Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/John, Don

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Don John of Austria JOHN, Don, of Austria (1545-1578), was the bastard son of the emperor Charles V. by Barbara Blomberg, the daughter of a well-to-do citizen of Ratisbon. He was born in that free imperial city (according to a not very probable tradition in the “imperial hostelry” there, which still survives as the inn of the Golden Cross), on February 24, 1545, the anniversary of his father's birth and coronation, and of the battle of Pavia. On another visit to Ratisbon in the following year, after arranging a marriage between the fair Barbara and one of his German courtiers, Hieronymus Piramis Kegell, the emperor carried off the young Geronimo, as he was then conveniently called. The worthy Don Luis de Quijada, to whose care he was hereupon confided, watched over his early childhood with jealous care. It was at first sought to conceal the connexion between the emperor and the child of his declining years, who was brought up in retirement, chiefly in Quijada's castle of Villagarcia in Spain. In the year before the emperor's death, however, the boy was brought into the immediate neighbourhood of San Yuste, where his presence brightened the close of his father's life. In his last will Charles V. acknowledged “Geronimo” as his son, and commended him to the care of his successors, expressing a wish that he should take monastic vows, but that in the event of his declining these a handsome income should be provided for him out of the revenues of Naples.

In September 1559 the boy was publicly recognized by king Philip II. as his brother; and henceforth he resided at court under the name of Don Juan d'Austria as a member of the royal family. With the heir to the throne, the unhappy Don Carlos, his relations were so friendly that, when at the end of the year 1567 the infante was plotting his flight from Spain, he confided his more or less treasonable scheme to his half-brother, and even requested the latter to accompany him on his expedition. A sense of duty, at which it is difficult to cavil, prompted Don John to reveal this unsought confidence to the king, and thus he helped to bring about the fatal catastrophe, as it proved, of the imprisonment of Don Carlos.

It was not the habit of Philip II. to allow those who served him to choose their own seasons and methods of doing so. The impetuous Don John, whom the king would have preferred to see a monk, had in 1565 been refused permission to serve in the fleet ordered to sail for the relief of Malta; and an express royal command had been needed to bring him back when on the point of making the voyage on his own account. His obedience was rewarded when in 1568 he was appointed to the great office of capitan general de la mar. His first actual service, however, was by land, and of a kind unattractive to any but the genuine Spanish blood. In 1569 he was charged with a task, the execution of which the captain-general of Granada, the marquis of Mondejar, had begun, but was unwilling relentlessly to complete. The reformation of the converted Moriscoes had come to mean the suppression of the remnants of their national as well as religious life; and after the insurrection of Aben Humeya had been overcome, the wholesale deportation of all the Moriscoes from their habitations was decreed, and executed on All Saints Day 1570. Don John cannot be held responsible either for the cruelty of this ordinance, or for the general policy of the war, which from the time when the jealousy of the king had allowed him to take the field, instead of remaining at Granada, he had carried on with vigour and skill. The capture of Guejar had been his first deed of arms (December 1569); it had been followed by that of Galera; and in August 1570 the Alpujarras mountains were cleared of the Moriscoes, of whom more than 10,000 are said to have been killed or captured in the space of a single month.

Before long a nobler crusade engaged the energy of the obedient and successful commander. Philip II., though he was during nearly the whole of his reign engaged in hostilities with the Turks, had hitherto displayed no great vigour in resisting their still unceasing inroads upon the domain of Christendom. His fleet had for the time saved Malta; but Cyprus was torn by the infidel from the Venetians without his having offered timely co-operation for its defence (1571); and the barbarous proceedings of the conquerors had filled Europe with horror and shame. Not even the waters of the Adriatic were secure from the Turkish vessels, and the league which shortly before the loss of Cyprus papal diplomacy had succeeded in knitting batween Spain, Venice, and Rome, and which purported to aim at the extinction of the Mahometan power, had as yet remained a dead letter. At length the forces of the allies — 208 galleys, 6 galeases, and a number of smaller craft, with more than 20,000 Spanish, German, and Italian soldiers on board — assembled at Messina. Don John of Austria had been named admiral of the league, with power (granted at the request of Pope Pius V.) of free action after consultation with his captains and the Venetian commander. Thus the day of Lepanto was in every sense his own, though it was his good fortune that the Turks had underestimated his numbers, which were in truth little inferior to theirs. The Christian victory was complete. Only forty of the Turkish vessels effected their escape, the rest being burnt or captured; and 35,000 of their men were slain or captured, while 15,000 Christian galley-slaves were released. At Constantinople apprehensions were even entertained of an immediate attack on the part of the victors. The battle of Lepanto (October 7, 1571) was, as Ranke observes, like that of Actium, a decisive historic struggle between West and East; and the ecstatic joy which it inspired was shared by all Christian Europe. But though, on receiving the great news of a success which seemed in its momentousness to surpass any of his father's achievements, Philip II. had vowed to carry on this Christian war, jealousy between the allies wasted the immediate fruits of the victory, and the by no means remotely possible consequences of an active Franco-Turkish alliance inclined the king of Spain to keep his brother inactive in Sicily. Soon the ever vigilant suspicions of Philip were aroused by information which he received — partly from the candid Don John himself — as to the visions which (instigated by the inveterate papal habit of giving away kingdoms before they had been conquered) suggested themselves to the restless imagination of the hero of Lepanto. At one time Albania and the Morea entreated him to reign over them, after he should have previously freed them from the Turkish yoke; next, Rhodes besought the aid of his invincible arm for the work of its liberation. Meanwhile, after the Turks had brought together another fleet, he was unable to force them to accept another battle at Navarino (September 1572); and soon afterwards Venice, by concluding a separate treaty of peace with the sultan, put an end to the league which had been victorious at Lepanto. Spain was by herself no match for the Turkish power; and though in 1573 Don John captured Tunis, it was speedily recaptured in the following year.

