Sunday, July 16, 2017

Ten Years After: The Ottomans Come A'Knocking (Part 3)

The long awaited final installment of the three part series regarding six events which transformed the course of history between 1519 and 1529.

The first part covered the New World - the entrance of Cortes into the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, and the coming of smallpox to the American mainland.

The second discusses two turning points in the Reformation; the excommunication of Martin Luther (January 1521), and Henry VIII's decision to pursue marriage with Anne Boleyn (February 1526).

The last event is also entangled with continental politics, particularly the impact of the Sack of Rome in May 1527 by the forces of Charles V, the Hapsburg monarch who also became Holy Roman Emperor.  For our last installment we will backtrack a bit to 1525.

The Queen Mother Writes The Sultan

The early 16th century in Europe saw interminable warfare among the royalty of Europe with one of the fiercest rivalries between Francois I of France and the Hapsburg (and Holy Roman) Emperor Charles V.  In late 1524 Francois led an army into Italy, seizing Milan and laying siege to Pavia.  In February 1525 an army sent by Charles to relieve the siege completely smashed the French force and captured Francois.

Even before the Battle of Pavia, Francois sought seeking allies among the enemies of the Hapsburgs, entering into an alliance with Poland the very year he invaded Italy.  But with his defeat and capture the need became even more urgent.  Even while the King was in captivity, the Queen Mother, Louise of Savoy, dispatched an emissary to Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Sultan, carrying a letter imploring the Sultan:
“ I had left my son’s freedom to the fairness of Charles. But, he is insulting my son. I entreaty you to make my son free with your great world sovereignty, and grand power that the world recognised”.
All├ęgorie de la r├ęgence de Louise de Savoie - Gestes de Blanche de Castille BNF Fr5715.jpg(Louise of Savoy)

Suleiman responded:
“You! Francois, the King of French province! [Note the reference to France as an Ottoman province!] You have sent a letter to us with your ambassador and informed us about the enemy that entered to your country and imprisoned you. So, you asked our favour for your freedom. It is not bizarre for a sovereign to be defeated or to be imprisoned. Do not worry about it. We have taken our arms and have been riding our horses for days and nights. Every thing will be as the God wishes”.
Though the Ottoman probably did not need a solicitation to justify his next move, the Queen Mother's plea and the promise of an alliance provided a proper causus belli.  The history of Ottoman expansion in Europe was covered in The Song of Jan Sobieski, but to quickly recap; the Ottomans first ventured into Europe in 1354, smashed the Serbian state in 1389, defeated the Crusades mounted in 1396 and 1444, and captured Constantinople in 1453.  Nonetheless, until 1525 their depredations (excepting a brief excursion into southeastern Italy in 1480) had been restricted to the remote and barbarous Balkans.

Between the Balkans and the Hapsburgs in Vienna lay the Kingdom of Hungary.  Already under threat from the Ottomans who had seized Hungary's southernmost fortress at Belgrade in 1521, Louis II, King of Hungary and Bohemia had agreed to a marriage alliance, wedding Mary of Hapsburg in 1522.

Fulfilling his pledge, Suleiman set forth with his army from Istanbul in April 1526.  Four months later, on August 26, 1526, the Ottomans slaughtered the Hungarian army at Mohacs.  Among the dead was the Hungarian king.  The kingdom was shattered, most to fall under Ottoman rule while a sliver in the north and northwest came under Hapsburg sway. The path to Vienna was now clear and France and the Ottomans had established an alliance that was to last for almost three centuries.

Suleiman Retreats From Vienna

On October 15, 1529 the Sultan lifted the three week siege of Vienna and, amidst the autumn rains, began the long trek back to Istanbul.  He had set out that spring with great expectations but the gigantic force of infantry, cavalry and artillery, Muslim and Christian had been hampered in its advance by endless rains and flooding.  It was not until September 8 that Buda had been captured and Vienna not reached until late September.  Tunneling and mining failed to bring down the walls, as did direct assault.

If Vienna had fallen the way into central Europe for the Turks would have been open.  Even with this failure, the expectations of Christian Europe were that Suleiman would return, and return soon.  The threat remained.  The reality was it was an unrecognized turning point.  The Turks returned for a second siege, but not until 1683.  In the interim was a century and an half of back and forth.  In the Mediterranean, the Knights of Malta defeated the Turkish invasion of 1565 (read, The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of), and the Ottoman fleet was defeated at Lepanto in 1571.  Though the French alliance paid off, as during the 1540s the Turkish fleet wintered in Toulon, and dominated the sea, seizing tens of thousands of slaves in its ceaseless raiding.  But for the first time in almost two centuries, the Sultans were not constantly advancing.  Europe had a breathing space.


The ten years from 1519 to 1529 saw the European conquest of the Americas made inevitable by the ravages of disease, the Catholic Church challenged after twelve centuries as the ruling faith of Europe, new dynamic of faith and conflict within Christianity created, and the beginning of the end of the remorseless Ottoman threat, all of which set the stage for the era of European world dominance.


Along with the six events profiled in this series, I researched another which, as it turned out, fell just outside this period but which had consequences that continue to ripple through history; the transport of sub-Saharan African slaves to the Americas.  The scale of this transfer was such that until the mid-19th century more Africans than Europeans had cumulatively come to the New World since 1492.

"Africans" had been present from the start as part of the initial Spanish and Portuguese expeditions to the New World.  However, they were either Moors; Arab or Berber captives from wars in North Africa or seized from ships, or in some instances, Moorish slaves from sub-Saharan Africa captured, in turn, by the Spanish or Portuguese.

Although there is reference to a 1502 slave transhipment from sub-Sahara Africa it appears the beginnings of the systematic trans-Atlantic trade was in 1517 or 1518.  Over the next 300 years, 10-11 million Africans were imported with more than one million others dying during transport.

Of these about 47% went to Brazil and 32% to the British and French sugar plantations in the Caribbean.  Another 17% were transported to Spanish possessions (two-thirds to Cuba).  The colonies (and later states) that were to constitute the United States account for about 389,000-407,000 (or 4%).

Sub-Sahara Africa also saw another large slave trade to the east and north with an estimated 10-20 million slaves transported to the Muslim countries of North Africa and the Middle East over a period of one thousand years.  During those same years, an estimated one million Europeans were enslaved by corsairs sailing from the Barbary states of North Africa.  There was also a lively slave trade during the Dark Ages of European slaves taken from the pagan areas of Germany and the Baltics during the Crusades to bring those areas to Christianity, sold via France to Muslim traders in Spain, as well as a well-established trade by Vikings selling captive slaves to the Turkish and Abbasid caliphates.

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