Vienna is so beautiful today that we find it hard to picture it after the Thirty Years’ War. Austria had not suffered so severely as Germany, but its treasury was exhausted, its armies were in disgrace, and the Peace of Westphalia had lowered the prestige and power of the emperors. One circumstance was favorable: Leopold I succeeded his father Ferdinand III on the Imperial throne in 1658, and held it for forty-seven years; and though that long reign heard the Turks again knocking at Vienna’s gates, the recovery of Austria was proceeding rapidly. Only formally sovereign over the German principalities, Leopold was actual king of Bohemia and western Hungary, and governed the duchies of Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola, and the county of Tirol. He was not a great ruler; he labored dutifully in administration and the formation of policy, but he lacked the far vision of his Hapsburg forebears, inheriting only their theology and their chin. He had originally been trained for the priesthood; he never lost his affection for the Jesuits, or strayed much from their guidance. Though himself of irreproachable morals, he accepted the principle that all his subjects must be made Catholic; and he enforced this policy with hard autocracy in Bohemia and Hungary. He was inclined to peace, but was forced or led into a succession of wars by the aggressions of Louis XIV and the Turks. Between these bloodlettings he found time for poetry, art, and music; he composed music himself, and encouraged opera in Vienna; four hundred new operas were presented there in the fifty years after his accession. An engraving of 1667 shows already a sumptuous opera house, with three tiers of boxes, every seat taken; so old is that pleasant scaffolding for song.
We must think of Austria in this age as defending the West against resurgent Turkey, and harassed by the enmity of the strongest ruler in the West; the struggle of Christendom against Islam was hampered and confused by the old conflict of the Hapsburgs with France. Hungary further complicated the problem, for only the western third of it was under the emperor, part of this was Protestant, and all of it longed to be free. The Hungarians had their own nationalist sentiment, fed by their literature and their proud traditions of Hunyadi János and Matthias Corvinus; only recently (1651) Miklós Zrinyi had published an epic throbbing with patriotism. Insulted and oppressed by Austrian rule and Catholic domination, the Hungarians were half inclined to welcome the Turks when these decided to attempt the conquest of all Hungary.
A succession of powerful viziers had interrupted the decline of Turkey, and resumed the harrowing of the West. It was one symptom of the recovery that a major Turkish poet, Nabi, sang the praises of the viziers who filled his palm; another that Turkish funds and taste and piety could raise the lovely Mosque of Yeni-Validé in Stamboul (1651–80). Sultan Mohammed IV appointed as his grand vizier (1656) Mohammed Kuprili, who at the age of seventy inaugurated half a century of rule by his Albanian family. His own vizierate lasted only five years, but in that quinquennium he had 36,000 persons executed for crimes ranging from theft to treason; his chief executioner averaged three stranglings per day. Corruption in the administration and political intrigue in the harem were frightened into moderation, discipline was restored in the army, and the provincal pashas reduced their independence and embezzlements. When George Rákóczy II, Prince of Transylvania, repudiated Turkish suzerainty, Kuprili overwhelmed the revolt with an army under his own leadership, deposed Rákóczy, exacted a heavy indemnity, and increased from fifteen thousand to fifty thousand florins Transylvania’s annual tribute to the Sultan.
The terrible septuagenarian was succeeded as vizier by his son Ahmed Kuprili. When another revolt broke out in Transylvania, led by John Keményi, Emperor Leopold sent to its support ten thousand men under one of the outstanding generals of this age, the Italian Count Raimondo di Montecucculi. Ahmed retaliated by leading 120,000 troops in an effort to complete the conquest of Hungary. Leopold appealed for help; the German states, Protestant as well as Catholic, responded with money and men; and Louis XIV, abandoning his alliance with Turkey, contributed four thousand soldiers. Even so, resistance seemed hopeless; Europe expected Vienna to fall; Leopold prepared to abandon his capital. Montecucculi’s forces were far outnumbered, but better equipped with artillery. Not daring to meet the Turks in open terrain, where numbers would count, he maneuvered them into an attempted crossing of the River Rába at Szentgotthárd, some eighty miles south of Vienna, and attacked each Turkish detachment as it arrived on the left bank. His strategy, and the special heroism of the French contingent, won the day (August 1, 1664) in a battle that again saved Europe from Moslem inundation.
