Thursday 19 August 2010

A War over Keys??

We all know that there are many examples in History where war has started over, what seem to be, rather silly reasons. For the A Level course I am teaching, The Experience of Warfare 1855-1929; I have been researching the Crimean War (1855-1856), and I must say the short term causes of the war seem to be, to me, borderline ridiculous.
Crimea at the time was part of the Ottoman Empire-the Ottoman Empire had control of the ports that led out to the Mediterranean Sea-favourable for trade. This is something that Russia lacked and was envious of-Tsar Nicholas I even alluded to wanting to carve up the Turkish empire, calling it the 'sick man of Europe'. The Tsar saw the Ottoman Empire as weak and could see huge benefits in taking a large proportion of it.
According to historian Christopher Hibbert the Prime Minister, Lord Aberdeen, and the Foreign Secretary, Lord Clarendon did not want war with Russia.  But the more powerful Lord Palmerston, Home Secretary and Russophobe, saw Russia's imperialism as a threat to the British Empire, in particular to India. He saw that the areas around the Med needed to remain in friendly hands, that of the Turks, in order to maintain the route the British took to India and continue lucrative trade.
A quarrel in the Holy Land provided a reason for tensions to escalate not only between Turkey and Britain with Russia, but also with France and Russia.  The monks of the Roman Catholic Church, supported by France, and the monks of the Orthodox Church, supported by Russia, were arguing over rights and privileges concerning the Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  In 1852 the Turks, being the imperial rulers of the Holy Lands, decided that the Roman Catholic monks should have the keys to these important churches-aligning themselves with France.

In 1853 the Tsar sent Prince Menshikov (left) to maintain the privileges of the Orthodox Christians and to insist on Russia's rights to protect the Ottoman Empire's Orthodox Christian subjects.Arguments over the holy places came to a head when the Roman Catholic monks placed their own silver star over the manger in the Church of the Nativity. The Orthodox monks tried to prevent the Catholic monks from doing this and in the struggle some were killed. The Russians thought that the Turkish authorities had connived in the murder of the monks-within days a Russian army was marching towards the Danube in order to protect the Holy Places from Islam.  
The Russians demanded that Turkish troops withdraw from Christian Montenegro, where they were suppressing a revolt-this demand was rejected.  To 'encourage' Turkish cooperation, the Russian government announced that unless Turkey did what they wanted, Russian troops would occupy Moldavia and Wallachia-countries under joint protectorate of Turkey and Russia as they bordered the boundaries of both the Russian and Turkish empires.
Behind the scenes the British ambassador in Turkey, Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, had been encouraging the Sultan to reject the Russian demands. Learning of the Russian threats, Britain and France decided to intervene. On June 15th 1853, a combined British and French fleet was sent to the Dardanelles to show solidarity with Turkey.
A draft compromise, drawn up by Austria, was rejected by the Sultan-perhaps he was buoyed up by the support of Britain and France? In July the Tsar ordered Russian troops into Moldavia and Wallachia. It was still hoped by many that war would not come. But, on 5th October 1853, hoping Britain and France would support Turkey rather than see the Ottoman Empire collapse, the Sultan declared war on Russia.
Weeks later thousands would be slaughtered as the result of strategic mishaps-young men cut down in their prime.  All over keys??
Let me know what you think...


Anonymous said...

I think this war was much mre political than religous and the "keys" were probaly used more as an excuse for the already restless Russia to invade Turkey.
This would probably have resulted in a minor power struggle had it not been for the unhelpful interference of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe resulting in an offer of peace being rejected. As it was, the situation escalated (not helped by the relaxed attitude of the Sultan)and the Crimean War was the conclusion.

TammiMagee said...

very insightful-your thoughts are very relevant. An excellent and interesting comment!

Anonymous said...

Malcom :)

Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if the keys were the trigger for the Crimean War!

The Sultan of the Ottoman Empire was being WAY too nonchalant, Britain was pulling strings behind the scenes (the meddling Lord Stradford de Redcliffe) and Russia was just being a bully.

In the long run, i think the keys most likely were the reason, because Russia made them the reason, they just wanted an excuse to basically push Turkey into declaring war, as Russia will have no doubt seen Turkey as no threat as at that time they were in no way fit to fight a war.

