Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq (1522 in Comines – October 28, 1592; Latin: Augerius Gislenius Busbequius; sometimes Augier Ghislain de Busbecq) was a 16th-century Flemish writer, herbalist and diplomat in the employ of three generations of Austrian monarchs. He served as ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in Constantinople and in 1581 published a book about his time there, Itinera Constantinopolitanum et Amasianum, re-published in 1595 under the title of Turcicae epistolae or "Turkish Letters".
He was the illegitimate son of the Seigneur de Busbecq, Georges Ghiselin, and his mistress Catherine Hespiel, and was later legitimated. He grew up at Busbecq Castle (in present-day Bousbecque, Nord, France), studying in Wervik and Comines - at the time, all part of Spanish West Flanders, a province of the Holy Roman Empire.
His intellectual gifts led him to advanced studies at the Latin-language University of Leuven, where he registered in 1536 under the name Ogier Ghislain de Comines. From there, he went on to study at a number of well-known universities in northern Italy, including taking classes from Giovanni Battista Egnazio in Venice.
Busbecq, like his father and grandfather, chose a career of public service. He entered into the service of the Austrian monarch Ferdinand I in approximately 1552. In 1554, he was sent to England for the marriage in Winchester of the English queen Mary Tudor to Philip II of Spain.
In 1554 and again in 1556, Ferdinand named him ambassador to the Ottoman Empire under the rule of Suleiman the Magnificent. His task for much of the time he was in Constantinople was the negotiation of a border treaty between his employer (the future Holy Roman Emperor) and the Sultan over the disputed territory of Transylvania. He had no success in this mission while Rustem Pasha was the Sultan's vizier, but ultimately reached an accord with his successor Semiz Ali Pasha.
During his stay in Constantinople, he wrote his best known work, the Turkish Letters, a compendium of personal correspondence to his friend, and fellow Hungarian diplomat, Nicholas Michault, in Flanders and some of the world's first travel literature. These letters describe his adventures in Ottoman politics and remain one of the principal primary sources for students of the 16th century Ottoman court. He also wrote in enormous detail about the plant and animal life he encountered in Turkey. His letters also contain the only surviving word list of Crimean Gothic, a Germanic dialect spoken in some isolated regions of the Crimean at the time.
Busbecq discovered an almost complete copy of the Res Gestae Divi Augusti, an account of Roman emperor Augustus' life and accomplishments, at the Monumentum Ancyranum in Ancyra. He identified its origin from his reading of Suetonius and published a copy of parts of it in his Turkish Letters.
He was an avid collector, acquiring valuable manuscripts, rare coins and curios of various kinds. Among the best known of his discoveries was a 6th-century copy of Dioscorides' De Materia Medica, a compendium of medicinal herbs. The emperor purchased it after Busbecq's recommendation; the manuscript is now known as the Vienna Dioscorides. His passion for herbalism led him to send Turkish tulip bulbs to his friend Charles de l'Écluse, who acclimatized them to life in the Low Countries. Less than a century later tulip mania was sweeping the United Provinces and ruining its financial markets. Busbecq has also been credited with introducing the lilac to Europe (though this is debated) as well as the Angora goat.
He returned from Turkey in 1562 and became a counsellor in the court of Emperor Ferdinand in Vienna and tutor to his grandchildren, the sons of future Emperor Maximilian II. Busbecq ended his career as the guardian of Elisabeth of Austria, Maximilian's daughter and widow of French king Charles IX. He continued to serve the Austrian monarchy, observing the development of the French Wars of Religion on behalf of Rudolf II. Finally, in 1592 and nearing the end of his life, he chose to leave his residence in Mantes outside of Paris for his native West Flanders, but was assaulted and robbed by members of the Catholic League near Rouen. He died a few days later. His body is buried in the castle chapel at Saint-Germain-sous-Cailly, and his heart was embalmed and sent to the family tomb in Bousbecque.
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