The Sultan’s Clock-Organ, 1599

Lansing Collins describes how, in honour of a previous gift sent in the other direction, Elizabeth I presented Sultan Mohammed III with an elaborate clock, surmounted by singing birds that shook their wings.

This is the story of two musical instruments, one an organ sent West from Constantinople in AD 757 and the other an elaborate clock-organ sent back to Constantinople eight hundred and forty-two years later. Not too much is known about the first, a gift from Constantine V to Pepin the Short, the younger son of Charles Martel and King of the Franks.

A partial description of the second, however, appears in two Elizabethan documents, one of which is the diary of the man who built it. The clock-organ was presented to the Ottoman Sultan Mohammed III by Queen Elizabeth, though it was paid for by the London merchants doing business in the Ottoman Empire.

Constantine’s reasons for sending Pepin an organ are not clear. The son of Leo III, the Iconoclast, and an able General and administrator, Constantine was an even more violent opponent of religious images than his father. He not only had broken up religious pictures, relics, mosaics, and statues, but also tried to dissolve all monasteries and nunneries, often forcing the monks and nuns to marry one another.

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