A Venetian at the court of the Ottoman Caliph

Achmet I – Ottoman Caliph; 1590 – 1617.

20 January, 1604. Ottaviano Bon, Venetian Ambassador in Constantinople, reports to the Doge and Senate on the fall of Mustapha Pasha and the antics of Sultan Achmet.

Mustaphà Pasha, Lieutenant Grand Vizir, a man of the highest authority, who ruled the Empire as he pleased, a favourite of the Sultan, and constantly receiving presents, even down to the Sultan’s own robes, a man who everyone thought had a long lease of power before him, for he knew how to humour the Sultan and the Sultana, giving the one a thousand sequins a week to squander on his pleasures, and the other lovely dresses and adornments; — this Mustaphà, I say, on Monday last, the 10th of this month, was in Divan, in excellent humour, joking with everybody and especially with Borisi, when the Sultan sent to say he desired him to come to him alone. Mustaphà rose and declaring he would soon be back, passed into the inner apartments. As he entered he met a mute, who made a sign to call the chief executioner. “Mustaphà, in alarm, made signs to the mute, asking what this meant? The mute merely invited him to enter; the executioner followed immediately, and in the time it takes to say a Credo he came out again with a bloody scimitar, which he was wiping; then the body of the Pasha was dragged out; the head was half split; the executioner had stripped the body of all its clothes, more especially of a lovely purple velvet vest, reaching down to the feet, lined with fur. The body was dragged to the door of the serraglio, and there, near a fountain, it was thrown to the dogs, to the amazement of all who crowded the Divan. The body was buried late at night.

The reason for this unlooked-for event is the lack of money to pay the troops. The Sultan was heard to cry out when the Pasha came before him, “Where is the pay for the troops? Is this how you keep your promise to me? “This delay in the payment had caused many to sell their orders on the treasury at half their value. Then again some creditors presented a memorial to the Sultan, setting forth that, in spite of his commands that they should be paid, the Pasha had simply mocked at them. Further, the Sultan was rather annoyed with the Pasha for opposing the return of Mehmet, Grand Vizir, from Hungary. Finally the Sultan, the night before the execution, had slept with the Sultana, who had recently conceived a dislike for the Pasha because he had secured for his Majesty some handsome youths—the Pasha himself was of the profession and a good judge of the wares; and so the Sultana, when she found the Sultan angry, seized the opportunity to give the Pasha the last blow. Any way he died the death he inflicted a few months ago on Hassan Pasha, and has paid the penalty for his many sins. I, however, deeply lament his decease, for he was a good friend to me, and promised much in the service of your Serenity. But the world is like that here, and it is only too clear that those who govern at the Porte have brittle-heads (teste di vetro) and live with death an inch from their throats.

Instead of Mustaphà they have made Skoffi Sinan Lieutenant. He is an old man of seventy, placid, benign, blunt, not sharp; favourable to the Republic. The day after the execution his Majesty went to the Kiosk. He saw a galley coming in with a ship in tow. He called the Captain on shore and asked what the ship was; the Captain said it was a pirate captured by him. The Sultan made him land three of the principal pirates, and for his mere amusement he caused them to be dashed head foremost on the ground and then flung into the sea. Everyone is terror-stricken. On his way back the Sultan came to a little lake inside the Serraglio grounds; they say it is about a quarter of an acre in extent and has two feet of water in it. It was frozen over and covered with snow. As he approached, some, who were playing by the lake, fled. He called them back, and, throwing a handfull of sequins into the lake he made them plunge for them. Then finding he liked the sport he sent for a purse full of a thousand sultanini, and in two or three goes he threw them all into the lake.