But just as, a century before (1571), the victory of Lepanto had left the Turks still strong and rapidly recovering, so now their power of recuperation, their still immense army, and the unreliability of Leopold’s allies, anxious to return home, led the Emperor to sign with the Sultan a twenty-year truce (August 10, 1664) which left most of Hungary under Turkish rule, acknowledged Turkish sovereignty over Transylvania, and paid the Sultan a “gift” of 200,000 florins. Ahmed Kuprili, having lost the battle and won the war, returned to Constantinople in triumph.
The attack of Louis XIV upon the Netherlands (1667) ended for the time being the Christian union against the Turks. In 1669 Ahmed took command of the long siege of Crete, and forced the Venetians to surrender the island; the Turkish fleet was again dominant in the Mediterranean. Only John Sobieski, King of Poland, had a stomach strong enough, he felt, to swallow Turkey. He announced his aim bravely: “To give the barbarian conquest for conquest, to pursue him from victory to victory, over the very frontier that belched him forth from Europe, . . . to hurl him back into the deserts, to exterminate him, to raise upon his ruins the Empire of Byzantium: this enterprise alone is Christian; this alone is noble, wise.” 15 However, Leopold encouraged the Turks to attack Poland, and Louis urged them to attack Leopold. 16
Ahmed Kuprili died in 1676, worn out at the age of forty-one by so many brilliant defeats, having lost “decisive battles” and extended the Turkish dominion to its European maximum. Sultan Mohammed IV gave the vizierate to his son-in-law Kara Mustafa, who delighted Louis XIV by promising to renew the war against Austria. 17 Kara was encouraged by a revolt (1678) of Hungarian nationalists under Imre Thököly, who so resented the violent suppression of nationalism and Protestantism in Austrian Hungary that he offered to recognize Turkish suzerainty over all Hungary if the Turks would aid his rebellion. Leopold, too late, abandoned the policy of repression, and proclaimed religious toleration in Hungary. Louis XIV sent financial support to Thököly, 18 and promised Sobieski the possession of Silesia and Hungary if he would ally Poland with France against the Emperor. Leopold could only offer Sobieski an archduchess as bride for his son, and a pledge to support Sobieski’s effort to make the Polish throne hereditary in his famliy line. We do not fully know the King’s motives in coming to the aid of Austria against the Turks; we can only say that it was one of the most dramatic and pivotal events in modern history.
Kara Mustafa felt that the feuds between Hapsburg and Bourbon, between Catholicism and Protestantism, offered him an opportunity to take Vienna, perhaps all Europe. The Turks boasted that in the fifteenth century they had turned Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, into a Moslem citadel, and St. Sophia’s into a mosque; so now, they declared, they would not stop till they had taken Rome and stabled their horses in St. Peter’s nave. 19 In 1682 Kara assembled at Adrianople his levies of men and supplies from Arabia, Syria, the Caucasus, Asia Minor, and European Turkey, pretending that he planned to attack Poland. On March 31, 1683, the Sultan and the Vizier started on their long march to Vienna. As the army advanced it added reinforcements from each Turkish province on the way; Wallachian, Moldavian, and Transylvanian contingents joined it; when it reached Osijek (Eszék) on the Drava, it numbered 250,000 men, and included camels, elephants, muezzins, eunuchs, and a harem. 20 There Thököly issued a manifesto, calling upon the surrounding Christians to support the attack upon Austria, and promising them security of life and property, and freedom of religious worship, under the Sultan. Many towns opened their gates to the invaders.
Leopold again appealed to the German principalities; they responded sluggishly. He placed his 40,000 troops under the command of Charles V, Duke of Lorraine, whom Voltaire described as one of the noblest princes in Christendom. 21 Leaving a garrison of 13,000 in Vienna, Charles retreated with his main force to Tuln, where he waited for the Poles. Leopold fled to Passau, while his people condemned him for having failed to prepare his capital for the long-expected siege. Its fortifications were dilapidated, its garrison was not a tenth of the advancing foe. On July 14 the Turks appeared before the walls. Leopold sent messengers to Sobieski begging him to come at once, ahead of his slowly moving infantry; “your name alone, so terrible to the enemy, will ensure a victory.” 22 Sobieski came with 3,000 cavalry. On September 5 his infantry arrived, 23,000 strong. Two days later 18,000 men came from the German states; the Christian army now numbered 60,000. But by this time Vienna was starving, its forts were crumbling under the Turkish artillery; another week of siege, and the city would fall.