In my view, it was the actions of the Sultan, and British/Russian delegates, that culminated in the Crimean War.

TammiMagee said...

Malcom-aka Michael,
your answer is a comprehensive one-very astute! You've successfully posted an interesting comment!

Anonymous said...

A war over keys really does seem too petty. The Sultan sided with the Catholic monks because Russia sided with the Orthodox church but this is just a front. Russia wanted to break up the Ottomen empire and the Sultan, who seems arrogant rather than strategic, knew Britain and France would help the weakened Empire.
In my view, Britain's motives were purely selfish, if it wasn't for the overland route and the threat of Russia potentialy attacking parts of their Empire, Britain would not have risked war.

Anonymous said...

i believe this war had several under-lying causes which were easily triggered by petty events.

Russia was desperate to invade the Ottoman-Empire and would have used any excuse to do so. They believed invading the Crimea would be an extremely influential move in strengthing their Empire; as they would be able to use the port to trade and transport goods all over the world, from the med, which before had not been possible to them.

Britain however, was not prepared to allow Russia to strengthen their already great Empire by gaining this land, as not only would it cut off the land passage Britain currently used to get through to India for trade, but more importantly, it would mean Russia taking a giant leap closer to part of the British Empire. Which Lord Palmerston (home secretary) saw a great threat.

I believe these reasons to be the under lying reasons on why the war broke out. However, what actually sparked the match to start the fire, is much more petty and pathetic.

As soon as the dispute over which religioius group should own the keys to religiois buildings in the Holy Land, Russia saw their chance of war. And the decision of the Sultan to support the Roman Catholics fitted their plan perfectly. Not only did the Sultan provoke the Russians with this decision; but he also decided to ignore (after influence from Lord Stratford de Redcliffe-Birtish Embassador), the demands of the Russian Tsar: to withdraw from christian Montenegro. Knowing he had the support of the French and the British armies, the Sultan then had no problem in declaring war on Russia.

Overall i believe war was always bound to break out in this region at this time. Due to Russia wanting a bigger Empire and Britain wanting to protect their's. All that was needed for war to begin, was a group of little incidents/bad decisions(in this case both), to start the chain reaction of war.

TammiMagee said...

an informed opinion-you've managed to post an interesting comment too. Well done

TammiMagee said...

a comprehensive view on the outbreak of war-you've taken it all into account and have demonstrated your knowledge very well. Excellent stuff-an interesting post.

Anonymous said...

My personal view is the the entire war was a result of the Russian Empire looking for an excuse to gain more territories for a greater profit and to do so creating an excuse to gain such territories.

However I am not suggesting that this is the only reason. Other Factors such as blatant ignorance on behalf of the Ottoman Empire and its Sultan, leading to an inability to calm Russia's fears about the Ottoman Empire, this attitude however was created by western delegates (such as Lord Stradford de Redcliffe) pulling strings behind the scenes

Overall the war started over a spat of greed, bravado and ignorance.

Anonymous said...


I have to agree with Soibhan and Dan, I think that the war was inevitable. But there are particular things that contributed to this, tension between Catholic monks and Orthodox church didn't help towards the matter. Because Sultan sided with Catholic and The russian's sided with orthodox church. I also think Sultan Made the situation between this conflict because personal i think that Sultan Milked this situation because they knew that the Ottoman Empire would always help them if they was it trouble.
Also i think that Russia wanted more terrority this is why i said the war was inevitable because they had a very strong army and they thought that English and French wouldn't but up much of a resistance.

So overall i think that the war was over Greed, and being provoked.

Anonymous said...

I think that this war was mainly due to Russia's craving for land and to increase their empire.

I also think the Sultan's attitude towards the situation did not help. The Sultan had a relaxed attitude because he relied on Britain and France to come to Turkey's aid in a time of war.

Anonymous said...

I think that the war was started because of Russia's greed, and the keys were just an exuse to force Turkey into declaring war.
the fact the Sultan was so sure that Brittain and France would intervene if a war started did not help, it just made war seem to be the only option.

Anonymous said...

