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Ottoman History
Ottoman History

Ottoman Empire: France And Austria-Hungary

The Ottoman Empire was the preeminent Muslim state of the early-modern and modern periods. Arising in Anatolia in the thirteenth century, the Ottomans came to dominate the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeastern Europe. Although often perceived as a Middle Eastern power only, the Ottomans were an integral part of Europe.

The Ottoman Empire’s relations with France and Austria (later Austria-Hungary) were often linked. For most of its history, the Ottoman state had good relations with France and fought with Austria. There were a number of factors that drove this dynamic. Most importantly, the Ottoman presence in the Balkans was a direct threat to the security of the Austrian Habsburg Empire. France too was often in conflict with the Habsburgs, and this brought the Ottomans and French together diplomatically and, sometimes, militarily. France also became deeply involved in the Ottoman territories, first through trade, then through investment. Only in the twentieth century did conditions change such that the Ottoman Empire allied with Austria-Hungary against France.

The Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453 established the Ottomans as a world empire. The victorious Sultan Mehmed II, ”the Conqueror,” fully understood the significance of capturing the Byzantine capital. Wanting to preserve the city’s role as a center for world trade, Mehmed sent his personal troops into the city to protect the Byzantine palace and major marketplaces from looting. Mehmed’s campaigns into the Balkans began to concern the Austrian Habsburgs, but initially there was little direct contact. As for relations with France, French merchants began to increase their trade in the eastern Mediterranean in this period.
Mehmed’s death in 1481 led to a succession struggle between his sons Bayezid and Cem. The civil war that followed Mehmed’s death pitted Bayezid, who was supported by the janissary slave soldiers, against his brother Cem, who garnered the support of the traditional Turkish aristocracy. Bayezid emerged victorious, and Cem fled. After seeking refuge in Cairo and among the Knights of Saint John on Rhodes, Cem was sent to France, where he was kept as a ”guest” at Bayezid’s request. This included an annual remittance from the Sublime Porte, the Ottoman seat of government, to Paris to cover Cem’s expenses. Cem spent the rest of his life as a pawn in international diplomacy, as the Christian powers used his claim to the Ottoman throne as a potential threat against Bayezid.

The sixteenth century opened with a period of Ottoman expansion that greatly affected the Porte’s relationships with France and Austria. The questions surrounding Ottoman expansion—How far would they go? When would they advance? Could they be stopped?—became vital to the states of Europe. Sultan Selim ”the Grim” (1512-1520) defeated Shah Ismail Safavi at Chaldiran (1514), ending the threat of Persian expansion into Anatolia, and conquered the Mamluks in Cairo, which brought the central Islamic lands under Ottoman rule (1517). The conquest of the Levant was the fulfillment of Ottoman plans to secure control of east-west trade. The Ottomans now held all the major entrepots for silk and spices in the eastern Mediterranean, and their navy dominated the sea.

Under Selim’s son, Suleyman ”the Magnificent” (1520-1566), the Ottoman Empire became a major participant in the diplomacy of Europe. Suleyman was deeply interested in events and developments in Europe, and quickly moved to expand the empire to the west, especially into Hungary. This brought the Ottomans into direct conflict with the Habsburgs in Austria. At the same time, Suleyman developed closer economic and diplomatic ties with France. Relations with both states were complicated by the advent of the Protestant Reformation.
This period was one of competition for supremacy between three strong rulers: Suleyman, Francis I of France (1494-1547), and Charles V (1500-1558), the Habsburg heir in Spain elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1519. Francis and Charles battled for control of northern Italy and supremacy in western Europe. Charles’s focus on the west led him to put his brother, Archduke Ferdinand (1503-1564), in charge of the eastern portions of the empire. The Ottoman-Habsburg rivalry took place in two areas: in the western Mediterranean against Charles and in Hungary against Ferdinand.

Suleyman’s advances into Hungary were a direct threat to the Habsburgs in Austria. Suleyman first attacked Hungary in 1526. On August 28, 1526, a hastily mustered Hungarian force led by the young King Louis II met the larger and better-armed Ottoman army at Mohacs, a plain on the Danube south of the Hungarian capital at Buda. The Hungarians were no match for the Ottomans, whose artillery was particularly devastating. Over 10,000 Hungarian foot soldiers were killed, along with most of the nobility and bishops. King Louis fell from his horse while fleeing the battle and drowned. Within days, Ottoman forces occupied Buda and Pest. Suleyman, however, quickly withdrew, holding only the eastern third of Hungary.

