Reformation Era "Wars of Religion"
It is commonly thought that the Protestant Reformation ushered in a century of bloody religious conflict. It is true that the sixteenth century involved much war and bloodshed in Europe, but upon closer inspection, many conflicts presented as 'religious' disputes had primarily political or economic causes. In most cases 'Religious Differences' were a stalking horse for men those who sought only to despoil, not reform the Church. The majority of so-called Religious Wars were fomented by grasping nobles who sought to confiscate Church property and increase their own wealth and political influence. Christians who earnestly sought reform, were of course, found in the ranks on both sides of the conflict.
Even among those Reformation era wars with a significant religious component, only a few involved Catholics fighting Protestants. Most major conflicts of the period involved Catholic vs. Catholic or Protestant vs. Protestant contests, or even Christians allied with Moslem Turks against enemy Christian kingdoms. The idea that most Protestants fought primarily for religious freedom, or that Catholic princes fought primarily to combat heresy is not supported by a closer look at the facts.
The lists below provides a short summary of the major European Wars of the 16th century and gives a brief idea of the nature of the religious and political conflicts involved.
Conflicts Before and During the Council of Trent
The most damaging wars in the first years after the Protestant revolt were Catholic vs. Catholic and Catholic vs. Moslem because weakened Christian unity and forced Catholic sovereigns to tolerate heresy.
German Peasant's War (1524-25) — Anabaptist peasants vs. Catholic nobles
Provoked by Anabaptist religious leaders and angered over changes to property laws that advantaged the nobles over serfs, tens of thousands of German peasant ransacked towns, manors and abbeys. Luther himself denounced the Peasant uprisings and both Lutheran and Catholic nobles united against them. Over 100,000 rebels were slaughtered by imperial troops in two years.
Italian Wars (1494-1559) — Catholic Spain vs. Catholic France
Complicated and drawn out dynastic wars between Spain and France for control of Italian states. Catholic vs. Catholic civil wars pitted Emperor against the Pope, and greatly weakened the Catholic cause during the critical reformation period. At least 250,000 Casualties over a 60 year period.
Schmalkaldic Wars (1546-52) — Lutheran princes vs. Holy Roman Emperor
The Schmalkaldic League was formed by Lutheran princes, most related to the Elector of Saxony. It was active during the first half of the Council of Trent and was formed to pressure Emperor Charles V to make concessions. Military engagements between Catholic vs. Lutheran Princes resulted in at least 7,000 casualties.
Ottoman-Hapsburg War(1521-66) — Moslem Turks vs. Catholic Magyars
Soon after the Protestant Revolt, the Ottoman prince Suleiman took advantage of the divisions in Christendom to make an aggressive campaign into Hungarian territory. The Hapsburg war in the east against Moslem aggression should have united Christendom, but instead Catholic France and the Protestant Princes of Germany conspired with Ottomans against the Holy Roman Emperor.
Ottoman Naval Wars (1522-74) — Barbary Pirates vs. Holy League
Another front in the Ottoman War on Christian Europe were strategic islands and ports. In 1522, just five years after the Protestant Revolt, the Knights Templars were driven from their stronghold at Rhodes and for fifty years Moslem pirates wreaked havoc throughout the Mediterranean. The Battle of Lepanto, fought soon after the Council of Trent finished its work, brought Ottoman domination of the seas to an end.
Conflicts After the Council of Trent
Several of the most notorious 'Wars of Religion' related to the Reformation were fought after the Council of Trent produced important reforms in the Church. Since the real agenda of the Protestants was always rebellion rather than reform, most conflicts after Trent had strong political agendas and involved Calvinist-inspired rebellions against Catholic monarchs.
French Wars of Religion (1562-98) — Valois vs. Guise vs. Bourbon (Huguenot)
The so-called French religious wars was really a three-way war of succession for the French throne between a devout Catholic family (Guise), a royal cousin allied with the Huguenots (Bourbon), and the ruling family (Valois/Medici). There were atrocities, assassinations, and defections on all sides, and over 2 million perished during 36 years of war. The conflict ended when the Huguenot prince ascended to the throne and promptly converted back to Catholicism.
