CEM, son of the conqueror
In the austere world of the Order of St John the exotic figure of the Turkish prince, Cem, sounds a note of colourful relief. In 1481, the year after the first siege of Rhodes , Mehmet II, conqueror of Byz antium, died and his succession was bitterly con tested between his two sons, Cem (whose name, a contraction of ‘Jemshid’, is pronounced ‘jem’ and generally written ‘Djem’ or ‘Zizim’ in the west) and his more introverted elder brother, who went on to rule as Beyazit II. Thwarted in his bid for power, Cem turned to the Knights of St John and negotiated a potentially risky political asylum in their hands, at first promising perpetual peace between the Otto man Empire and Christendom if the Knights helped him overthrow his brother. He had had contact with the Knights before when he was Governor of Konya and the Southwest Provinces under his father. Grand Master d’Aubusson welcomed the possibility since the prince’s presence on the island, if handled correctly, could guarantee some measure of peace with the Turks. The prince was transferred to a Hospitaller galley at sea and later received in the city with great ceremony in July of 1482. The Master escorted him personally to his specially prepared lodgings beside the Inn of France. Illustrations from the contemporaneous Caoursin Codex show the prince being entertained to dinner by the Grand Master. When emissaries from Istanbul arrived to sue for the prince’s return, Cem was moved to France for greater safety in September of the same year. d’Aubusson exploited the situation adeptly, securing a yearly allowance of 45,000 ducats to keep the prince under permanent guard eventually in the castle of Bourganeuf in the Auvergne. In addition, Beyazit sent the Order one of Constantinople’s most precious relics—the right arm of St John the Baptist which had been kept in the capital since the 10th century. The prince’s lengthy journey from Nice to Bourganeuf was punctuated with amorous intrigues in the aristocratic houses that offered hospitality along the way—at Roussillon, Puy and at Sassenage, where his host’s daughter, Helene, became the object of his affections. In 1484 the circular, fortified ‘Tower of Zizim’ was completed at Bourganeuf to house the prince and his retinue: each day he bathed, versified, and drank spiced wine in spite of Koranic proscriptions. His poems are beautifully rendered in English by Elias Gibb, in his collection Ottoman Poems, published in London in 1882. He was too valuable a hostage however to survive for long: Pope Innocent VIII demanded his presence in Rome for a planned crusade in 1489. His successor, Alexander VI Borgia, imprisoned him. Charles VIII of France took him back from the Pope in 1494. And the following year Cem died at the age of 35 in Capua, north of Naples—supposedly poisoned, and still in the custody of Charles. He was later buried in Bursa, in the beautiful Muradiye complex.

Rhodes Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.

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