Rule of the grandees

OTTOMAN HISTORY OF the second half of the seventeenth century is dominated by the name of Köprülü. The appointment of Köprülü Mehmed Pasha as grand vezir in September 1656 marked the beginning of a period during which many members of his household or their protégés were to hold the office. Köprülü Mehmed remained in power until his death in 1661; his son Fazıl Ahmed succeeded him and died in office in 1676, a length of tenure unprecedented for the times. Next came Köprülü Mehmed’s son-in-law, Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa, who was executed for his failure at the siege of Vienna in 1683. In 1687 another son-in-law, Siyavuş, held the office for a few months. From 1689 the younger son of Köprülü Mehmed, Fazıl Mustafa, was grand vezir until his death in battle against the Habsburgs in 1691. In 1692 Çalık (‘Crooked’) Ali, a protégé of Kara Mustafa, was in office for a year. Between 1697 and 1702 the son of Köprülü Mehmed’s brother – thus a cousin of Fazıl Ahmed and Fazıl Mustafa – became the grand vezir known as Amcazade Hüseyin Pasha. The last member of the dynasty to be grand vezir was Numan, eldest son of Fazıl Mustafa, in 1710. Success bred success: as members of the household rose to command the empire, their opportunities for patronage increased and the networks of loyal clients they built ensured them an ever firmer grip on power. Although other statesmen held the office of grand vezir for short periods during the years of their dominance, it was not until the Köprülüs came up against the clerical dynasty of Sheikhulislam Feyzullah Efendi at the turn of the century that their fortunes declined.1

Köprülü Mehmed was from Albania, a product of the youth-levy and an adopted son of the town of Köprü in north-central Anatolia. He was in his seventies but his past career, while long and adequately distinguished, had not been such as to single him out from other possible candidates. He had the indisputable advantage, however, of not having been party to the chronic factional disputes which had racked the capital in recent years, and although he was living in Istanbul at the time of his elevation he held no government post there – his appointment as grand vezir came as he was about to leave for the distant province of Tripoli in Syria as its governor. Other recent grand vezirs had also been chosen from outside court circles: Köprülü Mehmed’s immediate predecessor, the octagenarian Boynueğri Mehmed Pasha, had been summoned from the governorship of Damascus,2 and before that, the aged Siyavuş Pasha had been based at Silistra on the Danube when called to the grand vezirate – whether as governor of the province of the same name, or of Özi on the northern Black Sea coast is unclear.3 In February 1656 the Sultan had decided to recall Deli Hüseyin Pasha from Crete, where he had served for thirteen years;4 in the event, however, the uprising which brought Köprülü Mehmed to power began before Deli Hüseyin could take up office.

Writing half a century later, the historian Mustafa Naima reported that in fact Köprülü Mehmed Pasha had been proposed for the post of grand vezir by the queen-mother, Turhan Sultan, and her faction when the appointment of Deli Hüseyin Pasha was being discussed, and it is certain that he owed his eventual recall to court to his ties with members of her household who championed him against other possible candidates.5 Naima’s verdict on Turhan’s predecessor as queen-mother, Kösem Sultan, suggests that he was comfortable with the principle of the mother of a sultan acting as regent and intervening in state decisions.6 More than that, he felt reassured that a member of the ruling dynasty and the accepted representative of the under-age sultan – rather than an official compromised by involvement in the unrest – should have been instrumental in engineering an appointment which was to prove harshly effective in ending the ugly events which preceded it.

The administrative groundwork necessary for Köprülü Mehmed Pasha to fulfil Turhan Sultan’s expectations had already been laid. Probably in 1654, and possibly at Turhan Sultan’s instigation, the grand vezir’s office had been moved outside the palace enclosure: distancing the grand vezir physically from palace intrigues would, it was hoped, foster a recovery of the prestige the position had lost over the past half-century.7 Turhan and her circle proved perspicacious in their choice. There must have been those who agreed with the keeper of Melek Ahmed Pasha’s seal that Köprülü Mehmed was ‘a miserable wretch . . . who could not even give straw to a pair of oxen’,8 but his patrons were powerful enough to withstand the vested interests opposed to his appointment, and his arrival at the head of government after years of chaos was welcomed by many.

Köprülü Mehmed Pasha’s first action on the domestic front was taken against the Kadızadelis, currently enjoying a revival. Their puritanical message had once more fallen on receptive ears during the bitter factionalism of Mehmed IV’s early years, and their potential for disrupting the public order which it was the Grand Vezir’s aim to re-establish was such as could not be ignored. Their spiritual authority, Üstüvani Mehmed Efendi, was a preacher who had built a reputation in the mosques of the city, and gained entrée to the palace through his popularity among some of its functionaries. The Kadızadelis attacked the clerical establishment in general, but the force of their tirades was once more reserved for the dervishes; Üstüvani Mehmed’s earliest success had occurred in 1651, when he persuaded Melek Ahmed Pasha, then grand vezir, to order the destruction of a Halveti dervish lodge in Istanbul. His acolytes, driven off by the defenders of a second lodge which they attacked, put the Sheikhulislam, Karaçelebizade Abdülaziz Efendi’s predecessor Bahai Mehmed Efendi, under duress and obtained from him a juridical opinion critical of dervish practices – which was subsequently withdrawn.9

Within a week of Köprülü Mehmed Pasha’s assumption of office the Kadızadelis threw down the gauntlet, in the form of a multi-point programme for a return to the fundamental tenets of the faith.10 As they gathered at the mosque of Mehmed II to plan how to put their programme into effect, Köprülü Mehmed made plain his determination to rely on the ‘official’ institutions of the state, seeking the advice of the clerical establishment, whose position as the religious wing of the state apparatus was threatened by Kadızadeli influence in high places. Perhaps out of fear of public sentiment the new grand vezir did not execute the Kadızadeli leaders whom he rounded up, but banished them, the powerful Üstüvani Mehmed Efendi included, to Cyprus.11

Other victims of the purge against those Köprülü Mehmed feared or those he held responsible for fomenting unrest were not so lucky. The hanging of the Orthodox Patriarch on the grounds that he had encouraged the Christians of Wallachia to rebel against Ottoman rule was wholly unprecedented.12 Deli Hüseyin Pasha, accused of misappropriating funds intended for the Cretan war, was initially saved from death by the intervention of Köprülü Mehmed’s patrons in the Queen-mother’s circle on the grounds that it was an inadmissible fate for one who had given such distinguished service for so long, and the incumbent Sheikhulislam refused to issue a juridical opinion recommending his execution. But Deli Hüseyin’s supporters were soon outwitted; two years later Köprülü Mehmed invited him to Istanbul, and was able to prevail on the Sultan to order the summary despatch of his rival.13

It was by no means a foregone conclusion that Köprülü Mehmed Pasha would manage to hold on to power until death removed him, and his rivals clung to the expectation that if they could muster enough support, they had a chance of office. Any high-ranking Ottoman statesman who had continued to live through the recent tit-for-tat violence could count himself lucky, and the very fact of his survival tended to bolster any ambition he might have of one day becoming grand vezir. Old discontents festered, and the aggrieved sought opportunities to express and redress them. With the aim of distancing another rival from Istanbul, soon after his elevation Köprülü Mehmed ordered Seydi Ahmed Pasha to be dismissed from the post of grand admiral which he had been awarded for his part in repulsing a Venetian attack on the Dardanelles late in the summer of 1656,14 and to serve instead as governor of Bosnia. The sultan’s cavalry, who were supporters of Seydi Ahmed, ran amok in protest; the janissaries were persuaded to take the side of the authorities against them and Köprülü Mehmed strove to present a united front, summoning to his palace the leading officers of all branches of government. The Sultan delegated to him the authority to punish the unruly, and a curfew was imposed. A number of officials of the cavalry regiments were executed, and many cavalrymen caught hiding in the caravansarays of the city and across the Bosporus in Üsküdar were beheaded. In the continuing effort to root out troublemakers all those making common cause with them were also hunted down15 – their corpses, as Sultan Mehmed IV’s confidant and chronicler Abdurrahman Abdi Pasha so elegantly put it, ‘provided sustenance for the creatures of the sea’.16

Crete was still not won. The Venetian blockade of the Dardanelles was short-lived and in the 1657 season Ottoman ships appeared in the Aegean as usual. The Venetians were over-extending themselves in attempting to hold Bozcaada and Lemnos, close to the Anatolian mainland and far-distant from their home ports. After several months of hard-fought naval engagement in the Dardanelles, in which Köprülü Mehmed himself commanded the land army encamped on the Anatolian coast of the Straits, the Ottomans retook the islands and those deemed to have been derelict in their duty during the campaign were executed17 – an early sign that the regime of Köprülü Mehmed Pasha was of a different order from those of recent memory. It was also true that Venice was finding the war against the Ottomans a drain on its finances. Some senators appreciated that the restoration of normal relations was necessary to allow Venetian merchants access to the Ottoman market on which they relied for a good proportion of their income – but this pragmatic view did not prevail. The Ottomans briefly toyed with the possibility of peace with Venice when the independent foreign policy being pursued by their vassal George II Rákóczi caused them to mount expeditions into Transylvania, but their demand for the whole of Crete was unacceptable to Venice.18

Rákóczi had set himself up as the champion of the Hungarian Protestants, and with courage derived from the agreement he had made with King Charles X Gustav of Sweden in December 1656 marched north into Poland. He managed to prevail upon the neighbouring Ottoman vassal states of Wallachia and Moldavia to join him and this alarmed the government in Istanbul, as it threatened the existing balance of power which it was in the interests of both Habsburgs and Ottomans to maintain. A weak Commonwealth on their north-western frontier suited the Ottomans far better than a swathe of territory seized by an energetic vassal and held with Swedish support. In the event, Rákóczi’s expeditions against the Commonwealth brought him no gain. In the spring of 1657, Melek Ahmed Pasha, governor of the province of Özi at the time, was ordered to bring Rákóczi and his allies into line; by late summer his forces were joined by those of the Crimean Khan, and in 1658 Köprülü Mehmed Pasha himself marched into Transylvania leading an army among whom were some thousands of men sent by the Commonwealth. Rákóczi fled, but he and the errant vassal princes of Wallachia and Moldavia were soon replaced by less independent-minded or less persuadable figures.19

While in winter quarters at Edirne following the recovery of Bozcaada and Lemnos and before setting out for Translyvania the following spring, Köprülü Mehmed Pasha, aiming to eliminate troublemakers before they could cause problems on the campaign, massacred many more cavalrymen who had been ordered to mobilize there. Even Mustafa Naima could not record the event with equanimity: he wrote of the banks of the Tunca river in Edirne as being strewn with their corpses.20 Abdurrahman Abdi Pasha recorded that the winter was especially cold that year, causing much suffering – the snow was so deep that roads were blocked and provisions difficult to obtain, and wood for heating was not to be found so fruit trees were cut down to provide fuel.21

Köprülü Mehmed Pasha managed to bring order to Istanbul and enjoyed successes against Venice and Rákóczi, but he was still not accepted by the provincial governors of Anatolia. In late 1658, on his return from campaigning in Transylvania, he was faced with a revolt among them which would undoubtedly have brought an end to his tenure and had serious repercussions for the ruling establishment as a whole had he not overcome the rebels. As it was, the uprising concluded with the massacre of some thirty pashas – most of whom had long records of state service – which put an end for a while to the frequent revolts which had marked life in Anatolia in past decades.