Dutch Revolt (1568-1598) — Dutch Huguenots vs. Catholic Spain
The conflict in the Netherlands was spurred mainly by a small, but violent Calvinist minority a mainly Catholic country. Much of the population disliked certain impositions of Philip II and complained of taxes, but did not want war. The Calvinist minority, however, fought relentlessly for political independence, and did not make peace until the Netherlands were recognized as an independent Republic.
Tudor Conquest of Ireland (1529-1603) — Protestant England vs. Catholic Ireland
England had long sought to subjugate Ireland, but under Elizabeth, Catholicism was viewed as treason and when she sent troops to put down Irish rebellions, the conflict took on an increasingly religious character. The vicious conflict continued for decades at an enormous toll.
Anglo-Spanish War (1586-1604) — Anglican Britain vs. Catholic Spain
he conflict between Protestant Britain and Catholic Spain had an obvious religious aspect to it, but the real cause was a commercial dispute regarding Spanish privateers in Spanish America. Except for England's support of the rebels during the Dutch Revolt, the Spanish-English conflict was carried out almost entirely at sea, and it came to an end after the death of Philip II and Elizabeth.
Conflicts of the 17th Century
Two other European wars that had important religious consequences were fought in the first half of the 17th century. The Thirty Years War (1618-48) resulted in the Peace of Westphalia, which drastically changed the manner in which sovereign nations within Europe recognized and dealt with each other. The English Civil War (1642-51) was confined to the British Isles but it also established important precedent regarding parliamentary rule and religious freedom. These wars, which were both fought over primarily political issues, resulted a new political order which no longer depended on Christian unity, and effectively ended the era of so-called "Religious Wars". They will be dealt with more in later units.
Several of the most important Religious Wars described above are presented in more detail below, based on excerpts from Leading Events of Church History: Early Modern Period by Sisters of Notre Dame.
Revolt of the Netherlands
The Netherlands, previous to the Revolt, consisted of a group of seventeen provinces, lying on and around the delta of the Rhine and the Meuse. They formed a tract of thickly populated and wealthy territory, and though each was governed by a sovereign duke or count, these states had never been wholly independent; but from the days of the Teutonic Invasion, they had formed an appanage of one or the other of the great Continental powers. For a hundred years they had been attached to Burgundy when, in 1482, by the marriage of Mary, heiress of the ducal house, to Maximilian I. these provinces became united with Austria. They, therefore, formed part of the vast inheritance which fell to the share of Charles V. when he succeeded his father. But Charles V. shortly after was elected Emperor of Germany. Hence the Netherlands followed the fortunes of the rest of the imperial domains.
In 1556, the year after the Peace of Augsburg, Charles V.—worn out by his struggles with heretics, with his unruly subject-princes and with enemies both Christian and Turk—in a strangely dramatic scene laid down the sceptres he had wielded for wellnigh forty years, and declared his intention of withdrawing from the world and its cares to prepare for death in a monastery. The Netherlands fell to the share of his son Philip, who was also to rule over Spain; while the states of the Empire were confirmed to Ferdinand, brother of Charles V., who had long assisted him in the government. Philip II. was a Spaniard by birth and education, and after four years he withdrew from the Netherlands, leaving as regent his half-sister, the Princess Margaret of Parma, who was to be assisted in the administration by a Council of State, while each province had its own governor or stadtholder. Of these, William of Nassau, Prince of Orange, Stadtholder of Zealand and Holland, was the most remarkable. When Philip withdrew, he bequeathed to the regent a double source of danger to the peace in the shape of a large body of Spanish troops, and a decree just issued at his request by the Holy See for the multiplication of bishoprics, a measure to which the existing bishops and their flocks were much opposed. Add to this, heresy was beginning to appear, and was exciting alarm in every direction. Almost at once the Council of State split up into rival parties.