I think that the war could have been avoided if the Sultan had been less relaxed and less confident that Britain would intervene and come to the rescue. Britain was determined to maintain the overland route to their empire in India but the Sultan should not have been so dependent on this in the defence of his own country. If he had been more focussed on making his own defences strong then he could have stopped the invasion or negotiated better and their would have been no need for Britain to help out, and therefore no Crimean War.

TammiMagee said...

a concise answer-exellent post.

TammiMagee said...

interesting may have a couple of details mixed up-where you say about the Sultan being helped by the Ottoman empire-I think you mean the Ottoman empire being helped by European countries, as the Sultan was the head of the Ottoman empire.
Well done.

TammiMagee said...

Paul, Dean and Laura,
Comments all excellent-you see now I am running out of new things to say? Probably the same as you who had to follow so many other comments! Laura, I like your new angle on things when you talk of Turkey building up their own defences. Well done all of you.

Anonymous said...


I think the war over keys was mainly over Russias greed, it seems like the Russians just wanted more land, the keys were more of an excuse to start the war. The sultan gave the priests the key, he probably would have known it would cause major conteversy. I think he considered this, and went ahead anyway and relyed on Britain and France for help.

Theresa Bruno said...

I love your blog! As for the keys remark, who knows. Europe and the Middle East was a powder keg back then. Any movement would set off a war. As anonymous said, world leaders look for the littlest of reasons to go to war.

Anonymous said...

E.J.L :

i belive that the Crimean war was a result of both Religious differences/disputes but more significantly the desire for valuable regions.

I say this as i do belive that the disputes between the Roman Orthodox and the Russian Orthodox did act as a catalyst in the causes of the war. Especially the riots in Bethlehem, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire, where a number of (Russian) Orthodox monks were killed fighting with French monks. I belive these deaths gave the Russians the excuse to attack they had been waiting for.As was the dispute over the keys, i belive it was just an excuse for Russia to unleash their greedy want for access to open water and more land.

In my opinion the crimean war was mainly a result of both Britains desperate need to keep the Med and surrounding countries/islands etc in "Friendly hands" and the Russians need to gain the area of Crimea so that they would have access to open water.

So Btritain did not want the Russians to gain control of Crimea as they knew that this would cause problems for them and their trade routes, especially to India. This would then have a negative impact on the bonds of the British Empire, so it was crucial that Russia did not gain possession of Crimea.And Russia wanted Crimea as without it they have no acces to open (Warm) water, limiting their trade opportunities. So when Russia saw that the Ottoman empire was weakening, referred to as the "Sick man of Europe" they took it as an opportunity to strike and take what they wanted.

Anonymous said...


All in all, i believe that the dispute over the keys was completely blown out of proportion purely to create a reason for Russia to kick the Ottoman empire while it was down. By doing this, Russia would be able to access warm seas and gain more control and land. However this then created the knock-on effect of Britain having to get involved to make sure that Russia don't get a hold of Crimea because they need it to stay in friendly hands so that they can still access India at their leisure. So the Crimean war was a result of both Britain and Russia's want of control over the med seas and the keys were just an excuse to declare war.

Anonymous said...

I believe that the Crimean War began for reasons such as:
Russia's lack of a port. If they had been able to leave the country by boat without war being started then they would have. Their geographical location hindered their progress and wealth and would therefore force them to become violent; The Ottoman Empire's state at the time was believed to be quite weak, giving the Russian's an opportunity to take something they needed with ease; Racism against Russia (the home secretary being a Russophobe) and the threat of their power against their empire (if the Russians gained control of Crimea, they would not be able to reach India where most of their trade and wealth was from); Religion with quarrells over Holy Land and the Nativity Star, also the killing of Monks which sparked suspicion of the Turkish government and ultimately lead to the war beginning.
All in all, I believe that the main reasons for war were down to the British wanting their empire to stay intact, the geographical location of Russia and (just as most war is caused by) religious beliefs.

J.G :)

Anonymous said...


I think that the keys were used as a way to justify Russia invading Turkey and declaring war.

Tensions definitely escalated when France and Russia argued about rights regarding the Church of the Nativity and Britain definitely didn't help by sending in Lord Stratford de Redcliffe with an offer of peace. Britain was too concerned about losing access to the Med and the Russians were too desperate to gain control of Crimea.

