Scandalous Women has a brilliant post about the story of Aimée Dubucq de Rivery, a French heiress and cousin of the Empress Joséphine who went missing at sea at the age of eleven and was rumoured to have been captured by Barbary pirates, sold into an Ottoman harem and risen through the ranks to become the favourite wife of a sultan and mother to his heir, thus spawning dozens of films, books and Black Lace erotica.
As a teenager, I remember reading The Wilder Shores of Love by Lesley Blanch, a brilliant and evocative book about Aimée and three other European women who found their destiny in the far East. I have always felt drawn to Jane Digby, Lady Ellenborough, who was one of the major beauties of Regency London and ended up living in Syria as the wife of a Sheikh via all sorts of romantic adventures.
However, although Jane Digby’s adventures are well documented, it is not known if Aimée Dubucq de Rivery really did live in a harem and become a Sultana or if she actually perished at sea. I think I would rather believe the story about the Barbary pirates to be honest!