The Prince of Orange intrigued for the recall to Spain of the President Granville, and then took the lead, though still in subordination to the Princess Margaret. The religious difficulties growing every day more acute, Philip, in spite of remonstrances offered by the regent and council, sought to stem the evil by edicts against heretics. The government would have delayed the publication of the king's letters, but Orange urged on the measure which played too well into his hands to be held in abeyance. A terrible panic seized the people. Thousands of seditious pamphlets were published, exciting the popular imagination by depicting the speedy advent of the Inquisition with its attendant horrors. A tide of emigration set in that did not cease until the Netherlands had seen its sons scattered far and wide over Europe, Africa, and Asia. But the heretical preachers grew in boldness, and there is a terrible monotony in the recital of the burnings, sacrileges, robberies, and general vandalism that followed. In a fortnight four hundred churches were destroyed in Flanders alone. The nobles, headed by a band of about thirty Calvinists, had joined in a league to protest against the introduction of the Inquisition, but they soon found that Orange was leading them into a revolt against their Church and their sovereign. The greater number withdrew from the league, and Orange entered into open opposition to the regent's party. An attempt on the part of the government to institute energetic measures, caused the leaguers to raise the standard of revolt. Orange refused a new oath of allegiance which was tendered to the nobles, and withdrew into Germany. With his departure peace seemed about to be restored to the distracted country, when Philip sent as governor of the Netherlands the brave but sternly severe Duke of Alva, 1568.
The regent, feeling herself affronted, withdrew from her false position, and the people gave themselves up to a frenzy of terror, which was not lessened by the action of Alva. He formed a tribunal known by the people as the "Council of Blood." Arrests, trials, and condemnations became the order of the day. Orange, cited before this Board, refused to appear, and gathering forces from Huguenot and Protestant sources, recrossed the frontier and declared war in 1572. Revolts immediately broke out in various quarters, and Alva took more stringent means of repression. Two very popular noblemen—Egmont and Horne—who had for a time been leaguers, were executed; an exorbitant taxation to support the army was threatened, and, in spite of remonstrances, was finally imposed on the people. Philip, thinking the Netherlands had been sufficiently punished, sent a decree of amnesty, but Alva delayed to publish it; and when at last he did proclaim it the exceptions to the general pardon were so numerous that the people would not bear with the governor any longer, but petitioned Philip for his removal. Alva was recalled in 1573, but war had broken out, Briel had been seized by the rebels, the great siege of Leyden had been begun by the royalists, and to save the city, Orange, who, aided by the famous "Beggars of the Sea," had fitted out a fleet, sent it to the relief of the place by water, while he flooded the land around so that the royalists might be obliged to retire.
The struggle continued for some years, but after many negotiations the Pacification of Ghent was signed; and again matters seemed to be settling down when Orange once more threw the country into disorder. The governor named to succeed Alva died, and at length Don Juan of Austria, the victor of Lepanto, a splendid soldier and most conciliatory ruler, was sent to pacify and re-establish order in the distracted and impoverished country. By the Perpetual Edict, generous terms were granted to the people, hope was springing up anew, when a third time Orange threw the nation back into a state of misery and bloodshed. He had refused to accept the edict, and he now sought by underhand measures to sow suspicions, both in the people against Don Juan, and in Don Juan against the people, warning each side against treachery. The too credulous Netherlanders accused the governor to Philip. Fearing an attack, Don Juan shut himself up in the fortress of Namur and recalled a Spanish regiment. War broke out, and Don Juan almost immediately succumbed to fever.
Alexander Farnese, another brilliant general, was sent to the Low Countries, 1578. The leaders of the revolt were foiled for a time and their hopes fell. Fresh measures of pacification were set on foot, but the provinces, differing in their demands, split up into two distinct groups—the northern, insisting on liberty of worship for the Protestants and forming a league called the Union of Utrecht; while the southern, by the confederacy of Arras were as firm in maintaining the supremacy of Catholicism. Up to this time there had been no question of withdrawing allegiance from Spain, but now, at the instigation of Orange, the northern provinces proclaimed the king deposed, and offered the crown to the fourth son of Catherine de Medici, that Duke of Alencon who was suitor for the hand of Elizabeth of England. War was renewed with increased fury. Alencon fled, and Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was for a short time regarded as king. At this juncture, William of Orange was assassinated (1586), and his son Maurice was elected to succeed him as leader of the Protestants. Things prospered with the revolted party. The defeat of the Armada gave them a great advantage.'.' Moreover, Farnese was recalled by Philip, who then sent him against Henry of Navarre, at that time engaged in the siege of Paris. The Netherlanders were thus freed from war on their own territory, but events were complicated by a war with France, which dragged on another miserable term of twenty-four years. The breach between the northern and southern provinces was, however, final. The latter were ceded by Philip to his daughter Isabella and to her affianced husband, Albert of Austria, as a separate kingdom, in 1598, and an era of peace began for the distracted and ruined country. The northern provinces remained severed from the Empire, and soon began to be regarded as an independent republic and the champion of Protestantism in every part of the world. The position of the united provinces, or Holland, as the group began to be called, was formally recognized by the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) at the conclusion of the Thirty Years' War in Germany. It was during this memorable revolt that Holland laid the foundations of her great Colonial Empire.
