France and the Levant/Chapter 4


IV. Louis XIV and Louis XV

A spirited foreign policy in the Levant was urged on Louis XIV in the same year 1672 by the French Ambassador at Constantinople, d'Arvieux, who was well acquainted with the Turkish Empire. The Turks, he complained, had permitted foreigners to enter and to trade with Turkey under the protection of other flags than that of France, had pillaged French subjects by land and sea, had imposed extra taxes on French goods, and had treated the King of France with disrespect by sending to him Ambassadors of lower grade than the French Ambassadors accredited to the Porte. It was time to show that these breaches of the Capitulations would no longer be tolerated.


"Your Majesty may bring the Grand Vizier and the Porte to reason," wrote d'Arvieux to Louis XIV, "without any other expense than that which you habitually incur in the Mediterranean. And, if you adopt my plan, Your Majesty will find the Turks ready to please you in all things and to renew the Capitulations according to your pleasure. Your Majesty has 15 men-of-war always cruising in the Mediterranean. They are enough for my purpose, but you can increase them to 20 if you will. You should then direct them to anchor unexpectedly at the entrance to the Dardanelles. Three ships of war and two fireships should then be sent to Princes' Islands, where the envoy who bears Your Majesty's demands should reside until they have been granted. If they resist, you will blockade the straits and in eight days there will be a famine in the capital, as they never have any store of provisions."


The advice fell on deaf ears; for Louis was deeply committed to the Dutch war and dared not embark on more distant adventures.

In 1673 the king arranged his differences with Turkey and lost interest in the plan for conquering the Levant. When, however, the Turks besieged Vienna for the second time in 1683, he recognized his obligation to defend Christendom even in the person of his Habsburg enemy; but, while he was bargaining for his services, Sobieski marched south from Warsaw and relieved the beleaguered city. In like manner, though Charles of Lorraine and Eugene of Savoy led armies against the Turks which contained many French volunteers, the French Government stood aloof from the arduous process of rolling back the invaders from South-Eastern Europe. Indeed, the French encouraged Turkey in her war with Austria in 1739, and aided her to secure favourable terms in the Treaty of Belgrade. As a reward for their services the Capitulations were extended and made permanent in 1740, special privileges being granted to French traders and Catholics throughout the Empire.

The advice of Leibnitz nevertheless haunted the minds of French statesmen; and in 1762 Vergennes presented a detailed memoir on Turkish affairs to Louis XV, urging that France should cease to drift and should once more pursue a definite policy. She should either prevent or assist the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. In the former case her ships and troops should be near the territory which she desired to defend; in the latter, she should forestall her rivals and seize Egypt. The idea was taken up by Choiseul, but nothing came of it. A similar scheme was recommended in 1781 in a Mémoire sur la Turquie by Saint-Priest, the Ambassador at Constantinople. But France was not in a position to undertake adventures in the Levant, and could do nothing when the Treaty of Kuchuk Kainardji in 1774 proclaimed the Tsar protector of all Orthodox Christians in the Turkish Empire.