John of Austria

Eyridiki Sellou | Jan 12, 2024

Table of Content


Infant Don Juan of Austria, born on February 24, 1545 or 1547 in Regensburg (Germany) and died on October 1, 1578 in Bouge, near Namur (Belgium), was a Spanish prince of the Habsburg family - illegitimate son of Charles V - who made a military career in the armies of his half-brother Philip II and was governor of the Netherlands from 1576 to 1578. He was the commander of the European fleet at the famous Battle of Lepanto, a decisive naval victory of the Christian powers grouped in the Holy League against the Ottoman Empire.


The result of the illegitimate relationship between Charles V and Barbara Blomberg, a woman from a noble family in Regensburg, in 1547, Don Juan of Austria was actually baptized with the name Jerome (Jerónimo or Jeromín). In 1550, the emperor entrusted one of his relatives, his butler Luis Méndez Quijada, with the boy's education. During this period, Quijada was required to pretend that the child was his own bastard. He was brought up in Castile, in the town -near Madrid- of Leganés, in the street that now bears his name (Jeromín), then in Villagarcía de Campos next to Valladolid and finally in Cuacos de Yuste.

He knew his father only at the age of nine years, when this one makes him come in 1556 - after his abdication - in the monastery of Yuste (Estremadura), where he retired. The emperor had already inserted, in 1554, a codicil to his will, asking his legitimate son, Philip II, to receive the young bastard as his own blood brother. The emperor and king dies in 1558. Philip II, respecting the will of their father, recognized him as a member of the royal family and gave him the name of "Don Juan of Austria", with the honors and income worthy of his rank (1559). Don Juan was also given a house in 1562, that is to say, a retinue of familiars and servants in charge of his daily life. Luis Quijada, his former tutor, was appointed governor. However, he received neither title nor land, nor the predicate of highness. He was only His Excellency Don Juan of Austria, which made him more like a Spanish Grand than an infant. He lived his adolescence at the Spanish court with his half-brother Philip II. He studied at the prestigious University of Alcalá de Henares, but refused to devote himself to the ecclesiastical career for which he had been destined.

In 1566, his brother granted him one of the five collars of the Order of the Golden Fleece that the General Chapter had left at his disposal in 1559.

Military career

Having expressed his desire for a military career, he was appointed by the king to command a squadron tasked with fighting the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean (1568). He demonstrated real military skills in this expedition, and the following year he was given the task of leading the suppression of the revolt of the Moriscos, the descendants of the Muslims of the kingdom of Granada - who had remained in Spain after the end of the Reconquest in 1492 - and who had officially converted to Catholicism but continued to practice their religion (1569). This uprising, which began in 1567, against the violation of the rights that had been granted to the Moriscos at that time, still called the Alpujarra War, lasted four years and ended with their defeat by Don Juan of Austria.

These successes also allowed him to obtain - which was the peak of his military career - the supreme command of the fleet of the Holy League formed by Spain, Venice and Pope Pius V against the Turks (1570). Faced with the defensive strategy advocated by his more cautious advisors, Don Juan of Austria imposed his choice to go to meet the Turkish fleet of Ali Pasha and to defeat it, which he did at the Battle of Lepanto (October 7, 1571). During this expedition he had under his command, among the soldiers, a certain Miguel de Cervantes - the future author of Don Quixote - who lost the use of his left hand, which later earned him the nickname "the one-armed man of Lepanto". As a result of this victory, Don Juan received from the pope, in 1576, the golden rose, first reserved exclusively for the prefect of Rome, then later offered to a faithful Catholic who had rendered an important service to the Church.

Governor General of the Netherlands

The victory of Lépante increases the ambitions of don Juan of Austria, but Philip II rejects his projects of expansion in the Mediterranean, as well as his requests to be officially recognized like infant and to be called "Its Highness".

Perhaps to limit his ambitions, Philip II decided in the summer of 1576 to appoint him governor general of the Netherlands, that is to say, his representative for the seventeen Dutch provinces of which Philip was sovereign, but also the warlord in charge of fighting against the insurrection led by William of Orange, which was well established in the north, particularly in the provinces of Holland and Zeeland.

The Netherlands had been in a state of insurrection, even war, since 1566, for political reasons (defense of customary liberties) and religious reasons (the question of Protestantism). Two governors general had already failed to restore order: the Duke of Alba (1567-1573) and Luis de Requesens, who died suddenly on March 5, 1576. Don Juan, who was in Italy when he learned of his appointment, did not leave directly, but came to Spain to discuss certain problems, particularly concerning the plans to invade England to place the Catholic Queen of Scotland, Mary Stuart, on the throne.

