November 14, 2014 by Zia Wesley

A Letter From Aimée

Aimee I am sure no one remembers that I did not come to this life of my own accord. My immersion has appeared to be so complete. Few people outside these walls could ever imagine the priceless jewels that adorn my body, the numbers of those who wait upon my every desire, or the vastness of the land and wealth I own. Only a handful comprehend the power of my words, my political influence, and the public works I personally conceived of, funded and built.

While our corner of the world knew my husband's name and deeds well, the whole world now knows of my son. Yet only those who live within these walls know me. Despite the fact that I am the wealthiest woman in the world, my name is unknown.The only persons who truly knew me are gone: my cousin Rose, who died six years ago as the former Empress Josephine, and Baba Mohammed Ben Osman, The Dey of Algiers, Captain of all Barbary Coast pirates and my personal savior. Now that I am old and dying, I suddenly feel desperate for someone to know who I am. I do not wish to die as if I had never existed. I want someone to know that I did not enter this world at the age of eighteen as Nakshidil, the odalisque. Although I shall die as the most powerful woman in the whole Ottoman Empire I was born French on the island of Martinique as Marie-Aimée Dubucq de Rivery.

October 28, 2014 by Zia Wesley

Spotlight, Abdul Hamid I

Abdul Hamid I Had Sultan Abdul Hamid been more like his predecessors, he would have had his gardeners strangle Nuket Seza and Mustapha long ago. That was the preferred method used by Sultans for hundreds of years to rid themselves of treasonous officials, unpleasant wives, and relatives who might one day pose a threat to the throne. But Abdul Hamid thought the practice barbaric, and had never employed it himself. He disliked murder almost as much as the Kafes [cage] in which he had resided for fifteen years before assuming the sultancy.

From The French Sultana – Book 2 of The Veil and The Crown by Zia Wesley

Abdul Hamid I was born in 1725 to Sultan Ahmed III and his concubine, Sermi Rabi Kadin. Following his brother’s death, Abdul Hamid became Sultan at the age of 49 after spending fifteen years immured in the Kalfe or cage. Since no contact with the outside world was permitted from the cage, it was fortunate that Abdul Hamid had previously received a good education. Due in part to his lack of governance, Abdul Hamid left many of the administrative powers to his Grand Viziers, who oversaw the authority of the government while the Sultan ruled in an advisory capacity.

Abdul Hamid came to power at the end of the first Russo-Ottoman War of 1768-74 and his reign continued to be plagued by conflicts with Russia. The Treaty of Kucuk Kaynarca, which ended the war, left the Ottoman Empire vulnerable to further incursions by Russia. The provisions of the treaty made the Crimea, which had been an Ottoman principality, an independent state that was heavily influenced by Russia. In 1783, Russia absorbed Crimea by annexation, thus leaving the Ottoman Empire open to a full invasion from the north.

It was in this tense political time that two factions arose within the Viziers of the Ottoman government. The first faction, lead by Gazi Hasan Pasha and Koca Yusuf Pasha (who would later become Grand Vizier to Abdul Hamid) took a more aggressive stance in dealing with the Russian incursion into the Crimea. The second faction, led by the Grand Vizier Halil Hamid Pasha, sought a diplomatic solution with Russia. The diplomatic faction however would falter when rumors spread of Halil Hamid plotting for the succession of Selim III (Abdul Hamid's nephew). For this, Halil Hamid was executed and the faction of Gazi Hasan and Koca Yusuf began the second Russo-Ottoman war of 1787-92 to take the Crimea back.

During the new conflict with Russia, it became obvious that the Ottoman military was badly in need of modernization. Gazi Hasan began a campaign to strengthen the fortresses along the Russian Frontier. Both the sultan and his heir had been campaigning for modernization but were opposed by the Janissaries who believed any change contradicted the teachings of the Koran. French military advisors were brought in to train the Ottoman soldiers in modern warfare and weapons but the Janissaries refused to learn from “the infidels.” Because of this opposition, a new “secret army” was created and trained by the French. French engineers were also brought in to strengthen the fortresses and build cannon factories to supply the new Corps of Cannoneers, Corps of Bombardiers and Corps of Miners. Two new military schools run by French officers, were also established: The Imperial Naval Engineering School and The School of Fortification.