The chief protagonist in Anatolia was Abaza Mehmed Pasha’s fellow countryman Abaza Hasan Pasha, who was already an active dissenter before Köprülü Mehmed Pasha moved to the centre of Ottoman politics. Abaza Hasan, a supporter of the former rebel and grand vezir İpşir Mustafa Pasha, like many other Anatolian pashas, could not accept the legitimacy of Köprülü Mehmed’s grand vezirate. The Grand Vezir’s purge of the sultan’s cavalrymen in Edirne proved to be counter-productive as many who escaped his wrath fled, despite the harsh weather, while provincial cavalrymen who had yet to answer the call-up had disobeyed their orders to muster. In mid-summer 1658 some 30,000 gathered instead at Konya in central Anatolia, among them the governors of Damascus and Anadolu provinces and fifteen other former or serving provincial governors, with Abaza Hasan Pasha at their head. Complaining about being ordered to mobilize, the rebels announced that, ‘We will continue to assemble [here] until Köprülü Mehmed Pasha is dismissed’,22 and proposed in his place the governor of Damascus, Tayyarzade Ahmed Pasha, whose father had briefly been grand vezir during the reign of Murad IV and whose brother was governor of Raqqa province in Syria. The Sultan ordered the rebels to the Transylvanian front immediately, but in vain, for they merely reiterated their fear of Köprülü Mehmed and their refusal to fight until he was removed from office – and Köprülü Mehmed Pasha had to leave Edirne for the front in mid-summer 1658 without most of the Anatolian troops. Aware of the havoc they could wreak, the Sultan thought it expedient to offer them an alternative to service under the Grand Vezir on the Balkan front and ordered them instead to the defence of the frontier at Baghdad. But Abaza Hasan Pasha ignored the order and moved west towards Bursa – intent on lending their rebellion an aura of legitimacy, his followers were ordered not to extort provisions and money from the peasantry as they went but to account for all supplies they collected.23

News of their approach to Bursa impressed upon the authorities the seriousness of their intentions; memories of other rebellions such as that of Gürcü Abdülnebi only a few years earlier were still fresh in official minds. The former grand admiral Kenan Pasha, Köprülü Mehmed Pasha’s proxy while he was away on campaign, was ordered by the Sultan to defend Bursa.24 A further communication from Abaza Hasan Pasha, who was described by the messenger as the ‘Sultan’s servant’, infuriated Mehmed IV. His memorialist Abdurrahman Abdi Pasha reported his reaction:

I greatly regret having to say this but these men are not my servants; maybe they are the Devil’s. I have already ordered them to abandon their useless and perverse notions and come [before me] but because they are afraid of coming, they can go and take part in the defence of Baghdad [instead] or else stop assembling and return to their appointed [duties]. What sort of Muslims are they who continue to disobey orders? God willing, it will not be the body of only one individual I [cut to] the ground; I will murder them all.25

From his camp near the front the Grand Vezir sent an ultimatum: if the rebels refused to join him, he would deal with them after the campaign was over.26

Abaza Hasan Pasha’s insurrection was a little different from previous rebellions on the part of Anatolian cavalrymen. His predecessors had couched their complaints in traditional terms, insisting on their allegiance to the Sultan while expressing contempt for his servants, whom they professed to hold responsible for the ills of the empire; in the face of Mehmed IV’s refusal to so much as acknowledge his demands, Abaza Hasan wanted no part of the establishment. His intention was to create his own state: ‘From now on, consider us as implacable a foe as the Shah of Iran; they [the Sultan] shall have Rumeli and we Anatolia’.27 Such a radical declaration was all the more dangerous for being made to a young and inexperienced sultan while his grand vezir and most of the loyal troops of the empire were far away.

Abaza Hasan Pasha and his men dug in outside Bursa. He set up something resembling a provincial administration, appointing his fellows to the governorships held by those who were away on campaign with Köprülü Mehmed Pasha, as the head of an alternative government might, and taking provisions from the local people on the pretext of feeding the army. The townsfolk of Bursa assembled the arms and provisions Kenan Pasha levied from them – but they were in contact with Abaza Hasan Pasha, and supplied his forces as well. This further provoked Sultan Mehmed, who sought a juridical opinion to the effect that those who refused to join campaigns against the infidels and incited sedition were themselves worse than infidels. When the clerics refused to provide such an opinion the Sultan decided to dispense with it, and proclaimed a general call to take up arms against the rebels. The governor of Diyarbakır, Murteza Pasha, was ordered to command the anti-rebel forces drawn from those whose loyalty could still be counted on – the troops of the eastern provinces of Diyarbakır, Erzurum, Aleppo and İç-il (comprising Cilicia and Cyprus) and the Kurdish tribal leaders. Government edicts assured the Anatolian people that order would be restored, and criticism of the Grand Vezir was forbidden in the Sultan’s presence. The government’s ability to resist the rebels deteriorated further when Kenan Pasha was persuaded to throw in his lot with Abaza Hasan – troops sent from Istanbul to defend the coastal town of Gemlik on the road to Bursa managed to kill some of Abaza Hasan’s men when they reached Mudanya, but he sent more after them to avenge the loss, and the government forces retreated back across the Sea of Marmara towards Istanbul. Trenches were dug in Üsküdar to defend the capital, as they had been at the time of Gürcü Abdülnebi’s revolt nine years earlier, and cannon were emplaced.28

The rebel army was expected imminently, and the region was in turmoil. People barricaded themselves into their homes, while those living on the Marmara coast sent their chattels to Istanbul for safekeeping and stripped their gardens and orchards of produce in advance of the harvesting season. Looters were active and rumours rife. Hatred of Köprülü Mehmed Pasha was widespread and palpable; according to Mustafa Naima, most people hoped Abaza Hasan Pasha would be victorious, especially the preachers, whose implacable opposition Köprülü Mehmed had earned by exiling their leader Üstüvani Mehmed Efendi to Cyprus. Some among them professed to hold Abaza Hasan to be ‘the renewer of faith of the eleventh century [of the Islamic calendar]’, a messianic figure come to restore the fundamentals of religion in the Prophetic tradition.29

The Sultan ordered Köprülü Mehmed Pasha’s immediate return from Transylvania. Abdurrahman Abdi Pasha was probably at his master’s side and records that Mehmed, his mother and their entourages had been in Edirne since before the campaign opened, and it was to Edirne that Köprülü Mehmed travelled, meeting with them and the Sheikhulislam and the top military authorities on 15 October 1658, three days after his arrival. Thereafter they all travelled to Istanbul, where outstanding salaries were distributed by the Sultan to those of his elite troops who remained loyal; they assembled for the purpose at Kağıthane meadow outside the city at the head of the Golden Horn, in an exercise intended to put the rebellious soldiers among them to the test: any member of the sultan’s regiments who did not appear to collect his money within five days had his name expunged from the rolls.30 The government seemed to be regaining the initiative.

For two months a rebel army and government forces had clashed in the vicinity of Kütahya in west-central Anatolia: the rebels were defeated with high losses, and a successful attack on İznik which routed government forces was not enough to restore hope to them. When word of the salary distribution reached the ears of those of Abaza Hasan’s followers who came from the sultan’s regiments, many of them went to Istanbul in expectation of being reinstated into the corps. However, the names of some 7,000 elite cavalrymen who had refused to participate in the campaign in Transylvania had been erased from the rolls and Köprülü Mehmed Pasha ordered the execution of any who could be apprehended. A thousand men were killed within a few days in Anatolia, as well as others who had managed to enter Istanbul too late for the roll-call, but Köprülü Mehmed was still not confident of victory and sent 5,000 janissaries to defend İzmit. The continuing massacres of cavalrymen had begun to provoke thoughts of mutiny among the janissaries, however, although they had hitherto remained united in support of the government – if only through fear. Now, protesting that they were not prepared to be party to killing fellow Muslims, they branded the Grand Vezir their enemy and suggested handing him over to Abaza Hasan. This threat was serious enough to dissuade Köprülü Mehmed from campaigning in person against the rebels, and Murteza Pasha was given command in his stead. But Köprülü Mehmed soon had occasion to question the wisdom of his decision when Murteza Pasha at first failed to force a battle when the opportunity arose in central Anatolia and was then roundly defeated by Abaza Hasan, with losses on both sides amounting to eight thousand men.31

Winter came, and spies infiltrated both the government and the rebel camps. As Köprülü Mehmed Pasha considered holding secret talks with the rebels, Abaza Hasan Pasha’s position was weakening. He had moved south-eastwards, but finding it difficult to supply his winter quarters in Gaziantep (Aintab) on account of the snowy weather and the hostility of the people of the region who were loyal to the government, decided to move into Syria; before he had gone very far he fell into an ambush at Birecik on the Euphrates and lost more than a thousand men. From his winter quarters in Aleppo Murteza Pasha sent his agents in disguise into Abaza Hasan’s camp with the promise of a pardon from the Sultan to try to persuade the rebel soldiers to desert their leader. When Abaza Hasan heard of this he pleaded with the waverers that he was fighting for their cause – but Murteza Pasha’s blandishments proved irresistible to men stricken by hunger. Seeing his support melting away, Abaza Hasan accepted the senior cleric of Gaziantep’s offer to intercede with the Sultan on his behalf. Murteza Pasha sent a hostage as proof of the genuineness of the offer, and Abaza Hasan and his remaining followers, who still included many formerly high-ranking officials, accepted an invitation to stay in Aleppo while their pardons were sought; Murteza Pasha swore that no harm would come to them.32

Their days in Aleppo passed in great amicability. Abaza Hasan Pasha was lodged in Murteza Pasha’s mansion, his 31 companions and their servitors elsewhere. No response to their petition arrived from Istanbul, however, and the continuing presence of the rebels in Aleppo began to make Murteza Pasha uneasy. Finally, he gave instructions that when the cannon was fired from Aleppo fortress on the night of 24 February 1659, the rebels were to be murdered by those in whose houses they were guests. Abaza Hasan Pasha, Tayyarzade Ahmed Pasha, Kenan Pasha and some others were dining with Murteza Pasha that night – as Naima imagines the scene, companionably eating and drinking and agreeing to put past differences behind them. But as they made for the bathroom of Murteza Pasha’s mansion to perform the ritual ablution before the evening prayer, twenty or thirty ‘dragon-like braves’ burst in and bloodily stabbed them to death. News of the massacre was immediately sent to the governor of the fortress who fired the cannon to indicate that the time had come for the less eminent rebels to be slaughtered. Their heads were stuffed with straw and sent to be displayed in Istanbul; their bodies were suspended outside one of the city gates of Aleppo.33

