1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 30

1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 30

Gyor, Hungary, near the Ottoman border

Janos Drugeth felt an urge to wrap a cloak around himself, even though the temperature atop the bastion was quite warm. As you’d expect on a sunny day in July. He didn’t have a cloak with him anyway.

That was just a reflex, from the considerable time he’d spent in his life in one of these Balkan fortresses. The fortifications were of the so-called trace italienne design. Medieval perpendicular stone walls, circular or square in design, had been unable to withstand gunpowder artillery. They’d been replaced by fortresses that were generally star-shaped, with triangular bastions that gave the defenders a good field of fire at any enemy getting close to the wall. Later designs — not applied to this particular fortress — added features like ravelins, hornworks and crownworks.

The walls were quite different, too. They sloped rather than being perpendicular. The construction materials used were earth and brick, whenever possible, rather than stone. In every particular, they were designed to absorb artillery fire rather than shed it. Each cannon ball digging into the walls simply became another piece of the structure.

All well and good. But come winter, these new-style fortresses seemed every bit as frigid as their medieval predecessors.

Below him, the Raba River meandered through the town of Gyor. The view was pleasant, as was usually the case in the Balkans. Janos had often wondered what God’s purpose might be, to couple such a lovely region with so much in the way of strife and misery. Of course, he imagined a Frenchman or an Englishman or a Spaniard — certainly a German — could have recited at least as long a litany of woes as any inhabitant of the Balkans.

Not long ago, Noelle Stull had sent Janos a book of essays written by a famous American writer of the past. The author called himself Mark Twain. That was apparently not his real name, though, which Janos found a bit odd. To be sure, many Europeans of this age and ages past wrote under pseudonyms. But the up-timers insisted they’d had no inquisition in their nation. Why, then, the need for pseudonyms? But perhaps he was missing something.

Among the essays, most of which had been shockingly irreligious, had been one titled The Damned Human Race. Try as he might, Drugeth had found it difficult to quarrel with Twain’s thesis. He’d seen too much cruelty and brutality in his life, some of which — the brutality if not, he hoped, the cruelty — he’d inflicted himself.

He wondered still why Noelle had sent him the book. She was herself a devout Catholic and could not possibly have agreed with Twain’s viewpoint, especially that displayed in his Letters From the Earth. Had Twain been alive today, that text alone might have gotten him burned at the stake in some countries and in serious trouble with the authorities in most others.

Well… maybe not. In fact, almost certainly not. The manner in which heresy was handled — even the way it was looked upon — had been undergoing a rapid change in Europe since the Ring of Fire. Today, it would be highly unlikely that any nation, even Spain, would actually execute an American for heresy.

Americans themselves would attribute that reluctance to fear of their military capabilities. Which, to be sure, was real enough. But the source of the unease was deeper, something which few Americans really understood themselves. Most of them considered themselves Christians and many of those considered themselves very devout. But with very few exceptions, not even the most religious up-timers really had the same outlook as most people born and bred in the seventeenth century.

The up-timers were, at bottom, a profoundly secular folk. To them, the Ring of Fire had been some sort of cosmic mystery. The more religious would add that God’s hand was clearly at work — but they would say the same about almost anything. If they became ill and recuperated, they saw God’s hand at work. If their favored sports team won a game, for that matter, they saw God’s hand at work.

But there would be no miracle involved. Just God’s mysterious ways.

People in the seventeenth century, on the other hand, believed in miracles. And they believed just as firmly — or had, until the Ring of Fire — that the age of miracles was over, and had been over for sixteen hundred years. Every theologian had told them so — and it didn’t matter if they were Catholic or Lutheran or Calvinist. On that subject, there had been no real dispute.

True, there were still miracles of a sort. The Catholic Church to which Janos himself belonged required evidence of a miracle before it would canonize someone who had not been a martyr. But the sort of miracles one expected to be associated with such “Venerables,” as they were called, were modest in scale compared to the miracles that had happened in ancient days. Typically, it would be found that a person was gravely ill, with a disease for which there was no cure or remedy; prayers were then sent to the Venerable, by the victim or by relatives; the afflicted one was cured, spontaneously and completely; for which doctors had no explanation due to natural causes.

