Ozan Ozavci discusses what happens to the everyday lives of diplomats in a foreign capital when their respective governments turn from friends to foes.
Dr. Ozan Ozavci is Assistant Professor of Transimperial History. His research interests are in the entangled histories of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa from the late eighteenth century until the 1950s.
Established between 1701 and 1714, Palais de Hollande or the Dutch Palace in Istanbul became a host to the Dutch missions in the Ottoman Empire for more than a century. It was one of the several palaces built by the Europeans in Pera, the ambassadorial district of the Ottoman imperial capital, which teemed with diplomats and their legations until the last days of the empire. In late 1813 and early 1814, during the most critical moments of the Napoleonic Wars, an incredible story unfolded in the Dutch Palace. This was a story of “an extraordinary act of violence,” as an onlooker wrote. Yet this violence also revealed the thin lines dividing inter-imperial rivalries and everyday diplomatic relations in the early nineteenth century.
An Unexpected Tenant
After the annexation and complete integration of the Kingdom of Holland by and into the French Empire in 1810, the Dutch Palace went under the possession of the French mission. However, an unexpected tenant, the Austrian internuncio Baron Ignaz Lorenz Freiherr van Stürmer (1750-1829), came to reside there when his hotel was taken by the Great Fire of Pera in September 1812. This was an act of courtesy on the part of M. Just Pons Florimond de Fay de La Tour-Maubourg (1781-1837), then the French representative in Istanbul, in assistance of a man at a considerably advanced age and known to be of poor health. In return, Stürmer paid a rent of 6000 francs per year.
Soon after the Austrian court made an offer to purchase the Palace from the French. Comte Louis de Narbonne-Lara, the French ambassador to Vienna, responded to the offer favourably. The two parties even fixed a price and agreed to sign the necessary papers in a short time. But the business was never concluded.
Source: View of the Bosporus from the Dutch Palace, public domain
Winter was coming
With the outbreak of the War of the Six Coalition, the rupture between France and Austria in the summer of 1813 made the fate of the Palace much less certain. The new French ambassador to Istanbul, Count Antoine-François Andréossi (1761-1828), first wrote to Baron Stürmer that he would not have to leave the Palace. Shortly after, Andréossi changed his mind and requested the disposition of the Palace “without delay”.
As winter was coming, Baron Stürmer was unwilling to comply with the demand. He promised to leave the premises as soon as the severity of the season was over. Count Andréossi insisted upon the immediate evacuation of the house and claimed the payment of arrears of rent. When Stürmer refused to do so, on a September day at around 4 o’clock in the morning, the French ambassador sent a detachment of his extraordinary guard of Janissaries to beset the Palace.
The Austrian internuncio was in his summer house at Büyükdere at the time. Upon receiving the news, he was incensed. He wasted no time, made strong appeals to the Ottoman Sublime Porte, claimed protection from the French, and asked for the possession of the Palace. For their part, the Ottoman agents were bewildered by this farcical dispute between the two European diplomats, who were reminding the local actors at every turn of their “civility”. The Ottoman Reis Efendi (equivalent of foreign minister), Galib, disapproved of the use of Janissary guards. He assured Stürmer that the officer who commanded them would be punished for becoming the instrument of “such scandalous proceedings”.
The elite Janissary guards were accordingly withdrawn from the Palace at the order of the Ottoman imperial rulers. Upon this, Andréossi brought in a new group of janissaries to retain the possession but only to pull them away, again at the demand of the Porte. He did, however, keep his porter at the gate and sent his maitre d’hotel to remain in the Palace to keep an eye on articles that had belonged to the former Dutch Embassy.
An impasse ensued. Baron Stürmer agreed on leaving the Palace only after all occupying French agents left. Now between a rock and a hard place, the Ottoman Reis Efendi tried every means of persuasion but refused Stürmer’s suggestion to employ threats or stronger measures against the French ambassador. The Austrian internuncio warned that he would hold the Porte responsible for all the consequences that might ensue. The Ottoman agents were baffled as to how they could end up as incriminates in this dispute.
Securing the Occupation
By January 1814, the Austrian legation had still not taken their furniture from the Palace. On the morning of the 10th, Andréossi broke open the doors of the Austrians’ chambers and placed some of his dependants to secure the ‘occupation’. An advertisement appeared at the gates of the French Palace and in other parts of Pera, informing that the persons who had furniture in the Dutch Palace had to remove them in the course of the week. The Palace would be open for this purpose every day from ten in the morning until two in the afternoon. But the Austrian legation did not comply with this demand either. In the end, Andréossi decided to confiscate what the internuncio had left back in the palace as ‘collateral’.
Why was General Andréossi so bitter against Baron Stürmer, especially given his earlier consent to Stürmer’s continued residence? Part of the answer is a familiar landlord-tenant story. Before the rupture, Andréossi had spent a considerable sum in repairing Palais de France and was heavily indebted. He was looking to pay his debt by selling the Dutch and Venetian palaces, both in possession of the French at the time. Though he accepted to keep Stürmer at the palace initially as an act of courtesy, he was struck by certain bulletins and placards that came to circulate in Istanbul. These contained details of the victories of the Allies and the disgraces of the French. Andréossi (falsely) believed that it was Stürmer who had circulated these. In fact, Russian agents had put them up.
Gold and Glory
In the end, neither the French nor the Austrian representative obtained their goals. Amidst the peevish quests for gold and glory, Stürmer learned the hard way about the indelicacy of residence in the house of an enemy—and that without paying any rent. For his part, Andréossi used the Dutch Palace as a shelter for homeless French families, some 56 of them. He and his successor Charles François de Riffardeau, Marquis de Rivière (1763–1828) persevered to sell the palace complex, though without any success.
Shortly after the Napoleonic Wars came to an end in 1815, the palace was returned back to the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. However, since some of the French guests had died of plague in the palace, the new Dutch mission had to disinfect all the rooms before it could settle in. The Palace remained in use for the Dutch until 1858 when Ambassador Jules van Zuylen van Nijevelt (1819-1894) convinced The Hague to construct a new building in its place, which still serves as the premises of the Dutch Consulate in Istanbul today.
Source: Dutch Consulate in Istanbul – public domain
COVER IMAGE: The Dutch Palace, public domain
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