In the north near the island, the numbers were relatively matched, but it was the Venetians who were at a disadvantage: the smaller Turkish galleys and galliots of Mehmet Scirroco’s corsairs could traverse the shallower water closer to shore and get around the Ventian left flank. Only brilliant seamanship prevented a Turkish attack into the vulnerable galley sides. Like Chamberlain at Little Round Top, Agostino Barbarigo refused his line, and when that wasn’t enough he counterattacked with his own galley. Barbarigo was killed when he opened his visor to call out a command in the din battle, and was shot through the eye with an arrow. Only the timely arrival of Alvar de Bazan with galleys from the reserve prevented the destruction of the Christian left.
In the center, Ali Pasha on the Sultana rowed directly at Don Juan on the Real. The two ships were easily discernable to both sides. The Sultana flew the great green banner of the Caliph, inscribed Allah Akbar 28,000 times in gold, while the Real flew the great blue banner of the Crucifix presented to Don Juan by Pope Pius V. The two ships crashed into each other. Legend has it that the only woman of the battle, “Maria the Dancer” disguised in armor to accompany her Spanish lover, was the first Christian to board the Sultana. The two ships locked in a death struggle and became the focus of the battle as galleys on both sides poured troops onto them for the next three hours. Makeshift fortifications appeared on both decks as Christian knights and Turkish Janissaries charged, held, and countercharged in what was essentially a land battle, as more and more ships lashed on.
In the south and furthest away, the galleasses never got into position, leaving Uluch Ali at full strength. Furthermore, he outnumbered Andrea Doria’s squadron significantly and used the open sea to try and outflank the Christian line. This led to a series of maneuvers by Doria to the west that opened a gap between his division and the center division. Uluch Ali, seizing the moment reversed his southern and westward push to outflank Doria and charged into the gap. In it were some Venetian ships that thought Doria was retreating from battle, and were making their way to the center division, and the ships of Maltese Knights whom correctly anticipated Ali’s maneuver. All were overwhelmed and destroyed. The melee in the Center lay exposed to a flank attack.
Despite the severe disadvantages and greater losses than the Christians, the Turks were a hair’s breadth away from victory.
This however was not to be the case, as events in the north would directly affect those in the south, which allowed Don Juan’s advantages discussed previously, his weight of numbers (his rowers could fight unlike the slaves of the Turkish galleys), his firepower and better armor decide the center.
After the arrival of de Bazar to stabilize the north, the fight devolved into a melee as it did in the center. But two factors quickly decided it in the Christians’ favor. First, three separate slave revolts sent confusion into the Turkish line, which led to the second – the shore. The failed flanking maneuver by the lighter Turkish galliots and galleys along the shallows eventually caused the Turkish line to be pinned against the shore, which isn’t in itself bad. But it does confer a psychological disadvantage: there is now a way to escape the battle. Every Turk from that point on had a choice: continue fighting among chained but restless slaves and against heavily armed and armored adversaries in what was increasingly a losing battle, or swim the short distance to safety. The Turkish line collapsed.
This freed Alvar de Bazan and his Spanish reserve to sail south to engage Uluch Ali in the gap opened by Andrea Doria’s maneuvers. His 25 galleys slowed Ali long enough for Don Juan to finally overwhelm Ali Pasha, who simply ran out of men to throw onto the Sultana. Once Uluch Ali was informed that Ali Pasha’s head was seen on a pike, he disengaged and escaped. His 33 galleys were the only Turkish ships to survive the battle.
The ships could be replaced, and were, but the loss of tens of thousands of elite Janissaries, bowmen, and sailors, each of whom took years of training to reach proficiency, much less mastery, meant that never again would the Ottoman Turks seriously threaten maritime invasion in the Mediterranean.
After a 3500 year run, the Battle of Lepanto was the last major navel battle in which galleys played a significant role. The loss of the rams, the success of the galleasses, in particular the broadsides and high decks, were the future. The galleons that ruled the Atlantic were soon adapted to the Mediterranean.
The roar of the cannon from the four Venetian galleasses lumbering ahead of the Christian line unleashed a storm of firepower hitherto unseen in the history of seapower. The large cannon balls smashed into the galleys destroying structure and body alike as the shot from massed harquebuses tore through the heavy robes, turbans, and leather and scale armor of the Turkish troops. With no broadside cannon, few harquebuses of their own, bows could not pierce the Christian soldiers’ armor at greater than 100 yards, and to get that close invited grape and chain shot, there was little the Ottomans could do. The galleasses’ own poor maneuverability had to be used against themselves, so the Ottomans flew past. But the damage was done: sixty Ottoman galleys and galliots were sunk even before the main battle joined, and the Turkish battleline was in disarray.
