Early Reflections on the Turks
In spite of their long and richly varied history, apart from early encounters during the Crusades, the Turks hardly appear in Pre-Renaissance western literature until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453:

Historically, the Turks have been known to us for almost two milleniums - since the second Century B.C. And how many great empires they have created during those long centuries in the various countries of Asia, Africa, and Europe! Yet only small fractions of their history have been examined and these superficially (46).

Most of the information about the Turks in English may have been taken from translations from different languages, particularly from Latin and French, or from travel accounts or diaries written by merchants, traders etc. travelling to the Middle East and the Levant. From the sixteenth century onwards, publications about the Turks, both translations and English originals, can be divided under certain headings: pamphlets and newspapers; books giving information about the history, government, manners, religion, etc. of the Turks; books about the Muslim religion; literary texts about Turkish figures (47).

 In the wake of the fall of Constantinople, the medieval concept of the Turk in the West was dictated by religious fanaticism against the 'infidel', and reflecting the Christian Crusader spirit of viewing the Muslim as the child of the devil or the follower of the imposter prophet Muhammad, the image of the Turk tends to have negative connotations:  the word 'Turk' was mainly used in two ways, as a generic name for an Islamic state with its own characteristic institutions of government and military; and as a description of behaviour or character - the Turk being of nature cruel and heartless (48).
In his First Book of the Introduction of Knowledge (1547), Andrew Borde reflects an unfavourable image of the Turk as infidel whose habits and beliefs contradict the Christian equivalents:

I am a Turk, and Machamytes law to kepe; I do proll for my pray whan other be a slepe; My law wyllith me no swynes flesh to eate; It shal not greatly forse, for I have other meate. In usyng my rayment I am not varyable, nor of promis I am not mutable (49).

Berna Moran’s bibliography of English publications about the Turks from the fifteenth century to the eighteenth (50) reveals that most of the documents (generally historical and literary) referring to the Turks date from the sixteenth century onwards. In these early documents, basically because of the bloody wars between the Muslim Turks and Christian Europe, the strength and greatness of the Turks is presented as a form of cruelty and barbarism. A similar opinion is written in a report translated from German into English (1566):

Newes from Vienna the 5. day of August 1566 of the strong Towne and Gastell of Jula in Hungary, xi myles beyond the river Danubius, which was cruelly assaulted by the great Turke, but nowe by Gods mighty working relieued, and the sayd Turke marueylouslye discomfited and ouerthrowen (51).

 Besides R. Stafforde's A Geographical and Anthological Description of All the Empires and Kingdoms (1607) (52), which partly deals with the situation, manners, customs, provinces and governments of the Turks, one of the early books about the Turks is  R. Carr's The Mahumetane or Turkish Historie (1600) consisting of three books; Of the origin and beginning of the Turks; Of their conquests until the present reign of Mehmet the third; Of the wars and siege of Malta. The book, actually translated from Italian and French historians includes five chapters. In the first chapter there is a short history of Islam; then follows Ottoman history from the beginning until Mehmet III, the siege of Malta, the fall of Cyprus and discussion of the reasons for magnificence and strength of the Ottoman Empire (53).

 Another well-known English book concerning Turkish history is Richard Knolles’s The General History of the Turks (1603) (54) which was regarded as a good reference book for a long time in the West (English Theatre, 6). Knolles’s work, published several times subsequent to its first and second editions during his lifetime, covers from the first appearance of the Turks to the rising of the Ottomans, with all the notable expeditions of Christian princes against them, together with the lives and conquests of the Ottoman Kings and Emperors. As can be understood from the preface referring to historians such as Marinus Barletius, J. Leundavius, J. Fontanus, A. Busbequius, Nicholas Nicholay, P. Jovius and so forth, the text was a compilation of different historical sources, both ancient and modern. Despite the fact that it was praised by many literary figures such as  Johnson, Southey and Lord Byron in ensuing centuries, the work has subsequently been criticised for being a collection of Latin bits and pieces with unreliable prejudices (The Bibliography, 43) and as Bisbee remarks: 'Whenever an educated Turk dipped into western histories of civilisation or books on Turkey, he ran into unpleasant passages about his own people' (55). Afterwards, P. Rycaut made use of this work writing The Present State of the Ottoman Empire (1668) (56) in which he presents maxims of Turkish politics, material points of their religion, their sects and heresies. Their military discipline, with an exact computation of their forces both by land and sea, is also emphasised.


46-Nicholas N. Martinovitch, The Turkish Theatre (New York: Benjamin Blom, 1968), p. 5.

47-For the list of the works and their detailed analyses, see:Yıldız Aksoy, The Turks in 18th Century English Theatre, Unpub. Diss. (Erzurum: Atatürk University, Dept. of English Language and Literature, 1975), p.344. Further reference to this work will be given after quotations in the text and footnotes, by mentioning its shortened title, 'English Theatre'.

48-Simon Shepherd, Marlowe and the Politics of the Elizabethan Theatre (Brighton.: The Harvester Press, 1986), p.142. Further reference to this work will be given after quotations in the text, by mentioning its shortened title, 'Marlowe and the Politics'.

49-Andrew Borde, The First Booke of the Introduction of Knowledge, ed. F.J. Furnivall for the Early English Text Society (London: [n.p.], 1870), p.214.

50-Berna Moran on behalf of English Language and Literature Dept. of Istanbul University undertook archival research about the Turks in official documents from the 15th to the 18th centuries in the British Library. The research, which was later published by Istanbul University chronologically includes documents in the form of letters news reports plays, poems etc. See Berna Moran, The Bibliography of the English Publications About the Turks From the 15th Century to the 18th Century (Istanbul: Istanbul University Press, no.1050, 1964). Further reference to this work will be given after quotations in the text or footnotes, by mentioning its shortened title, 'The Bibliography'.

51-Newes from Vienna the 5. day of August 1566 of the strong Towne and Gastell of Jula in Hungary; translated out of hye Almaine into English. (London: J. Awdeley, 1566). Four pages, in British Museum, London. See: The Bibliography, p. 20.

52-R. Stanforde, A Geographical and Anthological Description of All the Empires and Kingdoms (London: Simon Waterson, 1607).

53-R. Carr, The Mahumetane or Turkish Historie (London: T. Este, 1600).

54-Richard Knolles, General History of the Turks, fifth ed. (London: A. Islip, 1638).

55-Eleanor Bisbee, The New Turks: Pioneers of the Republic 1920-1950 (Philadelphia: University Press, 1951), p.7.

56-P. Rycaut, The Present State of the Ottoman Empire, rpt.(New York: Arno Press, 1971). Further reference to this work will be given after quotations in the text or footnotes, by mentioning its shortened title, 'The Present State'.