The Huguenot Wars in France
Religious disturbances characterize the history of France from the first preaching of Calvin in 1536. They deepened into civil war by the middle of the century, and continued to desolate the country with almost unbroken strife to its close.
France was not fortunate in the monarchs who ruled her during this crisis. From 1515 to 1547 Francis I., a clever and unscrupulous intriguer, a I brilliant and dashing sovereign, but an utterly worthless man, directed the affairs of the nation to his own profit only. A rivalry with Charles V. of Germany, begun when both were candidates for the imperial crown, ran through his whole career and determined most of his policy. The wars between the two monarchs, continued under their respective sons, were largely mixed up with religious matters, and it was during these unsettled. years that Calvinism, the peculiar form of Protestantism adopted in France, spread throughout the land.
Calvin was a Frenchman, and had studied at the University of Paris, where he imbibed the new heresy. He then gave up the idea of becoming a priest, and put himself into the hands of the reformers. In 1536 he settled in Geneva, for it had become unsafe for him to remain in France, as Francis had just then one of his fits of religious zeal, and was persecuting the followers of the new gospel. Calvin shortly became the great reforming authority in Switzerland, while in Geneva itself he was absolute master even in the temporal order. He tolerated no opposition to his rule or difference from his teaching in belief; exile or death awaited those who ventured to profess another creed than his. From Geneva Calvin directed his disciples in France, to which he never returned. His doctrine was more absolute than that of Luther; the predestination of the elect and justification by faith alone were its essential tenets, but, unlike Luther, he would have the Church to be independent of the State. Calvin was perhaps the most highly gifted of all the reforming leaders, and his works, especially those on the Scriptures, still hold a high position in the opinion of Protestants.
The sovereigns succeeding Francis I. (namely, Henry II., the husband of Catherine of Medici, and three of her sons: Francis II., husband of Mary Stuart, Charles IX., and Henry III.), alternately flattered or persecuted the followers of Calvin, as best suited their policy at the moment. Except during the lifetime of her husband, who both neglected and despised her, Catherine was the leading spirit in France. She came of the grand ducal house of Florence, and inherited the magnificent tastes of her ancestors, with all their luxury, immoderate living, and loose notions about religion. An astute, unprincipled ruler, who seemed not to know what honour or truth meant, she trimmed her sails to every wind that blew, and used every means, fair or foul, to compass her ends. Her court reflected her character, and there she played off friends and enemies against each other with eminent success for a not inconsiderable fraction of the century.
One of the chief difficulties which beset Catherine's path was the rivalry between the nobles. The Guises of Lorraine were furious enemies of Conde and Vendome, two brothers of the rising Bourbon family. The Guises were special objects of animosity to Catherine, and when the Huguenots, as the French Calvinists were called, espoused the Bourbon side, Catherine took up their cause, in spite of the mischief they were working in the nation. These sectaries were not merely religious devotees, but they were an active power in the country, a vast secret society recruited from every rank, engaged in undermining the king's authority, levying contributions, training soldiers—in a word, getting ready. for a war, which it was foreseen must break out. For there had been frequent quarrels between the Catholics and the Huguenots, in which blood had been freely spilt, and there was a growing dread in the Catholic party of what would happen if the Huguenots got the upper hand. And that it was no idle fear was shown by the terrible scenes that had been enacted in Germany and the Netherlands—scenes that were repeated in France wherever the Huguenots were at all powerful. It was by an instinct of self-preservation that the Catholics banded themselves together, and demanded the suppression of the new doctrines. It was known that the Huguenots were striving to attain to power. The Conspiracy of Amboise, in 1560, headed by Conde, had been detected in time to prevent the surrender of the king into the hands of the Huguenots. Another event, now well known, but then only suspected, had taken place. Conde had made a treaty with Elizabeth of England, promising to give up, in return for her assistance, the three important strongholds—Rouen, Dieppe, and Havre-de-Grace.