In my opinion it was both Britain's meddling and the Russians need for control that started the Crimean War.

Anonymous said...

I believe the Crimean war was caused by a number of factors. Firstly, I think the main cause of the war is the strategic value of the Mediterranean and Crimean Region. The seas to the south of Russia would have been invaluable to them and opened up the possibility of sending out trade ships and more importantly, military ships. Although Russia would have claimed that they wanted to take Crimea because of the religious and cultural similarities, the main reason was to take the strategically valuable southern sea. Britain would also join this war solely for the strategic value of the Mediterranean sea. If they did not join the war, Russia would have taken the Mediterranean sea, and cut off many of Britain's trade routes, causing problems with the economy. The religious factors of the cause of the Crimean war were not as influential in the cause as the strategic value of the Mediterranean and Crimean Regions. WB :)

Anonymous said...


I believe the dispute over the keys provided a convenient excuse for Russia to invade land belonging to the Ottoman Empire. It's doubtful they'd have gone to war purely over religious reasons and Tsar Nicholas I had previosuly showed intent to seize Ottoman land. Crimea in particular was exremely useful to Russia as it allowed access to the Mediterranean sea which Russia desperately needed in order to send ships for trade and military purposes.

Anonymous said...

I believe the Crimean war happened for a number of reasons. I think that the keys just aggravated tension that was already present and was simply an excuse for Russia to invade the Ottoman empire.

I think the other reasons for it starting was due to Russia wanting to obtain water ways connecting the Black sea and the Mediterranean sea. I also think that religious disputes between the Orthodox and the Catholics was also a large factor. I think probably one of the largest factors was the fact that St. Petersburg demanded that Ottoman empire recognize what they thought was their right to protect eastern orthodox believers in Turkey. Turkey refused and Russia sent troops to Ottoman Territory.

Anonymous said...

I think that although the keys were a contributing factor in the cause for war, they were not the most important.

At the time, both Britain and Russia needed access to the Med which was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. It was Russia's only connection to warm water, and they wanted to take control of the ports. Britain needed a route to India to allow them to trade with and support their own empire.

Although religious differences and the keys triggered disagreements between the Catholics and Orthodox, and led to France supporting the Ottoman Empire. Britain was fearful that the Russian Empire would become more powerful and stop their access to the trade routes to India, this meant that they sided with the Ottoman Empire. With Russia issuing an ultimatum to the Ottoman Empire, to either comply with their demands or they would invade Moldavia Wallachia, Turkey was forced to declare war.


Anonymous said...

I feel the Crimean War started due to various reasons; the keys angered Russia and gave them more of an excuse towards the idea of attack. Other reasons i believe the war started are that Britain didn't want to loose important trade connections so felt they had to intervene in order to keep their country wealthy and profitable, i also think that the Russians put names on the turkish empire to weaken it even more so they could gain more authority and land.

Overall, the main reason that stands out as being the real cause is the Russians desire for more land and the key situation occurred to cover up this reason.


Anonymous said...

I think that this war was caused by the stubborness of both sides. Russia wanted to protect the people in the area who were of Russian descent so there was some political aspects but religous conflict in the area and the zeal with which people stuck to their beliefs, in the end ended up drawing much larger parties such as Britain in the fight. So it was a mixture of various things, political, religous, military (Russia wanted access to the area to get ships onto the water) etc.

Anonymous said...

I think that the war was not because of the keys but that was an excuse for the war to start.
The Russians wanted the Crimean region and were waiting for any excuse at all to take it. Russian Orthodox monks being killed was just the action that got the Russians to provoke the Ottoman empire into war.
The British were partly to blame as well because of Lord Palmerston wanting to fight them. Also Lord Stratford de Redcliffe encouraging the Sultan to reject any demands from the Russians no matter what they are.

Anonymous said...

I personally believe that the Crimean War was more the result of a need for power than religious rights.

