Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Ottoman Empire - Mehmet the Conqueror


Murad II
Murad II became Sultan of the Ottoman Empire at the age of eighteen and much of his life was spent in a war against the Christian lords in the Balkans[i] and against the Turkish emirates in Anatolia. In 1423 Murad married Hadice Hatun, who was to become his favourite wife. Hüma Hatun, married Murad in 1426 as his fourth wife. In 1428 Murad married Mara Hatun, the daughter of Durad Branković, Despot[ii] of Serbia, but the couple had no children. A contemporary Greek historian recorded that Durad;
‘Offered his daughter to Murat in marriage, with the greater part of Serbia…….and all he asked in return was a pact sealed by sacred oaths.’[iii]
His son Mehmet was born on 30th March 1432 in Adrianople[iv], Mehmet’s mother was Huma Hatun. Born in what were seen as inauspicious circumstances, during a plague that carried off two of his paternal uncles; Mehmet was the third of Murad’s sons but he was the son of a slave girl[v] while his half-brothers were born of Turkish mothers.
The eldest brother Ahmed was born to a concubine, while Ailaeddin Ali was born to Hadice Hatun. Murad preferred his elder two sons; Ailaeddin Ali and Ahmed, and did not view Mehmet as a possible successor. The first two years of Mehmet’s life were spent in the harem at Adrianople where he was looked after mainly by his nurse Daye Hatun, to whom Mehmet was devoted[vi].
Aegean Sea, Magnesia Province
At the age of two Mehmet and Ailaeddin Ali were taken to Amasya[vii] where their fourteen year old brother Ahmed was the regional governor[viii]. Hüma Hatun and Daye Hatun accompanied Mehmet to Amasya. Ahmed died four years later and Mehmet became governor of Amasya at the age of five, while the seven year old Ailaeddin Ali was transferred to become governor of Magnesia[ix].
In 1438 Murad directed that the brothers swap their administrative duties. The following year Murad called the two boys back to Adrianople to be circumcised, followed by a festival lasting several days.
In 1440 Murad besieged Belgrade, following on from his seizure of Serbia. Murad was aware that;
‘Belgrade was the gateway to Hungary and aimed to open that gate……[but] many men and lords from the Muslim army were killed.’[x]
Murad was forced to lift the siege in October and the following year his expansionist policies were directed at Transylvania, but his activities were stopped by Janos Hunyadi, a noble of Romanian extraction. In 1442 Hunyadi again defeated the Ottoman forces, this time in Wallachia.
During Murad’s reign the revenues of the empire increased considerably; in 1432 the traveller Bertrandon de la Broquière[xi] estimated that the annual revenue had risen to 2,500,000 ducats[xii] and that the Sultan could easily afford to invade Europe.
Heir Apparent
Ailaeddin Ali died in early June 1443 in Amasya, strangled in his bed by his adviser Kara Hizir Pasha, who also killed the prince’s two young sons. Kara was executed without ever having divulged a motive for the murders. Murad was grief-stricken at the death of his favourite son.
Now eleven, Mehmet was recalled to Adrianople where Murad was horror stricken at this ignoramus of a son. Mehmet’s tutors said that the boy was headstrong and reluctant to learn, particularly recalcitrant where religious instruction was concerned. His first teacher, Ilyas Efendi, a Serbian prisoner of war, was totally incapable of teaching the wayward boy and he was dismissed and was followed into ignominy by a series of other teachers.
Murad employed an illustrious Mullah to teach Mehmet; Ahmed Kourani taught at the well-known madrassa at Bursa[xiii]. The sultan gave Kourani a rod with which to chastise the unruly prince; Kourani told his pupil;
‘Your father has sent me to instruct you, but also to keep you in order if you refuse to obey me.’[xiv]
Mehmet laughed at his tutor who immediately rained blows upon the prince; Mehmet soon buckled down to become well learned in the Quran. Of his many tutors Mehmet was particularly under the sway of his mentor Molla Gürani.
From his tutors Mehmet gained a deep appreciation and understanding of Islam and he supported Sharia law. Mehmet came under the influence of Ak Şemseddin who impressed on Mehmet the need to fulfil his Islamic duty by overthrowing the Byzantine Empire and the taking of Constantinople. Mehmet also studied foreign languages, philosophy, geography, Islamic, Greek and Latin history and literature.