The drummers increased the beat from cruising speed, then as they approached the galleasses to battle speed, and finally as they approached the Christian line to ramming speed. The critical moment in contemporary 16th century galley warfare was reached: when to fire the bow guns, which were the most destructive weapons in a galley’s arsenal, as evidenced by the withering fire from the galleasses. There was no reloading a galley’s bow guns because the effective range was too short and closing speeds were too great. The one shot had to count. Because the guns had to be fired over the ram, if they were fired too soon, the cannonballs would sail harmlessly over the target. And because the guns couldn’t depress (or fire into the ram), if they were fired too late they would do damage to the target deck which would be terrible for the soldiers but real damage by cannon is done with splinters to the rowers which left the target unmaneuverable and at the mercy of the attacker. At ramming speed, on the rolling deck, with immobile cannon, and firing over the ram, there was but a brief moment to fire the cannon’s single shot accurately.
Don Juan was betting the Ottoman gunners were not experienced enough to do much damage with their guns, and he was right. The Turkish cannon were largely inaccurate, and the Christians easily weathered their fire. But what was more disconcerting to the Turks, the Christians did not respond in kind with their heavier and more numerous cannon.
At least not yet.
At the behest of Andrea Doria, Don Juan ordered the Christian captains to do the unthinkable: saw off the ram. For thousands of years the ram was the most potent weapon on the galley, but in the late 16th century, it was a nuisance. With the rams gone, the bow guns could be depressed and fired at the very last second before collision. The shot then hulled the targets, much worse than the ram could ever do, and showered the rowers inside with deadly splinters. The Muslim archers on the deck were forced to engage in melee, and storm the Christian galley to get off their own immobile, and most likely, sinking ship.
This initial thunderous clash played out dozens of times all along the battle line. The Turks were at a further disadvantage because of another simple innovation: boarding nets. Like the barbed wire extending at an angle atop a chain link fence, the nets prevented the Turks from easily climbing on to the enemy decks. And while they were chopping through the nets, the Turks were easy targets for the pikes and harquebuses of the Christians. Nevertheless, the Turks had the numbers to make a serious fight at Lepanto
As the sun rose over the Gulf of Patras off of western Greece on Sunday, 7 October 1571, the Ottoman Grand Fleet poured in from the Gulf of Corinth to the east, as the fleet of the Holy League flowed in from the northwest through the Ionian Islands. About twenty miles apart they spotted each other. The Christian knights in their bright plate and men at arms in their steel helmets and chest pieces held their swords, polearms and harquebuses aloft as the monks and priests held up their golden crucifixes to create a dazzling spectacle in the morning sun for the Ottomans. The Turks amidst their colorful banners, responded in kind by beating their massive drums, stomping on the decks, and chanting the Koran as the two enormous fleets inexorably rowed toward each other at a strength saving leisurely walking pace.
The respective commanders, Ali Pasha and Don Juan of Austria, were surprised at the fleets opposite them. Both had “good” intelligence that they greatly outnumbered their enemy. It was the reason both chose to do battle today. Don Juan had his from Christian spies and Cretan fishermen whom seemed always one step ahead of the Turkish fleet, and Ali Pasha from Kara Hodje, a former Franciscan friar whom was captured, converted and became one of the most feared, cruel, and cunning corsairs in the Mediterranean (recent converts are always the most fanatical). One month prior, the daring Hodje sailed into Messina harbor at night and personally counted each Christian galley.
But the Cretans didn’t count Hodje and his squadron while he was on his scouting missions, nor the 45 Turkish galliots, small maneuverable corsair ships about 2/3s the size of a normal galley. Don Juan only wanted to know about galley strength so the Cretans never mentioned the considerable number of smaller ships. And Kara Hodje didn’t know of the 60 Venetian galleys recently completed by the Arsenal, nor the six massive ships that dotted the Christian line, whose size and use confounded the Turkish observers.