Well and good. Janos did not doubt the reality of such miracles. But they were hardly on the order of the parting of the Red Sea or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Such things had been absent from the earth for over a millennium and a half.

Until the Ring of Fire.

The issue had agonized theologians for years now. There was simply no getting around it. Thousands upon thousands of people — Janos himself was one of them — had gone to Grantville and seen the miracle with their own eyes.

Nor was it just the appearance of a mysterious town of peculiar folk with near-magical mechanical powers. That might possibly have been explained away. But you couldn’t explain away the land itself.

There were great cliffs there, nine hundred feet tall — three times the height of the famed White Cliffs of Dover — and completely unnatural in their design. Absolutely sheer, absolutely flat, and with nothing in the way of a scree slope at their base.

More than four years had passed since the Ring of Fire and those cliffs had begun to wear down. But Janos had spoken to eyewitnesses — and there were many of them; Thuringia was a well-populated area — who swore that on the day it happened, those cliffs had gleamed and shone like mirrors. They were simply stone and earth, like any other cliffs, but on the day of the Ring of Fire they had been cut by a blade sharper than any razor. A blade huge enough to cut a perfect circle six miles in diameter.

A blade that no one in his right mind could believe had been wielded by anyone but the Almighty.

So, no American would be burned at the stake. Not even in Spain. As harsh as they might be, not even the inquisitors of the Spanish crown would be willing to take such a risk. Whatever His purpose might have been, God had brought these people here. Executing them for heresy seemed rather perilous.

Theologians all over Europe — as well as political leaders, of course — were still arguing over the meaning of the Ring of Fire. A few even held to the belief that Satan had caused the Ring of Fire. Not in Rome, though, and certainly not in Spain. The Manichean heresy involved was obvious and both the Holy and the Spanish Inquisition were quite willing to subject such persons to auto-da-fé.

Most opponents of the up-timers had settled on some version of Cardinal Richelieu’s thesis: that God had certainly created the Ring of Fire, but had done so as a subtle caution to princes and peoples. By showing them a world of the future which had clearly not been created by demons, he was warning mankind of the folly of subverting the natural political order.

Janos’ own emperor, Ferdinand III, inclined to that belief. Janos himself had done so, once. Now… He was no longer sure.

And that, he thought, was the reason Noelle had sent him the Twain book. Not because she agreed with Twain, but as a gentle reminder to Drugeth that God’s ways were subtle and mysterious. So how likely was it that an inquisitor — much less a political leader with obvious vested interests and biases — could determine the truth?

Not very, he’d come to conclude.

His musings were interrupted by the sound of boots clattering up the stone stairs behind him. From the pattern of the sound, he knew who was coming. Agoston Meszaros, one of the four junior officers who had accompanied him on this expedition. Meszaros was the most junior of the group, which meant that he invariably got the assignment of carrying messages.

Just as well. Agoston was a stout fellow, but not someone you wanted to assign tasks which required much in the way of thinking.

As soon as the young officer came onto the bastion, he extended a slender dispatch. “Just arrived, sir.”

Janos broke the seal. The contents of the dispatch were brief. He read it through, and then read it through again.

So. Johann Schmid could not come himself. Janos was not surprised. Schmid served most of the Catholic countries as their informal ambassador to the Turks. He was believed to have the best intelligence network of any European in the Ottoman Empire. Schmid had been a slave of the Turks for twenty years, eventually serving them in the position of dragoman. He had contacts inside and outside of the Ottoman government, and at multiple levels of Turkish society.

Drugeth had met him twice, and wasn’t sorry he wouldn’t be meeting him again. Schmid was a thoroughly unpleasant man. Potentially dangerous, too. It was believed that he’d tried to poison the young apprentice diplomat Bratutti, probably in collusion with the Venetians, for no more sublime reason than some sort of personal or professional rivalry.

Instead, according to the dispatch, Janos would be meeting with one of Schmid’s agents. The name was not given, of course, any more than Schmid had put his own name on the missive. No one spied on the Turks casually, unless he wanted to find a strangler’s cord around his neck.

If Janos was lucky, the agent would be the Ragusan physician, Doctor Grassi. The man had probably as extensive a knowledge of Ottoman affairs as Schmid himself and was far more pleasant to deal with.

