Mehmet became sultan at the tender age of six and a half – the youngest sultan in the history of the Ottoman Empire.
Mehmet became sultan at the tender age of six and a half – the youngest sultan in the history of the Ottoman Empire. The first three years of his reign were overshadowed by a battle between his mother, Hadice, and Kösem, mother of the two pervious sultans, Murat IV and Ibrahim, for the power behind the throne. Hadice, as mother of the sultan, should have automatically been given the job of unnoficial regent. However, Kösem, argued that her rival at a mere twenty three years of age, herself lacked experience and she, who had effectively been in power since 1623, should be allowed to continue. The battle dragged on, yet again causing chaos in the empire, until Hadice had gained sufficient power to have the older woman killed, which she did in September 1651.
Mehmet, meanwhile was continuing his education alongside the pages in the Palace School in Topkapi. During this period he developed a keen interest in hunting which was to be his main activity for the rest of his reign and lead to his soubriquet of ‘Mehmet the Hunter’. His mother struggled to rule the empire on his behalf initially failing to find a capable grand vizier – she apppointed and sacked twelve of them in the first five years. However, in 1656 she did find an excellent vizier in Köprülü Mehmet Pasa, already 71 years old, who held the post until his death in 1661. By then Mehmet had taken over from his mother having been deemed to have reached maturity and just before the grand vizier died he passed on these words of advice:
“Never heed the advice of a woman, never allow one of your subjects to become too
rich, always keep the treasury well filled, always be on horseback, and keep the army
constantly on the march.”
Luckily for Mehmet, who much preferred hunting to affairs of state, the son of Mehmet Pasa, Fazil Ahmet Pasa, proved to every bit as capable as his father and carried on ruling the empire leaving Mehmet free to hunt. He spent much time at Edirne, because of its proximity to excellent hunting grounds and, when plage hit Istanbul in 1661, he moved his entire court to Edirne and was only persuaded with difficulty to return to the capital the following year.
In 1663 Fazil Ahmet Pasa launched a campaign against the Hapsburgs and Sultan Mehmet led the army west out of Istanbul. But he only went as far as his beloved Edirne, where he stayed behind to hunt whilst the army continued with the Grand Vizier at its head.
In June 1664 Mehmet’s first son was born, the future Mustafa II, and having thus solved the issue of succession, Mehmet wanted to execute his younger brothers Selim, Ahmet and Süleyman who had been imprisoned in the Cage since their father, Ibrahim’s, death. Mehmet’s mother Hadice defended the princes, even though they were not her sons, but Mehmet did manage to have Selim killed.
Mehmet spent most of his time in Edirne until 1676 when he finally moved his court back to Istanbul. In 1683 he was persuaded to mount a powerful expedition against Vienna, led by the then Grand Vizier Mustafa Pasa, which failed disastrously. After a two-month siege the Turkish army was routed and fled in disorder. This defeat encouraged Christian Europe to once again attack the Ottoman Empire and in 1685 they attacked on several fronts beginning a war that would last thirty years. The populace of Istanbul began to fear that the city itself would be overthrown and demanded that Mehmet abandon his hunting and concentrate on affairs of state. He did so for one month and then resumed the chase. In November 1687 troops stationed in Istanbul, together with much of the civilian population, took control of the city and demanded that the sultan be replaced by his brother, Prince Süleyman who was greatly admired for his piety.
Mehmet was eventually deposed on 8 November 1687 and taken to the Cage where he spent the remaining five years of his life. He never hunted again. His brother Süleyman ascended to the throne on the grounds of seniority, and Mehmet’s sons, Mustafa and Ahmet, were imprisoned alongside their father.