In the nineteenth century, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia coined the phrase the “sick man of Europe” to define the Ottoman Empire. He used this phrase in a series of confidential letters that he exchanged in 1853 with British ambassador Sir George Hamilton Seymour.
Nicholas I was the first world leader to realize that the Ottoman Empire had become ossified and weak. He asserted in his letters that the Ottomans do not possess the military capability to defend their vast territory and economic interests, and that the fall of their empire was imminent. He invited the British to join his government in the exercise of drawing plans for dividing the Ottoman territory among the traditional European powers and the emerging powers in the Levant.
The British Establishment of that time was taken by surprise by the Tsar’s view. They, like the French and other West European powers, believed that the Ottomans were a powerful empire and, notwithstanding the few military defeats that they had suffered in the last two centuries, they would continue to exist forever.