Janos read through the dispatch a third time. No names were specified when it came to location, either. But from subtle hints, he was quite sure that Osijek was the place the agent would meet him.

That was within Ottoman territory, but Janos had expected as much. In some ways, he would have preferred to meet in Belgrade. There’d be many more Ottoman soldiers there, but the city was also huge — with one hundred thousand inhabitants, it was the largest city in the Turkish Empire except Istanbul itself — and had a polyglot population. Serbs, Turks, Armenians, Greeks, Ragusans from Dubrovnik, traders from everywhere. Drugeth would be able to blend in easily. He could probably even do so as a Hungarian merchant.

Still, Osijek would do well enough. It was much smaller than Belgrade, but it was a trade center in its own right. Six roads led into the town. And it was close enough to Hungary that Hungarians were probably more common there than in Belgrade.

“Should we prepare to leave, sir?” asked Agoston.

Janos shook his head. “No, you’ll all be staying here. I’ll be leaving tomorrow morning. I should be back within a week or two.”

He’d have to go alone. A party of several Hungarians would stand out in Osijek . Besides, none of his subordinates had much experience as anything other than cavalry officers. He doubted any of them could pass themselves off as humble merchants. Meszaros would be hopeless.

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26 Responses to 1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 30

  1. dave o says:

    Nice cliff-hanger. Will it be a trap, or a warning of Ottoman attack?

  2. Jason says:

    an Ottoman attack would be a gift from god so to speak for the Hapsburgs. There is nothing else that would cause the West to unite more than an Ottoman invasion.

  3. arthur says:

    well, i think mike will be going southeast instead of into saxony. by these comments plus what the next book title is.

  4. Alan says:

    When the Ottomans attacked Vienna in 1683, the Habsburgs got very military assistance outside Germany itself only from Poland and Tuscany. The German assistance came only from Saxony. Franconia and Swabia. Many Hungarians joined the Turkish attack. The USE would behave differently, but at minimum they would want recognition from Austria.

  5. Mike S says:

    Actually, the West rarely united against the Ottomans. In 1683, the French were allied with the Turks and the German princes, especially the Protestants, of the Holy Roman Empire refused to respond to the summons of the Emperor. Dynastic, imperial and religious politics served to give the Emperor just enough resources to defeat the Turksih attempt to capture Vienna, but not enough that he would become a threat to German independence or French ambitions. It was only with the decline of Ottoman and rise of Austro-Hungarian military power that the Hapsburgs began to roll the Ottomans back in the Balkans.

  6. Mike S says:

    However, a really large and effective invasion force and the change in dynamics created by the “Ring of Fire” might bring about a European alliance. From Istanbul to Vienna is just about the same distance as Vienna to the Channel. As J.F.C. Fuller put it, any victory by the Ottomans in the early period of their expansion at Vienna, and history could have seen Oxford University established for the study of the Koran.

  7. Alan says:

    Pssst, Gibbon said it first about the battle of Tours, aka Poitiers, in 732. It’s like the two lines ‘Asia begins on the east road out of Vienna’ and ‘Africa begins at the Pyrenees’ which get attributed to everyone. A Turkish repulse at Vienna would have major effects on the Ottomans. New sultans established their legitimacy by expanding their territory. Once that process ended the sultanate began losing power to other groups like the clergy and the janissaries. In the 16 years between the Battle of Vienna and the Treaty of Karlowitz the Habsburgs re-establsihed themselves in Hungary and Transylvania. They were not again threatened by the Ottomans.

    On the other hand, if Ferdinand of Austria is serious about Constantinople…

  8. robert says:

    This was found on Amazon:
    1635: The Saxon Uprising: N/A (Ring of Fire) by Eric Flint (Hardcover – Apr. 5, 2011)
    Buy new: $25.00 $16.50
    Product Description
    The West Virginia town of Grantville, torn from the twentieth century and hurled back into seventeenth century Europe has allied with Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden, in the United States of Europe. So, when Gustavus invades Poland, managing to unite all the squabbling Polish factions into repelling the common enemy, the time-lost Americans have to worry about getting dragged into the fight along with the Swedish forces.

    But Mike Stearns has another problem. He was Prime Minister of the USE until he lost an election, and now he’s one of Gustavus’s generals; and he has demonstrated that he’s very good at being a general. And he’s about to really need all his military aptitude. Gretchen , who never saw a revolution she didn’t like, has been arrested in Saxony, and is likely to be executed. The revolutionary groups which she has been working with are not about to let that happen, and suddenly there’s rioting in the streets. Saxony’s ruthless General Baner is determined to suppress the uprising by the time-honored “kill them all and let God sort them out” method, which only adds fuel to the fire. So Gustavus orders Mike Stearns to go to Saxony and restore order. But he makes one mistake.

    He didn’t tell Mike to take his troops along on the mission. But he didn’t tell him not to, either . . .

    Be still my heart…

  9. laclongquan says:

    Bah, humbug! A threat of military invasion is bad enough, though very routine.

    A secret project aim at logistic and transport technology will guarantee to drive him up the wall. Especially if the research is essentially complete and preparation is underway.

    The biggest natural obstacle to a Turk invasion is terrain, after all.

  10. Paul C says:

    It might serve to remind ourselves that the Russians have been assisting the Ottomans in modernizing their armaments. See Butterflies in the Kremlin. This might be part of the butterfly effect from their industrialization.

  11. ET1swaw says:

    It might also help to call ‘Gyor’ by german name ‘Raab’. AFAIK that’s how its listed on USE maps. Drugeth may think of it as ‘Gyor’ but I suggest title heading use ‘Raab’. I was looking down in Carnolia/Slovenia at ‘Gorz’ before I fiigured it out.

  12. Alan says:

    In OTL a series of reforming sultans tried desperately to modernise the empire, beginning with Mahmud II in 1808. The OTL sultans were not looking at rumours of a small town in Germany but at the realities of industrialising states like Britain and France, the loss of much of the Balkans to the Habsburgs, and the loss of Egypt to French, then British, then local rulers. It made little difference. In each case reforming efforts were decisively defeated by court, military and clerical intrigues. I just cannot see the Ottomans making a whole lot of use what the Russians offer them.

  13. Jac says:

    Yes but those Sultans didnt have nearly 400 years of text saying that if you don’t modernize the Ottoman Empire will not exist by 1918. I’m betting that even the most hard nosed anti-reformers could be convinced that modernization, at least some, will be needed otherwise the Christians will break apart the Empire.

  14. robert says:

    Actually when you think about it, the best thing, historically, may have been for the Ottoman Empire to remain intact. It was only a big diplomatic mistake by the British that caused the Ottomans to enter WW I. Had it remained out of the war and intact, and undergone earlier reform, whether under the sultan or, later under the Republican government, and retained control of their empire east of Suez, the Middle East may have had a very different history after WW I. David Fromkin’s book “A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East (2001)” is a must read for anyone who wants to understand what the heck happened during the idiotic peace conference after WW I.

    I still do not see Turkey ever entering the EU, especially as long as the Islamist party rules. The Europeans aren’t saying, but they are deathly afraid of open borders with an Islamic nation. I had to laugh (and feel proud of our Constitution) when I read some years ago that the Prime Minister of Turkey had to send his daughters to college in the U.S. because they could not wear the head scarf at the university in Turkey.

  15. Alan says:

    @13 They did have the experience of losing their richest province to the French, then the British, then Mohammed Ali as well as losing most of the Balkans to the Habsburgs, the Crimea and points north to the Romanovs, and Greece and Serbia to independence movements. Add in three centuries of watching the Europeans expand into the Indian Ocean, a battle they lost to the Portuguese at Diu in 1509. Add in that the Ottomans were acutely aware of the Spanish, English and French presence in the Americas. Only my opinion, but you’d think that would carry a tad more weight than a pile of texts from a village of witches in Germany.

    @14 I tend to agree. A friend of mine goes further and argues it was a really bad mistake to carve up the Balkans into a mosaic of competing states as well.

  16. robert says:

    @15 Alan, re: Balkans. On the other hand, the pasting together of them under Tito after WW II did not seem to take either. They only fell apart again (bloodily) when Tito died. On the other hand (how many is that?) how else would the world have had a King Zog?

  17. dave o says:

    According to John Stoye’s history of the 1683 siege, Bavaria sent 11,300 troops Franconia and Upper Rhine (largely Hessian principalities) sent 8,000, Saxony sent 7,000 troops to relieve the siege. The Poles also sent an army, but I can’t find how many troops.

    I think that the Austrians are in a better position to rule the Balkans than the Turks. The key issue there is whether Catholic Austria can overcome the suspicions of Orthodox Slavs, Bulgars,Greeks, Tosks and Ghegs. Religious freedom forever! A lesser issue is whether Magyar nationalism will prove as disruptive a force as it did in late 18th century and early 19th century.

  18. Beata says:

    King Sobieski’s army in 1683 – 26600 troops (Vienna) + 7000 troops (Poland)

  19. Alan says:

    @16 The formation of states in post-Ottoman and post-Habsburg territory was fairly chaotic. The Kurds and the Pontic Greeks did not get self-determination, despite Allied promises. The Kurds ended up in Iraq because Prince Faisal (who may or may not have borne a surprising resemblance to Alec Guinness) wanted some Sunnis to avoid a Shi’a majority in his planned kingdom. The ethnic Greek majorities in what is now European Turkey got short shrift. The 1918 borders led to ethnic cleansing on a massive scale. Reforming and democratising the empires, or allowing the Arabs the unity most of them wished, may have been a better bet.

  20. Doug Lampert says:

    The Turks couldn’t reform in the 19th century, and at that time they did have 3 centuries of defeat and humiliation to indicate how badly it was needed.

    But those three centuries were also three centuries of decay of the Sultan’s power. Murad the Mad is VASTLY more powerful within the empire than any of the 19th century reformers.

  21. Alan says:

    A new sultan has to establish his authority by military victory, preferably gaining new territory. Murad’s already lost a border war each to Poland-Lithuania and Russia by 1632. He’s also in a major war with Safavid Iran and needs quite badly to get Baghdad back. He is not in a position to undertake a major effort in Europe and his power in the state is nowhere near what it will be.

  22. Jason says:

    But remember he’s called MURAD THE MAD and with his army buying AK2’s from the russian he might think he can win

  23. Alan says:

    Murad IV was an effective, if reactionary ruler and a very good general. He was the last sultan to command his army in person. If one googles the exact phrase “Murad the Mad”, alas one does not find in any primary or secondary source. The vast majority of the 225 mentions come from a tertiary source. http://www.baen.com. As a test I also googled Selim the Sot which I know was a historical (and deserved) epithet for Selim II. I got 56,800 results. The Wikipedia list of royal epithets gives Murad IV ‘the Always Successful Sultan, the Conqueror of Baghdad (Tur. Fatih-i Bagdat), the Cruel, the Fighter’.

  24. Jac says:

    @15 Yes but all that was a slow disintegration and slowly eroding power of the empire taking centuries. By the time the Ottomans fell it was too late to reverse things. Really by the 18th century I would say that the Ottomans were doomed to be a regional power not global. However now they have indicators that tell them that they are on the wrong course. Those who want reform now have something to point to that say that things will, not might, go wrong if they stay the course. They may still chose to ignore the information from grantville or misinterpret it. However if they respect military victory’s the fact that the USE and Sweden are essentially undefeated since the ROF should at least make them consider the Military info they get out of the ROF.

    @14 As an aside I agree that the destruction of the Ottoman Empire was one of the stupidest things, of the many stupid things, to come out of WWI. I would hope that if there were a conflict with the Ottomans in the ROF TL that it would be humbled but left intact.

  25. Seth says:

    Part of the reason why Ottoman modernization attempts ended poorly was the fact that the bulk of their industrialization was in the Balkans, especially Bulgaria. The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 was what sealed the Ottoman decline, stripping the Ottomans of the bulk of their developed provinces and killing their entire army in one blow.

  26. “The Empire, long divided, must unite: long united, must divide.” – Luo Guanzhong While it may have been better overall for the Ottoman Empire to remain intact, especially for peace prospects in the Middle East, it was also impossible. I mean, look at what happened to Russia when Czar Nicholas tried reform. It blew up in his face. The Ottoman Empire was very old and quite unwieldy, a polyglot of nations and cultures. It was bound to fall apart at some point, just like the United Soviet Socialist Republic. Multinational, multicultural superstates are the most unstable form of human government to date, and anthropologists haven’t found a way to fix that yet.

    Donald from Down Syndrome Cure

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