Regarding domestic matters, a series of devastating fires in the capital city of Istanbul (possibly started by Janissaries) resulted in Sultan Abduil Hamid becoming both a benefactor and supervisor of the city. He organized provisions for the city and (influenced by his favorite French Sultana) created various charities including soup kitchens and libraries. He also founded two new mosques: the Beylerbeyi and Emirgan mosques, and the Hiamidiye Library; the first library in the empire founded and administrated outside a mosque.

With his 7 concubines, Abdul Hamid sired a total of 24 children; 10 male heirs of which only two survived. Abduil Hamid died in 1789 of a stroke while reading a dispatch regarding the capture of Oczakov by the Russians. His nephew, Selim III, succeeded him and when he was overthrown, Abdul Hamid’s son Mustapha was crowned. That ended in less than one year with Mustapha’s death, ordered by Abdul Hamid’s son with Nakshidil, who then became Sultan Mahmud II.

October 2, 2014 by Zia Wesley

Spotlight, Marie Le Normand

Marie Le Normand So, my dearest, my worst fear came true (as predicted), and I am a widow with two children. Hortense is twelve and Eugène already a young man of fourteen. We were just fourteen when we ran off to see Euphemia David. Speaking of that old witch, I recently met an extraordinary woman who considers herself “gifted” in a similar fashion. Her name is Marie Le Normand, and she hosts the most marvelous salons, though her “talents” do not compare with those displayed by Madame David.

From The French Sultana – Book 2 of The Veil and The Crown by Zia Wesley

Marie Le Normand (1772 – 1843) was a “spiritualist” a professional fortuneteller, specializing as a cartomancer (card reading) and in palmistry (palm reading). Mlle. Le Normand used The Etteilla deck, developed by occultist Jean-Baptiste Alliette and noted as possibly the first card set to be used exclusively for divination. Mlle. Le Normand’s clientele included many prominent figures in the French aristocracy, which may account for the popularization of the trend during that time period.

As a young child, Marie’s mother died, after which, her father remarried. Shortly afterwards, her father also died, and Marie and her brother and sister lived with their stepmother (who also remarried after the death of Marie’s father). Even though Marie and her siblings where in the care of two new step parents, they were well taken care of and sent to various schools to further their educations.

While at a Benedictine School, Marie made her first notable prediction, in which she foretold the termination of the Mother Superior of the school as well as predicting who the Mother Superior’s replacement would be.

When she finished her schooling, Marie was apprenticed for a Milliner. When her apprenticeship ended, Marie convinced her step parents to send her to Paris. It was there that Marie set up a shop at 5 Rue de Tournon, where she sold books as well as plied her trade as a cartomancer. During this time, Marie gained fame as both a fortune teller and a writer (writing 15 books in total). Her clientele (whom she advised) included high members of the French aristocracy: Princess de Lamballe (Superintendent of Marie Antoinette’s household), Robespierre, and Czar Alexander of Russia.

Marie was a royalist. During the French Revolution, her involvement in a plot to rescue Marie Antoinette resulted in her capture and imprisonment. While in prison, Marie met Madame de Beauharnais (Rose Tascher), who was also imprisoned along with her husband Alexander, Vicomte de Beauharnais. While in prison, Marie foretold that Rose would survive her imprisonment, go on to marry a soldier, and rule France along with her new husband. After the release of both Rose and Marie from prison, Rose would continue to call upon Marie for advice. It is not known whether Rose (The Empress Josephine Bonaparte) either provided information or gave her blessing to Mlle. Le Normand to author her biography to be written following her death.

Marie, who had predicted that she would live to be 100, died at the age of 71. A deck of Tarot cards was named after her, called the Lenormand Deck, which are used to this day.

