Dutch mediation helped to make peace: Jacob Colyer: Mediating between the European and the Ottoman World

In a time when international contacts came not as natural as they currently do, Jacob Colyer and to a lesser extent his father Justinus played an integral part in protecting the interests of the Dutch Republic on Ottoman territory. They managed to successfully extend the treaty of friendship, trade, and navy between the Ottoman Empire and the Dutch Republic established by Cornelis Haga in 1612, an accomplishment that was only privileged to the Dutch and the English, and later also to the French. All in all, they were both capable of fulfilling the primary task of an early modern ambassador: improving the trade relations between their home country and the foreign country of residence. While Justinus Colyer’s influence was restricted to the interests of the Dutch Republic, his son Jacob became an integral figure in the history of the relations between the European countries and the Ottoman Empire in the early modern era. As his influence at the Sublime Porte and his title ‘Duke of Hungary’ indicate, Colyer was highly respected both by the Ottomans and the European powers.

Ottoman invasion during the 17th century

During the 17th century, an Ottoman invasion further into Europe and a conversion of its inhabitants to Islam was not unthinkable. Only after the Ottomans failed to conquer Vienna in 1683, it became clear that the military power of the Ottomans was declining, which made a sustainable peace with them an imaginable solution for the first time. It was the Dutch and the English, the most influential foreign powers at the Sublime Porte, who took the lead in the establishment of this peace at the end of the 17th century. In the last two decades of the 17th century, they repeatedly tried to convince the Ottomans to accept the principles of European diplomacy and engage in a peace conference with the members of the HLOA. However, it took until the immense Ottoman defeat at the Battle of Zenta in 1697 for the Ottomans to understand that a sustainable peace was in their own interest as well.

Jacob Colyer and the English ambassador Sir William Paget

Under the mediation of Jacob Colyer and the English ambassador Sir William Paget, negotiations between the Ottomans and the HLOA culminated into the Treaty of Karlowitz. On the 26th of January 1699, the Ottomans signed peace with long-lasting potential for the first time.

Uti possidetis

The establishment of this peace crucially depended on the Ottoman willingness to accept the foundation of early modern European diplomacy: the principle of uti possidetis. Since it was Colyer who convinced the Ottomans to accept this principle, his influence on the peace negotiations between the Ottomans and the HLOA can hardly be overstated. When Colyer returned to Belgrade, his first stop on Ottoman territory, he was the center of festivities, which indicates that the Ottomans were extremely satisfied with his role in the peace negotiations at Karlowitz.

The administration of Belgrade, the Ottoman frontier city at the Habsburg border, was satisfied that the city remained part of a Muslim empire. Contrary to the present situation, the population of Belgrade mainly consisted of Muslims since Arsenije III Čarnojević retreated with the major part of the Serbian Christians to Habsburg territory. The principle of uti possidetis proved to be a vehicle that made it possible for Belgrade to remain part of an empire that protected the interests of the inhabitants of the city.

Ottoman war declaration

In the years after the signing of the Treaty of Karlowitz, it became clear that the peace established in 1699 was far from conclusive. Especially when the Ottomans defeated the Russian army in 1711, the Ottoman idea that all European territory was rightfully theirs entered a period of revival. Again, they declared war on the Venetian Republic and the Habsburgs and prepared for a new invasion into Europe. However, this campaign was not as impressive as the earlier ones in which the Ottomans almost managed to conquer Vienna, the gate to Western Europe. The Habsburg forced the Ottomans to retreat far into the Balkans and even got control of Belgrade in 1717.

Just as in 1698, the militaries of the European powers were way better organized than the Ottoman army. After the loss of Belgrade, the Ottomans were steering towards a new peace conference in which they would acknowledge their losses but wanted to avoid losing any more territory. Jacob Colyer, who managed to conclude the peace conference at Karlowitz, was once again asked to function as a mediator in the negotiations.

Just as in the earlier negotiations, the Ottoman acceptance of the uti possidetis was crucial for a successful conclusion. They were willing to hand all the territory in Serbia over to the Habsburgs, which made it possible to reestablish the former Kingdom of Serbia as a province of the Habsburg Empire. Eventually, the peace conference at Passarowitz was concluded on the same conditions as the previous negotiations in which Colyer acted as a mediator. It was Colyer who convinced the Ottomans to accept the principle of uti possidetis and made it possible to speak of a semi-autonomous Kingdom of Serbia in 1718 after a long period of Ottoman domination. Furthermore, the ministers of the Sublime Porte showed their gratitude for the successful conclusion by help resolving a Dutch trade conflict with the Algerians. Once again, Colyer proved to be a central figure in protecting the interests of Dutch trade in the Levant. After 36 years of residing at the Sublime Porte, Jacob Colyer, the Duke of Hungary, had become an indispensable figure in both representing the Dutch trade at the Levant and the process of peacekeeping between the Ottomans and the European powers.

(This article is a part of an essay, published  March 2015 by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the Republic of Serbia)

About the author
Bas de Boer is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Twente, specializing in the philosophy of technology. His further research interests are the Republic of Letters and the history of cartography, especially during the Age of Discovery.

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