Louis’s death led to a succession struggle in Hungary. The majority of the nobles elected John Zapolyai as king, and he quickly acknowledged Ottoman suzerainty. However, Ferdinand of Austria, Louis’s brother-in-law, also claimed the Hungarian throne and occupied Buda in 1528. Securing control of Hungary became vital to Habsburg defense planning. Suleyman marched into Hungary to support Zapolyai in 1529, retaking Buda, and continued westward to besiege Vienna that fall. The siege began too late in the season and Suleyman was forced to raise the siege and march home. Hungary was divided into three parts: Ottoman, Habsburg, and royal Hungary under Zapolyai. In 1553 a treaty recognized both Zapolyai and Ferdinand as rulers over their respective territories in Hungary in exchange for annual tribute to the Porte.

Full Ottoman annexation of royal Hungary came in 1541, prompted by Habsburg military action. In 1538 Zapolyai and Ferdinand concluded the Treaty of Varad by which Ferdinand would inherit Zapolyai’s lands in exchange for aid against Ottoman attacks. The agreement became problematic when Zapolyai had a son shortly before his death in 1540. The Porte recognized the child as king, obviating Ferdinand’s claims. Habsburg armies again tried to take Buda, and in August 1541 Suleyman marched to relieve the city. This time, however, he installed an Ottoman governor and provincial administration for Hungary. Ferdinand took full control of the western third of Hungary, already under Habsburg rule.

In the western Mediterranean, conflicts with their mutual Habsburg enemies led Suleyman and Francis I to ally. France already had an amicable relationship with the Porte, having been granted its first capitulation, or trade agreement, in 1535. This agreement allowed French merchants to conduct business in the Ottoman realms and granted them extraterritoriality. In the same year, Charles V captured Tunis, prompting Suleyman to accept Francis’s offer of an alliance. Joint French-Ottoman naval operations against Charles commenced, and plans were made, but never carried out, for a joint attack on Habsburg territories in Italy. Poor relations with Charles ensured that Francis would remain on good terms with the Ottomans through the 1540s. Naval operations continued and the Ottoman fleet wintered in Toulon in 1543.

Conflict with Charles also led Suleyman to support the Protestant Reformation. Charles was the leading Catholic king, and tried to suppress the spread of the Reform movement and bring the rebellious northern German princes back to the Roman church. Suleyman saw support for the Protestant princes as a way to strike at Charles and weaken the Habsburgs. The Protestants took advantage of Ottoman support and the growing Ottoman threat in the East to come to an agreement with Ferdinand. In exchange for help defending his lands they received religious tolerance for their churches.
Charles V abdicated the throne in 1556 and divided his empire between his son, Philip II, who inherited Spain, the Netherlands, and Spanish holdings in the New World, and Ferdinand, who became Holy Roman Emperor. Philip II signed the Peace of Cateau-Cambresis with Henry II of France in 1559, thus ending the Habsburg—French rivalry. This, combined with domestic difficulties, led Suleyman in 1562 to make peace with Ferdinand, who agreed to pay annual tribute to the Ottomans.
Ottoman-French trade relations were advanced with a new capitulation agreement in 1569. This agreement opened all Ottoman ports to French merchants and required all other western merchant vessels to sail under the French flag. French merchants took quick advantage of the new situation, and came to dominate Levantine trade.

The seventeenth century opened and closed with major Ottoman wars with Austria. Border raiding by both empires’ garrisons escalated into a full-scale imperial war in 1592. This war, usually called the Long War, lasted until 1606. The Habsburgs took a number of Ottoman fortresses and won several major victories in the early years of the war, and anti-Ottoman rebellions broke out in Transylvania and Wallachia. The tide shifted after the Ottoman victory at Mezo Keresztes in 1596, yet the Ottomans were unable to press their advantage and the war devolved into a stalemate. By 1605 Habsburg anti-Protestant policies had alienated much of the population in Hungary and Transylvania, and those regions rebelled against Vienna. The war ended with the treaty of Sitva Torok in 1606.

