Juan De Austria, Don (1547–1578)

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JUAN DE AUSTRIA, DON (15471578), Spanish admiral and governor, known to Elizabethans as Don John. Born in Regensburg, Germany, to commoner Barbara Blomberg, Don Juan, the natural son of Emperor Charles V, was brought to Brussels, where his mother married. In 1550 Charles had the boy, called Jeromín, taken to Spain by a servant couple, and then, in 1554, transferred to the castle of his chief of household, Don Luis de Quijada, and his wife, Doña Magdalena de Ulloa, at Villagarcía de Campos. Before his death, Charles saw Jeromín but did not openly acknowledge his parentage. In 1559 Philip II embraced Jeromín as his brother and renamed him Juan de Austria. Philip did not accord him royal status, though he was ranked before the grandees, but in 1575 he yielded to Don Juan's being addressed as "Highness." Charles hoped Don Juan might enter the clergy, but during his education in statecraft alongside Prince Don Carlos and Alexander Farnese, future duke of Parma, he revealed his martial inclinations. When he reached twenty-one in 1568, Philip appointed him Captain General of the [Mediterranean] Sea.

Don Juan returned from his summer at sea to find the court mourning the deaths of the mentally unstable Don Carlos and the queen. Differing with Philip over his place at the queen's funeral, he withdrew to a monastery. When the Morisco revolt erupted in Granada, Don Juan volunteered to serve as supreme commander over feuding local grandees in March 1569 to suppress it. Quijada, assigned to guide him, was mortally wounded in a skirmish, and a musket ball grazed his own helmet. In subduing the rebellion, he became a skilled general. Blond and handsome, he also became a womanizer. He sired two natural daughters, one in Spain, the other in Naples.

When Philip agreed to a Holy League with Venice and Pope Pius V against the Ottoman Turks in 1570, he sought supreme command for Don Juan. Philip hoped the league might recover Tunis and conquer Algiers, after saving Cyprus for Venice. Don Juan sailed from Barcelona in July 1571 and had the League armada assembled at Messina by September. Unknown to him, Cyprus had been lost. Despite arguments that the season was late, he took the league armada to sea. The 207 galleys of the distrustful allies he mixed in the center, two wings, and rearguard, so that none dared desert. On 7 October 1571 he won a heady victory over the Turks at Lepanto and became a hero to all Christendom.

He hoped to complete the destruction of Turkish sea power in 1572, but Philip II, nervous about developments in France and the Netherlands, kept him and his galleys in the western Mediterranean. Not until September did Don Juan join the Venetian and papal galleys off the Peloponnesus, where forts and cavalry prevented him from destroying the beached Turkish fleet.

Venice quit the league in March 1573, and Don Juan recovered Tunis in October. Advised to dismantle the fortress of La Goleta, which dominated Tunis's harbor, and level Tunis, Don Juan chose instead to hold La Goleta and erect a citadel in the city. (Critics claimed he hoped the pope would make him king of Tunis.) In summer 1574, while Don Juan was distracted by Genoese politics and French threats, a huge Turkish armada took Tunis and La Goleta. In 1575 Philip declared bankruptcy, limiting Don Juan to raids against Turkish Barbary.

In May 1576 he received orders to proceed directly to the rebellious Netherlands as governor-general and restore peace. In correspondence with his half-sister, Margaret of Parma, once regent there, he expressed fear of such assignment. Other than duty, the only lure, nurtured by the papacy, was the possibility of invading England to liberate Mary Stuart, queen of Scots, and join her on England's throne. Uncertain about funds and authority, he detoured to see Philip in Spain. Continuing through France in disguise, he reached Luxembourg in November to find that the sack of Antwerp by mutineers had united the Estates-General (the Netherlands' parliament) against him. Only by dismissing Philip's army, (and, thus, the chance to free Mary Stuart), temporizing on religion, and trading on his personal charm did he win acceptance. In May 1577 he entered Brussels. As his instructions allowed no real concessions regarding religion, the Protestant provinces remained defiant. Fearing assassination, in July Don Juan seized Namur in the southern Netherlands and dispatched secretary Juan de Escobedo to Spain to beg the return of the army. Having just received fresh treasure from America, Philip reluctantly agreed.

In December 1577 the army returned with the prince of Parma. In January 1578 they routed the Estates-Generals' army at Gembloux. In Spain, the king's unscrupulous and ambitious secretary, Antonio Pérez, bred unjustified suspicions of Don Juan in Philip's mind, and in March had Escobedo murdered (probably with Philip's approval). Again, inadequately funded, Don Juan failed before Brussels in July. With success eluding him and unsure of Philip's trust, he regrouped outside Namur, where, health failing, he died on 1 October 1578. He had served Philip faithfully and, if he failed, it was due to their shared opposition to religious toleration.

See also Charles V (Holy Roman Empire) ; Lepanto, Battle of ; Moriscos ; Moriscos, Expulsion of (Spain) ; Parma, Alexander Farnese, duke of ; Philip II (Spain).


Dennis, Amarie. Don Juan of Austria. Madrid, 1966.

Ibañez de Ibero, Carlos, Marqués de Mulhacén. Don Juan de Austria. Madrid, 1944.

Stirling-Maxwell, William. Don John of Austria, or Passages from the history of the sixteenth century. 2 vols. London, 1883.

Peter Pierson