September 15, 2014 by Zia Wesley

Spotlight, Baba Mohammed Ben Osman

Dey of Algiers The men were sipping tea and eating dates when Baba Mohammed Ben Osman, the Dey of Al Djazāir, captain of all pirates and ruler of the port, entered the room. He was a huge, opulently dressed, imposing figure whose jet-black beard and mustache were waxed into sharply curling points. His almond-shaped black eyes, generously lined with kohl, looked deep and menacing. The men knew that his vaulted position was built on thirty years of ruthless piracy and bloodshed. Despite the mighty price on his head, Ben Osman’s ships continued to plunder what they pleased with the blessings of the Dey’s distant cousin, the Sultan of Turkey.

From The Stolen Girl – Book 1 of The Veil and The Crown by Zia Wesley

The Dey of Algiers was the title given to the ruler (or Regent) of the Port of Algiers starting in the late 17th century. The Dey was chosen to rule for life by a council of local civilian, military and religious leaders with the approval (or insistence) of the Ottoman Sultan.

With the death of Dey Baba Ali on February 2, 1766, Mohammed ben Osman, the former treasurer to Baba Ali, took over as Dey of Algiers.

Dey Mohammed ben Osman suffered many obstacles during his 25 year rule of Algiers, but through diplomacy and military prowess, he was able to keep the region relatively stable. In 1775, a Spanish expedition attempted to sieze the town of Mustapha and failed with the loss of 4000 Spanish Soldiers. They attempted again in 1783 and 1784, and failed both times.

Ben Osman’s fleet of ships not only protected the Barbary Coast (as it was dubbed by Europeans) from attack, but plundered any ships that came within their realm. As unofficial members of the Ottoman navy, the men were known as “Corsairs” which ultimately became synonymous with “pirates”.

Prior to the American Revolution, the British Navy protected United States merchant vessels operating along the Barbary Coast of Africa. Following the revolution, France continued to protect US ships according to a 1778 alliance. However, in July 1785, Algerians captured two American ships and the Dey of Algiers held their crews of twenty-one people for a ransom of nearly $60,000. Thomas Jefferson, then United States minister to France, opposed the payment of tribute, which was ultimately paid. You can read details of Jefferson’s proposals here.

In July, 1791 Mohammed ben Osman died and was succeeded by his son, Baba Hassen.

September 3, 2014 by Zia Wesley

Another Satisfied Reader

Hi Zia –

I just finished “The Stolen Girl” and wanted to tell you how impressed I am. You are a woman of many talents! It must have taken an enormous amount of research to be able to offer such an extensive background and so many details. I look forward to taking Book 2 with me when we go to Italy!

Best wishes,

September 2, 2014 by Zia Wesley

Spotlight, Alexandre de Beauharnais

Alexandre Less than a week after posting her letter to Rose, Aimée received her first letter. That could only mean their letters had crossed paths, for it was much too soon to be receiving a response. She tore the letter open and was shocked to read of the sudden, unexpected death of Rose’s younger sister, Catherine, who had contracted a fever and died.

“And dear cousin, you will not believe what I am going to tell you, but the terrible loss of my dearest little sister was followed by a miracle. The Vicomte Alexandre de Beauharnais, to whom Catherine had recently been betrothed, has asked for my hand in her stead. The old witch was right. I sail for France in early February to marry the Vicomte!”

From The Stolen Girl – Book 1 of The Veil and The Crown by Zia Wesley

Alexandre de Beauharnais (May 28, 1760 to July 23, 1794) was a French aristocrat serving as a Lieutenant in the French army when he married Aimée’s cousin, Rose Tashcer de la Pagerie.

Alexandre was born in Fort-Royal, Martinique; the third of three sons born to François de Beauharnais, Marquis de La Ferté-Beauharnais, a former Governor of Martinique, and Marie Henriette Pyvart de Chastullé.

On December 13, 1779, Alexandre and Rose married in France. The marriage had been arranged by Rose's aunt, Désirée Renaudin and was originally to have been between Alexander and Rose’s younger sister Catherine. When Catherine died suddenly from a fever, Rose was asked to take her place.

During the American Revolutionary War, Alexandre fought in Louis XVI’s army. He would later become deputy of the noblesse in the Estates-General and was made president of the National Constituent Assembly in 1791. In 1792, he was promoted to General and was offered the position of Minister of War during the French Revolution, but declined the promotion.

