Confidentail Secratary of Sultan

Like personal assistants to the sultans, they kept records of everything, from daily routines to affairs of state.

One of the Eunuchs of the Privy Chamber, conspicuous for their opulent costumes and attractive physiques, who accompanied the sultan on mounted excursions and to the Friday Prayers where he met with the common people and displayed his wealth, his multitude of soldiers and retainers, and his power and glory, the Confidential Secretary was distinguished from the others by the golden pencase he carried in a sash around his waist.

Everyday Life In The Palace
He was at the Sultan’s side every minute, in the Palace, even on mounted expeditions inside and outside the City Walls, taking notes as best he could on the paper of every size he carried on his person, writing down all the important developments in domestic and foreign politics, the ceremonies, the fires and earthquakes, the births of princes, the appointments to key offices, the deaths, in short, everything that transpired in the summer and winter palaces.
Sporting a Selimi-style pleated turban, an imperial fur, and a three-layered robe made of floral-patterned Bursa silk over red shalvar and yellow slippers, he made a rather modest appearance. But the important diaries he kept held up a mirror to everyday life in the Ottoman palace.

Creation Of The Office
Besides the Prophet Muhammed and his divinely inspired scribes who wrote down the Quran, rulers and military commanders also employed scribes for the correspondence they kept. The first four caliphs, the so-called ‘rightly guided caliphs’, are also known to have employed private secretaries. The first institution in charge of official correspondence was the Council of Letters, set up under the Umayyads. With direct ties to the caliphate, this institution continued in the Abbasid period as well, and the Abbasid caliph Al-Mahdi Billah (775-785) had his letters written by ‘confidential secretaries’. The Fatimids in turned renamed the office the Council of Letter Writing. The Ayyubids kept the name officially confering the title of ‘confidential secretary’ upon its head. In the Mamluk period the office functioned as one of the most important in the civil bureaucracy. Elevated in rank under the dynasty of the Burji Mamluks, confidential secretaries ranked ahead of viziers in court protocol. In time the confidential secretary came to handle the affairs of judges, scholars and other members of the Ulema as well, and the Sultan even sought his opinion when making appointments to this class.

In The Ottoman Period
In the Ottoman period, the office of confidential secretary had its inception with Şemseddin Kasım during the reign of Sultan Bayezid II (1481-1512). With the expansion of the bureaucracy under Sultan Mahmud II, its nature changed slightly until it was transformed into the office of Chief Clerk of the Imperial Court.
Secret meetings that don’t appear in the history books, outings the sultan made in disguise, ceremonies, and ordinary and extraordinary consultations with the grand vizier were written up in the diaries of the confidential secretaries. While these accounts recorded information concerning the sultan’s special tastes, his habits of worship, the music he listened to and the sports he followed, they also provided clues to his personality between the lines.

Qualities Sought In A Confidential Secretary
Chosen from among the most skilled and trusted clerks, confidential secretaries were knowledgeable in matters of theology, acquainted with the study of history and trained in literature. Despite these traits, their proximity to the sultan and the privileged position accorded them as the writers of his correspondence made other members of the bureaucracy beholden to them as intermediaries. Archival documents from the period of Sultan Selim II present a striking picture of the position these secretaries enjoyed.
To wit, a member of the bureaucracy who wanted to gift the sultan some of the imitation English and Flemish fabrics that were being made in Anatolia wanted to send some of the same fabrics to the confidential secretary as well! And the Sheikhulislam, in a letter he wrote to an individual in the imperial service, complains that the Confidential Secretary Ahmed Bey has insulted the office of Sheikhulislam by sending men around upon the rejection of his brother-in-law Ahmed Molla’s illegitimate request for a promotion.

Duties Of A Confidential Secretary
The Confidential Secretary was one of 40 eunuchs selected for employment in the Privy Chamber. Carrying writing paper and other writing materials in a silver-embroidered bag he wore round his neck and a pot of gold ink in a sash at his waist was one of the obligations of his office. It was he who handled the sultan’s correspondence and sent the imperial rescripts written by the sultan up to the Sublime Porte with whoever was responsible for transmitting reports that day, the Harem Eunuch, the Chief Butler or the Head of the Halberdiers.  Making clean copies of the petitions presented to the sultan at the Friday prayers or on outings on horseback, he would read them to the sovereign, write up the requisite replies and submit them to the appropriate places. Together with the Librarian, he was responsible for preserving the books in the Privy Chamber. In the sultan’s private library, which was located in the second section of the Hall with a Pool, another name for the third room of the Privy Chamber, he would read aloud to the sultan at his behest from books he chose out of his valuable collection. Perhaps there were even those who, while reading the history books among these priceless, illuminated volumes, fantasized that their own notes would one day take the form of a book and be read to sultans down the centuries…

The notes taken by confidential secretaries contain important information on the history of Istanbul as well. The palaces, military and commercial buildings, markets and excursion grounds no longer known today, whose names and locations are noted only in these diaries, are a gold mine of information about the panorama that was Istanbul life.

When presenting clear and detailed information about the official life of the sultans, confidential secretaries do not betray any details of their private lives. Some of them give the sultan’s daily schedule down to the hour, while others divide up the day into the five times of prayer.
Confidential secretaries also provide no information about themselves in the detailed diaries they presented to the sultans. Only scraps of emotion that seep between the lines enable us to glean what they thought and felt about the events going on around them.


Writing The History
The notes taken by confidential secretaries contain important information on the history of Istanbul as well. The palaces, military and commercial buildings, markets and excursion grounds no longer known today, whose names and locations are noted only in these diaries, are a gold mine of information about the panorama that was Istanbul life.
When presenting clear and detailed information about the official life of the sultans, confidential secretaries do not betray any details of their private lives. Some of them give the sultan’s daily schedule down to the hour, while others divide up the day into the five times of prayer.
Confidential secretaries also provide no information about themselves in the detailed diaries they presented to the sultans. Only scraps of emotion that seep between the lines enable us to glean what they thought and felt about the events going on around them.