“Secret Correspondence” in Habsburg–Ottoman Communication in the First Half of the Seventeenth Century

János Szabados
University of Szeged
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 12 Issue 2  (2023):3–36 DOI 10.38145/2023.2.194

For the Habsburg Monarchy in the seventeenth century, it was very important to collect, send to Vienna, and evaluate up-to-date information on the Ottoman Empire. Following the Long Turkish War (1591/1593–1606), it was necessary in the 1620s to organize, alongside couriers and other channels of correspondence (e. g. the Venetian post), a cost-effective and sustainable system with which to transmit news and, in part, intelligence. In this essay, I present the historiography of the “institution” known as the “Secret Correspondence” and the history of the organization and reorganizations of the system. I also establish a typology of the people involved in the correspondence, namely 1) letter forwarders, 2) letter forwarders who also wrote secret reports, and
3) spies who wrote secret reports regardless of their location (in this case, the person was more important than the information). In the first half of the seventeenth century (1624 to 1658), the system of “Secret Correspondence” had to be reorganized several times (mostly due to lack of funds). In each case, the main challenge was to find and continuously employ the right people, so the role of the recruiter was also important. The political situation in the abovementioned period had an obvious impact on the functioning of the system, too. My research is based on documents from the Viennese archives (Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Haus-, Hof-, und Staatsarchiv; Kriegsarchiv, Finanz- und Hofkammerarchiv), which have helped me to offer a more detailed and nuanced understanding of the “Secret Correspondence” than found in the existing secondary literature.

Keywords: Habsburg-Ottoman diplomacy, intelligence, flow of information, information channels, typology of the informants

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