In 1793 he was appointed to the position of General-in-Chief of the Army of the Rhine and after the French lost the Siege of Mainz Alexandre was blamed for the loss and subsequently, arrested. Like so many other Frenchmen of the time, he was jailed and executed during the Reign of Terror leaving Rose a widow with two young children.

August 27, 2014 by Zia Wesley

Spotlight, Kizlar Agasi

Kizlar Agasi “Will I live with this Kizlar Agasi as I live here with you? And when will I go to the Sultan?”

“Live with the Kizlar Agasi?” he laughed. “No, no my sweet. You will live in the harem with all of the other odalisques—the women belonging to the Sultan. The Kizlar Agasi and his men protect and serve the harem. He is the most important person in the Sultan’s employ, and you must make him your ally. He is in charge of the harem, and it is he who will bring you to the Sultan. Remember this dear one, make the Kizlar Agasi your friend and you will need no others.”

From The Stolen Girl – Book 1 of The Veil and The Crown by Zia Wesley

Due to his proximity to the Sultan and the role the women of the harem played in court intrigues, the Kizlar Agha ranked among the most important posts in the Ottoman Empire. The post was traditionally occupied by African eunuch slaves, which garnered the alternate title of Chief Black Eunuch. Black eunuchs were believed to be more trustworthy in the harem because they were totally castrated -- unlike the white eunuchs who only lost their testicles.

The roles of the two separate groups were clearly defined: white eunuchs were relegated to the male quarters of the palace, while black eunuchs were tasked with the supervision of the Sultan’s private palace apartments and his harem.

The Kizlar Agha also served as an intermediary between the women of the harem and the male servants of the palace as well as the sultan. He was the only one allowed to carry communications between the sultan and the Grand Vizier, which gave him considerable political clout. Other duties included overseeing the early education of the imperial princes, and investing funds belonging to the Valide Sultana (The Queen Mother, who dominated internal politics within the palace). His unique position also enabled the amassing of great wealth and carried the right to retire from service. Traditionally, Kizlar Aghas retired as extremely wealthy men.

In the 1830s, governmental reforms initiated by Nakshidil’s son, Sultan Mahmud II, curtailed the power of the Kizlar Agha and relegated the post to a more ceremonial role.

August 18, 2014 by Zia Wesley

Spotlight, Rose

AimeeRose took a deep, slow breath and softened her tone. “Try not to be such a baby, Maymay. Now, hold onto my hand. We are almost there.” Why did I insist Aimée accompany me tonight? Because I was too frightened to make the trip by myself. Her cousin’s constant whining raised her own fears. As if ridding herself of pesky demons. Rose swept her mane of black, wavy hair away from her face and continued to lead the way through overgrown hanging vines with leaves larger than her head. -From The Stolen Girl – Book 1 of The Veil and the Crown by Zia Wesley

Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie (born 23rd June 1763) was the cousin of Aimée Dubuc de Rivéry and member of an aristocratic French family who lived on the Caribbean island of Martinique. Called Rose by her family, she was the daughter of Joseph-Gaspard Tascher, Lieutenant of Troupes de Marine and Rose-Claire des Vergers de Sannois, a Creole. The Tascher family owned a sugar plantation called Les Trois-Islets, where both Aimée and Rose spent their early childhood.

In 1779, Rose traveled to France to marry her first husband, Alexandre de Beauharnais. The marriage was arranged by Rose’s paternal aunt, Desirée Renaudin, who was the mistress to Francois, Vicomte de Beauharnais, the father of Alexandre. The marriage had originally been arranged between Catherine, Rose’s younger sister, and Alexandre, but when the 12 year old Catherine died in 1777, Rose was offered in her stead.

Rose’s marriage with Alexandre resulted in the birth of two children: a son, Eugene de Beauharnais, and a daughter, Hortense de Beauharnais. The marriage lasted until July of 1794, when Alexandre was executed in Paris during the Reign of Terror.

