Introduction: European-Ottoman relations


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Introduction: European-Ottoman relations

Introduction: European-Ottoman relations
by Alistair Hamilton
Alistair Hamilton
Alistair Hamilton
DOI: 10.24157/ARCS_010

  • Keywords:
    Ceremonies, Cultural diplomacy, Cultural exchange, Diplomatic missions, Early Modern Period, War, Christian Powers, Military strategy, Mediterranean, Capitulations, Louis XIV, Conquests, Constantinople, Faith, Europe, Early Printed Books, Francis I, Invasions, Reformation, Paris, Muslim, Islamophobia, Holy Roman Empire, Emperor Charles V
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The Ottoman Empire is one of the longest enduring empires in history. During its golden era in fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, most of the Arab world, together with a sizeable part of Eastern Europe, had been incorporated into its borders. Throughout its lifespan, the Ottomans played a significant role in European history, acting as either ally or enemy to various different European states.

By the mid-sixteenth century most of the Arab world, together with a sizeable part of Eastern Europe, had been incorporated in the Ottoman Empire. The terms, such as ‘Saracens’ or ‘Moors’, that had been bestowed on the Arabs in the West came to be replaced by the word ‘Turk’. The Quran was described as the ‘Turkish Alcoran’. Islam was regarded as an essentially Turkish faith. And the great enemy of Christendom, with an empire which stretched to the Austrian borders, was ‘the Turk’. Until what is known as the Second Siege of Vienna, the Austro-Polish defeat of the Turkish army at the gates of Vienna in 1683, the Turks were generally regarded, despite such setbacks as the unsuccessful siege of Malta in 1565 and the Christian victory at Lepanto in 1571, as all but invincible.

The Arcadian Library has many works illustrating this antagonism to the Ottoman Empire in Europe. These include an appeal for a crusade against the Turks issued by Pope Pius IV in the early 1560s; an Italian tract dated 1571 by the ‘Commendator San Giorgio’, with a discussion of the possibilities open to the Christian powers after Lepanto and the most desirable targets of further attacks; and a further Italian work, dated 1574, about the importance of maintaining a defensive anti-Turkish alliance after Lepanto; and an exhortation to fight the Turks written in about 1580. The library also has an exceptional collection of pamphlets, emerging from a lengthy pamphlet war that fear of the Turks inspired.

Alliances and the Ottoman role in Europe

The attitude to this great enemy, however, was ambivalent from the outset. Early in the sixteenth century the king of France, François I, had realized that the Turks could be invaluable allies against his main Christian rivals, the Habsburgs, and had consequently established diplomatic relations with the sultan. The Arcadian Library has a copy of the rare Oraison published in 1544 and written by Cardinal Jean Du Bellay in an attempt to justify the alliance and to persuade the Protestant princes to join. Dating from many years later is a copy of the renewal of the treaty, this time between Henri IV and Sultan Ahmet I, arranged in 1604 by the ambassador François Savary de Brèves. Later still is a further renewal, between Louis XIV and Mehmet IV, obtained by another ambassador, Charles Olier, marquis de Nointel (who was accompanied by Antoine Galland).

Such publications are complemented by an outspoken attack on the ‘despotic’ behaviour of the French in their conquests in the Low Countries and Germany, with the implication that they had abandoned Christianity and adopted Turkish customs—La cour de France turbanisée, et les trahisons démasquées en trois parties was first published in Cologne in 1686 and the library has the 1690 edition printed in The Hague.

Diplomatic missions

Two Almanachs produced three years apart indicate the degree of interest in Turkish affairs aroused on the one hand by the arrival of the Turkish ambassador in Paris and his audience with the young Louis XV, and on the other hand by the Peace treaty signed in Pozarevac (German Passarowitz), Serbia, on 21 July 1718, between the Ottoman Empire, and Austria and Venice. The Arcadian Library also has an engraving based on a painting by the American Mather Brown, portraitist to the Duke of York and the Duke of Clarence, showing the reception of the Turkish ambassador by George III in 1797 with, in attendance on the king, Lord Salisbury, William Pitt, Lord Grenville, the Lord Chancellor and the Master of Ceremonies.

Ever closer relations

In the nineteenth century relations between Europe and the Ottomans became still closer. The strategic significance of Turkey in the Great Game as well as the commercial importance of the Ottoman Empire as a whole brought about ever firmer exchanges. The Arcadian Library thus has the French translation, in a copperplate hand, of a firman issued at the request of General Horace François Bastien Sébastiani, Napoleon’s ambassador in Istanbul from 1805 to 1807, by the grand vizier and high admiral ‘Ali Pasha, ordering compensation for damage done to French goods in the harbour of the Greek island of Hydra. The library also has three autograph letters from Hussein Pasha, Selim III’s high admiral, dated 1802 and addressed to Admiral Lord Keith in command of the British fleet in the Mediterranean, and an original contract, drawn up in 1860 regarding the construction of a railway from Istanbul, through Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, to other line extensions. In Turkish and French, it is signed by the sultan and the French minister of foreign affairs.

Abridged from Hamilton, A., 2011. Turcica. In: Bridge of Knowledge: Western Appreciation of Arab and Islamic Civilization in the Arcadian Library . London: The Arcadian Library, p. 145-200.