I’m having an identity problem, fortunately this isn’t one of those identity problems that pops up so often in transnational history regarding culture and nationality. I literally can’t tell who a name belongs to. The name Baffo seems to be used to describe two different Ottoman Valide Sultans, Nurbanu and Sayife. Nurbanu was the mother of Murad III and Sayife was his consort. So in less we want to get aggressively freudian (sorry psych student humour) these historical figures must be kept separate. It is also important to note that they were very frequently at odds viciously competing for influence over Murad.

Most sources describe Nurbanu as having some personal connection to Venice dating back to her childhood. The nature of the connection is itself ambiguous. According to some sources she was born to commoners of Venetian controlled Corfu, and merely liked to position herself as the illegitimate child of Venetian nobles. Other sources describe her as the child of the Venetian governor of Paros and the Cyclades. These sources describe her as the descendent of the Vernier-Baffo family which suggests that she is the most likely candidate for the name of Baffo. Nurbanu herself played up a connection to Venice and a noble origin, but was unspecific about what family she descended from.

However someone who based on biographical details is quite clearly Sayife is often also described as Baffo. However while sources about Nurbanu will often also say Baffo the same is not true of sources about Sayife. It is also worth noting that these sources often describe Baffo as Venetian, but no source that refers to Murad’s consort as Sayife refers to her as Venetian.

I’m inclined to believe that the name Baffo should best be applied to Nurbanu or not applied at all, but my real question is does that mean I should disregard sources where it refers instead to Sayife? Most of sources where Sayife is referred to as Baffo don’t have obvious errors except in mixing up her origins with those of Nurbanu. Some of these sources contain details that might be useful, can I still use them if they include what I believe is an error?

Interestingly I’m having a similar problem with their kiras (Jewish women who served as a personal secretary/chief of staff/personal shopper). Some historians question wether the word “kira” even describes the role, or is actually just the shortening of on of the kira’s names. I’m inclined to use the word kira anyway because there is not another good word for describing that role. In addition there were three prominent kiras around the time of Nurbanu and Sayife and there is a problematic tendency for them to get mixed up together or even combined into one person. One historian cleverly points out that Nurbanu and Sayife would not have used the same kira as they were nearly constantly at odds. This combined with the fact that we know some biographical details about each of these kiras makes me fairly sure there wasn’t just one. However there is some ambiguity still about which events happened to which. For example one of them was infamously stabbed to death and it has taken better historians than me a fair amount of detective work to figure out which one that is.

Who the heck is Baffo?