39. Fr. Domenico Ottomano.


In the history of Isuf Bassa (London 1684) is an account of a man who excited considerable attention in Christendom in the latter part of the 17th century. It is there stated that Sultan Ibrahim had a son by a Georgian slave of the grand Sultana. This Georgian requested permission to make her pilgrimage to Mecca, and take her child there to be circumcised; her health also required that she should use the baths at Rhodes upon the way, for slow poison had 61been administered to her by her mistress, and one motive for taking this pilgrimage was to escape the farther effects of her jealousy. On the voyage she was captured by some Maltese gallies, after a desperate action, and carried into Malta, where she soon died. The Grand Master gave the child to the care of the Dominicans, and when he grew up he entered their order, and took the name of Fr. Domenico Ottomano. In 1665 he was at Paris with the Venetian ambassador: the Friars had instructed him so well that he was skilled in many sciences, and spake five or six languages. He was a man of strict piety, and had he been indeed of the Ottoman blood, would have been every way the happiest of his race.

In 1669, a book was published with this title: “The History of the Three late famous Impostors, viz. Padre Ottomano, Mahomed Bei, and Sabatai Sevi.”

This title conveys a false meaning; 62for it appears on examination, that Padre Ottomano, though no Ottoman, was certainly no impostor. The author of this little book, who signs himself J. E., says that the story, as above related, was “the believed report at his being at Venice the very year this action fortuned, and it has since gained credit, and filled our ears and all the histories of this age as a thing unquestionable.” But on the authority of a Persian whom he had known in England, he relates this as the real history of the child.

Sultan Ibrahim’s Kislar Aga, or chief eunuch, bought a beautiful Russian slave for his harem, who soon proved to be pregnant. The Kislar Aga was greatly enraged at this; but as the infant happened to be exceedingly beautiful, he grew fond of it. The chief Sultana was brought to bed about the same time; being indisposed, she wanted a nurse for the young Turk, and the Kislar Aga, 63whose charge it was to provide one, sent his slave with her child into the seraglio, where she stayed nearly two years. Ibrahim unluckily grew fonder of this child than of his own, which made the Sultana mortally hate mother and child, and the Kislar Aga also; he, in consequence, began to fear for his life, obtained leave to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, and embarked for Alexandria with the Russian and the child in 1644. On the way they fell in with six Maltese gallies; the Turkish fleet consisted of eight vessels; an obstinate battle ensued; the Aga was killed, and the ship in which he was, taken. Sciabes, as the Russian was called, died during the action “of very fright and apprehension” The Maltese boarding their prize, and seeing so many women and eunuchs, asked whom they belonged to, “and what pretty child that was,..the distracted people, partly out of terror, and haply upon hope of better quarter, tell them that he was the son of 64Sultan Ibrahim going to Mecca to be circumcised.” With this joyful tidings the gallies returned to Malta. The Grand Master and the Knights began to think of proposing an exchange for Rhodes. They gave out that the mother as well as the child was in their hands, and wrote to Constantinople, Smyrna, and other places, to spread intelligence where these prisoners might be found, provided the Porte would come up to their conditions. But to their great surprize they received no application for their ransom.”

In 1649 a Persian, returning from Rome, where he had been studying in the college de Propagandá Fide, to his own country, touched at Malta, and the Grand Master employed him as a fit person to go to Constantinople, and ascertain whether their little prisoner was the son of the Sultan or not. This Persian learnt these circumstances, and it is from him that the English author 65says he delivers them. “The Order, however, though they dropt the ceremony which they had used to their captive, yet having for a long time abused the world, as ashamed at their credulity, and to prevent reproach, they continually endeavoured to have it still thought true, and therefore gave the boy the title of Ottomano, which he wears to this day. Non per dignitatem (says our ingenious informer) ma per la vanita.

“But what may farther elucidate the utter impossibility of Padre Ottomano’s title as heir to that family,.. no prince of the Ottoman blood, nor the Sultana herself, does ever travel to any place whatsoever out of the palace but when the emperor goes himself in person. This being so, how probably and likely is it he should hazard the great Sultana and the heir of the crown in a weak and ordinary caravan, with so small an equipage, and so little concernment of their loss, as never so much as to treat about their release, 66&c. let any rational man determine upon mature consideration and prospect of the circumstances.

“Besides, as our intelligence argues, and assures us, those of Malta are so insatiably covetous, that if they could sell even the very Maltese themselves, they would not stick to make money of them; and that it is familiar with these holy corsairs to spoil all the oriental christians without distinction who come in their way, neither regarding their faith nor their profession; so as whenever they surprize any miserable slaves, who for the dread of torment have been forced to turn renegadoes, but would now most chearfully revert to their faith again, the Maltese would not hearken to them, but sell them a second time to the Turks to satisfy their prodigious avarice. How much more then, as our informer concluded, had it been to their advantage to have sold this pretended royal boy, being a natural Turk, than to have 67suffered him to hecome a christian? But they reserved him upon future hopes, and when they perceive that fail them, to rid their hands of the expence of the mock state they had so long been at, and yet to preserve their reputation, make out their boast, and credit their religion, they find a pretence of sending him to be bred in Italy, and now suffer him to be made a Dominican friar, forsooth, under the pompous title of Padre Ottomano.”

From all this it is evident that the Dominican was no Ottoman; but he had certainly done nothing for which he deserved to be ranked with the swindler Mahomed Bei, and with the impostor Sabatai Sevi. The poor child was altogether innocent of any deception. He was indeed, in a more extraordinary predicament respecting his birth than even prince Pettyman. The prince did not know whether he was the son of a king or of a fisherman, but Fr. Domenico’s 68lawful father was the Kislar Aga, so that he might well doubt whether he had any father at all. The whole account of his birth rests on the authority of this Persian convert, and it is of no consequence whether that be true or not: but as the war between Ibrahim and the Venetians, which ended in the loss of Candia, is attributed to the loss of the child, (for it is said he vented his resentment there, that being the most vulnerable part of Christendom) a little time has not been thrown away in thus explaining an error which has crept into history.

The accession of Ibrahim, P. Ottomano’s imputed father, was marked by some impressive circumstances. During the reign of his brother Amurat, he had been spared from the usual family butchery, because he was supposed to have too little intellect to be dangerous; but he was closely confined, with only a black female mute 69to attend him. When Amurat died, all the great officers went into his prison to tell him that he was now Sultan; they came in time, for none but the negress ever entered his apartment. She had died in the room and her corpse was putrifying there. He suspected it was a trick of Amurat’s to take away his life; and, clinging to a miserable existence, lifted up his hands and prayed Allah to preserve the Sultan, his brother, for the prosperity and glory of the Ottoman empire. He would not venture over the threshold of his prison till he saw his brother’s body, and even then, afraid of the very corpse of one who had kept him so many years intombed. alive, felt with his hands if he were really dead; and not yet satisfied with feeling him cold and stiff, knelt down and put his mouth to the dead mouth to try whether it breathed.


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