Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Ottoman - Empire - Mehmet the Conqueror III

Durad Branković
The Reaction Abroad

Upon receiving the news of Murad’s death it occurred to the Byzantine Emperor Constantine and his advisers that it would be helpful if Constantine married Murad’s widow Mara. This might give the Byzantine Empire some degree of protection as they believed that Mara would have some influence over the nineteen year old Sultan.
Mara was a distant relative of Constantine’s; his niece had married Mara’s brother Lazar[i]. Durad Branković and his wife Irene were agreeable to the suggestion, but opposition came from an unexpected quarter. Mara was adamant that she was going to devote her widowhood to celibacy, chastity and charitable works[ii].
The west viewed Mehmet as too young and immature to be the serious threat to Christian Europe that his father had been. The Byzantines in particular were aware that Mehmet was despised by his troops for his licentious lifestyle. This unrealistic view was fostered by Mehmet who, within months of his accession, concluded treaties with Hunyadi, Francesco Foscari the Doge of Venice and Durad Branković.
Francesco Foscari
Mehmet sent messages of goodwill to Vladislav II the Prince of Wallachia, the Knights of St John in Rhodes[iii], and the Genoese lords of Lesbos and Chios. Constantine sent ambassadors to the new Sultan to congratulate him on his accession. Mehmet swore by Allah and the Prophet to live at peace with the Byzantines. Ambassadors were exchanged with the ruler of Trebizond, John IV Comnenus. The Greek chronicler George Sphrantzes[iv] warned John IV that
‘This man, who just became sultan, is young and an enemy of Christians since childhood…..if God should grant that the young sultan be overcome by his youth and evil nature and march against our City, I know not what will happen.’[v]
In the spring of 1451 the Karamanids sought to take advantage of Mehmet’s inexperience and revolted against Ottoman rule, seizing three Ottoman fortresses. Mehmet led an expedition against the Karamanid emir Ibrahim, who fled when the army reached central Anatolia. Along with returned the captured fortresses, Ibrahim;
‘Agreed to send every year a certain number of soldiers to serve in the Ottoman army.’[vi]
Byzantine Anatolia
During his return from this campaign Mehmet was faced by another insurrection by the Janissaries, demanding more pay. He was forced to accede to their demands, but had their commander Kazanci Doğan whipped and dismissed from his post. He then reorganised the Janissaries giving himself greater control over them.
Portents of Doom
Returning from Anatolia, Mehmet found Constantine had sent envoys to renegotiate a treaty relating to the upkeep of the Turkish pretender Orhan[vii]. The envoys demanded an increased subsidy for Orhan or he would be released to contest the Ottoman throne. Mehmet delegated Halil to deal with the Byzantines and Halil warned them that playing with Mehmet was playing with fire. And indeed it was; Mehmet immediately started working on plans to attack Constantinople; there was no-one now in a position to stop him.
Rumeli Hisari
Mehmet commenced by building a fortress on the European side of the Bosphorus, a counterpart to the one on the Asiatic side[viii]. Construction of the fortress, which became known as Rumeli Hisari[ix], began in April 1452. It was built just eight miles north of Constantinople; the Byzantines were powerless to prevent the fortress sited so close to their city[x]. When Constantine complained that the fortress violated their treaty Mehmet replied;
‘I take nothing from the City. Beyond the fosse she owns nothing. I desire to build a fortress ….the emperor has no right to stop me.’[xi]
When the Rumeli Hisari was completed Mehmet marched his troops to Constantinople and he spent three days in August reconnoitring. Then, having garrisoned the fort with a force of 500 men, Mehmet returned to Adrianople.
Technical Expertise
Mehmet was approached by the Hungarian engineer Orban who offered to build cannon that would destroy city walls[xii]. Mehmet was interested in the science of war; studying technical manuals on the construction of fortresses and siege machines and he consulted foreign experts, specialising in armaments. He engaged Orban to make cannon for the Rumeli Hisari that would be able to fire across the Bosphorus[xiii].
When finished, Orban’s cannon were placed on the ramparts of the fortress. Mehmet then proclaimed that all ships passing through the Bosphorus must stop for inspection by the commander of the Rumeli Hisari. In early November two Venetian ships managed to slip through but two weeks later another Venetian ship was not so lucky. It was sunk and the crew beheaded and left by the roadside.
Once Orban had proved the effectiveness of his cannon Mehmet ordered the production of one twice as large. When the cannon was ready to be tested 700 men were appointed to service and transport it. Fifteen yoked pairs of oxen were needed to move the monster, albeit with great difficulty. The test firing in January 1453 took place near the Sultan’s palace; the 1,200lb stone[xiv] cannonball flew one mile and the noise of the explosion was heard for ten miles around.
Mehmet ordered that the road to Constantinople be levelled and that all the bridges were to be strengthened to allow the cannon to be transported to the Byzantine capital. Armourers and engineers worked throughout the winter making weapons, siege machines, armour and artillery. By March 1453 Orban and his engineers had reached within five miles of Constantinople, described by a monk, George Scholarius[xv] as
‘A city of ruins, poor and largely uninhabited.’[xvi]