These six enormous ships could only move under their own power with great difficulty and at the moment were being towed by other galleys ahead of the Christian line. They had great wooden superstructures at the bow and stern, and dwarfed the other galleys. As they got closer, the Turks were horrified to see they were bristling with cannon, fourteen massive cannon in the bow, four more down each side, and six in the stern. These new ships were more gun platforms than sailing vessels and could fire in all 360 degrees. Moreover, these Leviathans were too high to be boarded, except by grappling hook and climbing. The Turkish commanders decided they needed to be bypassed, their fire weathered, and they would be dealt with after the Christian line was broken.
These “galleasses” were Don Juan’s secret weapon, and they were constructed in great secrecy by Venice, whose entrepreneurial captains knew that cannon and sail, not oars and rams, were the future. They were twice as long and twice as high as a normal galley, with twenty times the firepower when, along with the many cannon, the hundreds of additional harquebusiers that packed the decks were taken into account. The galleasses were impenetrable floating fortresses, around which the immense Muslim wave must flow to reach the Christian line.
For five hours the two gargantuan fleets crawled toward each other. Never before in history had so many men and ships faced off against each in other in so small a place: 30,000 soldiers and 40,000 sailors on 208 galleys and six galleasses of the Holy League, and 32,000 warriors and 50,000 rowers on 211 galleys, and 45 galliots of the Ottoman Empire. Both commanders took to small ships to visit each contingent prior to battle, and exhort them and confirm battle plans. When Don Juan returned to his flagship, the Real, it is said that in his youthful exuberance, he danced a jig with his pet marmoset to break the tension.
Just after 10 am, the right wing of the Turkish fleet came within 400 yards of the far left Venetian galleass, and its commander gave to the order to fire.
The Battle of Lepanto had begun, and over the next six hours the fate of Italy, Rome, and Western Civilization would be decided.
Like the island of Corfu the day before, Don Juan of Austria, the Hapsburg commander of the Holy League’s fleet, splashed ashore on the island of Cephalonia at the mouth of the Gulf of Patras to find it devastated. The Turkish fleet anchored at Lepanto barely fifty miles away scoured the nearby Greek islands for extra galley slaves, provisions, and gunpowder for the upcoming clash with the coalition fleet. He was doing the same, even though he paid his rowers, well if they were Christian, not a convict… and if they lived.
With few exceptions, Don Juan’s 208 galleys would seem familiar to the Turks across the bay, or even the Greek and Roman sailors that plied these waters in the ancient past. Naval warfare in the Mediterranean remained remarkably stagnant for two millennia: oared vessels, whether biremes, triremes, or galleys, packed with soldiers attempting to ram, board and either capture or sink the enemy ships until one side broke. But a recent phenomenon changed that equation: industry produced gunpowder and cannon.
Both the Holy League’s and the Ottoman Empire’s galleys were equipped with cannon, usually one large cannon in the bow, flanked by two or four smaller cannon all pointed forward over the massive ram. But the Ottomans had little indigenous armaments industry and relied mostly on cannon either captured or purchased from arms dealers, whereas Don Juan’s galleys had the largest cannon forged in the latest metallurgical techniques by the finest German and Italian cannonsmiths at the time, that is to say in the world at the time. His guns were heavier, larger, and more numerous. Furthermore, his ships were newer: the Ottomans had been raiding since March, and many were in dire need of repair and maintenance this late in the season. Some of the Holy League’s galleys were so new they had no ornamentation – sixty were created at the Arsenal of Venice over 90 days at the end of spring. (Conventional wisdom says Henry Ford invented the assembly line, the Venetians did the same thing 340 years earlier. To impress a Genoese delegation, the Arsenal once built a galley Ikea-style in 24 hours from the stocks of pre made parts. A record that wouldn’t be broken until America started pumping out Liberty ships every eight hours in 1942. The only difference between Ford and the Arsenal was Ford moved the cars along the line, the Arsenal moved the parts and labor along the line.) But the issue with the Venetian galleys weren’t their number but their manning. They had the largest contingent of vessels, but even with every convict, household guard, citizen volunteer, and condottieri in the city that can pull an oar or man a gun, the Venetians still lacked the weight of mass to close with and engage the packed decks of the Turkish galleys. Don Juan had to augment them with infantry, and the only excess infantry he had were Spanish.
Venice in the east and Spain in the west were natural Mediterranean rivals. Since the expedition’s onset, their contention threatened to unravel the Holy League. Don Juan understood that a coalition of this size would probably not repeat in the near future. But Spain, bankrolling the whole endeavor with gold from the New World, wanted to protect its investment, and instead of fighting for Venetian holdings in the Eastern Med, wanted to wait until the inevitable Turkish attack on Italy the next year. Prior to leaving Messina in September, Don Juan placed thousands of Spanish harquebusiers (soldiers with primitive matchlock firearms) on the Venetian ships. Conflict between the crews and soldiers was inevitable.
