Your RDA of Irony

The Further Adventures of Abdulaziz

The Ottoman Sultan Abdulaziz may have been an failure at trying to restore and reform his disintegrating empire; however, he successfully introduced one western idea that has proved a very popular alternative to competence: public relations. He courted publicity. Too many of his forebears rarely could find their way out of the harem; they certainly were not available for public functions or media events. But Abdulaziz led the life of a celebrity. Whenever one of his botched reforms was undertaken, he was there for the ribbon-cutting. He was the first Turkish leader to tour Western Europe, mingling with other royals and presenting the world with its first friendly image of the Ottoman Empire. And he was as gracious a host as he was a guest. When both the Prince of Wales and the Empress of France were on their way to attend the Grand Opening of the Suez Canal, they first enjoyed a lavish reception from their friend in Constantinople.

So what accounts for the Sultan’s unprecedented theatrical instincts? Well, he had ten children–so that rules out one possibility. But I have even better gossip: he was a quarter French, courtesy of a grandmother. Her name was Aimee du Buc de Rivery. With that du and de, she was indeed an aristocrat and the heiress of an estate in Martinique. She was aboard a ship seized by pirates, and she ended up in the slave markets of North Africa. A pretty teenaged European would have been a very esteemed possession, and she was acquired for the Sultan’s harem. The Sultan evidently noticed her because she became the mother of his successor; and Abdulaziz was her grandson.

However, the family connection extends a little further. Aimee du Buc de Rivery had a cousin and childhood friend with an equal number of de’s and du’s in her name; but for short she was called Josephine. Yes, that Josephine. She is best known for her second marriage, but her first marriage at least produced children. Her daughter Hortense married the younger brother of Napoleon (awkward but not really incestuous) and they produced the charming if incompetent Louis Napoleon, France’s second emperor. So the equally hapless Abdulaziz and Louis Napoleon were not only cousins, you can see the family resemblance.

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