Posted by Tory Historian Wednesday, October 07, 2009 , ,

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto, fought on October 7, 1571. The Holy League that somehow managed to come to an agreement had a fleet of 206 galleys and 6 galleasses, commanded by Don Juan of Austria, illegitimate son of Emperor Charles V and half-brother of Philip II.

The Ottoman galleys were manned by 13,000 sailors and 34,000 soldiers. Ali Pasha (Turkish: "Kaptan-ı Derya Ali Paşa"), supported by the corsairs Chulouk Bey of Alexandria and Uluj Ali (Ulich Ali), commanded an Ottoman force of 222 war galleys, 56 galliots, and some smaller vessels. The Turks had skilled and experienced crews of sailors, but were somewhat deficient in their elite corps of Janissaries.
Not only that, but they were less well armed and less experienced.

The Ottomans had not lost a naval battle since the fifteenth century and was mourned throughout the empire as an act of Divine Will (not the best way of learning from experience). In Europe, particularly its Catholic part, this was seen as a hopeful sign: the Ottomans could be defeated and their retreat from Christian countries could now be envisaged. In actual fact, there was still some time to go.

Tory Historian's first acquaintance with the battle came through the very fine poem, written by a man who may have considered himself to be a radical but was, in reality, a Tory in the truest and most old-fashioned sense of the word, G. K. Chesterton.

There are many quotable lines in that poem of heroism and contempt for rulers but the last verse may be the best:

Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath

(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)

And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,

Up which a lean and foolish knight for ever rides in vain,

And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade....

(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)


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