Why did the Ottomans never manage to conquer Europe?

Posted by Nick Efstathiadis

Maximilian Singer, a student of history

Because of Joanna the Mad and Philipp the Fair

Well ... maybe I should elaborate on that: Until the beginning of the 16th century the Ottoman empire had advanced quite far into European lands, it had taken control over the Balkans, its fleets had defeated the Italian merchant cities and in 1526 after the battle of Mohacs it had conquered Hungary the bulwark of Christendom and now was expected to march onto Vienna and into central Europe.

While 50 years previously Vienna would have stood little chance as the House of Habsburg was only one of several German dynasties, even though the most powerful one it was still no match for the armies of the Sultan, but by 1529 it was the centre of an Empire that stretched from Brugge to Palermo and from Mexico to Prague.

What brings us back to Joanna and Philipp, the first being the daughter of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile, while Philipp was the only son of the German Emperor Maximilian of Habsburg and Mary of Burgundy. So what have those two done to stop the Ottoman hosts? Actually very little, Philipp died only 28 years old and Joanna the Mad was ... well ... mad. But: They had united four of Europe’s most powerful bloodlines and furthermore they produced an heir, Charles V., who inherited a huge empire becoming Holy Roman Emperor, King of Spain, Duke of Burgundy and ruler of the territories in the New World filled with immense riches.

The empire of Charles V. excluding the holdings in the New World

It were those riches which defeated Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in 1529 when he was forced to retreat from Vienna because Charles V. had assembled an army to beat him back. The Ottomans had found a foe who was in no way as powerful as the Sultan, but too powerful to be destroyed. Even when Charles V. abdicated in 1556 and the Empire was split into an Austrian and Spanish line they still kept their alliance and worked together against the Ottomans resulting in one of their biggest defeats in 1571 at Lepanto which destroyed the Ottoman dominance over the Mediterranean Sea. The alliance would continue through the 17th century and even though the Turks came close to capture Vienna in the second siege of 1683, it was more of a last burst of strength than a real danger for Europe as the Empire had to mass all its troops to attack Vienna and when they were beaten back by Habsburg and its allies they were forced to surrender large territories.

The “liberation” of Budapest of 1686

When the Spanish side line of Habsburg died out in 1701 it was already too late for the Ottomans to regain strength: The empire had suffered from an Imperial overstretch resulting in corruption, backwardness and an inability to defend themselves against the advancing Austrians who captured Hungary and large parts of the Balkans and made attacks into Central Europe impossible. Thus the Greater power of Austria and the "sick man of Europe" were born.

A statue of the Austrian General Prince Eugene of Savoy "the liberator of Belgrade". The cowering person beneath him is supposed to represent a Turkish prisoner of war, the statue is situated in Budapest.

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