The Duke of Alba counsels Don John of Austria on how to handle his council of war

June 13, 2011

Don Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, III Duke de Alba Painted by Titian

The Nuncio, Mons. Odescalchi, Bishop of Penna, came with a great following of Capuchins, Dominicans, Jesuits and Franciscans, whom the Pope sent to serve the galleys; he also brought letters for D. John and Marco Antonio Colonna, exhorting them without hesitation to give battle to the Turk, as in God’s name he assured them of victory. D. John did not require such advice, and had, with much prudence and cleverness, been meanwhile preparing the Council, according to what the great Duque de Alba indicates in the following letter: “Before proposing the matter at a Council,” wrote the Duke from Brussels to D. John, “it would be well to talk familiarly with each of the Councillors, commending them to secrecy, and in this way learning their opinion, which is a very good thing to do; as the person to whom Y.E. thus talks will feel very much honored  and will be grateful to Y.E. for the confidence placed in him; and will tell Y.E. freely what he thinks.

The Battle of Lepanto by Pieter Brünniche

“Because it often happens in the Council that the soldiers wish to get the best of each other, but having already told Y.E. their opinion, they will not fall into this error, or contradict those to whom they owe a grudge for the sake of contradicting, which is a common habit. And Y.E. having heard all, will have time to think over the pros and cons which each one has put forward; and when you go to the Council you will have made up your mind. Because while hearing and questioning each one, Y.E. must never tell anyone your own opinion, except to those whom H.M. has ordered you, or it is Y.E.’s pleasure to consult.

Painting by Frans the Younger Pourbus, edited by

In Council do not allow them to be obstinate; it is well to discuss matters, but private obstinacy Y.E. must never allow, as it will lower your authority. And Y.E. will be bound, and it will be a very good thing sometimes, to summon to a great Council the field-marshals, and some colonels and captains, and those who can be called to such councils, to give them a taste of public business, because it will give much satisfaction to people a grade lower than those summoned.”


Rev. Fr. Luis Coloma, The Story of Don John of Austria, trans. Lady Moreton, (New York: John Lane Company, 1912), pp. 248-249.


Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 83


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