Nicknamed “The Thunderbolt” for the lightning speed of his maneuvers, Bayezid was the son of Sultan Murad I of the Ottoman Empire. Bayezid began his career as governor of Anatolia (part of Turkey) and gained the throne in 1389 upon the death of his father.
In the 40 years prior to Bayezid’s ascension to the throne, the Ottoman Turks had crossed the Sea of Marmara and acquired large sections of land in eastern Europe, though they had not conquered Constantinople. Bayezid first dealt with revolts in both Anatolia and the Balkans. The remarkable swiftness with which he moved across the Sea of Marmara to direct these operations earned him his nickname.
Bayezid waged a war of extermination in Thrace (the European section of the Byzantine Empire). He was called to Anatolia in 1394, where he put down more revolts against his rule. His blockade of Constantinople led Byzantine Emperor Manuel II to plead for help from Christian Europe. Pope Boniface IX called for a crusade and King Sigismund of Hungary and the dukes of the French provinces of Burgundy and Nevers led an army of between 50,000-100,000 men to eastern Europe.
Bayezid met the crusader force at Nicopolis on September 28, 1396. He routed the European army and ended any chance for western Europe to relieve the pressure on Constantinople. From that time forward, the Ottoman possession of the Balkans region was secure.
Following his victory at Nicopolis, Bayezid concentrated on reducing Constantinople. He continued the blockade and seemed nearly ready to launch an all-out assault when he was summoned in a letter from Tamerlane (see no. 36). Tamerlane was irritated by Bayezid’s actions in eastern Turkey and Syria.
He commanded Bayezid to return all land he had taken from the Byzantines. The irony of one Moslem Turk commanding another to be good to the Orthodox Christian Byzantines was not lost on Bayezid. He refused the sum¬ mons and sent back an insolent reply, which led to an all-out confrontation between the two greatest Turkish leaders of the day.
Bayezid marched into eastern Anatolia; Tamerlane marched east and met him at Angora. The two armies maneuvered for some time before Tamerlane forced Bayezid into battle by cutting off the Ottomans from their water supply. The battle was hard-fought, but Tamerlane prevailed and Bayezid was brought as a prisoner before him. Tamerlane treated his prisoner as a slave, and Bayezid is reputed to have undergone numerous humiliations prior to his death in Baghdad one year later.