France remained a major trading partner with the Ottomans in the seventeenth century, but began to face serious competition from the rising trade powers of England and the Netherlands. French merchants had relied on the Venetian model of establishing close relationships with officials at the Porte to ensure trade access in the empire. As power in the Ottoman state became more decentralized, however, local officials and notables acted more independently. French merchants could no longer count on pressure from the central government to solve difficulties they were having in the provinces. English merchants were particularly successful in establishing themselves at the local level, and England’s share of Ottoman trade increased.

Despite the growing competition from England, French merchants remained a vital part of the Ottoman economy. The relationship between France and the Porte remained cordial, especially as France came to replace Venice as the dominant western power in Levantine trade. French ships were even used to transport Ottoman officials. In the eighteenth century France came to dominate coastal shipping in the empire. France also continued to encourage the Ottomans to harass the Habsburgs in Austria, as French-Habsburg rivalry continued in the west.
Ottoman withdrawal from Europe.
Ottoman decentralization was halted in mid-century by the Koprulu family of viziers who reasserted the power of the central government. Part of their program was to revitalize the military, and this resulted in two major campaigns against Austria. The first began in 1663 under the personal leadership of Grand Vizier Fazil Ahmed Koprulu. Although the Habsburgs won the only major battle of the war, at Saint Gotthardt on August 1, 1664, the Ottomans came out ahead in the Treaty of Vasvar, which ended the war a few days later. The Habsburgs withdrew from the territories they had captured, and again agreed to pay annual tribute to Istanbul.

The most important Ottoman western campaign of the seventeenth century was the siege of Vienna in 1683. Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha set out with a huge army to try to take the city that even Suleyman had not been able to capture. Delayed by sieges of smaller forts along the way, the Ottoman forces arrived at Vienna too late in the campaign season and with too little artillery to be successful. The siege was raised by an army led by Jan Sobieski, the king of Poland.
The Habsburgs and their allies capitalized on the victory at Vienna by forming a Holy League to force the Ottomans out of Europe. Austrian forces took Pest in 1685 and Buda in 1686. By 1688 the Hungarian nobles had elected the Habsburg emperor king of Hungary, and Austrian forces had captured Belgrade. The Habsburg advance was halted by a new war with France and this allowed the Ottomans to regroup and counterattack. The Ottoman counteroffensive ended at the Battle of Slankamen (August 20, 1691) and the battle lines held along the Danube until 1699, when the Treaty of Karlowitz was negotiated. The Habsburgs gained Hungary and Transylvania as well as the right to look after the conditions of Catholic subjects of the Ottomans. Karlowitz was the beginning of the end of Ottoman rule in the Balkans. Austria was now the dominant power in southeastern Europe.

The Ottoman Empire and France maintained their close relations throughout most of the eighteenth century. Because of their own conflicts with Austria, the French often encouraged the Ottomans to fight the Austrians. Austria for its part was not averse to trying to take territory in the Balkans, but was usually unable to successfully fight the Ottomans on its own. Most often Austria allied with Russia, which emerged in this century as the major threat to the Ottoman Empire.
The Ottomans first faced an Austrian-Venetian alliance in the war of 1716 to 1718. The Ottoman army made a very poor showing, and the war ended with the Ottomans ceding territory in the Treaty of Passarowitz (1718). The problems with their army set the Ottomans on a path of attempted military reforms, which led to a better force in the next contest with Austria and their ally Russia, in 1736 to 1739. The treaty that ended this conflict returned most of the territory the Ottomans lost at Passarowitz. Austria again joined Russia in attacking the Ottomans in 1788, but this war too ended with a negotiated peace at Sistova based on status quo ante helium in 1791.

Because of good relations with France, the Porte often looked for French aid in its attempts at military reform. The Ottomans brought in a number of French military advisors, especially for help with new military technologies. Claude-Alexandre, Comte de Bonneval (1675-1747) and Baron Francois de Tott (1730-1793) both introduced modern artillery and military engineering as advisors to the Ottoman army.
The French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon affected the Ottoman Empire as it did the rest of Europe. Austrian and Russian involvement in the wars against France gave the Porte some space to continue its reform efforts. The Ottomans finally clashed with France in 1798, when Napoleon invaded Egypt. The Egyptian campaign was designed to strike against France’s main enemy, Britain, but also led to the severing of amicable ties with the Ottomans. French troops handily defeated the Ottoman Mamluk forces in Egypt, and the French occupied the country for three years. The Ottomans then found themselves allied with Britain and Russia against their long-time friend, France. A joint Ottoman-British force recaptured Egypt, and with the French evacuation of the country relations were normalized with the Peace of Amiens, 1802.

