'I regret exceedingly not to be a man
and to be able to fight in the war.'
A FEW WEEKS after the birth of Prince Leopold, there was a riot in Bethelem where a fight over custody of the Church of the Nativity had broken out between monks of the Roman Catholic Church supported by France, and monks of the Orthodox Church supported by Russia. Bethlehem was at that time within the immense and crumbling Turkish empire which, stretching from the Adriatic to the Persian Gulf, from the Black Sea through Syria and Palestine to the deserts of Arabia, was ready for conquest and division.
Turkish police, Tsar Nicholas I complained, had connived at the murder of those Orthodox monks who had been killed in the rioting; and within a matter of days a Russian army was marching towards the Danube on a crusade to protect the Holy Places from Islam. Notes, memoranda, despatches and threats flew from St Petersburg to Paris, from Constantinople through Vienna to London, and crackled uncertainly over the electric telegraph.
By October 1853 Turkey was at war with Russia. England for the moment remained neutral. And then on 30 November the Russian Black Sea fleet under Admiral Nachimoff sailed out of Sebastopol, found a Turkish flotilla off the south shore of the Black Sea at Sinope and sank its every ship. Nearly four thousand sailors were lost, and many of them, so it was widely reported in the press, were shot by Russian gunners as they floundered in the water.
British opinion was outraged by what was commonly referred to as