There was a man sent from God whose name was John

May 10, 2018

Don John of Austria by Alonso Sánchez Coello

There remained, however, to be settled a matter of the utmost importance, and it was this that overburdened the Holy Pontiff at the time we saw him praying and groaning in the lonely corner, which he himself had made, behind his oratory, to conceal from men his converse with Heaven. It was the appointing of a Generalissimo for the armada of the Holy League, who was worthy to be the leader of the great enterprise, and who would be a skillful manipulator of this complicated and difficult machine, on which all Christendom was gazing and fixing their hopes. The allies did not agree over this, and, as so often happens in politics, they put personal and wounded vanity before the holy and noble end that the Pontiff had in view. He proposed his own general, Marco Antonio Colonna; the Spaniards wished for their D. John of Austria, the Venetians, without daring to propose their general, Sebastian Veniero, rejected Colonna, as having been a failure in the first League; they also objected to D. John of Austria, on account of the lack of experience which they imagined he must possess at twenty-four, and proposed the Duke of Savoy, Emanuele Filiberto, or the Duke of Anjou, afterwards Henri III of France, who had not revealed as yet his ineptitude and vices. The arguments about D. John’s youth weighed with the Pontiff, and he inclined to the Duke of Anjou, thinking that his appointment might possibly gain the help of his brother the King of France, who hitherto had refused it. However, the time passed in vacillations and doubts, proposals and refusals, until at last the allies resolved to leave the appointment absolutely in the hands of the Pontiff, which did not prevent anyone from using all the means in his power to influence the august old man in their favour.

St. Pope Pius V, photographed at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs

However, his holy diplomacy was too far above human cabals for intrigues to affect his upright policy. The Pope resorted for three consecutive days to prayer and penitence, as was his humble custom in difficult circumstances, and on the fourth, on which we saw him saying Mass before the Madonna of Fra Angelico, he convoked for that morning the presence of the Cardinals Granvelle and Pacheco and D. Juan de Zuñiga, the delegates of the King of Spain, and Michele Suriano and Juan Surenzo, ambassadors from Venice, and told them distinctly, without evasion, and in contradiction to his previous opinion, that he named the Lord D. John of Austria Generalissimo of the Holy League.

Marco Antonio Colonna

The Venetians looked disgusted; but the astute Granvelle was before them with the only possible objection to D. John: “Holy Father! In spite of his twenty-four years?” To which the Pope answered with great firmness, “In spite of his twenty-four years.”

The Venetians then knew that they were vanquished, but made it a condition that the Generalissimo should consult, in cases of importance, with his two colleagues, thenceforward subordinates, Marco Antonio Colonna and Sebastian Veniero.

Cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle, Count of La Baume Saint-Amour.

The Pope agreed, shrugging his shoulders as if he granted a thing of scant importance, and the next day signed the commission of D. John which the Cardinal Granvelle presented to him, repeating, with the profound feeling of security which Heaven gives to holy souls, “Fuit homo missus a Deo, cui nomen erat Joannes.”

Rev. Fr. Luis Coloma, The Story of Don John of Austria, trans. Lady Moreton, (New York: John Lane Company, 1912), 216-217.

Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 625

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