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THE ENEMY AT THE GATE by Andrew Wheatcroft


Habsburgs, Ottomans and the Battle for Europe

by Andrew Wheatcroft

Pub Date: May 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-465-01374-6
Publisher: Basic

Historian Wheatcroft (Centre for Publishing Studies/Univ. of Stirling; Infidels: A History of the Conflict Between Christendom and Islam, 2004, etc.) presents a blow-by-blow account of the Siege of Vienna of 1683.

Determined to “bring all people under Ottoman rule and under the authority of Islam,” Sultan Mehmed IV, along with his Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa, gathered their vast army—comprised of ferocious Tartars, janissaries and Balkan riders—and marched on Vienna, the seat of Christianity and Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I. The Ottomans might well have succeeded if the Germans and Polish cavalry hadn’t come to the Habsburgs’ rescue. Wheatcroft demonstrates a scholarly command of this multifaceted area of history, carefully sifting through the evidence on both sides, Western and Eastern. He dutifully chronicles the two-month showdown, which ended in the rout of the Turks by military leaders such as Prince Eugene of Savoy, Charles of Lorraine and Count Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg. While the Habsburg defenses’ were vulnerable, weakened by the Thirty Years’ War, the leaders were strong, the tactics effective and the Viennese stronghold substantial. Their outright fear of the enemy—“Turkish armies were terrifying to behold”—proved instrumental as well. In contrast, the Ottomans, under the vainglorious Vizier, underestimated the Habsburg strengths and could not control their own manpower; their confidence in victory proved “delusional.” Wheatcroft does a fine job marshaling much of the available new research, emphasizing the role of Hungary as “the battleground in the confrontation between two great empires.”

A highly specialized but informative study.