He left Valladolid on October 20, accompanied by Octavian Gonzaga, brother of the prince of Amalfi, and was in Irun on the 24th.

To reach the Netherlands, Don Juan will indeed cross France, but pretending to be Gonzague's valet, and even darkening his face and curling his hair in the Moorish way. In Paris, he contacted the ambassador who gave him a small escort to go to Metz, then to Luxembourg, where he arrived on November 4. Informed of the situation in Brabant, he decided to stop there for a while. He is indeed almost alone, he does not even have his secretary with him, while the Netherlands are in crisis (Luxembourg being an exceptionally calm province).

At this time, the situation in Brussels, capital of Brabant and political center of the Spanish Netherlands, was disturbed. The power is exercised, more or less in the name of Philip II, by the Council of State, but also by the States General, which since the summer were gathered by the States of Brabant, in a way not very legal in fact. A big problem arose: the soldiers of the Spanish army (for a good part mercenaries from various countries) mutinied, because they were not paid, and committed exactions in several cities, in particular in Brussels and Aalst.

Also, since September, some of the members of the States General were in conference in Ghent with the representatives of the insurgent provinces. At the beginning of November, an agreement was reached: all the provinces met, without taking into account the political and religious differences, to obtain 1) the departure of the soldiers in the service of Philip 2) the restoration of the customary liberties.

From November 4 to 7, a catastrophic event occurred: the mutineers sacked the city of Antwerp, causing the death of 8,000 people. On November 8, the text resulting from the Ghent conference was accepted by the Council of State: this was called the Pacification of Ghent (the objective of pacifying the country being paramount).

The Council of State then sends an emissary to Luxembourg to indicate to don Juan that he cannot come to Brussels if he does not accept the pacification of Ghent. However, things are not done very quickly. Discussions, including Don Juan, will take place in the small town of Marche-en-Famenne, on the road from Luxembourg to Namur.

In January, the pacification of Ghent was completed by a new text, the Union of Brussels. Don Juan finally accepted the requests and on February 12 promulgated a "perpetual edict" that gave an official character to his agreement (he undertook to withdraw the foreign troops and to respect the customary liberties).

He will then be able to make a joyful entrance in Namur, then in Brussels. When he arrived in Brussels, the evacuation of the foreign troops was practically over.

But the situation becomes tense again quickly, and Don Juan, who ends up not feeling safe anymore, decides to leave Brussels and to return to Namur, where the pressure of the little people is less.

In Namur, he met the sister of the king of France, Marguerite de Valois, queen of Navarre (the "Queen Margot") who was going to the waters of Spa (if this trip did not hide some more important purpose).

By a coup de main, he succeeds then in taking the control of the citadel of Namur with an aim of establishing a loyalist reduction (the provinces of Namur and Luxembourg). He will then ask Philip II to send reinforcements.

William of Orange took the pretext of the occupation of the citadel of Namur to proclaim that the edict of Marche-en-Famenne was broken and led the States General into the path of open revolution in the name of the superior right of the common people to participate in government. For the second time, he believed that the time had come to realize his program: "Towards the Union through Tolerance".

On the other hand, the intrigues that Antonio Pérez organizes at the court place Don Juan in a delicate situation towards the king. The resources which he needs (as well in men as in money) arrive with parsimony. But if the Spanish monarchy proves to be insufficient in the use of the material means, it believes to be able to prevail on the diplomatic plan and Philip II charges Don Juan to establish contacts with France, the English and the rebel factions in order to regulate the insurrectionary situation, task much too big for the poor diplomat that he is.

In December 1577, arrive finally consequent reinforcements sent by Philip II from Italy, under the command of Alexander Farnese, son of Marguerite of Parma, and thus nephew of Philip II and don Juan.

On January 31, 1578, the Spanish army won the battle of Gembloux, north of Namur. Don Juan then launched an offensive towards the north of Brabant.

On March 31, 1578, his secretary, Juan de Escobedo, was assassinated as a result of the actions of Antonio Perez, secretary of Philip II, who had obtained authorization for this assassination for reasons of state, accusing Juan Escobedo of plotting with the revolt.

However, the Spanish army suffered a defeat at Rijmenam on August 1, which forced it to retreat to Namur, at the Bouge camp.

It is there that Don Juan is affected by a typhus epidemic and dies on October 1st.

