Dr Philip Mansel, research fellow at the Institute of Historical Research and author of ‘King of the World: the Life of Louis XIV’, previews his forthcoming lecture ‘The Sun King and the Sultan: Louis XIV and the Ottoman Empire’, which takes place on 22 October at the Royal Asiatic Society, London.
There is no such thing as German history, only European history, wrote Friedrich Meinecke. The same could apply to French history. Louis XIV was not only a king devoted to French expansion. He was also a European concerned with the balance of power in Europe. In addition to his French goals, he devoted himself to restoring the Stuarts to their thrones, to securing the election of a French prince as King of Poland, to making his grandson Philip V King of Spain, and to preserving the Ottoman Empire. He considered it a crucial element in the ‘balance of Europe’, checking the power of France’s traditional enemy the House of Austria.
Using unpublished archives and drawings, I will show that the traditional alliance between France and the Ottoman Empire, dating from the reigns of Francois ier and Suleyman ‘the Magnificent’, became even more important for French foreign policy under Louis XIV (known as Louis the Great or the Sun King). In 1688, for example, giving William III the opportunity to invade England, Louis XIV sent French armies across the Rhine to deflect the armies of the Holy Roman Empire and the Habsburg monarchy from continuing their invasion of the Ottoman Empire.
In 1709–10, the marquis de Ferriol, French ambassador in Constantinople, arranged grain shipments from ports throughout the Ottoman Empire to help save France from starvation. Meanwhile, French artists and writers spread the fashion for Ottoman culture in Europe: Antoine Galland translated the 1001 Nights into French, in an edition dedicated to a Dame du palais of the Duchesse de Bourgogne. Jean-Baptiste Vanmour, who had accompanied Ferriol to Constantinople, painted the costumes and professions of the Levant, as well as the reception of the French ambassador by the Sultan. His pictures’ publication as prints in Receuil de Cent Estampes representant differentes nations du Levant in 1713 was the main source for 18th-century Turqueries throughout Europe.
At the same time, pursuing a double policy, Louis XIV was in contact with discontented Christian leaders in Aleppo and other provinces, who requested a French invasion, encouraged French Catholic missionaries and sent French engineers to survey Ottoman ports, from Constantinople to Alexandria, to facilitate French conquests if the Ottoman Empire collapsed. A selection of their drawings, made with bombardment or invasion in mind – a 1680’s equivalent of ‘aerial reconnaissance’ photographs – will be shown during the talk, as well as many unknown portraits of French travellers and diplomats in the Ottoman Empire.
The Sun King and the Sultan: Louis XIV and the Ottoman Empire is on October 22 at the Royal Asiatic Society, 14 Stephenson Way, London, NW1 2HD, 6.30pm. It is free open to all.
Dr Philip Mansel is a research fellow at the Institute of Historical Research (IHR) at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. His latest publication is King of the World: the life of Louis XIV. Other books include Sultans in Splendour: Monarchs of the Middle East 1869–1945; Constantinople, City of the World’s Desire; and Levant: Splendour and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean. He is a Trustee of the Levantine Heritage Foundation and a co-founder of the Society for Court Studies.