Ten years later, Rose would marry her second husband, who would change her name to Josephine and bring her into the world spotlight to assure her place in history.

August 11, 2014 by Zia Wesley

Spotlight, Aimée

AimeeAimée opened her eyes. She was lying on a narrow bunk in an unfamiliar cabin. Afraid to move, she scanned the small quarters with her eyes, making sure she was alone. She was, indeed. Her hands shook as she ran them over her body to see if her clothing and person were intact. Everything seemed to be in order, except that her heart was pounding madly and she was beginning to panic. She remembered the pirates rushing into the ship’s salon, looking into one of their faces and seeing the devil himself. She must have fainted. How long have I been unconscious—and where am I? - From The Stolen Girl – Book 1 of The Veil and the Crown by Zia Wesley

Aimée Dubuq de Rivery (born 4th December, 1768) was a French aristocrat and cousin to Rose Tascher de la Pagerie (who would later become one of the most important women in France). Aimée was born on the Island of Martinique, and spent much of her childhood on Les Trois-Islets, the sugar plantation owned by her Cousin Rose’s family. While returning home in July of 1788, from a convent school that she was attending in France, the ship she was sailing on was attacked by Algerian corsairs (pirates) who abducted her.

It is at this point where Aimée’s story moves from history to legend, as few hard facts exist. It is known that less than one year later, a young, blonde, and blue-eyed French woman became the favorite of Sultan Abdul Hamid, the aging sultan of the Ottoman Empire. That young woman was given the Turkish name Nakshidil, and gave birth the following year to a son, Mahmud, who would eventually become sultan himself. It is also common knowledge that the sultan who followed Hamid, his handsome young nephew Selim, developed a fascination with all things French, and petitioned King Louis to send French military personnel to train his Turkish troops. The French also helped the Turks build a foundry to manufacture cannon and balls. A few years later, a French newspaper, printed by a French press in Istanbul, appeared along with a French library.

Might Aimée have perished at the hands of the corsairs or did she, as legend says, rise up from the ranks of the Sultan’s harem to become the first figure of European influence in the Ottoman Empire? It is interesting to note that blonde hair and blue eyes continued to appear in the sultans of the Ottoman line right up to the last sultan of the empire in 1924.

August 4, 2014 by Zia Wesley

Americans Kidnapped by Algerian Corsairs in 1790

Dolphin and MaryAimée de Rivery was not the only person to be kidnapped by Barbary pirates. Abduction was a common occurrence at that time. In 1790 an attempt was made to rescue 17 Americans being held for ransom. Thomas Jefferson, then Secretary of State, recommended going to war against Algiers but President George Washington preferred to pay the ransom, arguing it would ultimately cost less than a war in both money and lives lost. The sum of $144,000 was approved to pay the ransom and the Americans were eventually released. However, corsairs continued to plunder goods as well as people and four years later, in September of 1794, Washington signed a bill authorizing the sum of $688,888 to build six frigates “adequate for the protection of the commerce of the United States against Algerian corsairs.” These six vessels ultimately became the first ships of the American Navy.

In September of 1800, the first American frigate entered the port of Algiers carrying $500,000 in gold; tribute to be paid to the Dey of Algiers, Baba Mohammed Ben Osman. I suspect that Ben Osman, in turn, used that money to increase his own fleet of ships; vessels that would eventually be used to fight the Janissaries in their attempt to bump Sultan Selim off the throne.

You can read more about the ransom of the 17 Americans in 1790 here

July 1, 2014 by Zia Wesley

My first Stolen Girl media coverage!

This article just published in our local Lake County magazine, The View:

Hidden Valley resident, Zia Wesley, is best known locally for her yoga instructing, and nationally, for her expertise in beauty, health and cosmetics. As a cosmetics consumer advocate, Zia authored six best-selling beauty books throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, and founded Zia Cosmetics, Inc., the first natural skin care company in the US. Now retired from the cosmetics industry, Zia followed a life-long dream to write the stories of two unknown women in the eighteenth century who lived unusual lives in “The Stolen Girl” and “The French Sultana.”

Views: Who was the first woman and how did she remain in your head for so long?