Hostilities broke out after what is called the Massacre of Vassy, in 1562. A quarrel between the soldiers of Guise and a band of Huguenots resulted in a number of the latter being killed. The next ten years saw three successive wars, during which France was given up to a vandalism that has rarely been equaled. The accumulated treasures of hundreds of years were ruthlessly destroyed. Yet this is little compared with the massacres that followed one another in rapid succession. The most terrible was the Michelade, or systematic slaughter of Catholics on St. Michael's Day, 1567. Though during the war the military advantage remained with the Catholics, liberty of worship and general amnesty were granted to the Huguenots by the treaties closing each period of hostilities. As they increased in numbers and in influence these sectaries became more violent, and when, shortly after the treaty of St. Germain (1570), Catherine de Medici gave her daughter Margaret in marriage to Henry of Navarre, now the recognized leader of the new sect, the Huguenots were at the height of power. But they ruined their own cause by striving to bring on a war with Spain, while the hatred between the Catholic and Huguenot court nobles soon threatened once more to plunge the country into a civil war.
In 1572, on August 22, an attempt was made to murder Admiral Coligny. The Huguenots proclaimed their intention of taking a signal revenge. Catherine de Medici, terrified at the prospect of an outbreak in the palace, by threats and prayers, forced her son Charles IX. to agree to forestall the Huguenot vengeance by a similar measure. An infamous plot was immediately concocted, and two days later put into execution. At the ringing of the great bell on the night of St. Bartholomew an indiscriminate massacre of Huguenots throughout Paris took place. Some of those in the court itself feigned to embrace Catholicism in order to save their lives; among these was Henry of Navarre. During two months similar tragedies were enacted in other towns. The Catholics, stung to frenzy by a long series of acts of injustice and barbarous cruelty, retaliated with vengeance that has left a terrible stain on their character and caused many an attack on their religion. The hunted Protestants found shelter and safety under the roof of Catholic prelates and priests, but, as may he supposed, the effect of Catherine's most inhuman policy was to widen yet more the breach between Catholics and Huguenots.
Queen Joan, mother of Henry of Navarre, gathered the sectaries round her at La Rochelle. Her son, nerved to activity by his mother's spirited conduct, withdrew from the court in whose vicious atmospheres he had spent four years, abjured Catholicism, and began to gather allies for a renewed struggle. The fourth son of Catherine de Medici, the Duke d'Alencon before mentioned, was on the Huguenot side. An alliance had been proposed between himself and Elizabeth of England, who agreed to consider the offer in the hope of finding support in France should England be attacked by Spain. The Huguenots in their turn counted on Elizabeth's aid in their difficulties.
In 1577 the Catholic party formed itself into a league, which gave cause for apprehension to the popes, though its aim was one of legitimate defence of religion. Philip II., who regarded himself as the champion of the Catholic cause throughout Europe, backed up the League, and worked with it against the Calvinistic party. Though war did not yet break out in France, the French were mixed up with troubles in the Netherlands. Alencon put himself forward as leader of the revolted party there, but had to retire. His death in 1584 brought about that renewal of the civil war in France, which is called the War of the Three Henrys.
The King of France, Henry III., was childless, and there was no relative with royal blood in his veins nearer than Henry of Navarre, whose only claim was descent from St. Louis of France. Henry of Guise and the League, by much intriguing, managed to get the king under their power, and treated him with such insolence that he strove to throw off their yoke by causing Henry of Guise and his brother the Cardinal of Lorraine to be murdered, 1588. The remaining Guise, Charles of Mayenne, headed the League, and made war on Henry III., who threw himself into the hands of Henry of Navarre. The early years of the war saw but few important battles, yet the country was a scene of disorder and desolation from one end to the other.
But in 1590 Henry of Navarre began a series of brilliant military exploits, which won him first the admiration and later the submission of the whole of France. The siege of Paris was begun, but it ended when Henry III. was assassinated. The south of France then decared for Henry of Navarre, but the League setup the aged Cardinal of Bourbon as king, and kept Henry from the throne for three years longer. His great victories at Ivry and Arques, his renewed siege of Paris, from which he had to withdraw when attacked by the famous Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma, whom Philip II, sent against him, and, finally, the second siege of Rouen, made it apparent to all that the conqueror had at last come. But it was the sight of the Spanish generals fighting Frenchmen that threw all parties into the arms of Henry of Navarre. The Spaniards were hated by the French, who, moreover, were weary of the long and disastrous war. Nothing but his religion stood in the way of Henry, who, after many conferences on the subject with Jesuits and others, at length followed the advice of his sage counsellor Sully, and asked to be reconciled with the Church. This move so evidently coincided with his political interests that it is no wonder his sincerity was mistrusted. It was remembered that he had abjured Calvinism to save his life, and that as soon as all danger was past he had thrown over Catholicism.