Off of Corfu on 4 OCT 1571, a Spanish soldier stepped on a Venetian crewman’s toe, which set off a pitched battle on deck that resulted in the Spanish capture of the galley, and subsequent storming of the ship by nearby Venetian crews. Hundreds were killed and wounded. Only the direct intervention of Sebastiano Venier, the overall Venetian commander, prevented the conflict from spreading to more ships. The charismatic, energetic, tactful, but youthful 26 year old Don Juan was barely holding the coalition together. If the Turks refused to sail out and fight he didn’t think he could convince the Spanish to force the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth to engage the Turkish fleet sheltered in their well protected anchorage.
The next day, as his men searched Cephalonia, they found a single Cretan ship whose crew brought news from Cyprus: the fortress at Famagusta had fallen, and the island surrendered to the Turks. This was disconcerting for Don Juan, not because the island fell but because the relief of Cyprus was the raison d’etre of the expedition. The Spanish would surely depart.
That night, Don Juan called a council of war on his flagship, the Real (Re-Al, Spanish for “royal”) between his various commanders where he disclosed the news. The smaller Italian states, Naples, Sicily, Tuscany, Urbino, and Savoy all recognized they were next year’s target, and wanted to continue. The Papal commander, Marc Antonio Colonna, whose boss, Pope Pius V, went through so much trouble to assemble the coalition, of course wanted to attack, as did the Knights of Malta, whom had been at the forefront of the Crusade against the Ottoman Turks for nearly 300 years. But the Spanish were not the only concern of Don Juan’s: he also feared the loss of the Venetians. He thought that without Cyprus as an objective the Venetians would cut their losses. The Ottomans were their biggest trading partner, and this war was draining their coffers. Peace, even a bad peace, would return trade.
However, the Cretans also brought more disturbing news from Famagusta – the Venetian commander Antonio Bragadin was promised safe conduct for his men and the island’s Christian population if he surrendered, but once the gates were opened, the Turks, who lost 50,000 in the siege, turned on the defenders with a vengeance. The soldiers were killed, the civilians sold into slavery, and the officers tortured to death. Bragadin himself was flayed alive, his skin stuffed with straw, and along with the heads of his lieutenants, was displayed aloft on the Turkish flagship, Sultana. Venier, and his supremely competent second Agostino Barbarigo, demanded Turkish blood. The Spanish commander, the fiery veteran admiral Alvaro de Bazan recognized it was now a matter of honor, and threw his support into an attack. Only the wily Giovanni Andrea Doria from Genoa, on secret orders from King Philip II of Spain, advised caution.
Don Juan replied, “The time for advising is over, the time for fighting has begun.”
Doria, not wanting to be labeled a coward, disregarded Phillip’s instructions and agreed to attack.
After his loss at the Siege of Malta the year before, Suleiman the Magnificent turned his attention to expansion into the Kingdom of Croatia and Hungary in 1566. As the massive Ottoman army approached, its foragers and scouts were constantly ambushed and harassed by men of Croatian Count Nikola Zrinski, whom even defeated the Turkish vanguard at the Battle of Siklos. In response, Suleiman decided to make an example of him and marched straight to Zrinski’s ancestral seat of Svigetvar.
Zrinski was a skilled tactician, and a veteran of decades of border skirmishing with the Ottomans and their subjects in the Balkan marches. However, the odds were daunting: he had just 2300 Croatian and Hungarian knights and men at arms to face Sulieman’s 150,000. Svigetvar was very defensible, with two walled sections of the town (one with a medieval castle) separated by the swampy tributaries of a river, and a final star fortress with two baileys. But at 65-1 all Zrinski could hope to do was hold out long enough for Holy Roman Emperor to come to his aid (which he wouldn’t because the Hapsburg administration and the German princes were paralyzed with fear, but Zrinski didn’t know that).
Suleiman arrived on 2 August and was easily repulsed after ordering an immediate assault. So the Ottomans settled into a siege, with their usual constant bombardments, mining and the occasional surprise assault. Zrinski didn’t even entertain the frustrated sultan’s peace envoys, despite the increasingly more lavish promises by Suleiman. By the beginning of September, the New Town fell, the Old Town and castle were burned to the ground, and all that remained was the fortress, held by Zrinski and 600 grim survivors of the previous month. But the Ottomans suffered much worse – 20,000 warriors dead. Moreover, disease caused by the marshy ground was rampant, and Suleiman himself died of dysentery on 6 September. His advisers and viziers, at great pain, kept his death a secret lest it break up the army. They ordered a last assault for the next day.