ZW: Her name was Aimée Dubucq de Rivery and she lived from 1763 to 1817 in Martinique, France, Algiers and Istanbul. I read a short biography of her, about 30 pages, in an obscure British book in 1971. I was instantly fascinated—you might say compelled—and wanted to know more.

Views: What exactly did she do?

ZW: Well, she had been in a convent school in the south of France for several years and decided by default to become a nun after no marriage prospects presented themselves. While she was sailing home to Martinique to visit her family one last time, the ship was attacked by Algerian Corsairs—pirates. She was a beautiful, blue- eyed blonde, nineteen year-old, very exotic in that part of the world. They abducted her and sold her to the notorious captain of all Barbary pirates, Baba Mohammed Ben Osman.

Views: Wow…that’s quite a story.

ZW: That’s only the beginning. And it’s a true story, which makes it even more incredible. Anyway, Ben Osman groomed her, educated her in the Turkish language and customs and gave her as a gift to the aging Sultan of Turkey. Within one year, she becomes the favorite of five hundred wives and gives birth to a son who eventually becomes a Sultan.

Views: Five hundred wives?

ZW: Yes, it was quite a culture shock to say the least, but our girl rose to the challenge. And speaking of rose, the books actually revolve around two main characters. Aimée had a cousin that the family called Rose, although her given name was Marie-Josèphe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie. Does that name sound familiar?

Views: Not really, but obviously French.

ZW: Right. They grew up together on Martinique and when they were fourteen years old, when my story begins, they had their fortunes read by an old African Obeah woman, a local seer. She told them they would both be queens; one famous and one unknown, yet all-powerful.

Views: And. . .what happens?

ZW: One of them becomes world famous and you’ll have to read the books to find out the rest.

Views: Where can we get them?

ZW: If you have a Kindle reader, you can order the eBooks on for just $4.99. If you prefer real paper books, you can order a beautiful, 6 x 9 print-on-demand copy from for $13.99.

Views: Are there more novels in your ink well?

ZW: Absolutely. I have several more that want to be born. But first, I’m going to take some time off…teach yoga at the Community Center, swim in the lake all summer and dig in my garden. Next fall I’ll decide what’s next.

May 18, 2014 by Zia Wesley

Introducing the Stolen Girl

The Stolen GirlAs a famous songwriter once said, “What a long, strange trip it’s been,” to The Stolen Girl. I first read Aimée’s story in an obscure out-of-print book from the UK in 1971. The book gave a brief accounting of four European women who lived extremely unusual lives in the Middle East during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Actually, for any European woman to even be present in the Middle East in those days was highly unusual. Most females would only be in that situation on the arm of a husband who had either business or political reasons for making the trip. The four women in the book were there alone…two by choice and two by circumstances beyond their control.

To make it even more interesting, Aimée’s story had an unusual effect on me. As I read it, I saw it, as if remembering rather than reading it for the first time. It was very odd that her life felt like my memory. Remember, this was 1971 and women were just beginning to come into their own in this country so, it made me wonder what her life behind the heavily-guarded walls of the harem might really have been like two hundred years earlier.The more I discovered about the Ottomans, the more I wondered how she had survived and, more miraculously, how she had succeeded on such a grand scale.

I began doing lots of research and investigation, reading every book on the Ottoman Empire I could find. The stories of the Sultans were so fantastic and unlike anything I’d ever known or imagined. They were the stuff that dreams and nightmares are made of. I kept thinking what a fabulous film the story would make. It had everything I loved, sex, opulence, exotic music and clothes, interesting locales like Paris, Martinique and the Sultan’s harm in Istanbul, sea voyages on sailing ships, pirates, intrigue, murder and love! I always thought someone in Hollywood would turn it into a spectacular movie like Gone With the Wind or Cleopatra.

Throughout the next thirty years, it hovered in the back of my mind like a dream so real I never forget it. When I’d finished with careers, businesses, and marriages, I realized that writing the story was exactly what I wanted to do. My first task was learning how to write a novel. You’ll have to let me know if I succeeded. As I said earlier, it’s been quite a ride!

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