Commercial and political relations between the Ottomans and the English began in the second half of the 16th century.In 1570, Elizabeth I was in a bind. She had been excommunicated by the Pope, and her country was shunned by the rest of Europe.
To avoid ruin, England needed allies. The queen sought help from a surprising source: the Islamic world.Throughout the medieval period, ‘Islamdom’ had stood at the doorstep of Europe. After the Reconquista of Spain, the Ottoman Turks presented the greatest external threat to Christian hegemony. For this reason, the view is often assumed that sixteenth century Christians ,The Papacy, the Emperor, and Protestant theologians had nothing positive to say about Islamdom or Muslims.In light of this, the attempted alliance between Queen Elizabeth and Sultan Murad III, though mutually beneficial, would have been unusual to say the least.
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The first step in such a direction would necessitate a rhetorical rapprochement if there were to be any political deals between Christian Europeans and Ottoman Muslims. By the 1580s, when it became clear that England was leaving the Catholic Church once and for all, it became incumbent on Queen Elizabeth to find ways of reaching out to Sultan Murad III. This paper explains that, despite the anti–Islamic rhetoric of the early Protestant reformers, the English and Ottoman sovereigns were able to become commercial and political partners specifically because of England’s Protestant political identity, trade practices, and beliefs.
However, Queen Elizabeth began seeking diplomatic, commercial and military ties with Muslim rulers , Turkey and with good reasons.In 1570, when it became clear that Protestant England would not return to the Catholic faith, the pope excommunicated Elizabeth and called for her to be stripped of her crown. Soon the might of Catholic Spain was against her, an invasion was imminent.English merchants were prohibited from trading with the rich markets of the Spanish Netherlands.Economic and political isolation threatened to destroy the newly Protestant country.Elizabeth responded by reaching out to the Islamic World. Spain’s only rival was the Ottoman Empire, ruled by Sultan Murad III, which stretched from North Africa through Eastern Europe to the Indian Ocean. The Ottomans had been fighting the Hapsburgs for decades, conquering parts of Hungary.
Elizabeth hoped that an alliance with the Sultan would provide much needed relief from Spanish military aggression and enable her merchants to tap into the lucrative markets of the East. For good measure she also reached out to the Ottomans’ rivals, the shah of Persia and the ruler of Morocco. The trouble was that the Muslim empires were far more powerful than Elizabeth’s little island nation floating in the soggy mists off Europe.
Elizabeth wanted to explore new trade alliances, but couldn’t afford to finance them. Her response was to exploit an obscure commercial innovation — joint stock companies — introduced by her sister, Mary Tudor. The companies were commercial associations jointly owned by shareholders.The capital from the companies was used to fund the costs of commercial voyages.Elizabeth enthusiastically backed the Muscovy company which traded with Persia and went on to inspire the formation of a company that traded with the Ottomans and the East India Company which would eventually conquer India.In the 1580s she signed a commercial agreement with the Ottomans that would last over 300 years granting her merchants free commercial access to Ottoman lands.
As money poured in, Elizabeth began writing letters to her Muslim counterparts extolling the benefits of reciprocal trade. She made a similar alliance with Morocco, with the tacit promise of military support against Spain. As money poured in, Elizabeth began writing letters to her Muslim counterparts, extolling the benefits of reciprocal trade. She wrote as a supplicant, calling Murad “The most mighty ruler of the Kingdom of Turkey, sole and above all, and most sovereign monarch of the East Empire.”In Return the Sultan Murad said to the Queen ” We are not only friends of the Queen of England, but protector at the same time.
“She also played on their mutual hostility to Catholicism, describing herself as “the most invincible and most mighty defender of the Christian faith against all kind of idolatries.”Like Muslims, Protestants rejected the worship of icons, and celebrated the unmediated word of God, while Catholics favored priestly intercession. She deftly exploited the Catholic conflation of Protestants and Muslims as two sides of the same heretical coin.The ploy worked. Thousands of English traders crossed many of today’s regions, like Aleppo and Mosul which were far safer than they would have been on a journey through Catholic Europe where they risked falling into the hands of the Inquisition.
Some Englishman even converted to Islam such as Samson Rowlie, a Norfolk merchant who became Hassan Aga. English aristocrats delighted in the silks and spices of the East, exchanged it for munitions that were shipped out to Turkey. The sugar, silks, carpets and spices transformed what the English ate, how they decorated their homes and how they dressed.