Don John of Austria runs away from Court to join the Spanish fleet headed to the relief of Malta

April 12, 2012

The Grand Harbor of Malta

There was nothing else talked of at the Court, or in the town, but the formidable attack of the Turks on the island of Malta, and the heroic defense made by the old Master of the Order, Jean Parissot de la Valette. The leader of the strong Ottoman squadron was Admiral Pialy, with those two terrible pirates, Hassen and Dragut, with whom were 45,000 men to be landed, led by Mustafa Pacha. The Grand master de la Valette only having 600 knights of the Order and 4,500 soldiers to defend the whole island, earnestly sought help from the Princes of Christendom, but specially from the Pope and the King of Spain, the one being particularly interested in the defense of the faith, and the other in the preservation of his dominions in Africa and Italy, which were safeguarded by the island of Malta.

Philip II at once ordered a squadron to be prepared with 25,000 soldiers, of whom some were to go from Barcelona and the rest to be taken from Sicily. The besieged urged promptness more and more earnestly, and at the same time came tidings of the heroic valor of their resistance and of the ferocity of the Turk. In mockery of our holy religion Mustafa had made a cross with the numerous hearts of the Knights of Malta killed in the encounter, and had stuck it up at the confines of his camp; and the Grand Master de la Valette had answered this barbarous sacrilege by charging his big cannons with the heads of Turks, as bombs, and firing them at the enemy.

King Philip II

All this made D. John’s young blood boil, and he silently made his plans. Certainly here was an enterprise that included everything! The glory of the faith, the succor of the helpless, the service of the King!… Nobody noticed, however, that D. John was preoccupied, and they only observed that he had long talks with D. Juan de Gúzman, one of his gentlemen of the bedchamber, and with D. José de Acuña y Peñuela, keeper of his wardrobe.

He went out one morning, the 9th of April, 1565, for a ride with Prince Carlos, and with studied pretence separated from him and turned towards Galapagar, followed only by D. Juan de Gúzman and D. José de Acuña.

D. John did not return that night, and the King, as he missed him next day, sent for Luis Quijada, who thought that he was with Prince Carlos and the Archdukes, but when the King undeceived him he could give no information as to his whereabouts.

Don Juan of Austria

Everyone was alarmed; a great search was made, and at length the Duque de Medinaceli said that according to a postillion who had met D. John on the road, this last had taken post for Galapagar with two gentlemen of his household, and was on the way to Barcelona, to embark on the galleys which were going to help the Island of Malta. The annoyance of the King at his independence was softened by the generosity of the boy’s impulse, and couriers were sent to all the ports, and Viceroys, in order that he should be stopped with this message, “that he was to come back at once, as the enterprise was without his (the King’s) knowledge or sanction, and that the boy was very young for such a long journey and such a dangerous undertaking.” D. Pedro Manuel was dispatched with this message, and with orders that he should follow until he had overtaken D. John, and the King charged Luis Quijada also to write and show how displeased he was. Luis Quijada’s displeasure was indeed great, not on account of D. John’s escapade, for that pleased him extremely, but on account of the want of confidence in having said nothing to him. But Doña Magdalena, who saw better than anyone to the root of all this, made Quijada note the prudence and affection of D. John in using such great reserve towards him; because if he had told his project to Quijada, he would have been obliged by virtue of his trust, to forbid it, and to have countenanced it would have been to incur the annoyance of the Monarch. So it was prudent to be silent, and this is what D. John had been.

Don Luis Quijada

The news of D. John’s spontaneous departure for the island of Malta to fight the Turks caused such enthusiasm among the people of Madrid that they went shouting through the streets, applauding the worthy son of Charles V.

The nobility, for their part, then paid to this lad of eighteen the most sincere homage which can be paid to the perfect man, set up as our model, that of copying him. The greater portion of the young nobles hastened to embark with D. John at Barcelona, some only with their swords and good intentions, having nothing else to bring; others, at their own cost, brought men-at-arms to fight against the Turk, the constant nightmare of Europe of that day….

All this made Philip II think, and from that moment he gave up the idea of forcing his brother into the Church, understanding that he would gain more from D. John by using his prestige and courage in matters of war….

This adventure made D. John the fashion, as we should say now, a thing which existed in the sixteenth century without being so called….

Don Juan of Austria

That which radiated from him and made him so irresistible was that “je ne sais quoi” belonging to very superior men, which attracts, enchants, and subjugates, and, according to a very profound writer, consists in the mysterious combination of grace, talent, and desire to please.

Such was the attractive figure of D. John when he began to be a real personage at the much-discussed Court of his brother.

 

Rev. Fr. Luis Coloma, The Story of Don John of Austria, trans. Lady Moreton, (New York: John Lane Company, 1912),  pp. 117-121, 125.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 168

 

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