mosque to honor Roxelana. The reliability of some claims has prompted protests in Turkey.