There is no direct evidence to suggest that Köprülü Mehmed Pasha was complicit in the manner of ending Abaza Hasan Pasha’s revolt, but the result surely satisfied him. The finality of its conclusion was such as to dissuade most other disaffected servants of the Ottoman state from following his example, although the provincial sub-governor of Antalya, Kör (‘Blind’) Mustafa Pasha, took advantage of the disorder provoked by Abaza Hasan Pasha’s rebellion to foment unrest in his own area. This met with a strong government response by land and sea and Kör Mustafa, unwisely trusting in the promise of a sultanic pardon, was soon executed, as were others in Damascus and Cairo who dared to challenge Köprülü Mehmed.34

The Grand Vezir took no chances. Once the Anatolian rebellions had been suppressed he sent his proxy in Istanbul, İsmail Pasha – who had succeeded Kenan Pasha in the post – to the eastern borderlands to seek out any remaining there who might be considered a threat to the order of the state. No one was immune, be they provincial governor, janissary or cavalryman, judge or religious leader. The penalty was death, as was sanctioned by juridical opinion. As part of Köprülü Mehmed’s attempt to impose a common purpose,İsmail Pasha’s inspection team was composed of both military and religious-legal officials: and to impress upon the people that the Sultan and his ministers were fully in control, they moved through Anatolia with great ceremony. One of their tasks was to check the status of those claiming to be military men in order to ascertain that they were not in reality peasants who had sought to escape taxation by enlisting. Maximizing tax revenue was the abiding concern of Ottoman governments, and striking a balance between this imperative and the state’s need for troops a compromise. İsmail Pasha’s team found 80,000 guns illegally in the hands of the peasantry and seized them for the state armoury. Some Mevlevi dervishes apprehended in Konya were freed when they proved their identity, but four others who had donned dervish garb only to be revealed on closer inspection as erstwhile followers of Abaza Hasan Pasha were punished accordingly.35

Anatolia and the Arab provinces were subdued for the present, the Cretan war had reached a stalemate, and a change of princes had restored order to the vassal states of Wallachia and Moldavia – in Transylvania, however, George Rákóczi still refused to accept his removal by the Sultan, and with Habsburg assistance fought against the Sultan’s choice as his replacement.

The young Sultan and his mother were surely complicit in the harshness with which Köprülü Mehmed Pasha had crushed domestic dissent: Mehmed had stood by his grand vezir, if only for want of any alternative. Köprülü Mehmed considered that the time was now ripe for a display of sultanic splendour and queen-motherly concern, designed to win over the Ottoman people. Mehmed IV’s great passion was hunting – he acquired the epithet ‘the Hunter’ – and his preferred residence was Edirne, where from the sanctuary of his palace outside the town he could follow the chase free from the squabbles of the capital. He had reigned for eleven years, but he had only ever travelled between Istanbul and Edirne, and royal journeys such as these could hardly be celebrated sufficiently for the propaganda purposes which Köprülü Mehmed had in mind. Well aware of the potent symbolism of monarchy, he devised a fitting manifestation of his sovereign’s majesty.

On 26 May 1659 the imperial standard was brought out from the inner recesses of Topkapı Palace and set up outside the Gate of Felicity that marked the boundary between its private and public areas. Over the next month the Sultan and his mother, as well as his vezirs and troops, crossed over to Üsküdar, and on 30 June set off with great pomp for the dynastic burial city of Bursa which they reached, at a leisurely pace and with extended stops along the way, on 29 July. Bursa had been in great peril during Abaza Hasan Pasha’s revolt, and there was public rejoicing and adulation for Sultan Mehmed during his time there. The normal business of government continued: new appointments were made and justice exacted as those who had colloborated in the anti-Köprülü uprising were dismissed and the Sultan ordered the execution of those Bursans who had supplied Abaza Hasan when he was advancing on Istanbul. Having demonstrated his earthly authority the Sultan visited the tombs of his ancestors, where the legitimacy and splendour being demonstrated as his by divine right was underlined when the sacred mantle of the Prophet was put on display as the focus of a nightly ceremony.36

The royal sojourn in Bursa was only the beginning of the progress among his people planned by the Grand Vezir for his Sultan. From there they visited the Dardanelles. Recent naval engagements with the Venetians had demonstrated that the fortresses built on either shore by Sultan Mehmed II in the mid-fifteenth century were not adequate to prevent the passage of modern sailing vessels. Every year, according to Mustafa Naima, thirty or forty Venetian ships would anchor beyond these castles and blockade the Straits; other vessels sailing into the Straits from the Aegean, unaware of their presence, fell into the ambush. The problem had been recognized by the previous queen-mother Kösem Sultan shortly before her murder, and she had appointed an architect to look into the feasibility of constructing opposing batteries further west, towards the Aegean end of the Straits. Kösem’s project for the new castles was carried forward during Turhan Sultan’s regency, and by the time of her visit in late September of 1659, the fortifications were complete except on the seaward side. From the Dardanelles, the royal party travelled back to Edirne.37 When the castles had been completed, almost two years later, the Sultan and his mother again travelled to the Straits with great ceremony to view the work – as described by his confidant Abdurrahman Abdi Pasha, who wrote a poem to mark the ‘gracious gift’ of ‘the mother of Sultan Mehmed Khan Gazi’:

Building two fortresses, one on either side [of the Straits], She made the lands of the people of faith safe from the enemy.

. . .

What grace, to fill in the sea on two sides, So parallel, and thus to build the Straits anew.38

On 30 September 1661 Köprülü Mehmed Pasha died in Edirne after some months’ illness. Like Turhan Sultan, he too was a charitable benefactor. His endowments followed the pattern of his life and conquests in putting the Ottoman seal on newly-conquered territory. The most varied of his foundations was that on the island of Bozcaada, recaptured from the Venetians early in his grand vezirate. Here he built two mosques, a school, a caravansaray, a bath-house, a coffee-house, a stable, nine mills, a watermill, a bakery and 84 shops. The income-generating elements of the foundation did not however produce enough revenue to cover outgoings and charitable works, so a number of villages and other rural sources of revenue were granted to Köprülü Mehmed to make up the shortfall, among them the taxes from two villages on the island of Lemnos, also retaken by him from the Venetians, shortly after Bozcaada.39

In the Transylvanian campaign of 1658 Rákóczi’s stronghold of Ineu became part of the Ottoman Empire, and Köprülü Mehmed Pasha built here a mosque, two schools, nine mills and thirty shops. In his native town of Rudnik in Albania he built a mosque and school, and in his adopted home in the Amasya region, to which, before he became grand vezir, it was his habit to return during the periods when he was out of office, he established a number of other endowments, including a caravansaray at Gümüşhacıköy, north-west of the town of Amasya on the east–west trade route through north-central Anatolia, to stimulate commerce. His period of service in Syria prompted him to provide better security for the pilgimage route, and south of Antakya (Antioch), at Jisr ash Shughur on the Orontes river, he built a fort, two mosques, a caravansaray and a school – operationally the most expensive of his foundations, because it served the important defensive purpose of protecting merchants and pilgrims from the raids of the desert peoples.40

Patronage had long been an important route to preferment in the Ottoman Empire, and sons had succeeded fathers in the high offices of state for more than fifty years – as shown by the numerous vezirs with the appellations A-oğlu B Pasha, or X-paşa-zade Y Pasha, ‘oğlu’ meaning ‘son’ in Turkish, and ‘zade’ meaning ‘son’ in Persian. Thus the names of Özdemir-oğlu Osman Pasha and Nasuh-paşa-zade Hüseyin, for instance, indicate that this Osman was the son of Özdemir [Pasha], and Hüseyin the son of Nasuh Pasha. On Köprülü Mehmed Pasha’s death his son Fazıl Ahmed Pasha became grand vezir in his stead at the unusually early age of 26 – and, in a variant of these forms, was known as Köprülüzade Fazıl Ahmed Pasha; it was the first time that a son had succeeded his father as grand vezir. Fazıl Ahmed had begun his education in theological college and graduated to hold posts in the religious hierarchy in Istanbul, but he abandoned religion for administration soon after his father became grand vezir, and was appointed to the sensitive frontier governorship of Erzurum, where a trusted man was always needed. The decision to appoint him grand vezir was taken before his father’s death: knowing that his end was near, Köprülü Mehmed recalled Fazıl Ahmed from Damascus (where he was by then serving as governor) and made him his proxy.41 Köprülü Mehmed’s desire to have his chosen successor near at hand recalls the tactics of sultans of former times, and the parallel between Köprülü Mehmed’s ambitions for his family and that of the Ottoman sultans for theirs during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries strikingly illustrates the unbounded aspirations of this grandee dynasty.

Fazıl Ahmed Pasha’s fifteen-year tenure as grand vezir – cut short by his premature death in 1676 – was marked by a number of military campaigns, especially on the north-western frontier, as the Ottoman Empire again enjoyed a period of expansion. Fazıl Ahmed’s first objective was a fresh attempt to break the impasse with Venice over Crete, and full mobilization of the imperial army was ordered on 25 September 1662. His idea was to launch a campaign into Dalmatia in 1663 in support of local Ottoman troops whose activities against Venetian strongholds in the region – such as the fortresses of Šibenik, Split and Kotor – had been a perennial irritant to the republic. The Ottomans entertained hopes of capturing these fortresses, but by November it was apparent that the army would be heading towards Hungary rather than Dalmatia.42

The instability produced by George Rákóczi’s activities in Transylvania seemed to have been resolved in 1660 when a large army restored Ottoman authority, winning a number of strongholds – including Oradea which had narrowly escaped capture in 1658, and now became the nucleus of a modest new province of the same name (Varad in Turkish) – and killing their troublesome former vassal.43 A curious detail concerning the siege of Oradea linked it to the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople two centuries before: as with the statue of the mounted Emperor Justinian which ‘protected’ Constantinople, Oradea was ‘protected’ by a talisman – four bronze statues of medieval Hungarian saint-kings, dating from the end of the fourteenth century. Contemporary Transylvanian historians recorded the Hungarians’ belief that the city would never be won by another power while these statues remained in place; the Ottomans accordingly made a point of directing their firepower against them. They succeeded in destroying them – and in taking the fortress – and the wreckage was removed to Belgrade, where it was melted down to make guns – referred to ironically by the Ottomans as ‘the gods of the Hungarians’.44

Such direct Ottoman intervention in Transylvania was a cause of grave disquiet to the Habsburgs, whose candidate to succeed Rákóczi, John Kemény, was soon driven out by Ottoman forces and Michael Apafi, a provincial magnate, installed in his place late in 1661. Kemény resisted for a while but was killed in battle in February 1662.45 Peace between the Ottomans and the Habsburgs could not be achieved in 1662, and on 14 April 1663 Fazıl Ahmed Pasha set off from Edirne at the head of the imperial army, reaching Belgrade on 7 June. The Grand Vezir was not in the mood for conciliation, and when he met the Emperor Leopold I’s envoys he reminded them of the violations of the conditions of the peace that had occurred in Transylvania and elsewhere on their common border and – such was Ottoman confidence at this time – also demanded reinstatement of the annual tribute paid by the Holy Roman Empire to the Ottoman sultan from the time of the Hungarian wars in the reign of Sultan Süleyman until the end of the 1593–1606 war.46No accord could be reached, however, and the envoys were imprisoned.

