A magnificent work from the feminist writer Lady Mary Wortley Montagu about Turks and Turkish women.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was an English writer, minor poet, feminist, traveller but most of the important ones, she was a letter writer. Lady Mary got married to Edward Wortley Montagu who will be ambassador after they got married. She was supposed to marry another man who is arranged by her father but she refused him and got married to Edward. A minor detail in here, in the 18th century, women had not any rights about their own life but Lady Mary was against her father and this was her first and most significant feminism act. After that in 1716, her husband was appointed ambassador to Istanbul. They came to Turkey and when she lived in Istanbul, she wrote lots of letters to England about Turkey, Turkish people and their lifestyle. She broke her own people’s prejudice or false image of the Orient; but to what extent did she break it? 

In history, the Ottomans or best known as Turks looked like a barbaric society. Why? Because in Crusades, Ottoman Empire was more developed than European countries and the Christian army came across another culture and religion for the first time their life. A person’s own life and culture and belief are the most important things to herself/himself. That is why they thought Turks were a threat to themselves and they were politicizing a little bit. This is a false image or other words, it is demonology. They wanted to see Turks were like a barbaric. After that West win and the East itself believed they were barbaric. So, they were manageable in the end.

When we look at Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s work, we can understand to what extent she did break. 

In England, women didn’t have the right to speak. Before marriage, their father, brother or male relatives controlled their life; and after marriage, their husband controlled. The only thing they could do is get married but if a woman didn’t want to get married, society was pitty her and made fun of her. When a woman got married, her heritage was automatically going to his husband. The husband made a decision for her and even for her body. Divorce was an uncommon thing. The whole things were almost the same as the Turkish women. 

According to above, actually, English women were free as much as Turkish women and she explained that in her letters. Lady Mary mentioned Turkey’s wealth, the wealth of art and Turks has the ability to speak many languages. She wanted everybody should know Turkey and Turks were civilized. She mentioned Turkish bath, going out, jewellery, clothes etc. After that she said about Turkish women something like that so you could believe that they were free as much as we were, also they were so thoughtful and kind. 

Lady Mary had the opportunity to constantly meet and talk with sultans, concubines and important statesmen so she mentioned the wealth of the Ottoman Empire in every sense and beauty of women in the tulip era many times in her letters. She had even said many times that some things were much better than in Europe.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu travelled in the 18th century as a woman also Lady Mary knew that her travel letters were different from other travel letters. For example, in one letter -in a letter written by someone who has been in a country where no Christian has dared to go for many centuries- "I hope that the gay enthusiast will find something... " she says. According to some historians, she brought in historical and unknown 18th-century Ottoman women's life.

Lady Mary observed the Turkish Army and Turkish politics mentioned in her letters. Such, when she saw Belgrad she said Turks protected and also they gave some art into this city. Moreover, she was close to affairs of state because of her husband's position. That’s why her letters were also the source of political and military events of that tulip era.

As a result of that, Lady Mary, when she stayed in Istanbul, mentioned about Turkey, Turks and their lifestyle and she tried to tell about their civilization. I think she told everyone that Turks were not a barbaric society, they were civilized as European countries and she mostly broke the prejudice against Turks.