Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Ottoman Empire - Suleiman; the Twilight Years

The Death of Mustafa
Rustem Pasha Mosque
The eldest of Suleiman’s sons was not Roxelana’s child and she was very aware that if Mustafa inherited the Sultanate that her sons would be murdered. Roxelana had obtained a great deal of influence over Suleiman in the years since Ibrahim’s death and the move of the Seraglio into the Topkapi Palace.
Roxelana had arranged for her son-in-law Rustem Pasha’s appointment as Grand Vizier. Suleiman gradually relinquished control of his empire to Rustem, who was very much influenced by his mother-in-law. Rustem spent much of his wealth on charitable foundations, mosques and public buildings.

Suleiman had decided that Mustafa was to succeed him, but Roxelana was able to play on Suleiman’s addiction to power and his innate suspicion of any potential rival. She was determined that her alcoholic weak son Selim would inherit. Mustafa had great potential being
‘Being marvellously well-educated and prudent and of the age to reign.’[i]
Mustafa was Governor of Amasya[ii] and had military experience and the support of the Janissaries, who saw in him a worthy successor to his father.

At the beginning of the third Persian campaign Suleiman was reluctant to lead his troops into battle and delegated command to Rustem Pasha. Rustem sent messengers to Suleiman to inform him that the Janissaries were calling for Mustafa to lead them into battle. Rustem also reported that the Janissaries were preaching sedition to Mustafa and that he was favourably inclined towards the proposals.
Roxelana seized the moment and persuaded Suleiman that his son was contemplating seizing his throne. Riddled with religious doubt, Suleiman placed the problem before the Mufti, the Sheikh of Islam, as a theoretical problem. The Mufti’s answer favoured torturing the miscreant to death. Relieved of his religious worries Suleiman marched to his field headquarters at Eregli, on the Black Sea, summoning Mustafa from Amasya.

Mustafa’s friends urged him not to obey his father but Busbeq[iii] wrote
‘Mustafa was confronted by a difficult choice: if he entered the presence of his angry and offended father, he ran an undoubted risk; if he refused he clearly admitted that he had contemplated an act of treason. He chose the braver and more dangerous course.’[iv]
Upon his arrival at Eregli Mustafa was escorted to his father’s tent, where he was ceremoniously strangled. To appease the distraught Janissaries, Suleiman removed Rustem from his post, replacing him with Ahmed Pasha. Within two years Rustem was again given the Grand Vizier post, following the execution of his successor/predecessor.

The Death of Bayezid

On 15th April 1558 Roxelana died, to be deeply mourned by Suleiman. She left her son Selim, as his father’s heir. Her youngest son Jehangir, who was disabled, had died not long after the execution of his beloved half-brother. Selim and his remaining brother Bayezid detested each other and after their mother’s death were released from the control that had kept them from each other’s throats.
The Janissaries supported Selim while Bayezid’s supporters were the discontented peasants and timariotes[v]. A former servant of Bayezid’s Lala Mustafa, who had changed masters, persuaded Selim that he could ruin Bayezid. Lala Mustafa wrote to Bayezid offering to have Selim killed and Bayezid eagerly agreed.

Selim informed Suleiman, who sent a letter of warning to Bayezid. Lala Mustafa had the messenger murdered and Suleiman was informed that this was of Bayezid’s doing. Bayezid was transferred from the governorship of Konya[vi] to Amasya. Bayezid refused to leave Konya and raised 20,000 troops. An army of regular troops was sent to support Selim who defeated his brother’s army outside Konya.
Bayezid fled to Persia where he was welcomed and imprisoned by Shah Tahmasp. Pressurised by Ottoman military might Tahmasp finally agreed to allow the execution of Bayezid in Baghdad. Bayezid was garrotted by an official executioner from Istanbul in 1559. Allegedly Suleiman was relieved to have been spared continuing war between his two remaining sons, although he must have been aware that Selim was mediocre in the extreme, and was not very religious.

