Thursday, 19 December 2013

Steering by the Stars: Stratford Canning in Constantinople, 1810-12 #21DecBlogHop

image designed by www.avalongraphics
Here is my contribution to this Winter Solstice mega-Blog Hop. Below my article please look for the links to all the other writers taking part. Enjoy finding out some of the research they do to write their stories - and Please leave a comment. 

In 1810 at the age of 24, Stratford Canning became Minister Plenipotentiary in Constantinople. He received no specific instructions on the duties of his post and wrote in his diary that he "had to steer rather by the stars than by compass".   
His primary duties involved supporting British merchant shipping in the Levant and persuading the Turkish administration that the British were worthy allies. This meant a constant struggle with the French Chargé d'Affaires, M de Latour-Maubourg, who was trying to convince them of the contrary. The Turkish ministers were terrified of antagonising Napoleon and would not act to prevent French privateers from preying on British shipping and selling their prizes in Ottoman-held ports, in defiance of the laws of neutrality. After a year of vigorous and unremitting complaints without any effect, Canning lost patience when yet another French privateer captured three British merchant ships and sailed them into the port of Nauplia. He ordered the British local naval commander to act. Captain Hope sailed into the port and fired at the fortress. This brought the piracy to an abrupt halt.

While Britain was mistress of the seas from Portsmouth to Constantinople, she was isolated by land due to the wide-ranging wars with Napoleon's armies. Consequently, news of events in Paris, Vienna, St Petersburg and Berlin often came to London in the dispatches which Canning sent from Constantinople. He had a wide intelligence network and corresponded with all his counterparts across Europe and the Levant

Thanks to his information, Canning was able to show the Turkish government that while the French were planning to invade Russia, they were at the same time discussing a plan to invade the Ottoman Empire in alliance with Russia and Austria. This convinced the Turkish ministers to trust him to mediate with St Petersburg for them. Canning negotiated a Russo-Turkish peace on good terms for Turkey

The Peace of Bucharest, signed 28th May 1812, was the result. This secured Turkish goodwill towards Britain. Canning's first diplomatic mission to the Sublime Porte ended on this triumphant note. Thus 'steering by the stars' had worked well for him.

[Left] The Aynalikavak Kasri, a pavilion forming part of a royal palace in Constantinople. The dome indicates that the saloon is used for official state business. Peace treaties were signed here. 

The reason for this research is that my story, Scandalous Lady, is set in Constantinople in 1811. The hero is a diplomat, negotiating with the Russians. Therefore, Stratford Canning has an essential role in the plot. Lady Hester Stanhope also has a part to play in the story. I love to bring real people into my tales, although they never have a principal role.

For more details on Scandalous Lady, and a taste of its exotic elements, see my website:

image designed by www.avalongraphics
We have some fantastic Bloggers joining this fabulous Blog Hop

so browse the links to some spectacular reading - and enjoy!

  1. Helen Hollick : A little light relief concerning those dark reviews! Plus a Giveaway Prize
  2. Prue Batten :
  3. Alison Morton  Shedding light on the Roman dusk  - Plus a Giveaway Prize! 
  4. Anna Belfrage:  Let there be Light
  5. Beth Elliott : Steering by the Stars. Stratford Canning in Constantinople, 1810/12
  6. Melanie Spiller : Lux Aeterna, the chant of eternal light
  7. Janet Reedman   The Winter Solstice Monuments
  8. Petrea Burchard  : Darkness - how did people of the past cope with the dark? Plus a Giveaway Prize!
  9. Richard Denning The Darkest Years of the Dark Ages: what do we really know? Plus a Giveaway Prize! 
  10. Pauline Barclay  : Shedding Light on a Traditional Pie
  11. David Ebsworth : Propaganda in the Spanish Civil War
  12. David Pilling  :  Greek Fire -  Plus a Giveaway Prize!
  13. Debbie Young : Fear of the Dark
  14. Derek Birks  : Lies, Damned Lies and … Chronicles
  15. Mark Patton : Casting Light on Saturnalia
  16. Tim Hodkinson : Soltice@Newgrange
  17. Wendy Percival  : Ancestors in the Spotlight
  18. Judy Ridgley : Santa and his elves  Plus a Giveaway Prize
  19. Suzanne McLeod  : The Dark of the Moon
  20. Katherine Bone   : Admiral Nelson, A Light in Dark Times
  21. Christina Courtenay : The Darkest Night of the Year
  22. Edward James  : The secret life of Christopher Columbus; Which Way to Paradise?
  23. Janis Pegrum Smith  : Into The Light - A Short Story
  24. Julian Stockwin  : Ghost Ships - Plus a Giveaway Present
  25. Manda Scott : Dark into Light - Mithras, and the older gods
  26. Pat Bracewell Anglo-Saxon Art: Splendor in the Dark
  27. Lucienne Boyce : We will have a fire - 18th Century protests against enclosure
  28. Nicole Evelina What Lurks Beneath Glastonbury Abbey? 
  29. Sky Purington  :  How the Celts Cast Light on Current American Christmas Traditions
  30. Stuart MacAllister (Sir Read A Lot) : The Darkness of Depression
And a big Thank You to Helen Hollick, who organised this Blog Hop


  1. Wonderful piece about Stratford Canning, Beth. Shame we didn't have him in the run-up to 1914, eh? There's a wonderful bit of alternative history to be written about how the world would have looked if we hadn't alienated the Ottoman Empire "by mistake" back then, don't you think?

  2. I agree with you Beth, that having real people in a novel is a great idea. It gives an extra dimension and really 'grounds' the story in its history. Good luck with Scandalous Lady!

  3. David, the more I read about Stratford Canning, the more I marvel at his incredible talents. It's certainly thanks to him that the Ottoman Empire remained friendly to Britain during much of the 19th century.

  4. Thank you, Wendy. I really enjoyed writing Scandalous Lady. The story takes place in some wonderful locations.

  5. Thanks for this, Beth, fascinating insight into the perils of diplomacy. Interested to see Lady Hester Stanhope also appears in your book – what a fascinating woman she was!

  6. Interesting piece of history and I am completely taken with the wonderful phrase "Steering by the Stars" - really evocative of so many things. In fact, it would make a great theme for a whole different blog hop!

  7. Thank you for this fascinating post, Beth. I too love bringing real people into my plots. It does enrich the background to the story and make it more alive. Your novel sounds wonderful and I am looking forward to reading it.

  8. Lucienne, I do agree about Lady Hester Stanhope being fascinating and totally determined. I've been very careful about what I put in my story, because a friend of mine is very friendly with a descendant of Lady Hester's family....

  9. Thank you, Debbie. It is a wonderful phrase, isn't it? I took it from Stratford Canning's diary. He was 24 and the previous ambassador simply left him to manage in such a difficult place and between such mighty powers.

  10. Marie, bringing real people in - and places such as the houses or castles that are still standing, does make the story seem so real. In fact, I worry that I blur the lines sometimes. It's a bit like going on holiday to a different time.

  11. Great post, Beth. Happy Solstice!

  12. Fascinating! I've never heard of this man before, so this was a most interesting read! Thank you!

  13. A very interesting character, it seems. Love the photo of that amazing pavilion.

  14. It's now the State Music Museum. It's a delightful little palace in a park.

  15. Canning certainly was a man of great talent--one I'd never heard of before. Thank you.

  16. I'm glad you found the post interesting. That was just the first step in a very long and distinguished career for Stratford Canning.