But Zrinski had other plans. His fortress walls were rubble, the buildings inside were ablaze, and he would attack. As the sun poked over the horizon, with flaming embers drifting down from above, and the drums and yelling of the Turks permeating the air, Zrinski beseeched his men to accompany him on one final charge. They followed.
The stage was set for an epic clash on the causeway. As the Turks surged across the causeway they were surprised to see the gates of the fortress open before them. The surprise turned to horror as they glanced the giant maw of a great mortar leveled at them. The monstrous belch flung nails, cooking utensils, spare daggers, and even door hinges, into the Turks. 600 immediately were slain, and thousand more wounded. More importantly, it cleared the causeway. At the van, Zrinski charged across and his men crashed into the surprised Turks in the Old Town. They cleared the plaza and took the fight into the charred narrow streets and alleyways. But numbers matter, and no 600 men in history could stand against those odds. Zrinksi and his men were overwhelmed.
But that isn’t the end of Zrinski’s tale. Thousands of victorious Turks swarmed into the fortress in bloodlust to butcher the remaining inhabitants. But before he charged, Zrinski had the extensive powder magazine lit with a slow fuse. As the Ottomans were gleefully looting the remains, a massive explosion leveled the fortress, killing thousands and wounding thousands more.
In its state, the Ottoman army could not continue on to Vienna, and it slowly drifted back to Constantinople. Cardinal Richelieu of France called Zrinksi’s defense of Svigetvar, “the battle that saved the civilization”.
de Valette’s and the Knights of the Order of St John’s victory at the Siege of Malta essentially put a cork in the central Mediterranean and prevented Ottoman expansion westward. The elderly Sultan Sulieman the Magnificent, convinced by the Siege that only he could lead his armies victoriously, lashed out at Protestant Hungary but died of dysentery during the campaign. In 1566, he was succeeded by his son Selim II.
Selim was not the same man as his father whom was the greatest of the Ottoman sultans. He had much more interest in leisurely pursuits such as wine and the pleasures of the flesh. After concluding peace with Hungary and a disastrous campaign against the Tsardom of Russia, Selim, aware that he was being compared to his father, decided to seize an easier target closer to home, the Venetian island of Cyprus, the source of his favorite vintage.
In response, the newly elected St Pius V, (one of the Catholicism’s greatest Popes) called for a crusade and a league of nations to oppose the Turk’s invasion of Christian Cyprus. On 7 Mar 1571, the Holy League was formed of most Catholic states on the Mediterranean (except France which habitually opposed Hapsburg Spain and Austria, despite the consequences). However, before a force could be assembled to relieve the besieged Cyprus, the Venetians defending the port of Nicosia capitulated on 1 August 1791.
With the fall of Cyprus, Selim was no longer drunk on wine but on the sweet taste of victory. He vowed to crush Venice for Islam. But first he had to blockade the merchant city and to do that he needed to control the Adriatic. On 13 August 1571, 230 galleys under his grand admiral Ali Pasha with the prized possession of the Ottoman Empire, The Banner of the Caliphs, arrived at a bustling trade port at the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth:
In 1648, the Zaporozhian Cossacks under Hetman Bohdan Khemelnytsky revolted against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth under King Wladyslaw Vasa. The Cossacks were descendants of the original multiethnic settlers that settled the Ruthenian (Ukrainian) steppe after the fracturing of the Golden Horde in the 14th and 15th Centuries. They formed the border marches against the Tartars in the Crimea and the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans. The Orthodox Cossacks were normally very loyal to the Catholic Commonwealth, but the Counter-Reformation after the destructive Thirty Years War and rise of the magnates, the real power in the Commonwealth, changed that.
The Commonwealth was supposedly ruled by a king elected by a large gentry and nobility that made up the upper and middle classes. But in reality, it was ruled by about thirty ultra-rich landowners called magnates. The King had no real authority and ruled through the Parliament. However, most legislation was defeated due to a parliamentary device known as the “Liberum Veto”, where any noble could single handedly veto a bill. With perpetual gridlock, the magnates ruled vast estates virtually autonomously. In 1648, one magnate, Daniel Czaplinski, attempted to confiscate the technically free land of the Cossacks, including Khemelnytsky’s. Khemelnytsky appealed to King Wladyslaw Vasa, but the powerless king could do nothing. So Khemelnytsky revolted, and brought the entire Zaporozhian Sech with him. Additionally, Khemelnytsky acquired the help of the Tartar Horde under the ruthless Khan Tugar-Bey, and together they drove the Poles and Lithuanians from the Steppe.
