Don John of Austria


Don John of Austria was the illegitimate son of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and the half-brother of Philip II. He served as a general in the Spanish military, and is most famous for leading the Christian forces to victory at the naval Battle of Lepanto.

Don John was born to one of Charles V's mistresses. He was taken from his mother as a child, and did not know about his parentage until his mid-teens. At that time he was taken into the royal family, but not given a title. Although it was intended that he enter the clergy, he instead decided on a military career, and distinguisd himself early during the siege of Malta. He later led the Spanish forces against a revolt of Moriscos in Granada, and at the age of only 25, gained renown for his brilliant victory against the Ottomans at Lepanto.

Don John was a far more dashing and romantic figure than his brother Philip II, and was extremely popular at court. After spending several more years fighting Turks in the Mediterranean, he was appointed Governor of the Netherlands, in the midst of the Calvinist revolt. This was an appointment that he dreaded greatly because the conflict was known to be nearly intractable. With typical dash and daring however, he hatched a scheme of using the Spanish forces in the region to cross the Channel, rescue Mary, Queen of Scots from imprisonment, marry her, and make himself king of England. It was a terrific plan, but the Spanish troops mutinied and sacked Antwerp before he even arrived, making it impossible to carry out his ambitious scheme.

Don John favored accomodation and compromise in the Netherlands and was eager to negotiate with the Calvinists, but he could not accept the demands of their most ardent leaders. Instead, he worked to reconcile with the Southern provinces. In this manner he kept the Catholic regions of the French, Belgian, and Luxembourg Netherlands in the fold, while the Calvinist provinces of the North moved toward independence. He died tragically at a young age from camp fever and the governorship of the Netherlands passed to his good friend and cousin, Alexander Farnese.

Key events during the life of Don John of Austria:

Born in Germany to a mistress of Charles V.
Sent to be raised by foster-parents in Spain.
Told of his parentage by his half-brother Philip II.
Joined the Knights Templars in their relief of Malta.
Death of Don Carlos, eldest son of Philip II.
Led Spanish forces against the Morisco Revolt in Granada.
Led Christian forces to victory over the Ottomans at the Battle of Lepanto.
Continued to patrol the Mediterranean for Moslem pirates.
Appointed governor of the Netherlands.
Spanish soldiers mutiny and sack Antwerp.
Died of camp fever at Namur.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Philip II, III, and IV.  in  The Romance of Spanish History  by  John S.C. Abbott
Don John of Austria  in  A Child's History of Spain  by  John Bonner
Rulers of Algiers  in  Barbary Rovers  by  John Finnemore
Spain Under the Hapsburgs  in  Story of the Greatest Nations: Spain  by  Charles F. Horne
Don John of Austria  in  The Netherlands  by  Mary Macgregor
Spain's Greatest Victory at Sea  in  Historical Tales: Spanish  by  Charles Morris
William the Silent  in  The Awakening of Europe  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

Don John of Austria
 in Barbary Rovers

Defeat of the Mahometans at Lepanto
 in Story of the Greatest Nations: Spain

Don John arrived at Luxembourg, and, throwing off his disguise, stood revealed
 in The Netherlands

Short Biography
Philip II Catholic king of Spain during Netherland revolt and Anglo-Spanish Wars. Great enemy of Protestant Reformers.
Cervantes Author of the classic Don Quixote, the most famous novel in the Spanish Language.
William the Silent Hero of the Dutch Revolt. Led resistance to the Inquisition and Spanish tyranny.
Don Carlos Eldest son of Philip II. Mentally unbalanced prince of Spain who was imprisoned and possibly murdered.
Alexander Farnese Nephew of Philip III, who governed the Netherlands in the later years of the Dutch revolt.
Mary Stuart Queen of Scotland. Deposed and exiled. Held captive and executed by Queen Elizabeth.