Part of the Empire

Natasha Wheatley

  • The Habsburg Empire: A New History by Pieter Judson
    Harvard, 567 pp, £17.95, September, ISBN 978 0 674 98676 3

When the 25-year-old Ottoman prince Süleyman became sultan in 1520, his empire curled from Athens down to Mecca and tied the Red Sea to the Black. Selim, his father, had tended eastern frontiers; Süleyman turned towards the west. His campaigns carried Ottoman rule past Belgrade to Budapest and – almost – to Vienna. Riding up the Danube Valley with 100,000 men late in the summer of 1526, Süleyman crushed a ramshackle Hungarian army in a mere ninety minutes. Among the Hungarian dead lay seven bishops, a swag of barons, and the king. The twenty-year-old Hungarian sovereign, Louis II, had fallen from his horse as he fled the battlefield and drowned in a shallow stream – a quiet death that fuelled conspiracy theories for centuries to come. The death of the heirless king led to a succession battle among Europe’s intermarried monarchies, and ended up handing one of them – the Habsburgs – a vast empire they would hold until the First World War.

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