Early on September 12 the Christians, now under the supreme command of Sobieski, attacked the besiegers. Kara Mustafa had not believed that the Poles would come, much less that the Christian forces would take the initiative; he had organized everything for siege rather than for battle; his officers had adorned their trenches with tapestries and tiles, and he himself had equipped his tent with baths, fountains, gardens, and concubines. His best troops, caught by surprise in their trenches, were cut to pieces. His motley army, gathered from provinces unstirred with loyalty to the distant Sultan, fell into disorder before Christians inspired by the feeling that they were saving Europe and Christianity. After eight hours darkness interrupted the conflict. When the next dawn came the Christians, still uncertain of victory, discovered to their joy that the Turks had fled, leaving 10,000 dead, and most of the army’s materials behind in the camp. The Christians lost 3,000 men.
Sobieski wanted to pursue, but the Polish soldiers begged him to let them go home now that their main task was done. The victorious King entered Vienna and its cathedral to give thanks to God; on his route the grateful people hailed him as a divine deliverer, and struggled to touch his garment and kiss his feet; 23 they felt that nothing in the annals of chivalry could outshine his deed. When Leopold returned to his capital (September 15) he was coldly received by the populace. He inquired of his aides whether a merely elective monarch had ever been received by an emperor, and what formalities should be observed; he delayed meeting Sobieski, and finally greeted him with quite moderate gratitude; he suspected that the hero’s desire to pursue the Turks was due to a plan to carve out an added kingdom for himself and his family. 24 So the pursuit was not begun till September 17, and not till ten days later was contact made with the retreating Turks. At Parkány, near the Danube, Sobieski and Charles again won a decisive victory. Then, his army weakened with marching, fighting, and dysentery, the King led it back to Poland, entering Cracow on Christmas Eve, 1683. On the following day the Sultan put Kara Mustafa to death.
At the urging of Pope Innocent XI Austria, Poland and Venice formed a Holy League to carry on the war against the Turks (1684). Francesco Morosini reconquered the Morea (the Peloponnesus) for Venice; in 1687 he laid siege to Athens, and captured it on September 28; in the process his artillery ruined the Propylaea and the Parthenon, which the Turks had used as a magazine for their powder. The Turks recaptured Athens and Attica in 1688, the Morea in 1715. Meanwhile Charles of Lorraine defeated the Turks at Gran (Esztergom) in 1685, and in the same year, after ten weeks’ siege, took Buda—the ancient capital of Hungary—which the Turks had held since 1541. In 1687 Charles led the Austrian forces to triumph at Harkány, near Mohács, where the victory of Suleiman the Magnificent in 1526 had begun the Turkish ascendancy. This “second Mohács” ended the Turkish power in Hungary, which now became a possession of the Austrian monarchy. Transylvania acknowledged the suzerainty of the Hapsburg emperor, and was incorporated (1690) into the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1688 Max Emanuel of Bavaria took Belgrade. Leopold proclaimed that now the road was open to Constantinople, and that the time and opportunity had come to drive the Turks from Europe.
Louis XIV came to their rescue. The war of Bourbon against Hapsburg seemed to the “Most Christian King” more important than the conflict between Christianity and Islam. He looked with mounting jealousy upon the successes of the Holy League and the extension of the Hapsburg realm and prestige. In 1688, ignoring the fact that only four years previously he had signed a twenty years’ truce with the Emperor, he resumed his war against the Empire, and sent an army into the Palatinate. Leopold dispatched Charles and Max Emanuel to meet the attack upon the Rhine; the advance against the Turks ceased; Turkish assault was renewed.
