- I’m sure some people will take issue with the characterization of her as the most powerful woman in the world, but I think it’s true. She was running the most powerful empire in existence for a period of five years, although not everyone in it was perfectly under her control. I struggle to think of a woman alive at that time who compared in power. Even in times since, if you define power on the world stage relative to other people, I’d argue she’s still way up there. ↩
- The first panel references the Merkid kidnapping of Genghis’s wife Borte. This was a major event in the history of the Mongols, as it’s heavily implied that Borte was raped by the Merkids, and that Genghis’s first son, Jochi, was not his flesh and blood. Genghis never cared about that, raising Jochi as his own, but it became a problem after his death. Toregene was part of the Naiman tribe of the Merkid. Genghis warred with the Merkid for a good 2-3 decades. ↩
- This anecdote is likely somewhat exaggerated (and certainly how I’ve depicted it is — his second cup was supposedly only 2-3 times the size). As the story goes, Ogedei’s brother Chaghatai sent a physician to warn him off from drinking, and when he was told he was limited to one cup a day, he made it a large cup. Even if it wasn’t totally true, he was quite the alcoholic. Aside from Genghis, most of the male Mongol leaders were. ↩
- The two in the first panel here are Genghis’s sons Chaghatai and Jochi. Jochi was, as previously mentioned, possibly not Genghis’s biological son, so his taking the throne was disputed. Chaghatai was second-born, so his was also disputed. The compromise was to put Ogedei, whom everyone liked, on the throne. This was decided during Genghis’s life, with him there, at a family meeting. ↩
- Toregene’s characterization here, of pouring him nonstop drinks, is supposition on my part. It’s mostly informed by some contemporaries blaming her and her associates for his death — which she wasn’t involved with, at least directly, but it seemed to fit with the opinion of many that she would have helped hasten his demise. ↩
- I’m sure there are some Ogedei fans out in the audience who will take issue with this, but I’m not a fan. For one thing, the guy organized the systematic rape of 4,000-odd Oirat girls in 1237 (see Weatherford, Mongol Queens, page 89). This was a direct violation of Genghis’s codes. He was a spendthrift who went against tradition and kept a stationary (and expensive) court, which required a lot of income from war spoils. Thus, when his men agitated for wars in China and in Europe, he ended up okaying both. ↩
- The figure to screen left of Toregene up top is Abd ur Rahman, a seemingly much-reviled tax collector that she favored. She put him in charge of taxing the northern China territories, aiming to tax the stationary population more and the nomadic ones less — this a break with Chinese imperial tradition, and an unpopular decision, at least with the administrator class. Fatima (to screen right) was also involved in this. ↩
- Toregene had assumed the title of yeke khatun as early as April 1240. Ogedei died in December 1241. Officially Toregene took the throne in early 1242 and reigned until 1246, a period of 4 years on paper, but 5-6 in practical terms. ↩
- I’m skipping over a ton of politics here. Ogedei had wanted his son Kochu to succeed him, but Kochu died in the Chinese campaign. This death broke Ogedei’s spirit and led him to cede politics to Toregene. After Ogedei’s death, his wife Moge (who had been Genghis’s widow as well) took power for a bit, but Toregene outmaneuvered her and assumed control. ↩
- The event depicted in the top half is Toregene taking the lands of Genghis’s late daughter, Al-Altun. Before he’d died, Ogedei had been making moves on the territories of his sister Checheyigen – the rape of the Oirat girls was part of that. Toregene continued this trend by moving on his other sister, Al-Altun. Al-Altun was given a sham trial for poisoning Ogedei and then executed, although it’s unclear if Toregene was personally involved in this. This pissed off a number of Mongols, notably Kublai Khan. ↩
- Fatima was a Shiite Muslim, likely of Persian or Tajik descent. She was not popular among chroniclers — historian John Man referred to her as a “female Rasputin.” ↩
- The two depicted above are the Persian historians Rashid al-Din Hamadani (left) and Minhaj Siraj Juzjani (right). Both seemed to take pretty dim view of women in politics. Mongols themselves seemed to take far less issue with female leaders (see the entries on Khutulun and Mandukhai Khatun for more). ↩