Cries for Help

Constantine appealed to Pope Nicholas for help; he received a cardinal, an archbishop and 200 Neapolitan archers in return. In desperation Constantine agreed a union between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.  The union was rejected by the majority of Constantine’s subjects. The opposition was led by Scholarius who pinned a manifesto condemning the union to his cell door.
‘Wretched Romans, how you have been deceived! Trusting in the might of the Franks you have removed yourselves from the hope of God. Together with the City which will soon be destroyed, you have lost your piety.’[xvii]
The Byzantine citizens mourned;
‘This is the end of our city, the end of our race. These are the days of the Anti-Christ.’[xviii]
Final Preparations
Halil, always a proponent of peace, had been bribed by the Byzantines, but he was frightened by Mehmet into agreeing with his plans that the Sultan now worked on almost without cessation. In any event Mehmet intended to rid himself of Halil once Constantinople had been captured.
Isthmus of Corinth
In late January 1453 Mehmet’s advisers sanctioned the attack on the remnants of the Byzantine Empire. Mehmet ordered the Beylerbey of Rumelia Karaca Pasha to muster an army and attack Thrace. He also ordered that a fleet assemble at Gallipoli; Kritoboulos of Imbros[xix] records that;
‘He [Mehmet] chose crews from all his coast towns….for he attached greater the fleet than to the army. The total number of ships was said to be three hundred and fifty[xx] without counting the transports.’[xxi]
Mehmet was very much aware that previous sieges of the city had failed as they had invested Constantinople only from the land. Mehmet fully intended to make much use of his navy in the upcoming siege.
Constantine’s brothers were kept in check by Omer Pasha, whose army stationed on the Isthmus of Corinth, blocked access from the Morea. The Ottoman army, numbered at about 80,000 men[xxii], marched on the last outpost of the Byzantine Empire.
The Grand Turk – John Freely, I.B. Tauris and Co Ltd, 2009
The Janissaries – Godfrey Goodwin, Saqi Books 1994
Lords of the Horizons – Jason Goodwin, Henry Holt & Co 1998
The Ottoman Empire – Halil Inalcik, Phoenix 1994
The Ottoman Empire – Lord Kinross, Folio Society 2003
Byzantium, The Decline and Fall – John Julius Norwich, Folio Society 1995
The Ottoman Empire – Andrina Stiles, Hodder & Stoughton 1989

[i] Who was to be Durad’s successor
[ii] Mara returned back to live with her father and stepmother after Murad’s death. She rejoined Mehmet’s court after the death of her father
[iii] The order was sovereign ruler of the island
[iv] Enslaved by the Ottomans after the fall of Constantinople
[v] The Grand Turk - Freely
[vi] Ibid
[vii] Orhan was Mehmet’s cousin and grandson of Beyazit I. Mehmet had already agreed to pay for Orhan’s upkeep
[viii] Built in 1394 by Beyazit I
[ix] The Castle of Europe; Mehmet’s three viziers built a tower each; the Turks called it Boghaz Kesen – the cutter of the strait/throat
[x] By now the empire was reduced to Constantinople and its immediate environs
[xi] The Grand Turk - Freely
[xii] Orban had already proffered his invention to Constantine who was unable to afford Orban’s salary and had could not get the materials to build the ‘super’ cannon
[xiii] Mehmet ensured that Orban had everything he needed and paid him four times the requested salary
[xiv] More than two feet in diameter
[xv] Scholarius had originally accepted the union but then had after thoughts. He was later Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople
[xvi] The Grand Turk - Freely
[xvii] The Grand Turk - Freely
[xviii] The Ottoman Empire - Kinross
[xix] Mehmet’s biographer
[xx] Modern estimates make the total about ⅓ to ½ this number
[xxi] The Grand Turk - Freely
[xxii] With a hard core of about 20,000 Janissaries

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Ottoman Empire - Mehmet the Conqueror II

The Hunyadi Revolt
Carrdinal Cesarini
Hunyadi and Ladislaus were begged by the Byzantine emperor John VIII Palaiologus to stand firm against the Turks, encouraged by the knowledge that a Christian naval squadron commanded the Hellespont, penning Murad in Anatolia. Ladislaus announced that he would;
‘Hurl back the infidel sect of Mohammed overseas.’[i]
And the Papal Legate Cardinal Julian Cesarini, who was pushing for the restitution of the crusade, absolved Ladislaus from the perjury of a

‘Rash and sacrilegious oath to the enemies of Christ.’[ii]
The crusaders were without their Serbian allies as Branković was unwilling to overset the treaty that had given him back his domains. A troop from Wallachia, led by Vlad Dracul[iii], made up part of the difference in numbers.

