The Wardrobe of the Envoy: Hungarian Clothing Traditions of Habsburg Diplomatic Missions at the Sultan’s Court

von Zsuzsanna Cziráki

In terms of the interlocking fates of the Central European nations the statement is commonplace in historiography that obtaining the Hungarian and Bohemian crowns and ensuring them for the eastern – Austrian – branch of the Habsburg dynasty, was an essential condition for the development of the Habsburg Monarchy.  It is well-known that the marriages between the Habsburg siblings, Ferdinand and Maria, and the Jagiello children, Anna and Louis in 1515 played a prominent role in creating dynastic links between the crowns in Central Europe and paved the way for the Habsburgs to the composite monarchy. However, the first monarch of this conglomerate, Ferdinand I (1526–1564), was hardly able to exert the power and authority provided by the new situation. Along with Hungary, he also inherited a set of problems related to the Ottoman Empire. The once flourishing kingdom was being torn asunder by divisions and war. Sultan Suleiman (1521–1566) considered the territories taken from King Louis II Jagiello (1516–1526) after the Battle of Mohács (1526) to be his own. Transylvania, which had been broken off from the Kingdom of Hungary, was integrated into the system of tributary states surrounding the Ottoman Empire, while the central part of Hungary was brought under direct Ottoman rule. The Sultan disputed the rights of Ferdinand I to the remaining sections of the Kingdom of Hungary as well. However, the military superiority and unrivaled efficiency of the Ottoman army in the sixteenth century diminished in relation to the Habsburgs. The Peace of Zsitvatorok (1606) brought about a new, more balanced relationship between the two empires. On the field of diplomacy, the imperial envoys sent to Constantinople (Ottoman Turkish: Konstantiniyye) worked assiduously to maintain and regularly extend the peace ensured through difficult negotiations until the end of the century.

Johann Ludwig Kuefstein at the Sultan’s audience (1629).
©Osmanenmuseum Perchtoldsdorf OSM 3.22
Grand ambassador Hermann Czernin in Hungarian attire (ca. 1650)

Interestingly, the highest-ranking diplomatic representatives of the Habsburg dynasty wore Hungarian dress while performing their official roles at Diwan audiences in Constantinople, even though most of these diplomats did not have any connections to Hungary. The presence of Hungarian apparel, most often decorative Hungarian aristocratic attire, is clearly documented amongst the information related to clothing in the budgets of Habsburg delegations to Constantinople: mentes (which are a specific Hungarian form of a male pelisse) made from high quality materials, dolmans, Hungarian shoes, hats and tight Hungarian-style trousers are mentioned alongside with numerous decorative elements (plumes and belts as well as the buttons and froggings of overgarments).

Grand ambassador Johann Ludwig Kuefstein (1628–1629) precisely documented the composition of his wardrobe. His accounts show that at least thirty-four sets of Hungarian formal clothing were made at the tailors’ shops for the grand ambassador and his closest entourage. For Kuefstein, a red silk dolman and a “double lined” blue damask dolman as well as five others that were more simply produced from multicolored silk and damask can be identified from this stock of garments. In addition to this, there were five sets of ceremonial attire of outstanding quality for his steward. The full sets of clothing comprised of a dolman and a mente as well as trousers. They were all made in the Hungarian manner in matching colors and were often decorated with buttons and cords of hammered gold or silver.

Hungarian dolman and coat for the coronation of Leopold I (1655)
Esterházy Treasury, Museum of Applied Arts Budapest, Inventory number: 52_2770_nlt_5128

Mentions of the tailors’ names also appear in the documentation of the missions to the Sublime Porte. The general practice in the case of larger delegations was that numerous craftspeople were contracted for the smooth provision of everyday tasks during the mission, creating a mobile household around the ambassador that was almost entirely self-sufficient. The members of the envoy’s entourage – apart from scholarly educated employees such as a doctor, an apothecary and a secretary also included cooks, barbers, smiths, grooms, purchasing agents, jewelers and other assistants. Tailors responsible for the upkeep of the delegation’s wardrobe can also be included on this list. Based on Kuefstein’s accounts, we know the craftspeople working on the preparation of the garments. Above all, there was a certain master Ábel who fulfilled the orders to the greatest extent. Another two “Hungarian court tailors” (ungarischer Hofschneider) appear along with him, a certain János Kasanics (Khasanitsch), who prepared simpler sets of attire for lower ranking employees (pages, footmen, trumpeters and other servants), and Georg Schöffler, who made Kuefstein’s blue damask garment together with another eight sets of everyday attire.

Decoration of a mente in the possession of Duke Pál Esterházy (late 17th century)
Esterházy Treasury, Museum of Applied Arts Budapest, Inventory number: 52_2803_ka_10

The lavish Hungarian dresses were worn only during the Sultan´s audience. This was the exalted opportunity where the monarchs embodying the two states were able to face one another – one in person and the other through a representative. Accordingly, the ceremony included complex rituals that condensed the rich system of symbolism in the diplomacy of Constantinople. Hungarian aristocratic attire had been frequently used by the dynasty during court ceremonies for emphasizing its authority over the once undivided realm of St. Stephan. But what need was there to highlight the Hungarian royal title by wearing Hungarian dresses in Constantinople? To put it simple: the Habsburg ruler expected the Sultan and his vassals to recognize him equally as an emperor, but, on the other hand, the acceptance of his often-disputed claim to the Kingdom of Hungary was also amongst the priorities.  But more importantly, the Hungarian ornate transmitted a message of Habsburg sovereignty for the own subjects as well. Not unrelated to the Ottoman influence in the region, a portion of the Hungarian Estates time to time revolted against Habsburg rule in cooperation with the Ottoman tributary Principality of Transylvania. In fact, the ambassador in Constantinople represented the same political content as the ruler himself during Hungarian state ceremonials: both styled Hungarian, they stressed the right of the dynasty to the Hungarian crown not at least for those Hungarian magnates who disputed Habsburg rule. Whether overtly or covertly, this also included authority over the often-hostile Transylvania, once part of the old Kingdom of Hungary.  The Sultan´´’s court was considered to have been an important hub for European diplomacy and reflected precisely the entangled Central European political space. Regarding this, all the territorial claims in Central Europe appeared within the Habsburgs’ system for the representation of power, which was genuinely crystallized in the wearing of Hungarian attire in Constantinople.

Zsuzsanna Cziráki ist wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin am Forschungsbereich Digitale Historiographie und Editionen und seit Juli 2021 Projektleiterin des vom FWF Lise-Meitner-Programm geförderten Projektes „Die orientalische Diplomatie der Habsburgermonarchie 1606–1668“.


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