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In a dispatch of 10 April 1821 to Foreign Secretary Castlereagh, Britain’s ambassador to the Sublime Porte (Lord Strangford) evoked the prevalence of religious mentalities and religiously induced reprisals in the initial phase of the Greek War of Independence. The sultan’s “government perseveres in its endeavours to strike terror into the minds of its Greek subjects; and it seems that these efforts have been very successful. The commerce of the Greeks has been altogether suspended – their houses have been shut up – and an armed and licentious population, wandering through the streets of this capital and its suburbs, daily commit such excesses as destroy all confidence on the part of the reaya, in the security of their lives and property.”1 This state of affairs “has been principally excited by the official declarations emanating from the government, in which the insurrections in Wallachia and Moldavia, and the rebellious movements in other places, are attributed to a design formed by the Greeks, for the total overthrow of the Mahometan religion. These declarations speak at once to the passions and prejudices of the people, and it is not surprising that they should have produced in the minds of Turks, the highest degree of fury and exasperation.”

In his copious reports to the London Foreign Office during his ambassadorship from 1821 to 1824, Lord Strangford chronicled the turmoil in the sultan’s realm at a tense but pivotal moment in the Eastern Question, that precarious web of European penetration, intrigue, and rivalry in the remarkably resilient Ottoman Empire, still possessing strategic lands and vital waterways in the Levant, or eastern Mediterranean.2 Rebellion in Greece erupted. War between Russia and Turkey loomed. Ottoman restrictions disrupted European trade. Sectarian abuse and mutual retribution deepened the clash. Ottoman court factions contested the sultan’s rule. And border disputes sparked hostility between Turkey and Persia. As the Ottoman Empire confronted an increasingly volatile situation, Strangford detailed the messy realities at the core of the Eastern crisis, such as the spread of Greek-Ottoman combat, the discord among Greek rebels, the debates among Ottoman officials about an effective counter-insurgency strategy, and the dogged intercession of European envoys like himself to pacify the Greek uprising and to avert a wider Russian- Turkish war in the Balkans.3 He probed all of these ramifications, along with the pursuit of British commercial and strategic aims in the troubled Levant. He also conveyed Britain’s exaggerated fears of tsarist Russian infiltration of the region.


Originally published in Archivum Ottomanicum 28 (2011): 171-222