Shajarat al-Durr: The Powerful Sultan’s Widow Who Stopped the Crusade Attacks

Shajar al-Durr, the woman who moved out of the shadows to rule as a sultan and stopped the Seventh Crusade in it’s tracks, is a fascinating woman to say at least.

Shagrat started of as a Turkish servant, purchased for the Sultan of Egypt. Apparently she did a good job because within a year they were married and had a kid. Sadly the story doesn’t end as good as this.

Things took a sad turn when the Sultan died. His timing couldn’t have been worse because Louis IX of France had just begun to invade Egypt as part of the Seventh Crusade.

So as the strong and empowering woman that she was, Shajar HID the Sultans’ death and quietly took the reins of the country and prepped for war with the help of her late husband’s chief commander.

They defeated the French invaders and took Louis IX prisoner, which was incredibly humiliating since the French were known for their power.  The French saw the defeat as a sign that God had forsaken them (some crusaders even converted to Islam afterwards!).

When this news reached France, ten thousands farmers headed towards Egypt to rescue their king under the name of the Shepherd’s Crusade. Their organization was pretty messed up resulting in a treaty to return their monarch for 400,000 livres tournois (+/- 30% of France’s total annual revenue).

Shajar really embarrassed the French at this point. She was a woman ruling in a Muslim country negotiating a treaty in secret, in the first couple months of her rule. Take that Louis!

Of course it would be a shame to stop there. The next bump in the road was the successor of the throne and her stepson, Turanshah/Turan.  He just popped up, after the aforementioned events. He probably was the worst to-be ruler. He drank openly in a Muslim country and began antagonizing those who gave him his power. He installed a bunch of servants to replace the people who’d installed him in the first place. Next on his list was Shajar, this was by all means the dumbest thing he could ever think of (but in all honesty, he didn’t seem as bright before).

With the army by her side Shajar killed Turanshah (she had people to execute practices like these) and she was officially instated as Sultan. She printed her own coins and even led her own prayers.

Unfortunately other factions in Egypt weren’t as cool with a lady on the throne. Baghdad doesn’t approve Shajar and believes no woman must hold the title of ruler. The Caliph of Bagdad sends a message to the Egyptians saying, “Since no man among you is worthy of being Sultan, I will bring you one”. To maintain the calm, she married her husband’s old taste-tester/accountant, Aybek/Aibak. He became Sultan but Shajar still handled most affairs of state. She even dared to be addressed as Sultana.

After a couple of years, Aybek married his third wife to strengthen his power. What happened after this changes from story to story but Shajar wasn’t too happy with this triple-marrying business and had servants strangle him in bath. That’s what you get for marrying a jealous, powerful woman. As you can tell, she isn’t to be messed with.

Shortly after she met her end, again there’s no certainty about how or where.

The Mamluk dynasty that she started went on to last for over 300 years until the Ottomans came and ended it all.

Written by Maurane Dierckx

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Born and raised in Belgium, Maurane is a small girl with a big passion for art, history and people. She is trying to make the world a little bit brighter one laugh at a time!