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Louis XIV and His Project of Conquering Constantinople

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Introduction

There are not many books like Louis XIV and His Project of Conquering Constantinople by Faruk Bilici, also known by its French title: Louis XIV et son projet de conqûete de Constantinople. There are not many books after all, that have the French translation on one side and the Turkish translation on the other! Is it a good idea? Of this, I am not terribly certain. After all, there isn't that much that this adds to somebody who simply knows one language or the other, and I don't even know if it would add very much to someone who knows both, except to be able to check the author's skill in translating certain texts. But it does make for a distinctive book, even if unfortunately its deficiencies otherwise let it down.

While the book explores an otherwise little covered topic, it has a misrepresentation in the title of Louis XIV's personal relationship to the idea of a French conquest of Istanbul, and it has huge amounts of lengthy, superfluous components — particularly the French writer d'Oritère's extensive coverage of the the city, whose tremendous length is quite unnecessary. Although it has some high quality illustrations, these do not make up for its problems with the relative lack of depth for the degree of the French projects being taken in and absorbed by French society beyond the small clique of aristocratic and religious circles proposing a crusade, and the lack of exploration of different interest groups with a stake in either opposition to or portion of good (or hostile) Ottoman-French relations.

Istanbul under the Ottomans

Istanbul under the Ottomans

Summary

Part I

The first section of the book is devoted to the Franco-Ottoman alliance, consummated after mutual struggle against the Hapsburgs in 1536, and which established the two countries on friendly terms commercially and militarily. Giving a predominant position to the French in Ottoman trade, and permitting military collaboration, its success in the 16th century became less pressing during the 17th century, when the two parties drew apart, with French statesmen like Mazarin sketching plans for anti-Ottoman coalitions, and French support to the Venetians during the Ottoman conquest of Crete. This meant that by the time of Louis XIV, Franco-Ottoman relations stood at an impasse, with either the option of France joining together against the Ottomans with Europe, or a restoration of the old alliance.

Part II

Part II compiles the various French-derived projects for a general European coalition against the Ottomans, and particularly various schemes for a dynastic project which would drive the Ottomans out of Europe and establish principally French control over its previous territories. From Sully to Joseph and Charles of Nevers, to Savary de Brèves, to Leibniz, Jean Coppin, and de la Croix, these projects had as a shared theme the idea of directing France against the Ottomans, liberating the Christians under the Ottoman yoke, partitioning their territory, assigning its jewels to France, and most often either driving the Turkish people out or eradicating them via genocide.

Part III

Part III concerns the French naval writer, administrator, and reformer Gravières d'Ortières, who was dispatched to investigate and spy on the Ottoman capital of Istanbul after the Ottoman failure to take Vienna in 1683 and the possible French alignment as part of a general anti-Ottoman crusade. His project would not only have real diplomatic aims to reform French commercial regulations, but would also look at the defenses and state of Istanbul. This part of the book looks at this extensively, with Istanbul's geography and defenses.

Part IV

Part IV is largely d'Ortière's description of Constantinople, an extensive document about its architecture, buildings - particularly temples - and the possibilities for taking it militarily. and the resultant partition and division of the Ottoman Empire proposed by d'Ortières.

Hagia Sophia seems to have exerted a potent effect on European visitors to the Ottoman Empire

Hagia Sophia seems to have exerted a potent effect on European visitors to the Ottoman Empire

Conclusion

The conclusion looks at the alternate strategy actually adopted by the French, that of alliance and peaceful relations with the Ottomans, based on the principle of Louis XIV's anti-Hapsburg policy.

Review

Much of the book is not the author's hand, but rather come from the French naval writer d'Ortières, writing of his Constantinople project — the idea of conquering the capitol of the Ottoman Empire to expel the Ottomans from Europe. D'Ortières extensive reporting, which seems to take up the better part of half of the book, is largely irrelevant for the purposes of the reader — that is, unrelated to the French idea of conquering Constantinople, and joint pan-European anti-Ottoman crusades.

D'Ortières book has large tracts which are instead devoted to subjects such as the mosques, palaces, architecture, customs, and comparisons of Hagia Sophia and St. Peter's Basilica. These would be perfectly well placed in a book about travel literature and the European image of Constantinople. But they are not necessary in this book on military and foreign policy perspectives. Only the fortifications and his planning for conquest are really necessary. It is almost as if Faruck Bilici just wanted to provide a lot of filler to provide for sufficient page length.

What about the rest of the book? Thankfully, this is better, as it gives a great number of the various European proposals, or at least those coming from French writers, to conquer the Ottoman Empire, and their themes, commonalities, and shared features, such as their belief in an uprising of the Christians under Ottoman control against their rules, or their common faith in the Ottomans being weak to a seaborne invasion.

Some additional commentary could have gone with the essentially genocidal nature of some of these projects which foresaw exiling the Turks from Europe and scattering the Turkish people to the winds — a precursor to later projects of ethnic cleansing, used both on and by the Turks. It would be fascinating to hear a discussion of the degree of this having continuance for future tragedies. For this regards, in the general nature of Franco-Ottoman relations, it is invaluable.

There could have been further elaboration of what interest groups proposed anti-Ottoman action and which ones by contrast were advocates of commercial and peaceful relations with the Ottomans. Were they clearly split between religious, aristocratic authorities on the side of wanting to invade the Ottoman Empire, and trade oriented individuals on the side of reconciliation, or by contrast, were there those who hoped to engineer a conquest of the Ottoman Empire on the basis of colonial exploration, as was proposed later, in the late 18th century, when the French colonial-naval ministry proposed conquering Egypt? There is some mention of Colbert's interest in peaceful relations with the Ottoman Empire and his distaste for a war against them; is this a good example of the split of opinions?

The book offers a decent overall view of Franco-Ottoman relations from the creation of the Franco-Ottoman alliance up until the time of Louis XIV, but lacks too much in the way of detail of the factions proposing its modification, when this is the main focus of the book, and has too much in the way of minutiae and unrelated details. It could have been significantly better with an expansion and trimming of certain superfluous parts, which really could have been put out in another book, such as if d'Ortière's book was used as a basis for European travel literature and descriptions of Constantinople.

© 2021 Ryan C Thomas

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