The protagonists The Holy League
Philip II of Spain and Mary Tudor of England Portrait of Pope Pius V by El Greco     Don Juan of Austria Portrait of Agostin Barbarigo by Paolo Veronese   Tintoretto, Portrait of Sebastiano Venier (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum) Portrait of Marc'antonio Colonna by Scipione Pulzone. (Rome, Galleria Colonna) Portrait of Gianandrea Doria, engraving by Domenicos Custos.    The statue of Cervantes in Nafpaktos Philip II of Spain
Philip II was the son of the Holy Roman Emperor of the Hapsburg dynasty Charles V and of Isabella of Portugal. He was born in Valladolid, Spain, on the 21st of May 1527. He spent the first years of his life, until 1539, in Castille, under the supervision of his mother. He therefore felt always much more Spanish than Austrian, something that prevented him later to feel as a real leader of the Holy Roman Empire. Philip had a good education and his father undertook his political formation. Upon seeing his son's talents, Charles decided in 1543 to appoint him Viceroy of Spain. Thus, at the age of 16 Philip had to govern the largest western state of his time, with territories in all known continents. In 1554 Philip married the 37-year old Mary Tudor, queen of England. It was a purely political move, which led to a brief unification of the two kingdoms, but which ended with Mary's death in 1558. In 1555 Philip had to renounce his succession for the throne of the Holy Roman Empire, due to the objections of his uncle, Ferdinand, who had been nominated King of the Romans since 1531 and who aimed at maintaining this title for his son, Maximilian. Charles, however, had secured his son's succession in the Netherlands, where Philip stayed over the early years of his kingship. Despite the fact that he functioned as an absolute monarch, his power was in fact limited by the palace's bureaucrats and the insurrections such as that of the Moors in Granada in 1569, which ended up in their dispersion. His nickname, the Prudent, was not in accord with his financial policy, since in his days Spain went bankrupt four times. On the other hand, however, his was the period of Spain's greatest empowerment in the international political agenda as well as of its greatest territorial expansion.


Pope Pius V
Pope Pius V, born Antonio Ghislieri, belonged to the Dominican monastic order, which affected his policy thereafter. He was born in 1504 near Milan and he became a monk in 1518, at the age of 14. In 1528 he was ordained priest and started his clerical career. His views on restricting the mundane character and the expenses of the clerics made him unpopular. However, in 1566 when Pope Pius IV died suddenly, he was chosen to be the new Pope. In his only six-years' long office, he achieved a lot: he organized the Counter-reformation, he managed some severe blows against the Reformist Huguenots in France, he restricted the expenses of the clergy, he imposed frugality and morality on their lifestyle, he excommunicated Elizabeth I of England for her persecutions against the Catholics, he imposed a specific ceremonial in the Catholic liturgy and in general he applied the decisions of the Council of Trento, of which he was one of the main instigators. In 1570, shortly after the fall of Nicosia to the Ottomans he resuscitated the Holy League, which was in a lethargic state after the naval battle of Preveza (1538) and he activated the coalition of powers which led to the victorious battle of Lepanto. He died the next year, in 1572, and he was sanctified by the Catholic Church.


Don Juan of Austria
Juan was an illegitimate son of Charles V and half-brother of Philip II. He was born in 1547 and his mother was a singer; therefore his father made sure his son would be soon cut off from her. It is reported that Charles was particularly fond of him and that he brought him close to him during the last year of his life, so that he could see him. After the death of Charles, Philip invited the Juan and revealed to him that he was the emperor's son, then he made him a member of the court and gve him a considerable property. Charles desired a career in the clergy for his son, but Juan soon turned to the army. In 1565 he participated at the military corpse of the Spaniards who reinforced the defence of Malta against the Ottomans. In 1568, aged only 21, he was appointed by Philip as general commander of the fleet and leader of the Spanish armada. He played a key role in the campaign against the revolted Moors in Granada. On his way back, the expedition of forces to Cyprus for the reinforcement of the defence of the island under the Holy League had already been prepared. Don Juan was appointed commander general of the Christian forces and the success of the battle at Lepanto is considered, more or less, his personal success.


Agostin Barbarigo
Agostin Barbarigo was a Venetian nobleman, originating from one of the greatest families of Venice. His ancestor with the same name had been a Doge in the period of the greatest glory and expansion of Venice; in his days Venice had annexed Cyprus and other territories in the eastern Mediterranean. However, Barbarigo was sceptical on the eve of Lepanto, supporting the view that the League should not face the Ottoman fleet directly. His galleys opposed the Turkish galliots on the left of the array. He fought bravely and lost his life in battle.


Sebastiano Venier
Sebastiano Venier or Veniero was born in Venice around 1496. His family had bonds with Greece, Cerigo in particular, as relatives and ancestors of his had been lords of the island. He had worked as a lawyer and had undertaken various positions in the Venetian Republic. In 1570 he had the office of procurator and was appointed by the Serenissima commander general of the Venetian fleet once the conflict with the Ottomans seemed inevitable. His victory at Lepanto made him very popular. In 1577 he was elected Doge, an office which he held for only one year, since he died in 1578 at the age of 82.


Marc' Antonio Colonna
He originated from one of the most prominent families of Lazio, which in the 16th century was under the control of Pope and the kingdom of Sicily, then under Spanish supremacy. In the was against Sienna (1553-54) he had the office of commander general of the Spanish cavalry. Upon the formation of the Holy League against the Ottomans he was appointed commander of the papal fleet and then Don Juan appointed him as commander general of the coalition's fleet. Upon his return to Italy he “cashed” his success with even higher offices: he was appointed permanent commander general of the papal fleet and in 1577 Philip II nominated him Viceroy of Sicily. He died in 1584.


Giovanni Andrea (Gianandrea) Doria
He was the nephew and adopted son of Andrea Doria, the Genoese nobleman and general who led the forces of the Hapsburg Empire under Charles V and the naval forces of the Holy League during the disastrous naval battle of Preveza in 1538. From his uncle he inherited the title of Prince of Melfi. Gianandrea was appointed admiral of the Genoese fleet in 1556. In 1560 he fought against Piyale Pasha at the naval battle of Djerba; however his opponent won and reconquered Tynis. At the naval battle of Lepanto, in spite of the Venetian objections, he was appointed commander of the right flank of the coalition's fleet. 


Miguel de Cervantes
Although a simple soldier at the naval battle of Lepanto, Miguel de Cervantes deems a special mention, not only because he was one of the greatest authors in Spanish throughout the centuries, but also because in his famous work “Don Quixote de la Mancha” he includes information about Lepanto. He was born in 1547 at Alcalà de Henares, a small city about 15 miles away from Madrid. His parents, trapped in a convenience marriage, moved often from one place to another. He chose to follow the adventurous career of a soldier and rolled up at the Spanish maritime forces in 1570. He had been idle for a year when, in 1571, he came aboard the galley Marquesa heading to the Ionian Sea and Lepanto. Although on the day of the battle he was ill with fever, he refused to stay in bed and decided to fight. He fought very bravely indeed and was injured three times, twice on the chest and once on his left hand, which was finally incapacitated. After a six-months long cure, he continued to work for the marine as a messenger, until, in 1575, the ship on which he traveled fell in the hands of Algerian pirates.
Cervantes spent about five years as a slave in Algiers and was finally released upon payment of a sum of money collected by his parents and the monastic Order of the Holy Trinity, which provided care to the hostages of war. His experience during his stay in Algiers offered him the “materia prima” for the writing of his masterpiece, Don Quixote. He used to say, referring to his incapacitated left hand, that it “became useless in order to glorify the right one”.
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