Battle of Lepanto

Battle of Lepanto

News arrived in Europe in 1571 that Muslim Turks, under the command of Lala Kara Mustafa Pasha, surrounded the Christians in Famagusta, Cyprus. Muslims promised the defenders of Cypus that if they surrendered, they would be allowed to leave. Lala Kara Mustafa Pasha broke his promise and flayed alive the Venetian commander. He then killed all 6,000 Christian prisoners. He turned the beautiful St. Nicholas Church into the Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque. Turkish Muslims then intended to attack Rome, and from there conquer the rest of western Europe.

Pope Pius V used all the influence he had to get the Christian states of Spain, Naples, Sicily, Venice, Genoa, Sardinia, Savoy, Urbino, Papal States, Germans and Croatians to assemble into the Holy League, led by 24-year-old Don John of Austria.

On October 7, 1571, the largest and most decisive sea battle on the Mediterranean took place – the Battle of Lepanto off the western coast of Greece. Don John of Austria led the 212 ships with nearly 68,000 soldiers and sailors of the Holy League.

Ali Pasha led the Muslim Ottoman Turks, consisting of 82,000 soldiers and sailors on 251 ships powered by thousands of Christian galley slaves rowing under the decks. This was the last major battle with rowing vessels.

The morning of the battle, the Holy League was at a great disadvantage, struggling to row against the wind. Don John led his men on deck in a prayer. Suddenly the wind changed 180 degrees to favor the Holy League.

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The Holy League ships collided into Ali Pasha’s ships. Fierce fighting went on for hours. Don John sailed his ship, Real, into Ali Pasha’s ship. Ali Pasha was finally killed and his head was hung from the ship. The Ottoman Muslims had 187 of their ships sunk or captured. Some 12,000 Christian galley slaves were freed.

Had the Muslims not been defeated, they would have invaded Italy and possibly conquered Europe.

G.K. Chesterton wrote in his poem, “Lepanto”:

Above the ships are palaces of brown, blackbearded chiefs,
And below the ships are prisons, where with multitudinous griefs,

Christian captives sick and sunless, all a laboring race repines
Like a race in sunken cities, like a nation in the mines.

They are lost like slaves that swat, and in the skies of morning hung
The stairways of the tallest gods when tyranny was young.

They are countless, voiceless, hopeless as those fallen or fleeing on
Before the high Kings’ horses in the granite of Babylon.

And many a one grows witless in his quiet room in hell
Where a yellow face looks inward through the lattice of his cell,

And he finds his God forgotten, and he seeks no more a sign –
But Don John of Austria has burst the battle line!

Don John pounding from the slaughter-painted poop,
Purpling all the ocean like a bloody pirate’s sloop,

Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,
Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds,

Thronging of the thousands up that labor under sea
White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.

Vivat Hispania! Domino Gloria!
Don John of Austria has set his people free!

Instead of following up on this victory and freeing Constantinople and Greek Islands from Muslim control, Spain sent their invincible Armada to conquer England. The Spanish Armada was destroyed in a hurricane in 1588. This caused Spain to loose its monopoly over the new world, opening the door for other European nations to settle colonies in America.

Adam Smith wrote in “The Wealth of Nations,” 1776: “The Spaniards, by virtue of the first discovery, claimed all America as their own, and … such was … the terror of their name, that the greater part of the other nations of Europe were afraid to establish themselves in any other part of that great continent. … But … the defeat … of their Invincible Armada … put it out of their power to obstruct any longer the settlements of the other European nations. In the course of the 17th entury … English, French, Dutch, Danes, and Swedes … attempted to make some settlements in the new world.”

Two years after the Spanish Armada sank, a boy was born in England named William Bradford, on March 19, 1590. At age 17, the same year Shakespeare produced his play, “Anthony and Cleopatra,” William Bradford fled from England to Holland with the persecuted Pilgrims. At age 30, William Bradford sailed with the Pilgrims to America. In 1621, William Bradford was chosen governor and reelected 30 times till his death.

William Bradford’s journal, “Of Plymouth Plantation,” is the main historical record of the Pilgrims, published in 1650: “Since ye first breaking out of ye lighte of ye gospell in our Honourable Nation of England … what warrs and opposissions … Satan hath raised … against the Saints … by bloody death and cruell torments … imprisonments, banishments. … What could now sustaine them but ye spirite of God and His grace? … Ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: Our fathers … came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto ye Lord, and He heard their voyce.”

William Bradford continued: “All great and honourable actions are accompanied with great difficulties. … Out of small beginnings greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things of nothing … and, as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone unto many, yea in some sort to our whole nation; let the glorious name of Jehovah have all the praise.”

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