The moment was a critical one. Faction was rife in France. Spain was intriguing to secure the crown for its own nominee, and the League, abandoned by the Pope since it had developed into a revolutionary coalition, instead of pursuing patriotic aims, had no worthy candidate to oppose to Henry of Navarre, and had expressed itself ready to acknowledge Spanish suzerainty. Pope Clement VIII. hesitated to accept Henry's submission, and time went on, Spain ever urging the Holy Father not to believe in the truth of Henry's assertion, Henry sending ambassador after ambassador to implore his readmission into the Church, and the Sacred College, divided in its estimate of Henry, begging the Pope to delay his decision. Henry at length took the matter into his own hands, and in 1593 abjured heresy He was absolved conditionally "saving the authority of the Holy See." The religious orders favoured the petitions of Henry IV. and the Jesuits and Oratorians, notably St. Philip Neri himself, pleaded his cause with the Pope. It is said that Cardinal Baronius, an Oratorian and the Pope's Confessor, was the instrument by which the long delayed boon was granted. The Pope solemnly absolved Henry from all censures in 1595, and he was crowned King of France.
All Henry's sagacity and kindly spirit were scarcely sufficient to maintain peace between the rival factions, which still threatened to keep France in a turmoil. Despite his opposition, the Leaguers went on with their war with Spain and the Netherlands. It was only in 1598 that the Peace of Vervins put an end to this source of trouble. The same year saw the Edict of Nantes proclaimed. This treaty gave the Huguenots perfect equality with Catholics in all civil matters, but in certain places only were they allowed free exercise of their religion. Though these were in very considerable number, the restriction sufficed to keep the Huguenots among themselves, and was calculated to prevent the spread of their false doctrines.
But their close organization and their resentment of the religious inequality between themselves and Catholics were a danger to the state, and throughout the reign of Henry IV. it needed all his tact to prevent their insurrections. After his assassination by a fanatic in 1610, France again passed through a great crisis occasioned by court intrigues, during which the Huguenots strove to consolidate their power by the formation of a central council of administration, by whose decisions all their affairs were to be regulated. This was held to be contrary to the terms of the Edict of Nantes, and when they called the meeting at Rochelle, King Louis XIII., son of Henry IV., laid siege to the place, but without success. All the other Huguenot cities were taken, however, and the Huguenots were forbidden to hold any meetings unless for the regulation of Church affairs.
In 1626 the Duke of Buckingham (when in France negotiating the marriage of Charles I. with Henrietta Maria, sister of the king) held out hopes to the Duke of Rohan, the Huguenot leader, that help might be forthcoming from England. Buckingham did succeed in landing some forces in the Isle of Rhé, and then he returned to England to gather reinforcements. The French king and his great minister, Richelieu, themselves advanced to besiege Rochelle, while the Huguenots waited vainly for the promised aid from England. Charles, however, was straining every nerve to fulfil Buckingham's promise of sending them money and ships, and at length, by signing the Petition of Right, he gathered a sum large enough for the purpose. Buckingham was starting with the forces when he was assassinated. The fleet arrived too late to render any assistance, and Rochelle capitulated to Cardinal Richelieu, 1628.
Catholicism was restored in Rochelle, and the power of the Huguenots was at an end. They were allowed to practise their religion as before, but a period of emigration set in, especially among those who held most strongly to their belief. Another cause combined to lessen materially the number of the Huguenots: large numbers were returning to the faith of their ancestors, and the sectaries were for a time almost lost sight of in the reviving Catholicism of the seventeenth century.
The Turks in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries
The struggle between the Turks and European Christendom up to the fall of Constantinople has been narrated. The Turks had, by this great victory, become a European as well as an Asiatic power, and it was not long before the influence of their presence was felt in political circles. Sovereigns, such as Francis I. of France and Henry VIII. of England, had no scruple in courting the ancient enemy of Christendom and forming alliance with a Moslem power. But princes nearer the Turkish frontiers found them far from peaceful neighbours, and for a century and a half the struggle went on between them with varying success.
