Don John of Austria: the boy was a born soldier

December 8, 2011

Periodically [Doña Magdalena] wrote about these things to Quijada, who passed them on to a mysterious person, whom we shall often meet in the course of this history.

“The person who is in my charge [Don John of Austria],” she wrote about then, “is in good health and to my mind is growing and is a good size for his age. He gets on with his lessons with much difficulty, and he does nothing with so much dislike. He is also learning French, and the few words he knows he pronounces well, though to know it as he should will take more time and practice. What he likes best is to go on horseback riding either with a saddle or bareback, and you will see that he seems as if he would use a lance well, though his strength does not help him yet.”

Don Luis Quijada

This news must have proved to Luis Quijada and his mysterious correspondent that Jeromín’s tastes were not those of a cleric, as his unknown father and Quijada desired they should be. Doña Magdalena had seen it from the first moment with her usual perspicacity. On his arrival at Villagarcia both she and her brother, Fr. Domingo de Ulloa, wished that she should show the boy the castle and its treasures, so as to be able to judge his character from his first impressions. Nothing caused the boy wonder or even surprise. Not the rich Flemish tapestries with which some of the halls were hung, or the sumptuous beds with their columns and canopies; not the plate which shone everywhere, or the embroidered ornaments in the oratory, purposely displayed before his gaze, or the cast-iron stove which had come from Flanders to warm Doña Magdalena’s parlor, and which was something then unknown in Spain, and so much prized that it was afterwards taken to Yuste, so that the Emperor himself might make use of it.

Don Juan of Austria

The boy looked at everything with the simple indifference of one who has grown up among similar objects, and with high-bred ease that pleased as much as it astonished.

But when he came to the armory and saw the heavy iron armor, the lances four times as tall as himself, the trophies of shining cuirasses, swords, and shields, the sight of these dread weapons filled him with enthusiasm. He ran about looking at all the details, and at each step stretched out his little hand to touch these wonders, and then drew it back as if he was afraid of hurting them.

Till at last admiration overcoming everything, he stopped before a small suit of very beautiful armor, that Quijada had brought from Italy, which was lying on the ground waiting to be cleaned, and he asked Doña Magdalena’s leave to touch it, with all a child’s shyness. The lady gladly gave him permission, and with trembling respect, as if he was handling something sacred, he fingered the armor all over, examining the joints, working the visor up and down, and ending by putting his fist into the cuirass. This made a metallic sound, and Jeromín lifted his radiant face towards his protectors with a smile on his lips, and a look in his eyes that showed his character.


The lady, half smiling and half astonished, said to her brother, “Luis Quijada, my lord, will be annoyed. We have here a little soldier and no monk.”


Rev. Fr. Luis Coloma, The Story of Don John of Austria, trans. Lady Moreton, (New York: John Lane Company, 1912),  pp. 28-30.


Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 132



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