The dominant issue of Ottoman relations with France, Austria, and the other European powers in the nineteenth century was the ”Eastern Question.” In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the European states worried about Ottoman expansion. Now the concern was what would happen if the Ottomans withdrew from the Balkans or if the empire completely broke apart. As the nineteenth century progressed nationalist movements in the Balkans worked to secure their independence from the Ottomans.
The European Powers each had different views about what should happen to the Ottoman Empire. Russia wanted to dismember it and annex Slavic areas in the Balkans. Britain and France usually worked to shore up the Porte in the face of Russian aggression. For France, the need to counter Russian interests and preserve their economic investments in the Ottoman Empire offset their support for Balkan nationalist movements. The fate of the Ottoman Empire became a major issue in the balance of power that the European states tried to maintain.
Austria also had conflicting interests with regard to the Eastern Question. The Habsburgs did take some land from the Ottomans, gaining control over Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1879. Despite this, Austria was less inclined to break the Ottoman state apart than other European powers. Although they had been the traditional enemy of the Ottomans, the multiethnic nature of the Habsburg state made any new national states in the Balkans a threat to the cohesiveness of their own empire. The creation of the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary in 1867 did not change this attitude, especially among the Hungarians who did not want to be outnumbered by Slavs and Romanians in the new state.

Great Power diplomacy affected internal developments in the Ottoman Empire. Muhammad Ali, the modernizing governor of Egypt, used French support in his bid for greater independence from the Porte. France also supported the establishment of Maronite power in Lebanon in the 1840s and again in the 1860s. France took territory directly from the Ottomans as well, occupying Algeria in 1830, and Tunisia in 1881.
The balance of power broke down in 1853 with the Crimean War. The proximate cause of the war was a dispute over who would have preeminence at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. This dispute pitted Catholic France and Austria against Orthodox Russia. Both sides made demands of and threatened the Ottoman sultan. In 1853 Russia invaded the Ottoman Danubian provinces, and France and Britain sent troops to assist the Porte. When Austria entered the war Russia backed down. War fever was running high, however, and the British and French still had troops on the move. They decided to attack Russia in the Crimea, nominally in support of the Ottomans. The war was incredibly bloody, and dragged on for three years, ending in the Treaty of Paris (1856).

Adding to their diplomatic interest in maintaining the balance of power, the European states were heavily invested financially in the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans were already involved in the world capitalist system through trade, but industrial development in the nineteenth century deepened that integration. Modernization programs in industry and infrastructure were financed by foreign capital, mostly from France, Britain, and Germany. The great military expenditures of the Crimean War also necessitated large foreign loans. By the 1870s the Porte could not pay its loans, and in 1881 the European powers established the Ottoman Public Debt Administration, which came to oversee state finances and ensure repayment to European debtors.
The Ottoman Empire did not survive long into the twentieth century, nor did its long-time opponent, Austria-Hungary. Both multiethnic empires were broken apart in the aftermath of World War I. France would emerge from the war a victor, and, together with Britain, would oversee the dismantling of both empires.
In 1912 the new national states in the Balkans— Greece, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bulgaria—joined together to force the Ottomans out of Europe once and for all. Success against the Ottomans led the allies to fight against each other as well. A negotiated settlement was reached in 1913.

The rise of Serbia posed a problem for Austria-Hungary, which ruled a large irredentist Serb minority. Common opposition to Russia brought the Ottomans, Habsburgs, and Germany together. The alliance with Germany led long-time Ottoman ally, France, to oppose the Ottomans.
France and Britain finally “answered” the Eastern Question after World War I, when they imposed the Treaty of Sevres on the defeated Ottomans in 1920. The remaining portion of the empire was broken up, with the Arab provinces under the control of Britain and France through League of Nations mandates. Anatolia was divided into European spheres of influence. In the same way, the victors broke apart Austria-Hungary, giving some territory to existing Balkan national states, and creating new states in Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia.


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