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The Loss of the S. S. Titanic: Its Story and Its Lessons By Lawrence Beesley Characters: 10947

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Mahomet left two sons, of whom the eldest, Bayezid, succeeded him as Sultan at the age of thirty-five. Von Hammer and other historians, who have founded their narratives on his great work, write of Bayezid in terms of disparagement because, unlike other early Sultans of the Othman race, he did not signalize his reign by any great additions to his Empire. If success as a ruler is only to be measured by territorial expansion, Bayezid must take rank in history below the other nine Sultans who created the Ottoman Empire and raised it to its zenith. A great Empire, however, such as that which the Ottomans had already achieved, may be better served by peace than by war for further conquests. It would certainly have been well for the Ottomans if no attempt had ever been made to extend their Empire northwards beyond the Danube. Bayezid, so far as we can gather his policy from his actual deeds, was not favourable to expansion of his Empire. If he was engaged for some years in war with Hungary, Venice, and Egypt, he was not the aggressor. He came to terms of peace with these Powers when it was possible to do so. He did not support the army which, under his predecessor, had invaded Italy and captured Otranto. He recalled the very able general, Ahmed Keduk, who commanded it. Khaireddin Pasha, who succeeded in command, after a most gallant defence, was compelled to capitulate; and never again was Italy invaded by a Turkish army. It would seem to have been a wise decision on the part of Bayezid not to pursue further the Italian adventure.

As it is not our intention to write a complete history of the Ottoman Sultans, but rather to describe the early expansion of their Empire and its later dismemberment, it will not be necessary to devote more than a very few pages to the comparatively uneventful reign of Bayezid. It may be well, however, briefly to note that he was of philosophic temperament, very austere in religion, and without his father's vices. Like many of his race he was devoted to literary studies, and he had a reputation as a poet. He was not wanting in energy and valour when occasion required. He was, however, the first of his race who did not habitually lead his armies into the field.

His younger brother Djem, who at the death of Mahomet was only twenty-two years of age, was a much more fiery, valorous, and ambitious soldier, and of more attractive personality. He was of a romantic disposition, and had a much greater reputation than Bayezid as a poet. His poems rank high in Turkish literature. His strange adventures and sad fate form one of the romances of Turkish history, which might well fill many chapters. It must suffice to record of him that, like other brothers of Sultans who were not at once put to death at the commencement of a new reign, he took up arms and claimed the throne against Bayezid. The latter fortunately was the first to arrive at Constantinople after the death of Mahomet. He there obtained the support of the Janissaries, not without large presents to them. With the aid of Ahmed Keduk, Bayezid, after vain efforts to come to terms with his brother, was successful in putting down two rebellions of a formidable character on behalf of Djem. After the second defeat Djem fled to Egypt, and thence, after many adventures, found his way to the island of Rhodes, where he claimed the hospitality of the Knights of Jerusalem. Their Grand Master, D'Aubusson, who had made such a gallant defence of the island against Mahomet, and who was a most brave warrior, was also a crafty and perfidious intriguer. On the one hand, he induced Prince Djem to enter into a treaty, by which very important concessions were promised to the knights in the event of Djem being able to gain the Ottoman throne. On the other hand, D'Aubusson negotiated a treaty with Bayezid under which he was to receive an allowance of 45,000 ducats a year, nominally for the maintenance of Djem, but really as an inducement to prevent the escape of that prince from Rhodes. On the strength of this, the unfortunate prince was detained as a virtual prisoner in Rhodes, and later in a castle at Sasesnage, in France, belonging to the order of the Knights, for not less than seven years. At the end of this time the King of France, Charles VIII, intervened in favour of the prince, and got him transferred into the keeping of the Pope at Rome. The Pope Callixtus was also not above making a good profit out of Djem. He came to terms with Sultan Bayezid under which he was to pocket the 45,000 ducats a year so long as Djem was kept out of mischief. On the death, some years later, of this Pope, his successor, Pope Alexander Borgia, of infamous memory, renewed the treaty with Sultan Bayezid, with the addition of a clause that he was to receive a lump sum of 300,000 ducats if Prince Djem, instead of being detained as prisoner, was put to death. After a short interval the Pope, fearing the intervention of the King of France, on behalf of Djem, and wishing to pocket the lump sum, contrived the death by poison of the prince. The menace to the Sultan was thus at last removed, and his Empire was spared another civil war, at a cost which by the ethics of the day was no doubt fully justified.