Fazıl Ahmed Pasha had apparently intended to march against Győr, one of the strongholds guarding the approaches to Vienna, which the Ottomans had briefly held between 1594 and 1598. Once at Buda, however, and after further fruitless talks with Habsburg representatives, his plans changed, and the Ottoman army moved north, crossing the Danube at Esztergom and arriving before the fortress of Nové Zámky on 17 August 1663; this decision both surprised and alarmed the Habsburg forces under the command of the general Raimondo Montecuccoli, whose strategy for the defence of Vienna was not yet in place but who was even less prepared for an attack elsewhere. Fazıl Ahmed’s decision was both daring and aggressive, because Nové Zámky lay on the route between Vienna and Transylvania and was one of the key points in the Habsburg defence system. The defenders at first refused to surrender the castle, and the siege – in which Fazıl Ahmed’s forces were supported by Cossacks and Crimean Tatars, and troops from Moldavia and Wallachia – lasted five weeks. When the garrison finally surrendered, the defenders were allowed to leave unharmed, and Fazıl Ahmed Pasha and his army returned to Belgrade for the winter. The campaigning season of 1663 ended with what amounted to a tidying-up operation, the capture of a number of other smaller castles in the area and their inclusion in the new province known as Uyvar, based on Nové Zámky.47

For contemporaries in the West, the conquest of Nové Zámky carried echoes of former times and seemed to signal a resurgence of Ottoman military power and energy. Nevertheless, forces loyal to the Habsburgs were not slow to take advantage of the weeks during which Fazıl Ahmed Pasha was occupied with the siege and the subsequent winter demobilization, and in January 1664 they seized and briefly held a number of Ottoman forts in the south of Hungary. The situation was serious, however – it seemed that Vienna was again under threat, and help for the Habsburgs was forthcoming from the Pope, from Spain, from some of the German princes, and even from France, currently at peace with the Holy Roman Empire. Rather than attempting to retake Nové Zámky, Habsburg efforts in 1664 were directed against Nagykanizsa, the key stronghold on the route between Belgrade and Vienna, held by the Ottomans since 1601. The siege was lifted when Fazıl Ahmed Pasha and his army arrived, and the Ottoman army continued its advance, taking a number of other forts – including one whose razing they had demanded in the failed peace talks which preceded the Uyvar campaign – and with the intention of now besieging Győr.48

Whatever hopes the Ottomans might have entertained were dashed on 1 August 1664 at Szentgotthárd, north-east of Nagykanizsa on the river Rába, where they were defeated in a field-battle by Montecuccoli’s forces. The traveller and writer Evliya Çelebi was with Fazıl Ahmed Pasha’s army and described its difficult march towards the Rába from Nagykanizsa, shadowed by Habsburg units on the west bank of the river as it went; provisions were very short and the muddy and marshy conditions made progress extremely slow – it took five hours to cover a distance that should have taken only one hour.49 When the army reached the eastern bank of the river opposite the castle of Szentgotthárd, the sun came out but the enemy was nowhere to be seen. Evliya Çelebi reported that the water in the river was low at that point, only as deep as a rider’s stirrups, and Fazıl Ahmed sent raiders across to harry villages on the western bank. The decision to besiege Vienna was taken, despite the lateness of the season and the scarcity of provisions, and the wretched troops could not object; orders were given for a bridge to be hastily built across the river, and the army prepared to advance within two days. Evliya Çelebi was disgusted with this foolish decision – which he blamed on two of Fazıl Ahmed’s commanders, the governor of Aleppo Gürcü (‘Georgian’) Mehmed Pasha (who had been grand vezir for a few months in 1651–2), and İsmail Pasha (who had won notoriety on account of his pitiless inspection tour of Anatolia a few years earlier). The army’s condition was like that of a water-mill deprived of water, wrote Evliya Çelebi, and he secretly took himself off to the Tatar camp to find supplies for himself and his eleven men, and grazing for his six horses.

The next day was Friday, the rest-day before battle; some thousands of Ottoman troops crossed the river to reconnoitre and learnt from captured informants that ten thousand of the enemy were concealed in nearby woods. Gürcü Mehmed Pasha and İsmail Pasha tried to convince Fazıl Ahmed Pasha that the attack should begin forthwith; although wiser counsels pointed out that many Ottoman troops were absent grazing their horses, and the presence of so few Habsburg troops must be a trick, the Pashas would not be gainsaid, and the main body of the Ottoman army was ordered to ford the river a day earlier than had been planned, and before the bridge was securely in place.

The fight went well at first. Only a few thousand more enemy troops appeared from the woods, and the Ottoman forces were able to retire with hundreds of prisoners and booty, as well as the heads of those they had killed in battle – for which, as was customary, they were rewarded. Evliya Çelebi claimed to have been present on the field, and noted that 9,760 Habsburg troops had been killed for 760 Ottoman; flush with success, Fazıl Ahmed Pasha’s men raided far and wide. But then, before much of the Ottoman army could cross the bridge, the mighty Habsburg army made itself visible and was soon drawn up along the river, and fresh troops kept appearing on the battlefield – even after six hours of hand-to-hand fighting. The Ottoman fighters were, said Evliya Çelebi, ‘like a mere drop in the ocean of the enemy forces’, yet Fazıl Ahmed did not call upon the Tatar troops to support them because he had a grievance against the Khan’s son who commanded them. Evliya Çelebi’s own horse was shot from under him in the thick of battle, and he forded the river to find another; looking from the Ottoman camp back across the river at the battlefield, he could see to his alarm that the Ottoman troops were being vanquished and there was still no let-up in the fighting. At this point, Fazıl Ahmed ordered the janissaries to move to the trenches guarding the bridgehead, but when their fellows saw this redeployment, they assumed them to be fleeing the field. Soon, the Ottoman army was in total disarray as any who could, fled, trying to get back across the river to their own camp. Evliya Çelebi witnessed the scene:

Because the bridge had been built in a hurry, some places were tied together with the ropes used for stabilizing the cannon and when so many troops crowded onto it like ants trying to get to the other side, the bridge could not withstand it and collapsed. All the janissaries were submerged, but some were able to grasp at trees or the ropes used to fashion the bridge . . . Both banks of the river were steep and riven with crevasses and it was impossible for men or horses to escape. Thousands dismounted but the horses were in the water and their bridles and stirrups became entangled and the soldiers got caught up among them and the mules.50

Some men were fortunate enough to find a way out of the mêlée, however, either by walking upon the bodies of their fallen comrades to reach the bank, or crossing the river away from the bridge; others managed to find places where the water was shallow, but these tended to be spots where enemy troops had gathered, and this carried its own risks. It was, remarked Evliya Çelebi, ‘like the Day of Judgement’.

As a shift in the wind could spell the difference between triumph or disaster at sea, so difficult terrain and inclement weather, even more than the limitations imposed by the distances the Ottoman army had to travel from its bases in Istanbul and Edirne, could decide whether a military operation succeeded or failed. The Danube and its many tributaries might be useful for the transport of men and supplies, but in this part of Hungary they were liable to flooding and the surrounding plains to waterlogging – a common occurrence in the heavy late-summer rains repeatedly mentioned in the chronicles of these years. Such conditions were inimical to the movement of the thousands upon thousands of men and horses, the heavily-laden supply trains and the artillery that made up an army and, in particular, impeded the construction of, and passage across, bridges.

This defeat on the Rába forced the Ottomans into a more defensive posture, and within a few days a peace treaty with a term of twenty years had been agreed with the Habsburgs whose fighting forces were unequal to the task of deriving further advantage from their victory. Transylvania was to remain independent under Ottoman influence, and the Austrian emperor – the ‘Roman’ emperor, as the Ottoman version of the Treaty of Vasvar has it – again agreed to pay the sultan’s treasury an annual ‘gift’. Newly-conquered Nové Zámky remained Ottoman.51 Fazıl Ahmed Pasha was subsequently scrupulous in ensuring that the provisions of the treaty were observed; the Ottomans needed a period of peace on this frontier to free them to deal with the Venetians, for the war over Crete was now in its nineteenth year.

In the suite of the Ottoman envoy Kara (‘Black’) Mehmed Pasha, the governor of Rumeli province, when he travelled to the Habsburg court for ratification of the treaty, was Evliya Çelebi, who has left us the earliest surviving Ottoman account of an embassy to a foreign state.52 It seems that Fazıl Ahmed was critical of Kara Mehmed’s modest apparel and retinue, telling him that as the Sultan’s envoy he must confront the Emperor in fitting splendour and extravagance. Evliya Çelebi is exuberant in describing all that he saw in Vienna, and reveals a particular fascination with Leopold I, who had succeeded his father as Holy Roman Emperor in 1658 when he was just eighteen:

. . . he is of medium height with a slim waist and neither corpulent nor solid nor skinny, a youth as hairless as a self-sacrificing young brave. God made his skull in the shape of a bonnet of a Mevlevi dervish or a gourd or a water bottle. His forehead is as flat as a board. His eyebrows are thick and black but there is a decent space between them. His eyes are as round as an owl’s and reddish; his eyelashes are long and black; his face is as long as that of Mr Fox; his ears are as large as a child’s slippers. His nose is as a shrivelled grape . . . or as large and red as an aubergine of the Peloponnese; three fingers could fit inside each nostril and from these extensive nostrils protrude black hairs like those of the beard of a thirty-year-old brave which mix in confusion with his moustache. He has a bushy black moustache which reaches to his ears, his lips are like those of a camel (a loaf of bread could fit in his mouth); and his teeth are likewise, huge white camel’s teeth. Whenever he speaks, saliva pours from . . . his camel’s lips and as it flows, the many [servitors] beside him wipe [it away] with red cloths like towels, and he combs his beard and moustaches continually. His fingers are like cucumbers of Langa [i.e. a market-garden area in Istanbul] . . . All his dynasty is as ugly as him, and his hideous image is found in all churches and houses and on coinage . . .53

While his grand vezir was in Hungary, Mehmed IV spent the two years of his absence between his palace at Edirne and hunting game in Thrace and Macedonia. The Sultan encouraged his favourite Abdurrahman Abdi to record for posterity every detail of courtly life, from the numbers of leopard, fox and roe deer hunted on any one day to a strongman’s feat in lifting an elephant and its rider off the ground. Even when Abdurrahman Abdi fell ill, the Sultan admonished him to record the day’s events.54 Fazıl Ahmed Pasha returned to Edirne in July 1665 and the court travelled to Istanbul in easy stages by way of the Dardanelles, where they inspected the fortifications. The next pressing business was to complete the conquest of Crete.