‘I thank God that I have lived long enough to see Muslims free of war between my sons. I will therefore be able to live out the rest of my days in peace. If the opposite had occurred, I would have lived and died in despair.’[vii]
The Last Campaign

Following attacks by the Knights of St John on Ottoman shipping, Suleiman sent his fleet to take the island. The failure of his sea-borne forces to take Malta in the summer of 1565 led Suleiman to bemoan
‘Only with me do my armies triumph.’[viii]

John Sigismund Zapolya meets Suleiman
He decided to salvage his wounded pride with a further campaign against Hungary and Austria. On 1st May 1566 Suleiman left Istanbul for the last time. Unable to sit astride a horse, Suleiman travelled in a litter. At Semlin Suleiman was met by the young King John Sigismund, whom he greeted as his dearly beloved son.
The army then travelled to the fortress of Sziget, whose commander had attacked and killed a sanjak bey, one of Suleiman’s favourites. The fortress was invested and sappers worked to undermine the citadel, to which the defenders had repaired. On 5th September the mine was fired and the citadel fell.

Death of Suleiman
In his last years Suleiman was enfeebled and Busbeq noted

‘His Majesty during many months of the year was very feeble of body, so he lacked little of dying, being dropsical, with swollen legs, appetite gone, and face swelled and of very bad colour. In the month of March last, he had four or five fainting fits, and he had had one since, in which his attendants doubted whether he was alive or dead, and hardly expected that he would recover from them.’[ix]
Suleiman died before he could be informed of his last victory. He may have died from apoplexy or from a heart attack. News of the Sultan’s death was kept from the army and his followers were informed that an attack of gout kept Suleiman in his tent.

Suleiman's tomb
The business of government continued as if Suleiman was still alive, as the Grand Vizier was determined to effect a peaceful accession for Selim who was informed by messenger of his father’s death, in Kutahya[x],. After the fall of Sziget the army made its slow way back to Istanbul, to give time for Selim to reach the city before them.
Outside Belgrade the Grand Vizier was informed that Selim had reached Istanbul and the army was finally informed of the Sultan’s death. The poet Baqi wrote of the sense of loss Suleiman’s subjects felt after nearly 46 years of his rule;

‘Will not the king wake from sleep? Broke has the dawn of day.

Will he not move forth from his tent bright as heaven’s display?

Long have our eyes dwelt on the road, and yet no news has come

From yonder land……’[xi]

 By the end of Suleiman’s reign, in common with much of Europe the empire was suffering from food shortages, population increases and rising inflation. The cost of the increasing bureaucracy, the splendour of the court and the never-ending wars put huge pressures on the treasury.

Suleiman’s works contained the seeds of the Empire’s eventual downfall; rooted in the corruption and favouritism in the Seraglio and in the corruption and venality in the bureaucracy. Like other empires before and after the Ottoman Empire grew too big for careful governance, even if officialdom had not become riddled with dishonesty, nepotism and carelessness.

Suleiman the Magnificent – André Clot, Saqui Books 2012
Lord of the Horizons – Jason Goodwin, Henry Holt & Co 1998

The Ottoman Empire – Halil Inalcik, Phoenix 1997
The Ottoman Empire – Patrick Kinross, Folio Society 2003

Safavid Iran – Andrew J Newman, IB Tauris & Co Ltd 2006
The Ottoman Empire – Andrina Stiles, Hodder & Stoughton 1991

[i] The Ottoman Empire - Kinross
[ii] On the road to Persia
[iii] Charles V’s envoy in Istanbul
[iv] The Ottoman Empire - Kinross
[v] Irregular cavalrymen who served the emperor in times of war in exchange for a fief or timar.
[vi] In central Anatolia
[vii] Suleiman the Magnificent - Clot
[viii]The Ottoman Empire - Kinross
[x] In western Turkey
[xi] The Ottoman Empire - Stiles

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