Shajar al-durrWelcome back to another installment of Badass Ladies in History!

Today, I am extremely excited and honored to introduce you to one of the most badass ladies I’ve come across in a long while. Born sometime in the early 1200s, our spotlight lady did some crazy damage in her day, becoming the Sultan of Egypt during a time when women in political power was incredibly rare and very anti-status quo.

Although we are not sure when Shajar al-Durr was born, we do know that she was of Turkish origin, and she was a woman of low birth who was a slave and sold to a man named As-Salih Ayyub before he became Sultan. Shajar al-Durr quickly became As-Salih Ayyub’s favorite concubine, and he soon married her after she bore his child, who unfortunately died three months after he was born. When As-Salih Ayyub became Sultan, he entrusted his wife to rule while he was away on military expeditions. She had the power to issue decrees while she ran kingdom affairs, and she also had influence over the army because of the knowledge she possessed concerning her husband’s military.

Things started to change when As-Salih Ayyub became incredibly ill during one of the most crucial moments of his time as Sultan: In 1249 A.D., the French armies of Louis IX of France landed in Damietta, thus beginning the Seventh Crusade. As-Salih Ayyub’s army was ready to engage in war despite As-Salih Ayyub being gravely ill; but, when he died, things took a turn for the worst.

Enter Shajar al-Durr!

She knew that the news of her husband’s death would break the morale of the army as well as give the opposition even more of a drive to conquer the kingdom; so, Shajar al-Dur masked the fact that her husband had passed away, and with the help of her late husband’s commander, she took over and prepped for battle against Louis IX. In an epic twist of events, Shajar al-Durr’s army ended up winning and capturing Louis IX, who was now at the mercy of the Egyptians and Shajar al-Durr herself.

But wait, it gets better. In a fabulous and badass negotiation for ransom, Louis IX was given back to his people in exchange for “…400,000 livres tournois — about 30% of France’s total annual revenue.” After Louis IX was given back to his country, Shajar al-Durr made it public that her husband was in fact dead, and she tried, with the help of the government, to put her stepson on the throne. Fortunately, her stepson was not fit to rule (due to some douchebag behavior and eventually getting himself violently killed), so with the support of the army and certain government officials surrounding Shajar al-Durr, she was instated as Sultan of Egypt.

Being a female Sultan did not come without its hardships, though. After two months of being Sultan, some higher ups were not happy about the newly instated female Sultan. So, in order to pacify her criticizers and enemies, Shajar al-Durr married a Mamluk soldier, Aibek, who technically became Sultan after their marriage. However, it is reported that Aibek was merely a puppet ruler and that Shajar al-Durr truly ran the kingdom, continuing to sign the Sultan’s decree, having coins struck in her name, and demanding that she be addressed as Sultana.

Dinar coin with stamped name of Shajar al-Durr.

After seven years of being married and running the kingdom, Shajar al-Durr got herself into a bit of trouble, which led to her gruesome and legendary death. There are several different reports concerning what truly happened, but either Shajar al-Durr — after feeling that her power was at risk when Aibek took a third wife — killed her husband while he was bathing, or she ordered her servants to kill him. She tried to cover up her crime but was eventually found out by Aibek’s Mamluks.  She was subsequently captured, imprisoned, and eventually executed by Aibek’s first wife. Legend has it that Aibek’s first wife’s bondmaids beat a stripped Shajar al-Durr to death with clogs and then had her body thrown over the Citadel walls. Eventually, her body was carried away and buried.

Although Shajar al-Durr’s story of power and influence ended with her execution, we cannot deny the fact that Shajar al-Durr truly deserves the title of one of history’s most badass ladies. I mean, she led an army against one of the most powerful men of her time and had him captured and then ransomed for a hefty buttload of money! Does it get any more badass than that? It cannot be denied that the trajectory of her life from slave girl to Sultan is a hell of a story during a time when women were not seen or heard in the political arena of Islamic Egypt.

So three cheers for Shajar al-Durr, our badass Sultan! There is no denying that this rad and badass lady had some serious guts and gumption to rule and lead during her time.

One Reply to “Badass Ladies in History: Shajar al-Durr”

Leave a Reply