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Don John of Austria

Don John of AustriaBorn: 24-Feb-1547
Birthplace: Regensburg, Germany
Died: 1-Oct-1578
Location of death: Bouges, Belgium
Cause of death: Fever

Gender: Male
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Royalty

Nationality: Spain
Executive summary: Defeated Turks at Lepanto

Don John of Austria, was the natural son of the emperor Charles V by Barbara Blomberg, the daughter of an opulent citizen of Regensburg. He was born in that free imperial city on the 24th of February 1545, the anniversary of his father's birth and coronation and of the battle of Pavia, and was at first confided under the name of Geronimo to foster parents of humble birth, living at a village near Madrid; but in 1554 he was transferred to the charge of Madalena da Ulloa, the wife of Don Luis de Quijada, and was brought up in ignorance of his parentage at Quijada's castle of Villagarcia not far from Valladolid. Charles V in a codicil of his will recognized Geronimo as his son, and recommended him to the care of his successor. In September 1559 Philip II of Spain publicly recognized the boy as a member of the royal family, and he was known at court as Don Juan de Austria. For three years he was educated at Alcalfi, and had as school companions his nephews, the infante Don Carlos and Alessandro Farnese, prince of Parma. With Don Carlos his relations were especially friendly. It had been Philip's intention that Don John should become a monk, but he showed a strong inclination for a soldier's career and the king yielded. In 1568 Don John was appointed to the command of a squadron of 33 galleys, and his first operations were against the Algerian pirates. His next services were (1569-70) against the rebel Moriscos in Granada. In 1571 a nobler field of action was opened to him. The conquest of Cyprus by the Turks had led the Christian powers of the Mediterranean to fear for the safety of the Adriatic. A league between Spain and Venice was effected by the efforts of Pope Pius V to resist the Turkish advance to the west, and Don John was named admiral in chief of the combined fleets. At the head of 208 galleys, 6 galleasses and a number of smaller craft, Don John encountered the Turkish fleet at Lepanto on the 7th of October 1571, and gained a complete victory. Only forty Turkish vessels effected their escape, and it was computed that 35,000 of their men were slain or captured while 15,000 Christian galley slaves were released. Unfortunately, through divisions and jealousies between the allies, the fruits of one of the most decisive naval victories in history were to a great extent lost.

This great triumph aroused Don John's ambition and filled his imagination with schemes of personal aggrandizement. He thought of erecting first a principality in Albania and the Morea, and then a kingdom in Tunis. But the conclusion by Venice of a separate peace with the sultan put an end to the league, and though Don John captured Tunis in 1573, it was again speedily lost. The schemes of Don John found no support in Philip II, who refused to entertain them, and even withheld from his half-brother the title of infante of Spain. At last, however,he was appointed (1576) governor-general of the Netherlands, in succession to Luis de Requesens. The administration of the latter had not been successful, the revolt headed by the Prince of Orange had spread, and at the time of Don John's nomination the Pacification of Ghent appeared to have united the whole of the seventeen provinces of the Netherlands in determined opposition to Spanish rule and the policy of Philip II. The magic of Don John's name, and the great qualities of which he had given proof, were to recover what had been lost. He was, however, now brought into contact with an adversary of a very different calibre from himself. This was William of Orange, whose influence was now supreme throughout the Netherlands. The Pacification of Ghent, which was really a treaty between Holland and Zeeland and the other provinces for the defense of their common interests against Spanish oppression, had been followed by an agreement between the southern provinces, known as the Union of Brussels, which, though maintaining the Catholic religion and the king's authority, aimed at the expulsion of the Spanish soldiery and officials from the Netherlands. Confronted by the refusal of the states general to accept him as governor unless he assented to the conditions of the Pacification of Ghent, swore to maintain the rights and privileges of the provinces, and to employ only Netherlanders in his service, Don John, after some months of fruitless negotiations, saw himself compelled to give way. At Huey on the 12th of February 1577 he signed a treaty, known as the "Perpetual Edict", in which he complied with these terms. On the 1st of May he made his entry into Brussels, but he found himself governor-general only in name, and the Prince of Orange master of the situation. In July he suddenly betook himself to Namur and withdrew his concessions. William of Orange forthwith took up his residence at Brussels, and gave his support to the archduke Matthias, afterwards emperor, whom the states-general accepted as their sovereign. Meanwhile Philip had sent large reinforcements to Don John under the leadership of his cousin Alexander Farnese. At the head of a powerful force Don John now suddenly attacked the patriot army at Gemblours, where, chiefly by the skill and daring of Farnese, a complete victory was gained on the 31st of January 1578. He could not, however, follow up his success for lack of funds, and was compelled to remain inactive all the summer, chafing with impatience at the cold indifference with which his appeals for the sinews of war were treated by Philip. His health gave way, he was attacked with fever, and on the 1st of October 1578, at the early age of 33, Don John died, heartbroken at the failure of all his soaring ambitions, and at the repeated proofs that he had received of the king his brother's jealousy and neglect.

Father: Charles V (Holy Roman Emperor)
Mother: Barbara Blomberg



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