Of other incidents in Bayezid's reign it is only necessary to state that the most important of his achievements was the complete subjection, in the second year of his reign, of Herzegovina, which had been a tributary State under his predeces

sors, but was now again invaded. It was finally incorporated as a province of the Empire. There were also many years of desultory war with Hungary, in which frequent raids were made by the two Powers upon one another's territories, and where each vied with the other in atrocious cruelties. Everywhere children were impaled, young women were violated in presence of their parents, wives in presence of their husbands, and thousands of captives were carried off and sold into slavery. But there were no other results, and peace was eventually established between the two Powers.

In Asia there was war for five years with the Mameluke government of Egypt and Syria. The Mamelukes had sent an army in support of an insurrection in Karamania. The outbreak was put down, and the Karamanians were finally subjected, but the Mamelukes defeated the Turkish armies in three great battles. Peace was eventually made, but only on concession by the Turks of three important fortresses in Asia Minor.

There was also war with the Republic of Venice, in the course of which the Turks succeeded in capturing the three remaining Venetian fortresses in the Morea-Navarino, Modon, and Coron-an important success which extinguished the influence of Venice on the coasts of Greece. The success was largely due to a great increase of the Turkish navy, which in Mahomet's reign had achieved a supremacy in the Mediterranean over any other single naval Power. It now defeated the Venetian fleet in a desperate battle off Lepanto in 1499, and met on equal terms the combined fleets of Venice, Austria, and the Pope in 1500. It also went farther afield, and at the entreaty of the Moors of Grenada, who were severely pressed by the Christian army in Spain, ravaged the coasts of that country.

The last two years of Bayezid's fairly prosperous reign were obscured by another civil war, this time at the instance of his son and successor, Selim. Selim was the youngest of three surviving sons of Bayezid. All three had been invested with important posts as governors of provinces in Asia. Ahmed, the second of them, was the favourite of his father, who designated him for succession to the throne. But Selim was by far the ablest and most daring of them. He determined to anticipate the death of his father, who was ageing and in feeble health, by securing the throne for himself. Leaving his seat of government with a large suite, almost amounting to an army, he paid a visit, uninvited, to his father at Constantinople, and there fomented intrigues. He was the idol of the Janissaries, who were dissatisfied with the long inaction of Sultan Bayezid, and hoped for new conquests and loot under Selim. Bayezid, however, was supported for the time by a section of his army, and succeeded in defeating his son. Selim then fled to the Crimea, where he raised a new army and, later, again made his way to Constantinople by a forced march round the north of the Black Sea. On arriving there he was supported by the full force of the Turkish army.

The Janissaries, at the instance of Selim, stormed at the gates of the imperial palace and insisted on the Sultan receiving them in person. Bayezid gave way and admitted a deputation of them to an audience. Seated on his throne, he asked them what they wanted. "Our Padishah," they said, "is old and sickly; we will that Selim shall be Sultan." Bayezid, finding that he could not rely on any section of his army, submitted. "I abdicate," he said, "in favour of my son, Selim. May God grant him a prosperous reign." He only asked as a favour that he might be allowed to retire to the city of Asia Minor where he was born. His son thereupon conducted his father, the ex-Sultan, to the outskirts of the city with every mark of respect, and Bayezid departed on his journey. He died, however, three days later, not without grave suspicion of foul play. The deposition of Bayezid is interesting and important as showing the increasing power of the Janissaries. Only the strongest Sultan could thenceforth cope with them, and they became eventually one of the main causes of the decay of the Empire which they had done so much to call into existence.

Bayezid, like others of his race, in spite of his philosophic temperament and his love of ease, had a vein of cruelty. It has been shown that he caused his brother Djem to be poisoned. This was in accord with the family law. A more serious instance was that he put to death his great general, Ahmed Keduk, to whom he was deeply indebted for success in putting down the insurrection of Djem. Ahmed had deeply offended the Sultan by brusquely opposing his peaceful policy, and Bayezid forcibly removed the incautious critic.

The net result to the Turkish Empire of the thirty-one years of Bayezid's reign was, on the one hand, the incorporation of Herzegovina, and the expulsion of the Venetians from the Morea; on the other, the loss of three fortresses in Asia Minor to the Mamelukes of Egypt and the withdrawal from the South of Italy.

An incident worth recording was the first appearance of Russia in the field of Turkish diplomacy. An ambassador was sent to Bayezid by Czar Ivan III. He was instructed to refuse to bow his knee to the Sultan or to concede precedence to any other ambassadors. Bayezid meekly gave way on these points of etiquette. This was a presage of the attitude of Russia which two centuries later threatened the existence of the Turkish Empire.

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IX

SELIM I

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