The funeral of Don Juan

His funeral in Namur was organized by Alexander Farnese. The body of Don Juan, carried by four lords: Pierre-Ernest, count of Mansfeld, general marshal of camp, Octave de Gonzague, general of cavalry, Pierre de Toledo, marquis of Ville-Franche and Jean de Croÿ, count of Rœulx, was taken from the camp of Bouge to the cathedral of Saint-Aubain of Namur between a hedge of cavalry and a hedge of infantry, both lined up in order of battle

Don Juan is dressed in his arms (full armor), the necklace of the Golden Fleece around his neck and seventeen rings on his fingers, which are then slipped into gauntlets. According to the custom of the funerals of the princes of the House of Burgundy, a crown of golden cloth decorated with gems girdles the head of the deceased.

The body thus adorned was deposited in the cathedral of Saint-Aubain in Namur, where it remained for a year, the time it took for Philip II to accede to Don Juan's request before his death that his body be transferred to El Escorial, near Madrid, to be laid to rest beside his father, Charles V.

To facilitate the convoy, the corpse was dismembered and the bones were taken through France in three boxes. When they arrived in Spain, the bones were placed on metal rods before being dressed in armor and command signs. The body was exposed for a few days in Burgos before being placed in a coffin and transferred with great pomp to El Escorial. After a new funeral ceremony, it was placed in a crypt dedicated to him, separate from the pantheon of the sovereigns and the hall of the infants.

The tomb of Don Juan is composed of a larger than life recumbent resting on a white marble basin. The prince is depicted in armor, wearing the famous rings on his hands, closed on a bronze sword. The recumbent, the work of the sculptor Giuseppe Galeotti after a design by Ponciano Ponzano, dates from the 19th century.


  1. John of Austria
  2. Juan d'Autriche
  3. ^ Sánchez, J.A.V. (2015). Carlos V: Emperador y hombre. Clío crónicas de la historia (in Spanish). Editorial Edaf, S.L. p. 249. ISBN 978-84-414-3608-4.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Stirling-Maxwell, William (1883). Don John of Austria, or Passages from the history of the sixteenth century, 1547-1578 (PDF). London: Longmans, Green, and Co.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Petrie, Charles (1967). Don John of Austria. New York: Norton.
  6. ^ Pendrill, Collin (2002). Spain 1474-1700: The Triumphs and Tribulations of Empire. Heinemann. p. 77. ISBN 9780435327330.
  7. ^ Carr, Matthew (2013). Blood and Faith: The Purging of Muslim Spain. The New Press. ISBN 9781595585240.
  8. La date de sa naissance est inconnue, dans certaines sources, il est né en 1545 et dans d'autres, telles celles de G. Parker et de P. Pierson, en 1547. Pierson affirme que certains contemporains parlent de 1545, mais que les premières preuves en France dans les cérémonies publiques, appuient la date de 1547. Il a probablement été conçu en mai 1546, tandis que l'empereur est à Ratisbonne, ce qui rend plausible la date du 24 février 1547, mais le jour, qui est le même que celui de son père Charles Quint, pourrait n'être qu'un hommage à celui-ci.
  9. Les termes utilisés par Philippe II dans une lettre en français adressée à don Juan sont : « gouverneur, lieutenant et capitaine-général de nos Pays-Bas  »
  10. Allgemeine Encyclopädie der Wissenschaften und Künste, 1842, S. 170.
  11. a b Allgemeines Historisches Lexicon, Band 1, 1730, S. 637.
  12. M. A. Abbotto: Militello in Val di Catania nella storia, Mascalucia, Novecento, 2008, S. 70–84.
  13. Carol Nater Cartier: Zwischen Konvention und Rebellion: die Handlungsspielräume von Anna Colonna Barberini und Maria Veralli Spada in der papsthöfischen Gesellschaft des 17. Jahrhunderts, Göttingen 2011, S. 67.
  14. DANFS: Don Juan de Austria (Memento vom 19. Februar 2014 im Internet Archive)
  15. a b Featherston, G. A. (2001). Matthew Arnold's The Church of Brou - a Closer Look (em inglês). Chicago: Intellect Books. p. 209. ISBN 9781902454078
  16. a b c Heel, Donker Van (2017). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of World History (em inglês). Abingdon-on-Thames: Routledge. p. 740. ISBN 9781317456315
  17. Sutherland, N. M. (1984). Princes, Politics and Religion, 1547-1589 (em inglês). Londres: Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 224. ISBN 9780826464019
  18. Stirling-Maxwell, William (1883). Don John of Austria, or Passages from the history of the sixteenth century, 1547-1578. Londres: Longmans, Green, and Co.

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