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In 1822 Castlereagh committed suicide and George Canning was appointed as the new British Foreign Secretary, a position he kept until his death in 1827. Castlereagh as Foreign Secretary had played a leading role in the defeat of Napoleon and was very keen to use the Congress System to restore peace in Europe; Canning however was more hostile to the Congress System as he believed British interests lay outside Europe and he had no good relationship with the other European statesmen.

By his death in 1827 he had played a major role in the death of the Congress System but had also managed to successfully maintain British interests.

At this time the Ottoman Empire was very large containing South Eastern Europe and parts of Asia and North Africa. However as it was such a huge ramshackle of different nationalities and religions in order for it to be governed effectively it needed a strong leadership from Constantinople, which the Turkish Sultan of this time couldn’t offer, since 1815 the Ottoman Empire had been in decline.

(The Ottoman Empire) After France’s defeat previously Russia was now considered the biggest threat to the balance of power in Europe.

It had great military power due to the seemingly unlimited supply of peasant conscripts to its armed services. The weak Ottoman Empire was always being watched by Russia who was continuously pushing its boundaries Southwards towards Constantinople and the Straits.

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Russia was hoping to gain land and access through the Black Sea into the Mediterranean. Britain feared that if this occurred Russia would be able to threaten British trade and naval dominance in that area and also its important trade routes to India.

Essay On The Eastern Question

Britain was not committed to maintaining the Empire but did not want to see it fall to Russia, however it was in the best interests for Austria to strengthen the Ottoman Empire as it was a useful buffer against Russian expansion and Austria had no designs on the land itself. France also wanted to see the Ottoman Empire preserved as it had long standing political and commercial links with Turkey and hoped to extend its influence over the area via the Pasha of Egypt, Mehmet Ali.

At the Congress of Vienna the major European powers had restored monarchies to every European country but the 19th Century has been labelled ‘The Age of Nationalism’ as individual countries wanted the right to look after their own interests free from the influence of a foreign power. The old monarchical powers such as Austria and Russia were terrified of revolution and the European powers all had a solid stance to crush any revolts. However the Greek uprising of 1822 against the Ottoman Empire was different. The deeply religious Russians were concerned with their fellow Orthodox Christians fighting to free themselves from Muslim rule.

It seemed likely that Russia would become involved in this conflict as the Russians saw themselves as the unofficial guardians of the Orthodox religion and also relations between the Ottoman Empire and Russia were already poor as the Russians had been left feeling aggrieved after the Ottomans pulled out of the 1812 Bucharest Agreement. There was also a lot of sympathy for the Greek Revolution in Britain, especially throughout the educated elite; there were many volunteers who went there to fight for the Greeks such as Lord Byron the romantic poet who eventually died for the cause.

The Greeks had even sent a deputation to Britain begging for help. The sympathy increased for the Greeks when the Turks conducted a massacre of Greek Orthodox Christians and murdered the Patriarch of Constantinople on Easter Sunday in 1821. In April 1821 the Greeks of Morea killed thousands of the local Turks and the Turks then retaliated with even worse horrors. This caused another surge in European public sympathy and in 1823 Canning recognized the Greeks as Co-belligerents, which meant he recognised Greeks right to take up arms against an unpopular Turkish regime.

This sympathy for the Greeks however, was strongest in Russia, where it was going to be hard for the government to ignore such public feeling. The Tsar Alexander I initially wanted to intervene but Metternich, who arguing against supporting Nationalistic causes on the grounds that all revolutions must be prevented and that they were all centred from Paris, dissuaded him. However in December 1825 Tsar Alexander I died and the new Tsar, Nicholas I was ready for immediate intervention with or without international cooperation.

He wanted to establish himself quickly in the eyes of his people and Europe and to avenge atrocities against Greek Orthodox Christians; also weakening the Turkish Empire would bring benefits to Russia. Canning now had to make sure the Russians didn’t gain too much in this area. Turkey needed help to fight the Greek revolt and turned to Mehmet Ali, who held land in Egypt directly as a favour from the Turkish Sultan and was therefore obliged to help the Sultan if his interest were threatened.

Between 1826 and 1827 an Egyptian army, under Mehmet Ali’s son Ibrahim Pasha, gained the upper hand over the Greek rebels. Canning tried to prevent Russia entering a war by sending Wellington to St Petersburg to offer solving the dispute by mediation to the new Tsar. Canning decided Britain must act to: * Prevent Turkey being weakened too much as it was a useful buffer against Russian expansion in the Balkans. * Make sure Russia didn’t make too much advantage e. g. possession of Constantinople He may also have intervened to break up the Congress System, which he despised; he knew Anglo Russian cooperation would infuriate Metternich. The outcome was the Protocol of St Petersburg of April 1926 with which the British and the Russians offered mediation to the Turks as long as the Greeks retained some form of self-government. Britain, Russia and France confirmed this by attending the July 1827 Treaty of London where they guaranteed Greek self-government by force if necessary and a joint naval expedition set out for Greece.

Canning was now under great pressure as the Austrians and Prussians objected to this support of revolution and the Turks were refusing to sign the treaty. In August 1827 Canning died, probably brought on by overwork. Meanwhile the joint 27-ship fleet was blockading the Turkish-Egyptian fleet of 81 ships in the Greek, Navarino Bay. Though under orders to avoid hostilities, the British Admiral Codrington decided to force the issue by sailing into the bay. The Turks opened fire and a full-scale battle developed lasting four hours.

It was a disaster for the Turks and their allies; 61 ships and about 4000 men were lost in October 1827. There was no prospect of the Turks recapturing Greece whose independence was recognised in 1830 and her frontiers were decided in 1832. In the end Canning’s work in the Near East had mixed success. He had helped to achieve a completely independent Greece however his wider aim of limiting Russian gains by cooperation with her had been ruined by Wellington who failed to grasp Canning’s intentions.

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Essay On The Eastern Question
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