Piracy against pilgrims and merchant ships was still rife on the seas in these years and raiding and slaving continued. At a meeting of leading statesmen the Sultan appointed the Grand Vezir to command the planned campaign in Crete, and preparations were put in hand during the winter of 1665–6. The Venetian ambassador had been held in Edirne for the past twelve years; he was now offered a last opportunity to conclude a peace. Fazıl Ahmed proposed that Venice, in exchange for retaining Iraklion, should make the Ottomans a once-only payment of 100,000 gold pieces, then an annual payment of 10,000. This and other conditions were rejected by the ambassador, and mobilization continued apace.55

Troops for the campaign were ordered to assemble at the ports of Thessalonica, Euboea, and Monemvasia in the Peloponnese, from where they would take ship for Crete; the janissaries travelled by sea from Istanbul, while Fazıl Ahmed Pasha and his retinue left Edirne on 25 May 1666, journeying overland through Macedonia and Thessaly to embark from Euboea. Things did not go well on the march. Many of his troops sickened and died along the way, and Fazıl Ahmed had to rest the army for two months at Thiva (Thebes); they were not able to reach Crete until the winter.56 As the Grand Vezir set out from Edirne, the Sultan pressed Abdurrahman Abdi to tell him stories of the great victories of his forebears – of Selim I’s rout of Shah Isma‘il of Iran at Çaldıran in 1514, of Süleyman I’s conquest of Rhodes in 1521 and of Belgrade the following year.57

The fortress of Iraklion still held out, and the Ottoman forces pressed the siege in 1667 and 1668. The defending garrison was exhausted and pessimistic; the help they sought from France had not arrived, and their other allies were prone to distraction by questions of precedence among the commanders of the ships of the Christian fleet – which had been supplied by Savoy, Venice, the Papacy, the Knights Hospitallers of Malta, Naples and Sicily.58 Although Venice sued for peace in 1668 this did not stop the fighting.59 By the spring of 1669, however, Louis XIV of France was finally ready to furnish troops for the Cretan war.60 When they arrived, the Ottoman besiegers stoutly resisted the attack on their positions from the sea, and there were many losses on both sides. After a month and a half of indecisive fighting the French, who bore the main burden of the attack on the Ottomans, were disinclined to continue the action; although well aware that their presence must encourage the Sultan to come to a settlement more readily, they sailed for home, leaving Francesco Morosini, commander of the defending Venetian forces, no alternative but to surrender.61Crete, which had been held by the Venetians for four and a half centuries, passed to the Ottomans after 24 years of war; only the coastal fortresses of Spinalonga, in the east, and Suda and Gramvousa (Grabousa) in the west, remained in Venetian hands.

As he had following the Treaty of Vasvar with the Habsburgs in 1664, Fazıl Ahmed Pasha stayed on to oversee the implementation of the peace in Crete. Away from the fighting the island had not suffered greatly, and the two main export crops of olive oil and wine would recover in time.62 The city of Iraklion was in ruins and, with the departure of the Venetians, deserted;63 a week after the city was transferred to Ottoman hands, Evliya Çelebi called the victorious army to the Friday prayer. The fabric of the city was ordered to be repaired, and great celebrations followed.64

As Sultan Mehmed II had made of Byzantine Constantinople an Ottoman and Islamic city, so Fazıl Ahmed Pasha Ottomanized and Islamicized Venetian Crete. He converted the opulent Church of St Francis into Iraklion’s main mosque, and named it for the Sultan. The palace of the Venetian governor was converted for use by the Ottoman governor, and the financial officer of the new province had his base in the loggia. Other churches were converted into mosques, of which the most obvious outward sign was the replacement of the bell-towers by minarets – in choosing the most prominent church in Iraklion to be the Sultan’s mosque, and adding a minaret to draw the eye towards it, Fazıl Ahmed ensured that the presence of the Ottomans was visible from afar, from both the sea and land approaches to the city. It was important to them that there should be no ambiguity about who now held the island, and prominently-sited churches in the other main towns of Chania (taken in 1645) and Rethymno (taken in 1646) also became mosques.65

The property abandoned by the fleeing Venetian population of Iraklion was either assigned to provide endowments to support the charitable foundations of Fazıl Ahmed Pasha and his commanders, or auctioned to the highest bidder – be he janissary, Jew or Orthodox Christian – for private use. The charitable foundations served to promote Muslim settlement, commerce and the spread of Ottoman and Islamic culture, rather as dervish lodges had in earlier times. The old policy of forced resettlement as a means of repopulating new conquests had been abandoned: settlers came to Iraklion from the Cretan countryside, and the Islamicization of the island was achieved more gradually, by conversion, rather than by bringing Muslims in from the mainland, as had been attempted unsuccessfully in Cyprus a century before. Moreover, most of those who came to Iraklion were military men, in name if not in practice, predominantly of Cretan origin and able to identify with the local people.66

There was another feature of this Ottomanization that differed from what had gone before, and it reflected the fact that the Ottoman dynasty had by this time lost some of its power and prestige to the Köprülü and other grandee households. There were mosques named for sultans in Cretan cities, but they were not necessarily the most important ones. Following the Ottoman conquest of Chania, its cathedral had been converted into a mosque named for the reigning Sultan İbrahim, but those serving the largest congregations in Iraklion, as in Rethymno, were sponsored by Ottoman statesmen who had participated in the conquest of the island, and by the queen-mother, Turhan Sultan, while the major patron was of course the Grand Vezir himself. Evliya Çelebi noted that a mosque named for Sultan İbrahim, during whose reign the war with Venice had begun, was being used by its end to store gunpowder, an observation that throws this shift of power into relief. Another index of the decline in prestige of the sultanate was that unlike the mosques of earlier sultans, those on Crete had only one minaret.67

Calm prevailed only briefly after the successful conclusion of the siege of Iraklion brought the long Cretan war to an end. By the summer of 1670 Fazıl Ahmed Pasha was back in Istanbul, and two years later he set out again with the army towards Ukraine. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was greatly weakened by this time, the Cossack uprising which had begun in 1648 having developed, by 1654, into a war between the Commonwealth and Muscovy over the question of sovereignty in Ukraine. The Commonwealth had come under attack from all sides, including Sweden, before years of sporadic fighting ended in 1667, leaving Ukraine divided along the Dnieper with the right bank, on the west, under Commonwealth suzerainty, and the east bank, on the left, under Muscovite control. The Cossacks of Ukraine preferred independence from both the Commonwealth and Muscovy, and Hetman Petro Doroshenko, leader of the Right Bank Cossacks, sought Ottoman protection in his resistance.68 In June 1669, after several months of negotiations to ascertain whether he was sincere in his desire to submit to Ottoman suzerainty, the Sultan sent Doroshenko the symbols customarily awarded by the Ottomans to their vassals – a horse-tail standard, a drum, a banner, and a diploma of investiture – in recognition of the Hetman’s authority over all of Ukraine. Almost twenty years after Bohdan Khmelnytsky had first expressed his desire to be a ‘slave of the Sultan’,69 much of Ukraine again became part of the Ottoman Empire.

Direct support for the Right Bank Cossacks seemed to offer the Ottomans another ally in the steppe besides the Tatars. In opting to support the Cossacks against the Commonwealth, the Ottomans abandoned their traditional policy in the region, that of keeping a balance between the Commonwealth and Muscovy. The Commonwealth responded in 1671 by sending forces under Hetman Jan Sobieski into Right Bank Ukraine and throwing down the gauntlet to the Ottomans; they in turn declared war, citing Polish interference in the lands of their new vassal as the casus belli.70 The Ottoman aim was to take, as a bulwark for closer control of their northern frontier, the strategic fortress of Kamenets-Podol’skiy in the province of Podolia, situated on a bluff around which a tributary of the Dniester has incised a steep gorge, and considered impregnable; a further potential benefit was that, with Podolia an Ottoman province, the often insubordinate vassal states of Moldavia and Wallachia could be more vigilantly supervised.71

Seclusion in the Topkapı Palace had been the lot of Ottoman princes since the early years of the century, but Mehmed was determined that his eldest son and heir-apparent should know what was expected of a sultan. This new campaign offered a chance to demonstrate that the Ottoman Empire could still embark on a war of territorial expansion under the command of a warrior-king, and the Sultan decided to lead the campaign in person, taking with him Prince Mustafa and, instead of his own mother Turhan Sultan, Mustafa’s mother, his favourite concubine Rabia GülnüşEmetullah.*72

The march northwards towards Poland was wet and hazardous. The silver carriage in which Rabia Gülnüş Emetullah rode sank fast in the clay soil at one point along the route, and she had to be rescued by the Grand Vezir. Prince Mustafa and his mother remained south of the Danube at Babadag, while the Sultan and the army continued to Isaccea where a bridge was built over the Danube.73 Before he crossed to the northern bank, Mehmed briefly returned to Babadag to visit his family.74 Thirty-nine days later and some four or five hours from their target of Kamenets, the army crossed the Dniester to enter Polish territory. The fortress was poorly defended and fell to the Ottomans on 27 August 1672 after nine days of heavy bombardment. When the keys had been handed over to Fazıl Ahmed Pasha, the Sultan was able to visit this latest Ottoman conquest; he ordered Abdurrahman Abdi Pasha, who was by his side out of harm’s way during the fighting, to compose a commemorative poem of twenty-four couplets and a chronogram – it was usual that such a poem would later be carved in marble and displayed over the gate of the fortress.75

The defenders of Kamenets were granted security of life and property, the right to remain living in the fortress if they wished, and the right to worship according to their own rites, whether Latin or Orthodox; they were also allowed to keep as many churches as they needed. As was customary, a number became mosques – the Catholic Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul became the mosque of Sultan Mehmed IV, while others were named for his mother Turhan Sultan, for Rabia Gülnüş Emetullah, Grand Vezir Fazıl Ahmed Pasha, and for Musahib (‘Companion’) Mustafa Pasha and Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha, second and third vezir respectively. Within a short time, other marks of the new regime became evident as the charitable foundations typical of a Muslim town were established. On the first Friday after the conquest the Warrior-Sultan celebrated the prayer in his new mosque.76

The new Ottoman province of Kamenets (or, properly, Kameniçe), constituted from the Commonwealth’s province of Podolia, was, like the other provinces formed during the Köprülü years – Varad, Uyvar and Crete – rather smaller than those created during the earlier centuries of Ottoman conquest when the wholesale acquisition of new territory was easier. Kamenets was being surveyed for taxation purposes before the end of 1672, and its new administrators tried to introduce the system of land-holding whereby land was awarded to cavalrymen in exchange for their undertaking to campaign when required to do so77 – the system which once obtained across the central lands of the empire but had fallen into abeyance. While cavalry had not entirely lost their effectiveness even in the more static warfare of the late seventeenth century, it was really the age of infantry, and the application of this old and hallowed institution in Kamenets and the other provinces conquered at this time smacks rather of an attempt to recreate the golden age of the empire than an effort to tackle the challenges of the present.78

The Commonwealth might have had to pay for its defeat by ceding Podolia to the Sultan and acknowledging his suzerainty over Right Bank Ukraine, and by the payment of an annual tribute – which according to Ottoman law made the Polish king an Ottoman vassal – but Ottoman attempts to impose their land regime in Kamenets were premature. The Polish king might have signed the peace treaty, but he was widely disdained and his nobles were determined to regain what they had lost. Old quarrels were forgotten and the Commonwealth’s armies were hastily improved, so much so that they were able to defeat the Ottoman garrison at Khotin in 1673 before Fazıl Ahmed’s relieving force could arrive,79 but in 1675 Ottoman units caused further alarm by raiding across the frontier into Polish territory.80 By now the Commonwealth wanted respite, and agreed revised peace terms in 1676 that relieved the Polish king from the humiliation of having to pay an annual tribute to the Sultan. However, this, and the acquisition of two fortresses in Ukraine, was far less than the Ottomans had led the Poles to believe they stood to gain from the settlement.81