Murad himself taught Mehmet how to deal with affairs of state and, when Murad retired in August 1444, Mehmet received further lessons from the Grand Vizier, Candarli Halil. But the two did not get on; the young boy was arrogant and determined to have his own way.
Hungarian Crusade
Murad, in addition to conquering Serbia and Wallachia, had sent the Ottoman army on raids into Hungary which was under the rule of Poland. Hunyadi ruled over large swathes of Transylvania for King Ladislas III of Poland, and then over the whole of Hungary.
Defending over 200 miles of Hungary bordering the Ottoman empire, Hunyadi had a series of victories against the Turks. These victories gave rise to another crusade against the infidel with troops sourced mainly from eastern Europe. They took Nis[xv] in 1443 and restored Durad Branković to his Serbian domains. The crusaders then occupied Sofia and crossed the Balkans in the depths of winter to arrive in the plains of Thrace[xvi].
After a victory on Christmas day, struggling with supplies and starving, the Christian army retreated back to Buda. Murad did not chase the retreating crusaders but negotiated a ten year truce which was signed at Szeged and sworn by Ladislas on the bible and by Murad on the Quran.
A First Attempt at Ruling
After Murad made peace with the Karamanids, with the Treaty of Yenișehir ceding them the lands in Hamidili, he retired in August 1444 to south western Anatolia and left the empire to be ruled by an impetuous twelve year old who, it was hoped, would be contained by Halil as Regent.
Mehmet supported a Persian missionary, leader of a Dervish group, who preached of an affinity between Islam and Christianity. Halil and the Grand Mufti Fahrettin had the preacher arrested for heresy, but the man eluded them and took refuge with Mehmet in the palace. Mehmet found himself obliged to give the preacher up and the Grand Mufti denounced the heresies from the pulpit of the mosque and the crowd were incited to violence, burning the preacher at the stake. His followers were liquidated. Mehmet resented Halil for his part in the affair.
Probably influenced by Halil, who was possibly jealous of the man, the Janissaries were particularly incensed at Mehmet’s preferment of his Chief White Eunuch Sabaheddin Pasha[xvii]. Sabaheddin was a Christian renegade, one among many who had risen to high office as a result of Murad’s changes to the Janissary draft system[xviii] When Halil ordered a Janissary raid on Sabaheddin’s residence, Sabaheddin too took refuge in the palace with Mehmet.
Mehmet’s arrogant and overbearing ways upset the Janissaries who, quiescent under Murad, now rebelled at being ordered about by an inexperienced adolescent. They demanded a pay increase and, when this was refused, went on the rampage in Adrianople. They attacked the bazaar and then went on to pillage and murder throughout the city. The Janissaries’ pay increase was granted. The event served to widen the rift between Mehmet and Halil, who appears to have been central to the Janissaries’ decision to revolt.
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] Annexing Serbia in 1439
[ii] An Ottoman court title originally bestowed on the son-in-laws of the emperors and areas they ruled became known as despotates and their rulers were given the title of Despot
[iii] The Grand Turk - Freely
[iv] Now Edirne
[v] Who may have had Christian ancestry
[vi] She died five years after Mehmet on14th February 1486 in Constantinople, a wealthy woman who endowed several mosques
[vii] Known in Ottoman times for its maddrassas
[viii] Murad started the custom for sending the Sultan’s sons to gain experience of governing from a relatively early age, under the supervision of trusted officials and away from the centre of the realm
[ix] Part of Thessaly
[x] The Grand Turk - Freely
[xi] A Burgundian spy, pilgrim and author of Le Voyage d'Outre-Mer
[xii] In 2013 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £1,840,000,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £48,410,000,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £757,100,000,000.00
[xiii] The original capital of the empire
[xiv] The Ottoman Empire - Kinross
[xv] In southern Serbia
[xvi] Now south-eastern Bulgaria
[xvii] Also a military commander
[xviii] The Janissaries were all enslaved Christians. The changes allowed Christian slaves to serve in civil capacities as well as military and the ruling Muslim families were finding themselves excluded from power

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