Battle of Varna
Murad was able to avoid the squadrons controlling the Hellespont and in November 1444 he and his armies swept down on the Christians in Rumelia, who were outnumbered three to one, at Varna[iv]. The battle, on 10th November, was a victory for the Ottomans who;
‘After making prisoner all their fresh-faced youths, put all the older ones to the sword, so that these proud infidels suffered what they themselves had planned against the community of Mohammed.’[v]
Ladislaus died on the field and his head, preserved in honey, was cleaned and sent to Bursa and carried round the streets atop a lance. Hunyadi fled the field with Vlad Dracul, who kept him a prisoner for a time. Cardinal Julian Cesarini fled and was never seen again[vi].
Mehmet in Charge
Great Mosque at Magnesia
His first attempt at retirement having last three months; Murad now abdicated the throne in favour of Mehmet; telling the court;
‘I have given my all – my crown, my throne – to my son, whom you should recognise as sultan.’[vii]
Murad took over, as his personal domain, three districts of Anatolia around Magnesia. He had a palace built at Magnesia and there, amidst the company of mystics, poets, theologians and men of letters, he sought the life of a member of a religious fraternity.
Murad encouraged Turkish historical studies and the development of the Turkish language. He occasionally received foreign diplomats in his private apartments and also spent time hunting. Murad had two years of the contemplative life before he was called back to his duties by Halil.
The Venetians sought to take advantage of Mehmet’s inexperience and negotiated a peace treaty signed on 23rd February 1446 at Adrianople. Halil was concerned by Mehmet’s plans for an attack on Constantinople at a time when the Ottoman army was involved in operations on the Greek and Albanian frontiers. Halil, like Murad, was a promoter of peace and at war with the military commanders who surrounded the belligerent young sultan.
Murad’s Return
Halil had the support of the Janissaries and Murad who reluctantly returned to his duties as sultan in the spring of 1446 after a further Janissary revolt over pay. The Janissaries also objected to Mehmet’s decadent life style.
Mehmet was sent off as governor of Magnesia until the death of his father five years later. The introspective Mehmet spent his time brooding over his wrongs and frustrated ambitions. During the last years of his life Murad acted in a more friendly fashion to his son, who visited him a number of times in Adrianople.
Muradiye Complex in Bursa
Murad became attached to a slave girl called Gülbehar[viii] who gave Mehmet a son, Bayezid in January 1448. Hüma Hatun, who had acted as Valide Sultan during her son’s first reign, died in September 1449 and was buried in the garden of the Muradiye complex in Bursa. Her tomb was built by Mehmet;
‘For his deceased mother, queen among women – may the earth of her grave be fragrant.’[ix]
Murad considered Gülbehar unacceptable as a bride for his son and arranged a marriage with Sitt Hanum[x]; the daughter of the emir Ibrahim, a Turkoman prince and ruler of Dulkadir State, thus providing allies against the troublesome Karamanids in Anatolia. Mehmet was not consulted about the marriage and he was resentful of his father’s arrangements.
The wedding took place in September 1450 and was followed by celebrations that lasted three months. The union produced no children and the beautiful Sitt was left behind in Adrianople when Mehmet moved his capital to Constantinople.
In 1450 Gülbehar gave birth to Mehmet’s second son Mustafa, who was to be his favourite. In November Murad’s fifth wife Halima Hatun gave birth to a boy called Küçük Ahmet Ҫelebi, a potential rival to Mehmet.
The Return of Trouble

