He was the eldest son of Selim II, and succeeded his father. His accession marks the definite beginning of the decline of the Ottoman power, which had only been maintained under Selim II by the genius of the all-powerful grand vizier Mahommed Sokolli. For, though Sokolli remained in office until his assassination in October 1578, his authority was undermined by the harem influences, which with Murad III were supreme.
Of these the most powerful was that of the sultan's chief wife, named Safie (the pure), a beautiful Venetian of the noble family of Baffo, whose father had been governor of Corfu, and who had been captured as a child by Turkish corsairs and sold into the harem. This lady, in spite of the sultan's sensuality and of the efforts, temporarily successful, to supplant her in his favour, retained her ascendancy over him to the last.