Your RDA of Irony

This Day in History

The Historical Significance of October 7th:

Today is Karen Finerman’s birthday.

Of slightly less historical importance, this is also the anniversary of battle of Lepanto.  In 1571 Venice was ruefully learning that crime doesn’t pay for more than three centuries.  All that valuable Byzantine territory that Venice had seized in the Fourth Crusade was now being reclaimed by the new empire in Constantinople.  The Ottomans had begun their conquest of Cyprus, so the Venetians begged help from the Pope, who begged help from the Spanish, who never refused any charity that involved killing non-Catholics.

The Spanish, the Venetians, along with the Genoese, amassed a fleet of some 200 ships, and the Pope provided a nifty name for the alliance:  the Holy League.  Emboldened by God’s’ product placement, this fleet embarked for western Greece where an equally large Turkish fleet was awaiting it.  The Turks, sailing oar-powered ships, and armed with archers and catapults, were more than ready to fight the battle of Actium.  The Latino gang came to the rumble with muskets and cannons.

Guess who won?  Yes, Christendom was saved from the Turks…except

1.  The loss of the Turkish fleet did not seriously impede the conquest of Cyprus.  The Turks completed the conquest of the island by 1573. Sultan Selim II compared his lost fleet at Lepanto to a singed beard:  “It will grow back.”

2.  Half of Christendom was actually rooting for the Turks.  Who would the Protestants prefer?  Philip II wanted to burn them alive.  Selim would have been content with the infidel tax.  But the Ottoman Fan Club was not solely comprised of Protestants.  Just scan the roster of the Holy League, and you should notice a major omission.  Mais oui, the French were pro-Turkish as well.  I am not suggesting that Catherine de Medici was belly-dancing in the Louvre; France just hated the Hapsburgs more than it liked Catholicism.  In fact, the French and the Turks had an alliance dating back to the 1520s and would last until 1798, when Napoleon was tactless enough to invade Egypt.  (He was surprised that the Turks seemed to mind his attack on their richest province.)

With the Spanish triumph at Lepanto, Philip II was more devout and unbearable than ever.  Deprived of the distracting Turkish threat, an intimidated France now would comply with Spain’s prejudices.  The next year’s St. Bartholomew’s Day would be memorable for the Huguenots.  Philip also resumed his crusade to make the Dutch into votive candles.

But the Dutch successfully resisted, with the none too covert aid of a large Protestant island to the West.  (Confronted with Spanish protests, the island’s sovereign averred her innocence, lying in superb iambic pentameter.)  Exasperated, Philip decided to conquer that island and amassed an invasion fleet–with many of the same ships that triumphed at Lepanto.  He did not quite anticipate two problems, however.  The English were better sailors than the Turks, and the North Sea is much rougher than the Mediterranean.

So the battle of Lepanto seems to have had no real lasting effect unless you were a Turkish widow or a Protestant cinder.  Yet, there is one footnote and it might be more important than the actual battle….One Turkish soldier evidently had a musket but a mediocre aim. He hit a Spanish soldier, leaving him with a crippled left arm and perhaps a sense of irony. The handicapped veteran must have written “Don Quixote” with his right hand.





  1. Ed Bederman says:

    Happy Birthday to Karen, Happy Birthday to Karen, Happy Birthday dear Karen…..I hope you have more fun than this history lesson…and a night out with a sumptous dinner.

  2. Hal Gordon says:

    Karen — Happy Birthday. Eugene — I presume you know Chesterton’s poem about the Battle of Lepanto:

    Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
    (Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
    And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
    Up which a lean and foolish knight for ever rides in vain,
    And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade….
    (But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      Hal, I do know the poem but not to the point of memorizing it. After all, I would have been rooting for the Turks. Given the choice, would I rather be taxed in Salonika or burned in Seville?

  3. Dennis Pennington says:

    Happy Birthday Karen !

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