Women Behind the Throne – Part Two

Sorqoqtani Makes Her Move

Toregene Khatun managed to delay the quriltai until 1246 but by then she was ill. She must have recognised that her son Guyuk was a weak man, even more of a drunkard than his father but without Ogodai’s good nature. The quriltai formally endorsed Guyuk as Great Khan. The coronation was a lavish affair and brought to Mongolia – among others – Giovanni di Pian del Carpini, a Franciscan monk sent by the Christian Pope. Carpini did not have an easy time in Mongolia. He was nearly seventy years old in 1246 and was subjected to conditions that a much younger person would have found arduous. However, it was he who brought back to Europe the first detailed account of the Mongols and their ways.


Having relinquished her hold on the empire and given her son his chance, Toregene succumbed to age and died within a year of his accession. Guyuk did not long survive her. He died in 1248, poisoned some said by his wife Ghaimish, leaving a vacuum that only another strong woman had the political acumen to fill.


For fifteen years, Sorqoqtani had been ruler in her own right of a huge territory comprising not only the Mongol homelands but Northern China as well. Her husband Tolui, Temuchin’s youngest son, had not long survived his accession as its Khan. Hulagu_2During those years, Sorqoqtani had received ambassadors, dispensed favours and was a chosen counsellor of many of the Mongol princes, including Ogodai himself. She had brought up her sons in the traditions of Genghis Khan and had ensured their broad education at her court. Though a Christian, she gave generously to Muslim and other causes. During Guyuk’s brief reign, she had formed a strong alliance with Batu of the Golden Horde, having warned him of Guyuk’s intention to invade. Batu had not supported Guyuk’s accession and had not attended the coronation.

Sorqoqtani’s wisdom was about to pay off. She would see that her sons inherited the Empire.

On Guyuk’s death, the regency fell according to custom to Ghaimish. Neither Sorqoqtani nor Batu disputed the arrangement. Ghaimish, like Toregene, was a Merkit, but unlike Toregene she was a lightweight and would be easy to control. Moreover, her children were too young to be eligible for the throne. Ghaimish, eager to retain power in the House of Ogodai, put forward a nephew for the khanship, but he was too distantly related to Genghis Khan to be acceptable.

Shirimun was again a candidate. Batu, the eldest prince, and himself a grandson, was a strong contender, but he stayed loyal to his alliance. Either he was content with his own kingdom – the Golden Horde – or, mindful of the cloud over his father’s legitimacy, *** felt that the sons of Tolui had a better claim. At the first quriltai – held in his territory – he nominated Mangke, Sorqoqtani’s eldest. Ogodai’s family sent agents but stayed away.

There is little doubt that Mangke was the best candidate. A brilliant general in his own right, he also had three brothers who had seen action and had led armies to victory. Sorqoqtani argued his case skilfully. The throne should go to a grandson of Genghis rather than a great-grandson; since Batu, the first choice, had declined, her son was the next in line. Her arguments prevailed.

Mangke was enthroned as Great Khan – but not without blood being spilt.

*** Temuchin’s eldest son, Jochi, may have been passed over in favour of Ogodai for this reason.


(next: Part Three – the judgement of history)

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