Suleyman the Magnificent, contemporary with a the three great western monarchs of the first half of the sixteenth century, won many victories over Christian powers. He conquered Belgrade, drove the Knights of St. John from Rhodes (1522), invaded Hungary in 1526, overthrew and slew the Hungarian sovereign, Louis II., at the Battle of Mohacz, and made the country tributary to Turkey. A renewed invasion in 1529 brought Suleyman to the gates of Vienna, but he was driven back, and in 1532 he made a truce with Charles V. Some years later he annexed Hungary, and governed it as a Turkish province. The constant danger from the Turks tied the hands of this emperor in his dealings with his revolted Lutheran subjects. Up to 1566, when Suleyman died, wars and sieges were almost uninterrupted. But the Empire was not the only power attacked. Turkish corsairs swept the Mediterranean and kept the states along the coast in a condition of abject terror. The Knights of St. John alone withstood the terrible admirals of Suleyman, and one of the most awful sieges in history, that of Malta, was sustained by them with success, in 1565, against the whole force of the Turkish navy. The infidels were checked, but not disheartened. Though Selim II., who succeeded in 1566, was not equal to his father in talents and enterprise, his generals and admirals were as determined as before to contest the power of the Christians at least by sea. They seized Cyprus in 1571, and treated their captives with merciless cruelties and revolting atrocity.
Pope Pius V. determined to stem their career of conquest, and to come to the aid of the Cypriots. He could turn for help to Spain only, the one Catholic state with power and will to help a forlorn cause. Philip II., who, whatever his faults, never turned a deaf ear to pleading in favour of distressed Catholics, sent his half-brother, Don Juan of Austria, with a splendid fleet to co-operate with the Venetians—the traditional enemy of the Turks—and the Knights of St. John, who volunteered their aid. The Catholic forces were headed by a small band of brave men, strong in the justice of their cause and in the knowledge that all Catholic Christendom was in prayer for their success.
Pope Pius V. had organized a crusade of prayer. He had sought for spiritual arms with the more diligence that human aid was but small. The Rosary Confraternities were indefatigable in their correspondence with the wishes of one who was their Pontiff and their brother, for Pius V. was a Dominican. In spite of the outcry against pilgrimages which, in consequence of Protestant teachings, had resounded throughout Europe, no day but saw its streams of pilgrims wending their way to the famous shrines of Our Blessed Lady. Loretto especially attracted thousands.
The Catholic fleet gathered at Messina, a magnificent spectacle witnessed by an enthusiastic crowd. Sail was set for the old battle-ground of the Peloponnesian War—the open sea south of the entrance to the Adriatic—and there, just oft the famous Naupactus, now called Lepanto, the Catholics came in sight of the Turks. It was Saturday evening, and preparation for the battle went on during the night. The soldiers all made their confession, and as day dawned, showing them their mighty enemy, they knelt to pray. The signal was given, and the ships advanced to meet the splendid crescent of four hundred and thirty vessels bearing down on them before a steady wind as to assured victory. But before the fleets met, the wind suddenly fell and then rose from the opposite quarter, throwing the Turks into confusion, but sweeping the Christian fleet with swelling sails down on their crowded foe. All day the fight went on, stubbornly contested. Towards nightfall a panic seized the Turks, and they strove to turn their prows to flee. A fierce storm broke at the same time, and completed the havoc. The Christians followed in hot pursuit, and captured many vessels, while ship after ship of the Turks was driven shorewards by their terrified crews and wrecked rather than that they should fall into the hands of the enemy. The loss on both sides was tremendous. Thirty thousand Turks are said to have been slain; forty vessels of their proud fleet alone remained to them. The moral result of the fight was incalculable. The Turks never recovered their lost prestige, and though several desperate attempts to re-establish their power have been made by successive sovereigns, their decline dates from the Battle of Lepanto. It is well known that on the memorable Sunday which Rome had spent in prayer, Pope Pius V. assisted in vision at the victory which he announced to those around him at the very moment it occurred. The Festival of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary commemorates this triumph which the voice of Christendom attributed to Our Blessed Lady.