- The guy I asked about this was Jack Weatherford, author of The Secret History of the Mongol Queens. He said he had not found any direct evidence of a romantic relationship between the two, but that it’s unclear what might constitute direct evidence for the era. He pointed out that the Mongolian language lacked any words for homosexual relationships until recently. ↩
- Weatherford also pointed out that Genghis Khan himself had a similarly intimate relationship with a male confidant named Jamuka. The two at one point had a public ceremony to affirm their brotherhood-like relationship (anda) and afterward “slept apart from the others under one blanket.” Again, nothing can be proven one way or another — and modern views on gender may not be the best lens through which to look at this — but they’re relevant points of reference. ↩
- There’s not enough evidence on this for a definitive call, but this is a comic on the internet, not a peer-reviewed paper in an academic journal. I’m gonna depict it how I see it: they were a couple. ↩
- The main contenders for the throne were Toregene’s other son Koten, Genghis’s brother Temuge (aka Otchigin Noyan), and Koten’s cousin Batu. Koten sheltered people disloyal to Toregene and was in outright rebellion at times. Temuge actually mounted an army and marched on the capital, only to be met on the field by Guyuk. He backed down. ↩
- The event depicted up top is one where Toregene ordered the force-feeding of rocks to the Uighur scribe Korguz until he choked to death. ↩
- The Mongols had been introduced to chess by this point, but had adapted it into their own version, called Shatar. Given that the shape of Shatar pieces would be foreign to most readers, I kept with the better-known chess shapes. ↩
- My depiction of this is a bit out on a limb. I am unsure they retired together, at least initially. I know that Toregene moved to Ogedei’s old place out west near a river. Given that she eventually sheltered Fatima, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say they lived together there, but I’m sure I’ll get emails from people who disagree. ↩
- The way this went down was that Koten, Toregene’s disobedient son and rival claimant to the throne, fell ill and died. A woman named Shira accused Fatima of witchcraft, and Guyuk got behind it. He wanted Fatima to confess to the death of Koten, and that she bewitched his mother Toregene, as well. ↩
- Fatima’s death is grisly. She was first tortured into confession of witchcraft against both Toregene and Koten. After that, because of a prohibition on the spilling of noble blood in the court, she had all her orifices sewn shut, got rolled up in a sheet of felt, and was tossed into a river to drown. This is one of the more creative deaths in recorded Mongolian history. ↩
- So the implication as originally written was that either Guyuk orchestrated Toregene’s murder, or that she killed herself. The way that I set this comic up is to use that quote also to ask what the truth of her relationship with Fatima was. ↩
Most of the art direction revolves around things being in the dark or in the light of the stage of history. From the time Toregene is captured up to her assumption of the throne, she’s in the dark. Then she enters the light and stays there until, violently, she’s ripped back into the dark at the end of the piece. Similarly, the relationship with Fatima is kept in the dark until it briefly enjoys some time in the sun, then gets thrust into darkness again.
Light yellows and oranges symbolize an edenic paradise, while red symbolizes the blood-drenched tactics of hell. This also works in the context of her chess pieces, both in the main poster image, and the illustration of the chess board. Notably, the chess pieces there symbolize actual events:
- The standing red king is Guyuk.
- The fallen white kings around him represent Temuge, Koten, and Batu.
- The fallen white queen is Al-Altun, and the other fallen white knights are miscellaneous soldiers.
- The red side is populated entirely by knights (soldiers) and pawns, as well as one bishop (the tax collector Abd ur Rahman).
- Fatima and Toregene are, of course, the two red queens who’ve taken themselves off the board.
In the main poster image, she’s tossing white chess pieces into a holder full of stones — similar to the ones she force-fed her political opponent in order to kill him.
Also, random fact: Toregene was the great-grandmother of previous RP Khutulun! Her son Khashi sired Kaidu, who was the father of Khutulun.
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This 37-inch-tall painter was the toast of Victorian London.