The Turks And Other Nations In The Sixteenth Century

During the Sixteenth Century the power of the Ottoman conquerors continued to grow. Sultan Selim I conquered, in 1517, Egypt, Syria, and Palestine, and took possession of Mecca, the Holy City, in Arabia. Soliman II (the “Magnificent”) reigned from 1519 to 1566. In 1522 he took Rhodes from the Knights of St. John. He then turned his arms against Hungary, which had been frequently exposed to Turkish assaults since the first appearance of the Ottoman power in Europe, and served as a bulwark to the rest of the continent. Hungary had become a powerful Kingdom under Matthias Corvinus (reigned 1458-1490), who ruled with a firm hand, secured internal order and organization, and was an able General and diplomatist. His measures for judicial administration were such that it was long a proverb in Hungary, “King Matthias is dead, and justice with him.” He founded the University of Pressburg, and did much for Hungarian civilization. Under his successors things went badly for Hungary early in the Sixteenth Century. Oppression by the nobles caused insurrection of the peasants, which greatly weakened the State, and were with difficulty suppressed. In 1526 the first battle of Mohacs (in South of Hungary, on the Danube) sealed the country’s fate for many years. There Soliman II, at the head of a great Turkish host, defeated and slew Louis II of Hungary, and for 16o years henceforth a great part of the country was a province of the Ottoman Empire in Europe. In Asia, Soliman deprived the Persians, in war, of Bagdad, Mesopotamia, and Georgia. After his great success in Hungary, Soliman threatened to over-run Germany, and to plant the standard of Mohammed in Western Europe, but was checked by defeat under the walls of Vienna in 1529, when Charles V was in power.

At this period Turkey was formidable on the sea, and the Ottoman Admirals swept the Mediterranean, conquered Northern Africa, and landed troops who ravaged Minorca, Sicily, Apulia, and Corfu. Charles V succeeded in rallying the forces of Christendom against the Turks. The Venetians resisted their galleys on the sea. The great Genoese Admiral, Andrea Doria, who, in 1529, reorganized the Republic of Genoa on a new and permanent basis, took territory from the Turks in Greece in 1532, and in 1535 helped Charles V to capture Tunis. Ten Sultans, all of them brave and warlike, had now for two centuries and a half raised the power of the Crescent, but the internal strength of the State was undeveloped. In 1538 Soliman II united the priestly dignity of the Caliphate to the Ottoman Porte, making the Turkish Sultan the spiritual head of the Mohammedan races, but the conquered Nations were not incorporated into an organic whole, and after Soliman’s death, in 1566, the power of the Ottoman Empire declined. The Sovereigns ceased to have ability and energy; the Nation sank into ignorance and slavery; rapacious and arbitrary Pashas ruled the provinces; while Europe made rapid progress in the arts of war and peace, the Ottoman Nation and Government remained inactive and stationary. Blindly attached to their doctrines of absolute fate, and elated by former military glory, the Turks looked upon foreigners with contempt as infidels (Giaours). Without any settled plan, or on any principles other than those of religious hatred, and thirst for conquest, they fought with Venice, Hungary, and Poland. Dangerous revolts occurred among the provincial Governors (Pashas) and the petted soldiers, called Janizaries. The despotic Sultans used the dagger and bow-string freely against suspected persons, and the ablest Viziers or Ministers were sacrificed to the hatred of the soldiery and of the priests. The successor to the throne commonly put to death all his brothers, in fear of their rivalry, and the people looked with indifference on the murder of a hated Sultan or the deposition of a weak one. In 1571 the Turks, indeed, conquered Cyprus from the Venetians, but the same year brought a great disaster. At Lepanto (the ancient Naupactus, on the Gulf of Corinth), a battle was fought between the Ottoman navy and the combined fleets of the Christian States on the Mediterranean. Don John of Austria headed the Christian squadrons, and the result was the destruction of the Turkish fleet, to the number of 250 vessels of war. In this battle the great Spanish writer, Cervantes, author of “Don Quixote,” fought bravely, and received three wounds, one of which disabled his left arm for life.

Switzerland had gained independence in the Fourteenth Century, and vindicated it in the Fifteenth with triumphant success against the arms of Austria and Charles the Bold of Burgundy. In 1499, after a severe struggle and desperate fighting against the Emperor Maximilian I .of Austria, Switzerland was definitely separated from the German Empire. New Cantons were from time to time admitted, and in 1513 the number was brought up to thirteen, at which it remained till 1798.

In the Sixteenth Century Savoy became an important State in Europe. In the Twelfth Century Amadeus III became Count of Savoy, in possession of Piedmont, and in 1416 Amadeus VIII was Duke of Savoy, as ruler of Piedmont and of territory now belonging to Switzer-land. Charles III of Savoy (reigned 1504-1553) helped the Emperor Charles, V against Francis I of France, and was deprived in the end of all his territories by the French King, but his son, Philibert Emmanuel (1553-1580) regained them by the treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis, in 1559. Savoy was a strongly Catholic State, and waged war against the heretical Waldenses, or Vaudois, who have been named in the account of the dawn of the Reformation. From time to time Savoy lost territory to the North, on the Swiss frontier, and gained new dominion to the South, in Italy. Charles Emmanuel I (ruled 1580-1630) lost territory in the war to Henry IV of France, but this was afterward regained, and during the Seventeenth Century Savoy increased in power and influence.

Poland became powerful under Casimir III (reigned 1333-1370), surnamed the “Great,” on account of his wisdom as a legislator and his exertions in civilizing the country. He fortified the towns and freed them from the oppression of the nobles, maintained peace with his neighbors, and greatly increased the national prosperity. The dynasty of the Jagellons, of Lithuania, began with Ladislas II, in 1296, when he embraced Christianity, married the Queen of Poland, and so united the crowns of Poland and Lithuania, and their rule continued till 1572. Under this line of Kings, Poland gained in power and extent, obtaining territory in 1447 from the Teutonic Knights to the North, and annexing Livonia in 1561. In 1569 the Lithuanian nobles were admitted into the Polish Diet, and Warsaw was made the place of meeting. As in other countries of Europe, the popular representatives of towns and country districts lost their influence in Poland through the unpatriotic selfishness of the nobles, and guarantees for the liberty of the people were done away with. On the extinction of the Jagellon dynasty, in 1572, Poland became an elective monarchy, and although for a time her arms were victorious against foreign attacks, her influence in Europe declined.

A change occurred in Scandinavia early in the Sixteenth Century. From 1513 to 1523, Christian II, called “the Cruel,” from his gross tyranny, was King of Denmark and Norway, and had become King of Sweden also, in 1520. In 1523 a great change came for Sweden. Gustavus Vasa, son of a Swedish noble, after fighting against the Danish oppression under Christian II, had become a fugitive, working as a common laborer in the mines of Dalecarlia, in the center of Sweden. He raised a force in the district, and headed an insurrection of the Dalecarlians, in 1521. He defeated the Danes, seized Upsala, and had such success that in 1523 he was elected King by a Provincial Diet, captured Stockholm, embraced Lutheranism, and was crowned as Gustavus I of Sweden in 1528. The Lutheran religion was then formally established in Sweden, and Gustavus reigned with vigor till his death, in 1560, the Kingdom having been declared hereditary in his line, and Sweden having now acquired a position of power and influence in Europe.