Ottoman championing of Right Bank Ukraine had brought war with the Commonwealth – and gratifying territorial gain – but the change in the balance of power in the region provoked a reaction from Muscovy, whose forces encroached on the Ottoman protectorate, and in 1674 an army with Sultan Mehmed at its head marched north from Edirne to save Hetman Petro Doroshenko, besieged in his capital in the fortress of Chyhyryn on a western tributary of the Dnieper; the Crimean Tatars saved the day for the Ottomans whose raiders, commanded by Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha, went on to destroy forts and settlements that had acknowledged Muscovite rather than Ottoman suzerainty.82


Hostilities against the Commonwealth and Muscovy meant that not until 1675 could the recent successes of the Ottoman army be celebrated in a way appropriate to the warrior-sultan of a resurgent military power. That spring Sultan Mehmed IV decreed fifteen days of celebration in Edirne for the circumcision of his sons, Mustafa, aged eleven, and two-year-old Ahmed, and eighteen days of festivities for the marriage of their sister Hadice Sultan, aged seventeen, to the second vezir, Musahib Mustafa Pasha. Following six months of preparation, the circumcision feast took place between 14 and 29 May, and the marriage was celebrated between 9 and 27 June. Not since the marriage feasts of Sultan Süleyman I’s sister Hadice Sultan to his grand vezir and favourite İbrahim Pasha in 1524, or of his grand-daughters to three high-ranking statesmen in 1562, or the circumcision feast of the future Mehmed III in 1582, had its like been seen.

Hezarfen Hüseyin Efendi, a former bureaucrat, wrote a detailed, dayby-day description of the festivities, of which he was probably a witness. Banquets, lavish gifts, theatre performances, fireworks, clowning, equestrian displays and much more besides went to make up a scrupulously orchestrated exhibition of dynastic splendour and munificence. Ottoman officials and dignitaries and the people of Edirne were invited to feasts according to their rank, and presented their offerings to the Sultan and the Princes – religious and poetic texts, silver vessels and valuable cloth predominated. When Hadice Sultan married, she received many presents from the Sultan, while the bridegroom was required to entertain the high officials of state at banquets and distribute largesse far and wide.83 The setting for the celebrations was the open space in front of the royal palace:

. . . on one side twenty-two ships’ masts’ booms were erected and a thousand small lamps arranged on each of them with great inventiveness. [The Sultan] ordered them to be kept illuminated from beginning to end of the festivities. Seven imperial tents were erected by the Sultan. In some of them the Sultan and the Princes rested at all times while others were for the Grand Vezir and Sheikhulislam and the Chief Justices of Rumeli and Anadolu and other members of the imperial council, and in front of each tent were wooden tribunes so that the music and conversation and other amusements could be observed.84

The Englishman Dr John Covel, chaplain of the Levant Company, visited Edirne and its environs in 1675 and was present at the festival. Many commoners were circumcised at the same time as the Princes, and Dr Covel was an observer – indeed, he wrote, ‘the Turkes would be so farre from hindring your seeing, as they would make way for you’:

I saw many 100es of them (there being about 2,000 in all the 13 nights) cut . . . There were many of riper yeares, especially renegades that turn’d Turks. The common way there of turning was (as I saw several) to go before the G Sr [i.e. Grand Seigneur, the Sultan]: and Vizier, and throw down their cap, or hold up their right hand or forefinger; they were immediately led away by an officer (who stands by on purpose), and cut with the rest. I saw a Russe of about 20 yeares old, who after he had been before the Vizier came to the tent skipping and rejoicing excessively; yet, in cutting he frowned (as many of riper ages doe). One night we met a young lad, who askt us the way to the Vizier. Being a country boy, we askt him what he would with him. He told us his brother turn’d Turk, and he would goe find him, and be cut too; and two days after he was as good as his word . . . There were at least 200 proselytes made in these 13 days.85

Although Fazıl Ahmed Pasha had abandoned his theological training in his youth, he remained sensitive to its influences, and during his grand vezirate the puritanical Kadızadelis who had been anathema to his father experienced a revival. As governor of Erzurum he came under the sway of Mehmed ibn Bistan, a Kurdish preacher from Van, hence known as Vani Efendi, a charismatic figure in the local religious establishment. Much older than Fazıl Ahmed, Vani Efendi was a kindred spirit from the intellectual world Fazıl Ahmed had left behind when he turned his talents to administration. The two men became friends, and when Fazıl Ahmed became grand vezir, Vani Efendi was invited to Istanbul as his spiritual adviser. He was later awarded the influential post of preacher at the Friday prayers in the new imperial mosque of Turhan Sultan, inaugurated in 1665, and continued as the Grand Vezir’s spiritual guide.86

Vani Efendi’s closeness to the Grand Vezir inevitably brought him close to Mehmed IV, and in the chronicle of Mehmed IV’s favourite Abdurrahman Abdi Pasha his name appears as frequently as those of the Sultan’s most prominent vezirs. He was with Mehmed during the years that the court was at Edirne, where Abdurrahman Abdi had ample opportunity to observe him. Interestingly, there seems to have been no important conflict of ideas between Vani Efendi and the clerical establishment in the person of Sheikhulislam Minkarizade (‘Son of the man with an aquiline nose’) Yahya Efendi, though the equal status accorded their views in matters over which the Sheikhulislam would traditionally have had the monopoly of spiritual authority was striking. Vani Efendi accompanied the Sultan on his abortive military campaign to Crete, and also on the Kamenets campaign where the former Carmelite church in the city was named as a mosque in his honour, and he was given leave to establish a charitable foundation.87

Both the Sultan and his grand vezir were young enough to be susceptible to the guidance of one such as Vani Efendi, and his eminence was a boon to his less elevated followers, whose voices had been muted since the banishment of Üstüvani Mehmed Efendi and his acolytes to Cyprus in 1656. The events of the pre-Köprülü years had done much to discredit the clerical hierarchy whose members had enmeshed themselves in the political and factional wrangles that were acted out in the capital, and the time was ripe for the resurgence of a group such as the Kadızadelis who could legitimately claim a share in reimposing morality. During Vani Efendi’s ascendance the mystical orders again became a target of Kadızadeli attentions. He ordered the destruction of a Bektaşi dervish lodge near Edirne, and even forced upon the rich and influential Mevlevi lodge in Galata a general prohibition on the public performance of Sufi music and dance, which he held to be out of keeping with the tenets of orthodox belief. As in the days when Kadızade Mehmed had had the ear of Sultan Murad IV, coffee-houses were pulled down and smoking was again banned.88

The dervishes were at least Muslims: Vani Efendi and his followers felt far more insulted by the presence of non-Muslims in the empire, and the privileges accorded them. The production and consumption of wine, for example, were traditionally forbidden to Muslims but permitted to Christians and Jews – to the benefit of the treasury which collected a tithe. In 1670 an imperial edict was issued which abolished the office of commissioner for wine, ordered the razing of taverns in greater Istanbul, and imposed a ban on the sale of wine, not only causing financial loss to the treasury but also penalizing the Christians and Jews who handled the lucrative trade. As had happened with previous attempts to curb the wine trade, however, subterfuge and smuggling rendered the edict less than effective.89 Perhaps it was the spectacle of ‘hundreds’ of people arriving every day to visit the taverns in the village of Karaağaç, a short distance from Edirne, that so inflamed Vani Efendi. Dr John Covel had first-hand knowledge of the ‘Turkish’ love of wine, and of the protection money earned by the janissary commander-in-chief for turning a blind eye to the debauchery at Karaağaç. All at court drank, he said, except for the Sultan and the two Mustafa Pashas – Merzifonlu Kara and Musahib.90

The tolerated status of non-Muslims had been codified in Ottoman law since before the reign of Mehmed II, their legally-defined niche symbolized by payment of a poll-tax. However, the eagerness with which Ottoman Christians and Jews forged links with foreign merchants and agents of foreign governments whenever the opportunity arose gave a puritan such as Vani Efendi pause, and he concluded that members of these minorities must be brought into line and rendered invisible. Traditionally the Ottoman attitude towards non-Muslim places of worship had been lenient as long as they did not exceed certain dimensions, and their repair was permitted as necessary, although reconstruction could be prohibited if or when the original building was completely destroyed. Under Vani Efendi’s influence, the ground on which had stood eighteen of the twenty-five churches burnt down in the great fires that ravaged Istanbul and Galata in the 1660s, though initially restored to Christian hands, was subsequently confiscated and sold to Muslims.91

In 1664, Vani Efendi succeeded in having a ban imposed on the interfaith prayers which the Sheikhulislam advised the Sultan should be said all over the empire for the success of the forthcoming campaign. In the event, the defeat of the Ottomans at the hands of the Habsburgs at Szentgotthárd made Vani Efendi’s assertion that the prayers of Muslims alone would be sufficient to guarantee the success of the campaign look questionable.92 The earlier wave of Kadızadeli activity had been intended to bring errant Muslims back to the righteous path; Vani Efendi, by contrast, sought to enforce Islamic prescriptions concerning the place of non-Muslims in a Muslim society, at the expense of traditional Ottoman leniency, and because he had the support of both Sultan and Grand Vezir he was able to see his programme put into practice.

Visible to a wider audience than Turhan Sultan’s castles at the Dardanelles was what is today called the Yeni Cami or ‘New’ mosque, an abbreviation of its full name, Yeni Valide Camii, the ‘New mosque of the Queen-mother’. It looms large on the shore of the Golden Horn in the Eminönü quarter of Istanbul and its dependencies are many: a royal pavilion, a primary school, a public fountain, a library and a market – known as the Egyptian or Spice Market – together with Turhan’s large mausoleum. This mosque complex was the first built by a royal woman to be considered the equal of the great sultanic mosque complexes – those of Mehmed II, Bayezid II, Selim I, Süleyman I, the Şehzade mosque which Süleyman built for his dead son Prince Mehmed, the mosque of Ahmed I and, of course, Ayasofya.93 The project had been initiated by Safiye Sultan, mother of Mehmed III, but abandoned when he died and she retired into obscurity. Murad IV had apparently considered going ahead with the construction, but dropped the idea. Turhan Sultan’s decision to take over this site – in the commercial district of Istanbul – provided an unanticipated opportunity to subordinate the Jews.

