MALCHI, ESPERANZA (d. 1600), *kiera who served Safiye, favorite consort of Sultan Murad III (1574–95) and mother of Sultan Mehmed III (1595–1603).
Both Esperanza and her contemporary Esther *Handali served in a period known as "The Women Sultanate," when the strong ladies of the harem were involved in a variety of internal and external intrigues and became very influential in the Ottoman court. Besides being the main supplier of jewels and other luxury items to the harem, Esperanza was Safiye's most trustworthy contact with the outside world. She influenced important nominations, mediated in diplomatic conflicts, supplied diplomatic intelligence, and communicated with foreign envoys on Safiye's behalf. In a letter in Italian, dated November 16, 1599, addressed to Queen Elizabeth I of England, Malchi described herself as "a Hebrew by law and nation." She mentions a previous gift that was presented to her mistress, the Queen Mother, by the English ambassador, and lists the gifts which are being delivered to Queen Elizabeth through the ambassador who is soon to depart to England. In return she requests the Queen of England to send "distilled waters of every description for the face and odoriferous oils for the hands […] clothes of silk or wool, articles of fancy suited for so high a Queen as my Mistress." The "articles for ladies" should be delivered discreetly through Esperanza's hands only (Kobler, Letters, 393–94).
As a reward for her longtime services, Esperanza and her sons received various profitable concessions, among them the control of customs in Istanbul. Her great wealth and special privileges, as well as her undisguised influence on the Sultan's mother and her interference in state matters gained her many enemies. On April 1, 1600, she was publicly stabbed to death by rebellious soldiers and her eldest son was killed the next day. Esperanza's second son converted to Islam in order to save his life and a third son managed to escape. The family's enormous fortune and estates were confiscated.
F. Kobler, Letters of Jews through the Ages, 2 (1953), 391–92; M. Rozen, A History of the Jewish Community in Istanbul: The Formative Years (1453–1566) (2002), 205–7.
[Ruth Lamdan (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.