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Sultan Mehmed II

Mehmed bin Murad hanBorn at Edirne on the 27th of Rajab 835 (30th March 1432), the son of Sultan Murad II and Hüma Hatun, his sultanate began on the 16th of Muharrem 855 (18th February 1451), and he ‘opened’ Constantinople as the seat of temporal Islamic glory, as foretold by the Prophet Muhammad s.a. This earned Mehmed II the epithet of Fathi, or ‘The Opener’, when the siege was brought to a close on the 29th of May, 1453.

He immediately set about rebuilding the ancient Roman capital established by Constantine the Great eleven and a half centuries before. It had been in a steady state of decline and decay for over a hundred years, and Mehmed brought artisans from both Asia and Europe for the huge and ongoing task ahead.

Sultan Mehmed IIA deeply cultured and sensitive man, he was fluent not only in Turkish and Arabic, but also Greek, Persian, Latin, and Hebrew. He was very aware of his place in global history, and the impact establishing the House of Osman on the gateway between the Orient and the Occident was going to have down through the generations. This was further confirmed by his grandson Sultan Selim I, bringing the Caliphate home to Constantinople in 1517.

The Doge of Venice was keen to re-establish and maintain good relations with Constantinople, and a firman, or imperial edict, was formulated and granted, much to the huge relief of the merchants in the Venetian Republic. The terms were considered more favourable for long term prosperity and stability than had been previously granted by past Byzantine Emperors.

Constantinople was now alternatively known as Istanbul, a corruption of the battle cry of Greek mercenaries in Mehmed’s army to encourage their fellow soldiers on to victory, as they stormed the city’s walls, roaring in their native Greek tongue, stanpoli, stanpoli, “in the city, in the city”.

The Doge of Venice sent his Court Artist, Gentile Bellini, to record for posterity, the faces of Ottoman notables between the years 1479 and 1481. Bellini was considered to be the best artist of his generation, and was granted an audience with the Sultan to paint his portrait, which we still have today.

Sir Henry LayardIt came into British possession in April 1880, as a gift from Sultan Abdul Hamid II to the exiting British Ambassador, Sir Henry Layard. One of the first acts of the newly elected Liberal Prime Minister, W.E. Gladstone upon the fall of the Conservative Government, was to recall the old and much trusted Sir Henry from The Porte.

Sultan Abdul Hamid II took this as a personal slight against himself, and his people, and refused to receive a new ambassador from Britain. Only when Sir Henry himself intervened did the Sultan accept the decision of the new British government.

The Sultan felt that the Ottoman Empire was safe whilst a Conservative government lead by Disraeli was in power, and that this new turn of events had bad forebodings for the Caliphate and his subjects.

Sir Henry left Constantinople with the esteem and affection of the Sultan and his people, and as a mark of this friendship, Abdul Hamid gave Sir Henry the magnificent portrait of Mehmed II by Bellini, which was bequethed to the nation in 1916. It now hangs in the National Gallery in London.


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