Russia's desire to have access to a port for trade and military purposes made Nicholas I see the Ottoman Empire's weaknesses as an opportunity to take Crimea as his own. This made the British fear that the Russians would become more powerful and that their control over Crimea would prevent them from having access to important trade countries such as India. I think the advice the British ambassador gave to the Sultan is another cause of the Crimean War because it ruled out all peaceful attempts of settling the dispute. The riot in Bethlehem and the deaths of the monks was the final straw, and it gave Russia the excuse to be able to declare war in order to become more powerful.

Therefore I believe that who had access to the Mediterranean Sea was the real argument, and these countries were all willing to go to war in order to make sure it was them.


Anonymous said...

In my mind, the Crimean War was mainly to do with the need for trade and access to the Mediterranean Sea but other factors were at hand.

The Tsar at the time (Nicholas I) was in desperation to find access to open water (that wasn't treacherous with ice) after various failed attempts in the Pacific ocean and the vulnerability of the severely weakened and stretched Turks (Ottoman Empire) gave the Tsar an opportunity to gain his access to the ports and open sea past Constantinople and into the Mediterranean. This worried the British as they would lose their fast access to some of their Empire and important trade allies (e.g. India).

The British ambassador didn't help the cause of a peaceful intervention by encouraging the Sultan to reject the demands of the Russians. The slaughter of the Russian Orthodox Monks in Bethlehem just gave the Tsar an excuse for war in the struggle for power.


TammiMagee said...

All excellent contributions so far-very detailed, great use of key words. A few of you have mentioned Stradford De Redcliffe-excellent work-means you must have done some reading (even if it was just the post on here). A couple of you need to be careful of being a little vague with what you've written-lack of evidence/examples will not be good in the exam.
The most concise answer so far goes to WB.

Anonymous said...

As far as I can see the factors for the start of the war is more toward the continuation of reasons leading to an escalation of the situation.

To start, with the crimean region was very much a Russian population despite being part of the Ottoman empire as it followed the Russian orthodox and the people there were of a Russian decent, this meant Russian wanted to own and protect these people but the Ottoman empires wasn't going to be giving them up so easily. The next factor is that of a light bit of murder in the holy lands in turkey when a nativity star was put up on a church, this coursed disputes between Russian orthodox monks and roman catholic monks where the Russians monks ended up dead. this ended up coursing arguments between the two countries so Russian wanted to take part of their empire, the crimean region. One of the last factors would be Russians need for access to the Mediterranean sea, as it is bordered by land and the icy regions to the north Russian needed a port to set up "trade routs" to other country. so by "acquiring" crimea they would then have asses to hot waters.

All together many contributing factors pushed Russia and the Ottoman empire into war over crimea.


Anonymous said...

In my opinion the main reason for the actual war between the Ottoman empire and Russia would have been because of the disputes between the Russian Orthodox monks and the French Catholic monks about the keys to the Holy Lands buildings. Without this dispute Russia would not have had the oppurtunity to be able to do what it did and occupy Moldavia and Wallachia. So without the monks dispute they would not have had what the Russians considered as a justified reason to mobilize its army and attempt to gain access to the Crimean port. So although it was the main reason of the war it was inevitable to happen either way as Russia needed access to the Crimean port and access to warm waters in order to strengthen their empire and establish key trade routes. MP

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, i believe that the main reason that the Crimean war broke out was to do with the location of Crimiea and the access it had to important trade waters.

Russia had already identified that the ottoman empire was falling apart and wanted to take advantage of this factor so they could obtain Crimea. With Crimea they would have access to open water to trade and even launch military ships if needed.However Britain needed these routes so they could trade with and get to their empire.

I think that the incident with the keys just gave Russia an excuse to invade Turkey. This allowed Russia to look like they were the good guys fighting for their religious beliefs but were more concerned about obtaining Crimea for the economic reasons.

In conclusion, i believe that Russia would have declared war against Turkey with or without the the giving of the keys and therefore it due to the loaction of Crimea is why the war started.

Saler Saham said...

Is there another proposed and lesser-known excuse for the Crimean War? Hemp! It was an extremely important commodity in the navies of the day. It has been reported that canvas made from hemp from the area was far superior to other materials. Regardless' keys or hemp it is a war that still reverberates to this day. The Charge of the Light Brigade and headgear.