The fire of 1660 that devastated much of the city took its toll of the Jewish neighbourhood in the port district of Eminönü; the Jews were blamed in ruling circles for starting the fire and following it their properties were expropriated and the community expelled from the area. That this was viewed as a meritorious act is made explicit both in inscriptions inside the royal pavilion of the mosque and in the text of its endowment deed: written on a tile panel in the royal pavilion is the Koranic verse referring to the Prophet Muhammad’s exile of a Jewish tribe from Medina and the confiscation of their land, while Turhan Sultan’s endowment deed refers to ‘the Jews who are the enemy of Islam’.94 Thus was Islam imposed on this commercial district, a domestic parallel to the war conducted against foreign infidels. The Jews mostly moved out of sight, up the Golden Horn to another Jewish community in the Hasköy quarter,95 and when they later drifted back to Eminönü, they were again ordered to be expelled.96 Vani Efendi’s part in this execration of Jews echoed that played by Mehmed III’s grand vezir Koca Sinan Pasha when he exploited a burst of anti-Jewish sentiment in the 1590s, just before Safiye Sultan made the decision to build her mosque on the same site. Like her son and the Grand Vezir, Turhan Sultan appreciated Vani Efendi’s efforts, and showed it by adding a convent for him to her mosque complex.97

The Jews of the empire became highly visible again in 1665 when a rabbi from the cosmopolitan commercial port of İzmir, Sabbatai Zvi, declared himself to be the Messiah. Jews in İzmir and Istanbul who believed him abandoned their commercial activities, and disputes broke out between them and their co-religionists who did not share their hopes for a ‘return’ to Jerusalem. Influenced by Vani Efendi, the government intervened to stamp out Zvi’s activities. At first he was imprisoned in one of the Dardanelles castles, but when the clamour of his disciples disrupted public order in the locality he was taken to Edirne for interrogation by the Sultan’s closest advisers, Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha, Sheikhulislam Minkarizade Yahya Efendi – who had issued a juridical opinion that Christians or Jews could be ordered to convert to Islam98 – and Vani Efendi. The Sultan was a secret observer of the proceedings, and of Sabbatai Zvi’s conversion when offered the choice between that or death.99 Emerging as the ‘new Muslim’ Aziz Mehmed Efendi, a salaried court functionary, Sabbatai Zvi began to proselytize on behalf of his adopted religion, sowing more than a little confusion in the minds of his former adherents – an unlooked-for ally in Vani Efendi’s crusade to minimize the prominence of non-Muslims in the public life of the empire. Unlike in Sultan Süleyman I’s time, when non-conformist religious opinions could lead to execution, the Ottoman establishment was able to absorb a repentant religious trouble-maker as easily as it had earlier accommodated the contrite military rebels of Anatolia. Sabbatai Zvi’s fervour for his new faith did not last, however, and he was eventually banished to Albania where he died in 1676. The movement he initiated had repercussions throughout Europe and the Middle East, bringing about the conversion to Islam of Jews and Christians across the empire.*100

European observers were at a loss to explain the wave of conversions which took place during the reign of Sultan Mehmed IV,101 both before but especially after Sabbatai Zvi’s time, when many Christians and Jews appeared in person before the Sultan, at his court in Edirne and also in the course of his frequent hunting expeditions. So numerous were they that included in a new compilation of laws drawn up by the Sultan’s secretary Abdurrahman Abdi Pasha in 1676–7 was ‘The Law of the New Muslim’, which regularized the conversion process to comprise instruction in the articles of Islam, the awarding of coins and the appropriate clothing to the convert and, if Christian, his circumcision. Conversion permitted Jews and Christians to share in the benefits enjoyed by the majority Muslim population of the empire, and relieved them of the political and financial disabilities of their ‘tolerated’ status. ‘New Muslim’ males, like old, had the opportunity to rise to the highest offices of state; they could, among other benefits, marry whom they chose, while non-Muslim males were restricted to marrying non-Muslim women. Women and children also converted: among the advantages for women was that they could then divorce non-Muslim husbands or, if they were the household slaves of non-Muslims, eventually gain their freedom.102

That the court could spend so much time in Edirne, where Mehmed IV was able to indulge his passion for hunting, and his laissez-faire attitude to affairs of state, suggests that Anatolia was at last quiet, a successful outcome of the late Grand Vezir Köprülü Mehmed Pasha’s violent repression of the disturbances there. Köprülü Mehmed had also laid the foundations for the stable government of his son Fazıl Ahmed Pasha by stamping out the factional struggles and palace intrigues that had characterized politics earlier in the century. Under Fazıl Ahmed, who was grand vezir for fifteen years, the holders of the highest offices of state remained remarkably unchanged. Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha had held high office under Köprülü Mehmed and continued to counsel the Sultan after Fazıl Ahmed came to power, as did the vezir Musahib Mustafa Pasha. The chief treasurer Cebeci (‘Armourer’) Ahmed Pasha, appointed in 1662, remained in his post for fourteen years. Sheikhulislam Minkarizade Yahya Efendi, another who came to office after Köprülü Mehmed Pasha’s death, was dismissed only after eleven years’ service, in 1674.

Fazıl Ahmed Pasha was 41 years old when he died of ‘acute dropsy brought on by drink’ while on the road from Istanbul to Edirne on 3 November 1676; he was buried in his father’s tomb near the Covered Bazaar in Istanbul.103 His brother Fazıl Mustafa Pasha, who was with him when he died, took the seal of the office of grand vezir to the Sultan, who invested Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha as the new incumbent. Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa had first come to prominence as a protégé of Köprülü Mehmed Pasha, and during his childhood friend and brother-in-law Fazıl Ahmed’s tenure he developed the intimacy with the Sultan which guaranteed his preferment. As proxy to Fazıl Ahmed, he had rarely left court, and some western diplomats suspected him of intriguing against Fazıl Ahmed.104

Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha’s first business on becoming grand vezir was once more to defend Ottoman interests in Right Bank Ukraine from encroachment by the forces of Muscovy and Left Bank Ukraine. His harsh reprisals against the people of Right Bank Ukraine that followed the Ottoman campaign of 1674, and the tightening of Ottoman control there, made for widespread dissatisfaction with the leadership of Hetman Petro Doroshenko, who began to feel disappointed in the Sultan and uneasy about his vulnerable position between powerful neighbours. In 1676 Doroshenko sent the insignia he had received from the Sultan to the Tsar, handed his capital at Chyhyryn over to him, and was granted refuge in Muscovy. The Sultan appointed a new Cossack leader, the son of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, hero of the 1648 Cossack uprising against the Commonwealth, but he was but a pale shadow of his father and his predecessor Doroshenko. The Ottomans could not countenance the Muscovite presence in territory they counted Ottoman, and the two states were soon at war; after failing to retake Chyhyryn by siege in 1677, Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa succeeded in expelling the garrison in 1678.105 Presented with another opportunity to prove his warrior credentials, Mehmed IV set out with great ceremony and travelled as far as the Danubian fortress of Silistra, where he remained for the duration of the campaign.106

Isolated, and hard to defend from any renewed Muscovite attack, Chyhyryn was demolished by the Ottomans; three new castles which would better serve their defensive needs in the region were built further east, on the Dnieper and Boh rivers.107 When word came that Muscovy was preparing for a new assault the Sultan again readied himself to lead his troops to war, but the mediation of the Tatar Khan led Muscovy to sue for peace and in 1681 a treaty bringing to an end five years of tension on the Dnieper was signed at Bakhchisaray, the Khan’s capital in the Crimea. This, the first formal treaty between Muscovy and the Ottomans, promised twenty years of peace and recognized Ottoman suzerainty of Right Bank Ukraine, except for the city of Kyiv (which, with Left Bank Ukraine, had been in vassalage to Muscovy since 1667). In the event Ottoman policy in regard to the northern Black Sea – to do there only what was required in order to preserve their heartland from attack – seemed little changed; the conquest of Podolia apart, their intervention in Ukraine had been necessitated by developments in the relationship between Muscovy and the Commonwealth which were beyond their control. By 1681 they were over-extended and glad of a respite, and seemed to have resolved the strategic problems on their northern frontier.108

To the north-west, the Ottoman–Habsburg frontier had been quiet since the Treaty of Vasvar of 1664, and central Europe was at peace, Fazıl Ahmed Pasha having been content with the treaty provisions giving the Ottomans their province of Uyvar, north of the Danube. The Hungarian nobility, however, felt let down by Montecuccoli and Emperor Leopold’s seeming intention of replacing constitutional government in ‘Royal Hungary’ with absolutist rule; a number of them were accused of trying to secure the help of the French or the Ottomans, and executed in 1671 for treason. The Counter-Reformation was imposed with more or less severity at various times during the seventeenth century, but with particular brutality under Leopold I: although the conspiracy was proto-national rather than religious in inspiration – both Catholics and Protestants had been involved – Hungarian Protestants of all classes were persecuted, and Hungary more and more came to be viewed as conquered territory to be ruled directly from Vienna.109

It seemed to many dissenting Protestant Hungarians that Ottoman toleration might be preferable to the bigotry of Habsburg rule and they sought refuge in the Ottoman vassal state of Transylvania. Fazıl Ahmed Pasha had always declined to involve himself in the struggles of these malcontents, and had ordered the Transylvanian prince Michael Apafi to follow the same policy. In 1678, however, the Calvinist noble Imre Thököly, a prominent voice in the Hungarian struggle against Habsburg hegemony and Catholic domination, was elected leader of the disaffected Protestants, and his success in a number of engagements with Habsburg forces gave him a swathe of territory in upper Hungary and further enhanced his prestige. By this time Leopold had come to realize that his policy in Hungary was proving counterproductive; in 1680 he made a truce with Thököly and in May 1681 convened a Diet at which he offered to reinstate a measure of local autonomy and religious toleration. Thököly refused to attend its meetings.110 One chronicler of these years, Silahdar (‘Sword-bearer’) Fındıklılı Mehmed Agha, was a page at court at the time and reports the arrival there in July of Thököly’s envoys, who presented an appeal for co-operation to the Sultan.111 Early in 1682 Thököly was rewarded with a treaty of fourteen articles recognizing him as an Ottoman vassal.112 Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha saw in him a potential tool in the fulfilment of his plans against the Habsburgs. Thus it was that when Leopold sent his envoy to renew the Treaty of Vasvar, due to expire in 1684, he found that the Ottomans were no longer prepared to consider doing so, having agreed to support the ‘King of Central Hungary’, as Thököly was dubbed in recognition of his new status.113 Between the possibilities offered by Thököly and the encouragement offered by the French envoy at the Ottoman court – France, having designs of its own in regard to the Habsburg Empire, intimated that it would not intervene in any war between Habsburgs and Ottomans – it is not surprising that the Habsburg envoy was unable to get any satisfaction in the matter of the renewal of the treaty.114

The Sultan was perhaps reluctant to see an escalation of tension in Hungary, but the Grand Vezir was determined, and seconded by the commander-in-chief of the janissaries, Tekirdağlı Bekri Mustafa Pasha, who pleaded that his men were eager to fight. Silahdar Fındıklılı Mehmed Agha reports that Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha went so far as to solicit false reports exaggerating the trouble on the border. He also requested a juridical opinion from the Sheikhulislam and, ignoring the inconvenient response – that war was not licit – put the Habsburg envoy, who had been intent on peace at almost any price, under house arrest.115

