Catholic and Muslim Reactions to the News of the Turkish Defeat at Lepanto

October 5, 2017

Philip II of Spain by Antonio Moro

[King] Philip was attending vespers in Madrid—or the Escorial—when the Venetian Ambassador—or an aide, as the case may be—slipped into his chapel to acquaint him with the news. The imperturbable monarch displayed neither pleasure nor annoyance at the interruption, and impassively resumed his devotions. Only when vespers ended did he reveal any emotion. Summoning the Prior to his side, he jubilantly divulged the marvelous tidings, ordered a Te Deum sung forthwith, and made arrangements for a solemn procession “in gratiarum actione” to be held in the morning….

Don John of Austria by Alonso Sánchez Coello

In Figueroa’s estimation, a thousand galleys would have proved inadequate to transport all of the men who wished to serve under Don Juan in the springtime….

The news of the Turkish defeat at Lepanto surprised Selim II in Andrinopoli. The Sultan raged like an insane man over his losses and in retaliation ordered the immediate execution of every Spanish and Venetian slave in the land….

It has been said that the Grand Vizier, upon learning of the disaster at Lepanto, turned to a Venetian prisoner and scoffed: “You want to know how our spirits are after our defeat? Mark you, there is a world of difference between our loss and yours. From you we seized a kingdom, and in so doing deprived you of an arm. In destroying our fleet, you merely shaved of our beard. Your arm will never grow back. Our beard will grow in stronger than before….”

St. Pope Pius V, photographed at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs

Renowned is the succinct comment [Saint] Pius V uttered when he received the auspicious message delivered by the emissary. Again and again throughout succeeding centuries his quotation from the Epistle of the son of Zebedee has been recalled whenever the name of [Don John of Austria] has arisen: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was Juan.”

Amarie Dennis, Don Juan of Austria: The Imperial Bastard (Madrid: Sucs. De Rivadeneyra, S.A., 1966), 192-4.

Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 595

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