Don John is offered the kingdoms of Albania and Morea

October 18, 2010

A mysterious event, then very secret, but afterwards known by everyone, came to spur on in D. John his desire to continue the campaign according to the treaty of the League, and according to the continual demands of Pius V, the only one who raised his voice, without worldly interest, in absolute and saintly independence. D. John had entered Messina on All Saints’ day at the head of the Venetian fleet, towing the innumerable captive galleys, with their standards lowered, their flags dragging through the water, their cannon and arms crossed, forming trophies of war. Nothing seemed enough in Messina with which to feast and welcome the hero of Lepanto….

Pope St. Pius V

Photos by Philip Serracino Inglott & Vincent Ruf

While the feastings and rejoicings which lasted many days were still going on, there glided one night, among the many boats in the harbor, a Greek galley, of the kind which at that time brought the merchandise of the East to Italy. It was there several days, without attracting anyone’s attention, moored to the mole, unloading its cargo under the direction of the Captain, a portly Albanian, who was acquainted with the principal merchants of Messina. But one night, after the curfew had sounded, three men secretly disembarked from the Greek galley, and, guided by the Captain himself, went through the deserted streets, shrouded in ample cloaks, with hoods that hid their faces, two of whom seemed to regulate their firm steps by those of the third man, who went slowly and with fatigue.

View of Messina

Painted by Alexandre-Hyacinthe Dunouy

They gained the square del Piller, where was the statue of D. John; the great mole of the old castle stretched in front, constructed in the time of Arcadio and renovated lately by D. Garcia de Toledo, and towards it the hooded men went, stopping at a little door, which opened in the side looking towards the old arsenal. They were, no doubt, expected, as at the sound of their steps the door opened, and D. John of Austria’s secretary appeared in person, lantern in hand. Soto guided them, without a word, through dark and winding passages to a distant room, luxuriously furnished, in which he left them by themselves: the three mysterious visitors then took off their cloaks, and appeared in rich Albanian dresses, embroidered with gold and silver, with jewels and precious stones. Two of them were strong men in the prime of life, the third one was very old and bent, with a long white beard; the captain had remained respectfully behind at the entrance. D. John of Austria appeared at once, followed by Juan de Soto, and the three Albanians threw themselves at his feet, with marks of the greatest respect: the old man was unable to do this as quickly as he wished, and D. John was in time to prevent him.

The captain acted as interpreter when they presented their credentials and said who they were and where they came from. They were ambassadors from Albania and Morea and were come to offer D. John of Austria the crown of those kingdoms oppressed by the Turk, and to offer him their allegiance at once in the name of the Albanian Christians. The old man lifted up his voice and talked very quietly and with courtly ease, laying great stress on the points which might decide D. John to accept the offer, and insisting over and over again that it was necessary to take advantage of the panic and despair that the terrible defeat of Lepanto had produced in Constantinople and throughout the Ottoman Empire….

Portrait of Philip II of Spain

Painting by Alonso Sánchez Coello 1570

The temptation was great to a youth of twenty-four, greedy of glory and enthusiastic for his faith, spoiled by fortune and protected by the great power that the Court of Rome then was; but the knightly ambition of D. John, great and active as it was from his lineage and noble qualities, was always subordinate to the obedience and loyalty that he owed to Philip II as King and brother: so, without hesitating for a moment, he answered the ambassadors, thanking them and making much of the honor they were doing him, but frankly confessing that he could settle nothing which was not the will of the King his Lord and brother, who was the master of his person and all his actions. That he would communicate with him to gain his consent, and that time would show what best to do, and Our Lord would dispose as was best, as he (D. John) placed the business in His hands.

The ambassadors retired in good heart, much pleased with D. John, who at once sent a courier to Philip II telling him of the circumstance.

 

Rev. Fr. Luis Coloma, The Story of Don John of Austria, trans. Lady Moreton, (New York: John Lane Company, 1912), pp. 285-288.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 17

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