Holy Leagues

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HOLY LEAGUES. Several military alliances that arose between 1495 to 1699 in the turbulent conditions of Europe were given the name "Holy League." Three of the most significant were the Holy Leagues formed to fight the Ottoman Empire by the Habsburgs, the papacy, and other states such as Venice, Genoa, and Poland. This article will discuss these anti-Ottoman alliances that were formed in 15381540, 15711573, and 16791699 because they were all similarly characterized as "crusades." They were mainly financed by the increased wealth of the Habsburg empire in order to check Ottoman expansion in Europe. The increasing success of each alliance was partly the result of rising prosperity in Europe, owing to the influx of precious metals from the New World into the European economy, simultaneous with Ottoman economic decline.


Venice, the Habsburg emperor Charles V, and the papacy formed the first of this type of Holy League in early 1538 to counter a wave of Ottoman expansion in Europe that had begun with the accession of Sultan Suleiman I to the throne in 1520. However, this coalition was marred from the outset by rivalry between the Venetians and Charles, who had different goals in fighting the Ottomans. As a result of this disunity, the Ottoman fleet was able to overcome the Holy League fleet at the battle of Prevesa in 1538. The Venetians left this league in 1540. Although Charles sent his own fleet in 1541 to attack the Ottomans at Algiers, weather destroyed it before it arrived, curtailing Christian plans to reassert dominance at that time over the Mediterranean.


The next such Holy League was formed in 1571 by Pope Pius V between Spain, Venice, Genoa, and the papacy to respond to Ottoman attacks against Tunis and Cyprus. It achieved a significant victory at Lepanto, at the mouth of the Gulf of Patras (in modern Greece), in October 1571, but came to an end with the death of Pius in 1572 and Venice's financial troubles, which drove the league to make peace with the Ottomans in 1573. This Holy League was also hampered by the disparate goals of its major participants.


After a few other attempts to form coalitions against the Turks, the Holy League of 16791699 was the most successful and secured the first enduring Ottoman withdrawal from European territory for several centuries. It was formed to counter the threat of Kara Mustafa Pasha against Vienna in 1683. The Polish king John III Sobieski was an important commander in this force. Although this last alliance had a naval component, its most important dimension was the advance of Habsburg forces into the Balkans for the first time, resulting in the Peace of Carlowitz in 1699, signed by the Ottoman sultan Mustafa II and the Habsburg emperor Leopold I and viewed by later historians as an important sign of the actual decline of the Ottoman Empire.

See also Charles V (Holy Roman Empire) ; Lepanto, Battle of ; Ottoman Empire ; Suleiman I ; Vienna, Sieges of .


Ingrao, Charles W. The Habsburg Monarchy, 16181815. Cambridge, U.K., 2000.

Lane, Frederic C. Venice: A Maritime Republic. Baltimore: 1973.

Ernest Tucker

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Holy Leagues

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