Although unable to obtain from his brother even so much as the title of an infante of Spain, the ardent spirit of Don John had continued to indulge in wild dreams of a kingdom to be erected by him for himself in those regions which he had successfully disputed with the infidel; and, after suppressing a momentary hankering after the crown of France which the death of Charles IX. had excited, he had solicited the good offices of pope Gregory XIII. towards his establishment as king of Tunis. The pope, however, had destined him for higher things. As yet King Philip had shrunk from taking up the cause of Rome's unfortunate daughter, held captive in heretic England. Might not a share in the throne of three northern kingdoms tempt Don John to become the hero of a second and more rewardful crusade?

In the midst of schemes and dreams such as these Don John was summoned by King Philip to an office which might seem to bring him near to the accomplishment of the most glorious of them all. He was appointed (in 1576) to the government of the Netherlands, vacant by the death of Requesens. The administration of the latter had not been intended to introduce any radical change into the system of his predecessor Alva; his military operations had been only partially successful; and the pacification of Ghent (October 1576), concluded since his death, had greatly improved the prospects of William of Orange and the insurrection. The magic of Don John's name, and the loyal energy of which he had given proof, were to recover what had been lost; and he was willing to undertake a task the accomplishment of which might lead to higher tasks beyond. He was, however, now brought into conflict with an adversary of a very different calibre from his own. He showed himself willing to consent to the demand of the dismissal of the Spanish troops from the Netherlands, hoping to be able to employ them in a descent upon England. William of Orange, by warning Queen Elizabeth of these designs, secured not only her goodwill, but the rarer proof of it in the shape of a sum of money, and at home drew still tighter the alliance established by the Ghent pacification. Hereupon Don John found himself obliged to grant the perpetual edict (February 1577) which in accordance with the pacification dismissed the Spanish troops designed by him for the conquest of England, and held his entry into Brussels (May 1st) amidst popular acclamations. In secret, however, he was counselling and preparing a renewal of the war; and before the end of the summer he took Namur by a stratagem. The answer was the proclamation of Orange as protector of Brabant, and the nomination as governor-general of the archduke Matthias, under whom Orange continued to hold the actual supremacy, while Don John's control was almost entirely confined to the south-western part of the Netherlands. He now (January 1578) declared war against the insurgent provinces, and the dismissed Spanish troops were soon with other forces reassembling under his standard. A large army brought from Lombardy by Alexander Farnese, prince of Parma (Don John's nephew), raised the Spanish forces to a virtual equality in numbers with those of their opponents; and Farnese's victory of Gemblours (January 31, 1578) hopefully opened the campaign. It remained an open question whether the aid of France (which appeared to be warranted by the arrival with an army of the duke of Anjou, the “protector” of the liberties of the Netherlands), together with the money of England and the men of the Palatinate, would suffice to make the cause of freedom prevail against the determination of Philip, the ambitious devotion of Don John, and the military genius of Alexander Farnese. On the other hand, it seemed doubtful whether the disunion among Philip's adversaries would weaken them more than his parsimony and suspicion vexed the soul and crippled the energies of his brother. Such was the situation when Don John was removed by death. After having shortly before escaped the dagger of an English assassin (a Catholic refugee, who had hoped by the act to secure the pardon of the queen), Don John succumbed to a sudden illness at Namur on October 1, 1578. An altogether unwarranted, but under the circumstances far from inexplicable, suspicion accused King Philip of having by poison brought about the death of a half-brother whose action his jealousy and distrust of all the world except himself had thwarted after Gemblours as after Lepanto. The settlement of the Netherlands, after whatever fashion Don John might have accomplished it, was a harder task than any he ever executed; and the subjection of heretic England to the authority of a Catholic queen seems to posterity a dream more marvellous than were even the actual glories of Lepanto. But his life, which spanned but little more than thirty-three years, was the reverse of an empty or an ignoble one, and though it was full of imperfections and disappointments, yet its enthusiasm shines forth even under the cold shade spread over it by the fraternal jealousy of a Philip II.

The only modern monograph on the life of Don John of Austria is that by Professor W. Havemann (Gotha, 1865), which corrects some of Motley's vivacities. For the rebellion of the Moriscoes and the battle of Lepanto see Prescott's Reign of Philip II:, and Forneron's Histoire de Philippe II. (vols. i. and ii., Paris, 1880); for the battle, see also Ranke's Die Osmanen u. die Spanische Monarchie (4th ed., 1877).

(A. W. W.)