On 31st October 1448 the Byzantine Emperor John VIII died and his replacement was Constantine XI Palaiologos. Constantine divided the Despotate of the Morea between his two brothers, Thomas and Demetrios. Murad used the period of change to extend his domains in western Greece, capturing Arta, whilst also dealing with trouble in the Morea[xi] fomented by the new Despots.
Murad was then forced to deal with Skandebeg[xii], a former Turkish official, who became ruler of Kruje, Svetigrad and Modriĉ[xiii]. He joined with Hunyadi in another uprising in 1448. Murad defeated their joint armies at Kosovo, ending any chance of Serbian independence. Mehmet fought in the battle, commanding the right wing of his father’s army.
Skanderbeg's fortress
In mid 1450 Murad laid siege to Skanderbeg’s fortress at Kruje. Skanderbeg’s defence was so tenacious that Murad raised the siege in October, making Skanderbeg a hero throughout the Christian world. The Pope, King Alfonso of Aragon, Hunyadi and Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy all sent Skanderbeg messages of support, or ambassadors or assistance. Skanderbeg himself wrote that he had given Christians hope that they could defend themselves from;
‘The oppression and cruel hands of the Turks, our enemies and those of the Catholic faith.’[xiv]
Despite Skanderbeg’s opposition Bosnia became a vassal state of the Ottomans and the Hungarian military was crippled for the foreseeable future. Only Skanderbeg, from his fortress in Croatia was able to inflict any damage on the seemingly unstoppable Ottomans.
Transfer of Power
At the beginning of 1451 Murad ordered that work commence on several pavilions for his palace of Edirne Sarayi. He died of apoplexy on 13th February 1451 at Adrianople following a drinking bout, at the age of forty-seven. When the news reached him Mehmet immediately set out for the Ottoman capital.
Halil suppressed the news of Murad’s death to allow Mehmet time to make the journey. Mehmet was unpopular with both the Janissaries and the people of Adrianople. Mehmet’s departure from his governorship was so fast he had no time to muster his followers who only caught up with Mehmet at Gallipoli, where he camped for two nights.
Tower of Justice Adrianople
Halil seems to have been at odds with the Janissaries who had no respect for Mehmet, and Adrianople was tense when Mehmet rode into the city. Mehmet was confronted by crowds as he was greeted by Sabbaheddin and Halil.
‘They [the crowd} stopped and……….raised their voices in loud lamentations, shedding tears all the while. Then Mehmet and his subordinates, dismounted and followed suit by rending the air with wailing. The mournful cries heard that day… on both sides were a spectacle indeed.’[xv]
Mehmet confirmed the chief officers in their posts, despite his personal dislike of Halil[xvi].
Ișak Pasha, the idol of the army, was sent to escort Murad’s body to its tomb at Bursa. He was accompanied by Murad’s widow Halima, possibly a diversion while on 18th February 1451 Mehmet had his three month old half-brother Küçük Ahmet Ҫelebi garrotted[xvii]. The bereaved widow and mother was then married off to Ișak Pasha.
Ișak’s next task was to restore calm in the provinces where a number of vassals had revolted. Tempted by the possibilities of loot, the Janissaries were eager to take this task on[xviii]. The princelings in Anatolia were subdued and Ișak moved military headquarters from Ankara to Kütaya.
Murad and Halil had been proponents of peace, although Murad had spent much of his reign fighting to obtain the peace he desired. Now with his death the war party was in the ascendant.
The Grand Turk – John Freely, I.B. Tauris and Co Ltd, 2009

The Janissaries – Godfrey Goodwin, Saqi Books 1994
Lords of the Horizons – Jason Goodwin, Henry Holt & Co 1998

The Ottoman Empire – Halil Inalcik, Phoenix 1994
The Ottoman Empire – Lord Kinross, Folio Society 2003

Byzantium, The Decline and Fall – John Julius Norwich, Folio Society 1995
The Ottoman Empire – Andrina Stiles, Hodder & Stoughton 1989


[i] The Ottoman Empire - Kinross
[ii] Ibid
[iii] A Voivode of Wallachia
[iv] On the Bulgarian Black Sea coast
[v] The Grand Turk - Freely
[vi] It is assumed that he died during the battle, although the church would not believe that he was dead and there were a number of rumours of sightings of the cardinal.
[vii] The Grand Turk - Freely
[viii] Possibly of Albanian or Greek Christian origin
[ix] The Grand Turk - Freely
[x] Her aunt Emine Hatun, was married to Mehmed I
[xi] Now known as the Peloponnese
[xii] Originally Georg Castriota, and then Iskander Beg, he became known as Skanderbeg after he deserted from the Turkish ranks at the Battle of Nis. In 1444 he set up the League of Lezhȅ, an alliance of Albanian principalities, to defend Albania against further encroachment by the Ottomans
[xiii] In Croatia
[xiv] The Grand Turk - Freely
[xv] Ibid
[xvi] He had decided to leave confronting Halil until after he had taken Constantinople, a task he had been set upon for years
[xvii] This is the first instance of what became the norm, with the new Ottoman emperor authorising fratricide as a means of avoiding rebellion within the family, normally the garrotte traditionally used was a bowstring
[xviii] The Ottoman emperors ended up caught in a vice of their own devising whereby the Janissaries could only be kept under control by a series of expansionist wars. Without war as a diversion they tended to mutiny