The French Alliance with the Turks

posted Apr 22, 2010, 9:07 AM by Professor Katz   [ updated Jan 2, 2011, 11:49 PM ]
Emperor Charles V really could have destroyed Luther & Co. if he only had a moment's peace, but there was always something more pressing on his agenda.

The French were so keen to make trouble for Charles V that not only did they make common cause with the Pope...they also made an alliance with the Muslims, the Ottoman Turks.  After losing at the Battle of Pavia (1525), the French king
François I (held prisoner in Madrid) made his first (secret) approach to the Sultan Suleyman Kanuni (Suleiman the Lawgiver/Magnficent).  François did this by sending an envoy who carried the letter hidden in the sole of his shoeFrançois hoped to convince the Sultan that the French and the Turks had a common enemy in Charles V, who could be defeated by their alliance.

The Sultan responded in 1526, sending a five-meter long scroll:

You have sent to my Porte, refuge of sovereigns, a letter by your faithful agent Frangipani, and you have furthermore entrusted to him sundry verbal communications; you have informed me that the enemy has overrun your country and that you are at present in prison and a captive, and you have here asked aid and succors for your deliverance. ... Take courage then, and be not dismayed. Our glorious predecessors and our illustrious ancestors (may God light up their tombs!) have never ceased to make war to repel the foe and conquer his lands. We ourselves have followed in their footsteps, and have at all times conquered provinces and citadels of great strength and difficult of approach. Night and day our horse is saddled and our saber is girt. May God on High promote righteousness! May whatsoever He will be accomplished! For the rest, question your ambassador and be informed.

In 1535, France became the first European country to have a permanent embassy in Istanbul, and joint naval operations between the French and the Turks against the Holy Roman Empire began.  On 6 September 1543, a Franco-Turkish fleet captured Nice (then part of the Holy Roman Empire), and sacked it.

Siege of Nice: as the Europeans saw it

Siege of Nice: as the Turks saw it

It appears that the fleet itself was largely Turkish, and that the real work was done by the Ottoman admiral Barbaros Hayreddin Pa
şa (c.1500-1545).

The bizarre thing was that since bad weather prevented the Turks from returning to Istanbul,
François cleared out the entire town of Toulon (about 125 KM west of Nice) and lent it to the Turks for their winter quarters (September 1543 to February 1544), turning the cathedral into a temporary mosque:

Turkish fleet wintering in Toulon

BTW, until World War I, when you studied European history, you also studied the history of the Ottoman Empire, which is not surprising when you look at a map of Europe, c.1600: