Shifting Identities: Foreign State Servants in France and the Ottoman Empire

In: Journal of Early Modern History
Christine Isom-Verhaaren
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This essay compares the use of "foreign" state servants in the early-modern kingdom of France and the Ottoman Empire. In both realms, identity was understood as a matter of loyalty not to a defined territory but rather to a dynasty; hence service to the dynasty offered a ready path for assimilation. For a contemporary Ottoman historian, "the inhabitants of Rum" were a people of diverse origins, often descended from converts to Islam. For French jurists, the basic component of citizenship in the kingdom was personal choice; thus French "identity" was gained or lost as outsiders chose to serve the king, or natives of France chose to serve one of his rivals. This fluidity in matters of identity may be illustrated by three careers. George Paleologus Dysphatos (d. 1496), having converted to Roman Catholicism, rose to prominence under Kings Louis XI and Charles VIII, while a man known only as Hüseyn, the subaşt of Lemnos, was important as a diplomat and intelligence-gatherer in the service of Sultan Bayezid II; only from a chance reference in a letter of Charles VIII concerning Hüseyn do we know that he was George's cousin, obviously a convert to Islam. Christophe de Roggendorf (1510-post 1585) who was an Austrian nobleman and who had fought in Austrian armies against Ottoman forces. When Emperor Charles V ruled against him in an inheritance dispute he switched sides, moving to Istanbul where he served Sultan Süleyman for a time. But since he would not convert to Islam, preventing his being eligible for an important office, Roggendorf changed his allegiance again, ending his active career as an honored commander and diplomat under Kings Henri II and Charles IX. As these examples suggest, this was an era in which rulers competed for the loyalty of talented men, regardless of their origins, and potential state servants chose identities that served their own ambitions.

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