Today’s installment concludes The Battle of Lepanto and the Destruction of the Turkish Navy,
our selection from Don John of Austria by Sir William Stirling-Maxwell published in 1883. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed a selection from the great works of seven thousand words. Congratulations!
Previously in The Battle of Lepanto and the Destruction of the Turkish Navy.
Place: Gulf of Patras
Although in numbers, both of men and vessels, the Sultan’s fleet was superior to the fleet of the League, this superiority was more than counterbalanced by other important advantages possessed by the Christians. The artillery of the West was of greater power and far better served than the ordnance of the East; and its fire was rendered doubly disastrous by the thronged condition of the Turkish vessels. The lofty-peaked prows of these vessels seriously interfered, as we have already seen, with the working of their guns. A great number of their combatants were armed with the bow instead of the firelock, which placed them at an obvious disadvantage, except during heavy rains, which extinguished the match of the latter weapon. Of the Turks who carried the musket or arquebus few could handle them with the expertness of a Christian soldier. The advantages which the League derived from its galleasses were heightened by the fact that a large proportion of its other vessels were superior to their antagonists. The galleys of the King of Spain were, in general, both more strongly built and more carefully protected against boarders than those of the Sultan. Even early in the battle the Moslems began to discover that they were overmatched. In many of the galleys the guns were at once silenced by the heavier artillery of the Christians, in whose hands the fire of the arquebus and the musket, when they came to close quarters, proved so withering that the enemy’s deck was sometimes swept clean before they boarded, and the turbaned heads of the janissaries were seen crouching beneath the benches of the slaves. When the conflict was transferred to the Turkish decks, the Christians, however, found themselves fiercely met, and among other means of opposing their progress they perceived that the central gangway (corsia) had been torn up, or they slipped upon planking which had been smeared with butter, oil, or even, it is said, with honey, to render the footing insecure. So efficient were the nettings and other precautions with which Don John of Austria defended the bulwarks of his ships that he was able to inform Philip II that not a Turk had set foot upon a single deck belonging to his majesty.
Such were some of the chief causes of the success of the arms of the League. In the sixteenth century, in a vast concourse of men of the South, hot from battle and largely leavened with priests and friars, it was natural that the victory should be by many ascribed to a more mysterious agency. In the opinion of these persons the Almighty had evidently been fighting on the side of the Pope and the Cross, although they would perhaps have demurred to the logical deduction from that opinion that at Cyprus he had steadily adhered to the drunken Sultan and the Crescent. It was not only in the victory that they saw the finger of Omnipotence, but in many accidents and incidents of the day. The wind, which wafted the Turks swiftly to destruction, changed at the precise moment when it was needed to aid the onset of the Christians. The boisterous sea also sank to smoothness in the special interest of the League. Of the clergy and friars who ministered on the Spanish decks to the wounded and dying, although some of them were struck, not one was killed. The Venetians were less fortunate, having four chaplains killed and three wounded; and the Pope likewise lost one of his friars, who died of his wounds soon after the battle. The churchmen exposed themselves as freely as the combatants, whom they encouraged from conspicuous posts either on deck or in the rigging, and sometimes by example as well as precept. A Spanish Capuchin, an old soldier, had tied his crucifix to a halbert, and, crying that Christ would fight for his faith, led the boarders of his galley over the bulwarks of her antagonist; after using his weapon manfully, he returned victorious and untouched.
An Italian priest, with a great gilded crucifix in one hand and a sword in another, stood cheering on his spiritual sons, unharmed in the fiercest centre of the arrowy sleet and iron hail. A Roman Capuchin, finding his flock getting the worst of it, seized a boat-hook, and, pulling his peaked hood over his face, rushed into the fray, laid about him until he had slain seven Turks and driven the rest from the deck, and lived to call a smile to the thin lips of Pius V by telling the story of his prowess. The green banner of Mecca, brought from the Prophet’s tomb, and unfurled from the main-top of Ali, was riddled with shot, which rendered illegible many of the sacred words with which it was embroidered. But the azure standard of the League, blessed by the supreme Pontiff and emblazoned with the image of the crucified Redeemer, remained untouched by bolt or bullet, although masts, spars, and shrouds around were torn and shattered from top to bottom.
The battle was over about four o’clock in the afternoon. The rout of the centre and right wing of the Turk was complete. The vessels which composed these divisions were either sunk or taken, or they had singly sought safety in flight. A few galleys of the left wing still followed the banner of the Viceroy of Algiers. After hovering for a while near the coast of the Morea he made sail for St. Maura. Don John of Austria, with Doria and some other captains, gave him chase, but was compelled to desist for want of oarsmen. The pursuit, however, was not altogether unsuccessful, for several of the panic-stricken Algerines ran their galleys ashore, where some of them suffered shipwreck on the rocks. In the course of the night Aluch Ali and his little squadron of fugitives stole back from St. Maura to Lepanto. That harbor afforded a refuge to about nine-and-twenty vessels, most of them much shattered, the sole remains of the proud and confident armament which had so lately sailed out from between the two castles.
This ends our series of passages on The Battle of Lepanto and the Destruction of the Turkish Navy by Sir William Stirling-Maxwell from his book Don John of Austria published in 1883. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.More information on The Battle of Lepanto and the Destruction of the Turkish Navy here and here and below.
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