It was an opportune moment for the Ottomans to make war on the Habsburgs: they had the front-line support of Thököly while the Habsburgs were losing ground in Hungary and the French had indicated that they would not intervene; Muscovy was keen to maintain peace,116 and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was too weak to pose a threat. By 3 May 1683 the imperial Ottoman army, accompanied by Sultan Mehmed, was in Belgrade, having for once set out early in the campaigning season. As it advanced along the Danube, Thököly’s forces and those of the Crimean Khan joined it.117 Silahdar Fındıklılı Mehmed Agha was present on the campaign and complained bitterly about the terrible rains that dogged progress from the time the army set out from Edirne on 30 March; he remarked, especially, upon the difficulty of getting the Sultan’s favourite concubine Rabia Gülnüş Emetullah and eighty coachloads of ladies of the harem safely across the bridge over a river near Plovdiv.118

The original plan was that Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha should take Győr, as Fazıl Ahmed Pasha had intended in 1664. (The Habsburg envoy had refused to surrender it during the pre-campaign negotiations.) However, in a meeting held while the army was encamped before the fortress, Kara Mustafa announced that since the fortress was stronger than anticipated, it would be better to proceed straight to Vienna, rather than lose troops besieging it. He would listen to no objections, and the army moved forwards.119There was much to recommend this decision, for the high command of the Habsburg army, riven as it was with personal and bureaucratic disputes, had been slow to formulate a workable defensive strategy, and slow to mobilize. In Vienna, panic set in in the first days of July, when it became clear that the Ottomans were well advanced; the Emperor and his court deserted the city on 7 July and retreated to Passau, where they arrived on 18 July carrying their treasures with them. As they went they were pursued by Tatar cavalry who on 16 July raided an area some 100 kilometres west of Vienna.120

Silahdar Fındıklılı Mehmed Agha reported that when news of Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha’s unauthorized action reached Sultan Mehmed in Belgrade, he was astonished by his grand vezir’s blatant disregard of his explicit orders – but impotent to change the course of events.121Nevertheless, fortune seemed to be smiling on the Ottomans and their allies: they outnumbered the Emperor’s forces and, although they had passed by Győr, they had captured a number of other strategically-placed positions as they advanced.122

Within a few days of arriving outside the walls of Vienna, Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha had drawn up his army to surround the city on all sides, leaving little place for a relief army to approach. The siege opened with the customary offer of safe conduct if the defenders would surrender the fortress, but this, as was also customary, was refused. The Ottoman forces entrenched themselves quickly and expertly, and the bombardment began on 14 July. Kara Mustafa, intent on missing no detail that would ensure a a successful outcome, was unhurried and systematic, but the fighting was fierce and the suspense high. One month into the siege an Ottoman mine opened a breach and the attackers were able to enter the intermediate defences of the ravelin.123

The consequences of an Ottoman victory weighed heavily on the minds of European princes and statesmen, overshadowed by the knowledge that appeals for united action against the common enemy had rarely been responded to in past centuries and, when attempted, had still more rarely been durable or decisive. Today’s ally might be tomorrow’s enemy: the mutual suspicion and the embers of old enmities militated against cohesive action. France was as good as its intimations and sent no troops to the relief of Vienna. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was the only power bound to come to the defence of the Habsburgs. The Commonwealth was still smarting from the loss of influence over the Cossacks of Right Bank Ukraine and the forfeiture of large tracts of territory in Podolia to the Ottomans embodied in the treaties of 1672 and 1676. Although the independence and privileges of the local assemblies did not, on the face of it, make it certain that any help would be forthcoming even from this quarter, the nobles of Podolia – most inclined to come to the aid of the Habsburgs because they were hopeful of regaining their lands in the event of an Ottoman defeat – swayed their fellows124 and, united by the need for assistance against a common enemy, the Habsburg Empire and theCommonwealth came together in an uneasy alliance, concluding a mutual defence pact in March 1683 which rendered the Commonwealth’s treaties with the Ottomans untenable.

Already in June the Polish army had been on alert on its southern border, worried by Thököly’s incursions from Transylvania into Polish territory as well as the advance of the Ottoman army from Buda. When the first desperate appeal from Vienna reached him in mid-July, just as the siege was beginning, Sobieski moved his court from Warsaw to Krakow without displaying any particular sense of urgency, but as details of the progress of the siege became known he worked hard to mobilize an army sufficient to the task confronting it. Failure would invite further Ottoman military action against the Commonwealth, but for Sobieski it would also represent a setback to his personal ambitions. Sobieski’s army left Krakow on 15 August, and by the end of the month he was at Hollabrun, north-east of Vienna, with Charles of Lorraine, the Emperor’s brother-in-law and commander of the small Habsburg army which had been harrying the Ottomans’ supply line. The Bavarians to the south-west and the Protestant Saxons to the north-west of Vienna also sent troops, but no agreement had been reached with other potential allies, such as the Elector of Brandenburg.125

The siege had continued for nearly two months without either side gaining decisive advantage, although the defenders’ position was desperate. The relief armies moved slowly to cross the Danube at Tulln and mass on the south bank to march through the the Wienerwald and approach the city from the west. The Ottomans, assuming that the mountainous and thickly-forested terrain would defy even the most determined relief force, had neglected to defend this approach sufficiently – but if they could not ignore the 60,000-strong advancing army, no more could they raise the siege, after so many weeks of effort and with the scent of victory in the air. Sobieski spent three days drawing up his forces: the Austrians were on the left, nearest the river, the Germans in the centre, and the Commonwealth troops – who were slower to take their places – on the rising ground of the right wing. Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa was greatly outnumbered, with some 30,000 men, plus an unknown number of Moldavians, Wallachians and Tatars. The fiercely-fought battle on 12 September lasted until evening; in the morning most of the fighting took place on the low ground close to the river, but once Sobieski and the Commonwealth cavalry were able to catch up with the other contingents, a co-ordinated advance became possible. By the end of the day the Ottoman army had been swept aside as the enemy line advanced and, realizing the hopelessness of their situation, those who had not been cut to pieces fled.126 The siege was lost; as deserted Ottoman positions were plundered, Sobieski’s men secured the lion’s share, including the magnificent embroidered tents of the Ottoman high command to be seen today in museums in Krakow and elsewhere in the former Polish lands.

Those of the Ottoman forces who were not killed or taken captive retreated in disorder, cold and hungry, along the road towards Győr, where they crossed the river Rába. When news of the defeat before Vienna reached the Sultan in his camp at Belgrade he was furious, threatening Kara Mustafa Pasha with execution and summoning him to appear before him; but the Grand Vezir refused to continue to Belgrade, pleading that he was ill.127 It was clear, however, that preparations for the next season must begin soon, and Mehmed and his retinue set off back to Edirne without waiting for Kara Mustafa to reach Belgrade.128 If the blame for the defeat – Sobieski’s intervention apart – lay at Kara Mustafa’s door, it was due less to his decision to march straight for Vienna than to a number of technical miscalculations on his part, such as failing to bring heavy artillery to the siege but relying instead on light guns, which were certainly more mobile and transportable but proved inadequate to breach Vienna’s strongly fortified walls. Nor was he able to deal with the defenders’ successful countermining operations, which hindered Ottoman forward progress during the siege.129

Before retreating to winter quarters, Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha reorganized the defence of the Hungarian front. He blamed the debacle on the governor of Buda, who had disagreed with his strategy of bypassing Győr and heading for Vienna at the start of the campaign, and subsequently failed to satisfy the Grand Vezir with the quality of his generalship; he was executed and his estate confiscated for the benefit of the treasury.130

Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha had long been a close adviser of the Sultan, but any doubts Mehmed IV might have harboured about him were given substance during his absence on campaign as plotters fabricated reports of disorder in the empire. On hearing of the defeat at Vienna, one of the plotters, the keeper of the sultan’s stables Boşnak (‘Bosnian’) Sarı (‘Fair-skinned’) Süleyman Agha, announced, in the words of Silahdar Fındıklılı Mehmed Agha, that ‘our enemy [i.e. Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha] is finished with; the time is ripe for revenge’; other plotters were the Chief Black Eunuch, Yusuf Agha, and the third vezir Kara İbrahim Pasha. Mehmed succumbed to the pressure from Kara Mustafa’s detractors, and the Grand Vezir was executed in Belgrade on Christmas Day 1683131 while engaged in planning a new advance for the following spring. Kara İbrahim took his place as grand vezir. Kara Mustafa’s body was buried in the courtyard of the mosque opposite the palace in Belgrade.132 Although by Silahdar Fındıklılı Mehmed Agha’s account, the Sultan ordered his head to be taken back to Istanbul for burial in his tomb near the Covered Bazaar,133a skull in Vienna’s city museum is commonly believed to be his.134

Silahdar Fındıklılı Mehmed Agha made no secret of his conviction that the Grand Vezir alone was responsible both for directing the campaign against Vienna, and for the disasters which ensued, recording a significant dream:

At that time [i.e. during the deliberations preceding the campaign] the Grand Vezir dreamt that as he put new boots on his feet, a seven-headed dragon appeared before him and walked all over him [and] bit him. And the next day he had Soothsayer Hasan Efendi interpret the dream. ‘The boots you are wearing signify departure for campaign and the dragon is the Habsburg Caesar who, since he wears the crown of Noshirvan [i.e. the Sassanian king, Khusraw I], is submissive to the command of seven kings. It is best that you withdraw from this campaign or it is certain that you will regret it’.135

For all his conviction that Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha was responsible for the defeat at Vienna, Silahdar Fındıklılı Mehmed Agha found the intrigue at court in the Grand Vezir’s absence hard to stomach. He later claimed to have had a premonition of Kara Mustafa’s fate; after reporting a great storm on 13 December, he observed: ‘if there is thunder and lightning in December, it portends that the ruler of that land will secretly murder a leading statesman and sequester his assets’.136 Among the other casualties of the Vienna campaign was the Kadızadeli preacher Vani Efendi. Having shared Kara Mustafa’s desire to take the city he had accompanied the army there;137 Sultan Mehmed disapproved, and he was sent away from court to his estate near Bursa, where he died in 1685.138

Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha owes his place in history to his failure at the second Ottoman siege of Vienna. This ignominious Ottoman defeat was of great psychological importance for the Habsburgs and the whole of Europe. It seemed to western observers that the tide of Ottoman conquest was turning. The literary production of the time reflects the exaggerated expectations of contemporaries that the forces of Christianity would at last triumph after centuries of struggle. The Vienna debacle was certainly a blow for the Ottomans – at the time, however, they had no idea that it was merely the first in a chain of defeats which would end only in 1699 with a humiliating and highly unfavourable peace.

*This was not quite without precedent: contemporary chronicles describe the Cretan campaign of 1668 as ‘royal’. The Sultan did leave Edirne with the intention of travelling to Larisa in Thessaly, but his participation was little more than symbolic; he spent many months hunting in the area, and only moved to Euboea to embark for Crete in September 1669 – where he received news of the fall of Iraklion, and turned for home (Abdurrahman Abdi Paşa, ‘Abdurrahman Abdi Paşa Vekâyi’nâme’si’ 256–95).

*The descendants of his followers, known as Dönme from the Turkish verb meaning ‘to convert’, remain an identifiable group in Turkey today.

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