The new Sultan, Suleiman II, called to the vizierate another Kuprili, Mustafa, brother of Ahmed. Mustafa pacified the Christians in European Turkey with extended freedom of worship, organized a new army, and recaptured Belgrade (1690); but a year later he was killed, and the Turks were routed, at Slankamen. Sultan Mustafa II took the lead of the army in person, but was defeated at Senta (1697) by the Christians under Prince Eugene of Savoy. Mustafa sued for peace; and Leopold, glad to be freed for action against Louis, signed with Turkey, Poland, and Venice the Treaty of Karlowitz (1699). Turkey renounced all claims to Transylvania and Hungary (except for the banat of Temesvár), ceded the western Ukraine to Poland, and surrendered the Morea and northern Dalmatia to Venice. It still retained nearly all the Balkans—southern Dalmatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, and most of Greece; but this treaty marked the end of the Turkish danger to Christendom.
What had caused the decline of the Ottoman power from its zenith under Suleiman I? Nothing fails like success. The opportunities for enjoyment that had come from victory and wealth proved too tempting; the sultans dissipated in the harem the energy needed to discipline the army, the bureaucracy, and the viziers. Their empire had grown too large for effective administration, for the rapid communication of commands and transfer of soldiery; the provinces were ruled by pashas whose distance from Constantinople made them almost independent of the sultans. No longer stimulated by hunger or threatened by enemies, the Turks slacked down into laziness and venality; bribery corrupted the government while debasement of the currency disordered the economy and the army. The Janissaries, paid in depreciated coinage, repeatedly rebelled; they discovered their power, and abused it in the measure of its increase. They won the right to marry, and obtained for their sons and others admission into their once select corps; they repudiated the strict training and discipline that had made the Janissaries the best soldiers in Europe. Their leaders, become experts in venery, failed to keep abreast of military science and weaponry. While the Christian West made better guns, and developed superior strategy and tactics, in the life-and-death struggle of the Thirty Years’ War, the Turks, who under Mohammed II had had the best artillery in the world, found themselves, as at Lepanto, inferior in fire power and strategy. War, which had strengthened the Ottoman state when the sultans led their armies in person, exhausted the state when they preferred the easy triumphs of the harem to the ordeal of battle. Domination of life and thought by a fatalistic and unprogressive religion stifled Islamic science, which in the Middle Ages had been pre-eminent; knowledge grew in the West and lagged in the East. The Christians improved their shipbuilding as well as their gunnery. Their commerce advanced to all the continents, plowing new roads through the sea, while most Ottoman commerce crawled in caravans over the land. Lazy administrators allowed aqueducts and canals to decay, while a peasantry disordered by war waited humbly for rain. Westward the course of empire took its way, until one day, still moving westward, it would find itself again in the East.
For the West the repulse of the Turks was an invitation to internecine war. Freed from the pressure of Islam, Austria and Germany turned to face the ambitions of Louis XIV, who was stretching his arms into the Netherlands, the Rhineland, the Palatinate, Italy, and Spain. These blows from the West completed the disintegration of the Holy Roman Empire; nothing remained of it but the form. The emperor came to think of himself not as Roman but as Austrian; the Austro-Hungarian Empire replaced the Holy Roman. The three thrones of Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia were made hereditary in the Hapsburg family (1713), annulling the traditional rights of the Bohemian and Hungarian Estates to elect their kings. Hungary revolted again (1703–11) under Francis Rákóczy II, but the revolt was suppressed, leaving the longing for freedom to echo in poetry and song.
Austria manipulated the economies of Hungary and Bohemia to her own advantage, and her upper classes enjoyed a new affluence. Splendid palaces rose for the aristocracy; beautiful churches and monumental monasteries housed the triumphant priests and monks. Prince Pál Esterházy rebuilt his great castle at Eisenstadt, where Haydn would someday conduct and compose. In Vienna Domenico Martinelli designed the Liechtenstein Palace and, for Eugene of Savoy, the Belvedere Palace; Johann Fischer von Erlach raised for the same prince a sumptuous Winter Palace, and laid the plans for the Royal Library, and the Imperial Palace of Schönbrunn. In 1715 this greatest of Austrian architects began work on the Karlskirche at Vienna, in the style of St. Peter’s at Rome. On the banks of the Danube some forty miles west of Vienna, Jakob Prandtauer built the vast Kloster Melk, the largest and most impressive Benedictine abbey in German lands; this is the zenith of Austrian baroque. In the aftermath of victory the able and lordly Archbishop Johann Ernst Thun laid out the famous Mirabell Garden of Salzburg, with sculptures by Fischer von Erlach. Proud and splendid, Austria moved into its greatest century.