After three years of brutal fighting which ravaged the eastern provinces (It was said that a good Polish or Ruthenian slave could be bought for just five piastres in the markets of Istanbul or Crimea), the new king, Jan II Casimir, managed to convince the Parliament to call a levee en masse of the Szalchta, or gentry, and with the personal armies of several magnates met the Zaporozhian Host and the Tartar Horde outside of the town of Berestechko in the Volhynia on 28 June 1651.
For three days, 300,000 soldiers and warriors of the two armies clashed in the largest land battle of the 17th century. The winged Polish husaria, mailed panzerini, and saber wielding szalchta of the Polish and Lithuanian Hetmans (warlords) met the Tartar arrows and scimitars, and the muskets and lances of the Cossacks in a freewheeling frenzy that more resembled a massive brawl than any organized battle. Both sides would win the field at times only to be stopped at the massive circled wagon-forts of the camps which allowed each side to regroup and counterattack.
On the third day, Togar-Bey was killed and the Tartars deserted away from the camp. Seeing the Tartars fleeing, many Cossacks followed suit. The Cossack wagon-fort fell when the only professional infantry that the King had, German mercenary musketeers, stormed the weakly defended camp. Khemelnytsky was captured but was pardoned on his word to bring the Cossacks back into the fold after some reforms by the Poles. But Khemelnytsky knew the king couldn’t keep his word due to the liberum veto.
Casualties were high on both sides due to the battle, but Cossacks’ were much higher, so much so that Khemelnytsky sought assistance from the Russian Tsar when he revolted again in 1654. The Russians would eventually subsume the Cossacks and invade the Commonwealth proper. While occupied with Russia, Sweden would also invade in 1655, followed by Brandenburg Prussia in 1656, and Transylvania, Wallachia, and Moldova (read: Ottomans) in 1657.
Poland-Lithuania would eventually prevail in what is now known as “The Deluge”, but the country was devastated, and the eastward expansion into Siberia would not be made by the Poles and Lithuanians, but the Russians.
In the late 15th and early 16th century, Timurid Prince Babar conquered the Indian subcontinent and established the Mughal Empire (Mughal is the Hindi word for Mongol).
In 1631, the Mughal empire was ruled by Shah Jahan I and his beautiful wife, trusted confidant, and constant companion, Empress Mumtaz Mahal. On 17 June, 1631, the empress died giving birth to their 14th child. Shah Jahan commissioned a 46 acre resting place in Agra for his beloved wife that would take 17 years to complete. The Tomb of Mahal, or Taj Mahal, is the ultimate expression of Islamic art in India.
In 1688, the Dutch Protestant Prince William of Orange, the husband of Britain’s Princess Mary, overthrew her father King James II (James VII in Scotland) the Stuart Catholic King of Great Britain to protect Protestantism. William and Mary became king and queen, and James fled to France with his family. His supporters still in Scotland and England were known as “Jacobites”, for the latin term for James, “Jacobus”, and they opposed the “Williamites” better known as “Whigs”. For the next sixty years, the Jacobites periodically but unsuccessfully revolted in the name of James II, or his son James Francis Edward Stuart aka “The Old Pretender” with the support of the French Catholic monarchs, most notably Louis XIV. In 1720, after nearly forty years in exile across Europe, the Old Pretender had a son, Charles Edward Stuart, unsurprisingly nicknamed “The Young Pretender” but better known in history as “Bonnie” Prince Charlie. (Get all that?)
In 1745, the tall and charismatic, not to mention dead sexy, Bonnie Prince Charlie landed in Scotland and raised the flag of rebellion in his father’s name. But a storm off the Scottish coast scattered his French fleet, and he landed with just 70 men, not an auspicious start. Still, the highland clans flocked to his banner, but most lowland clans and English Jacobite’s did not, because of his perceived weakness. Nonetheless, for eight months the insurgency defeated every “redcoat” army sent against them, and invaded England. However, the support wasn’t there to seize London and Charlie fell for an elaborate ruse of a fake army blocking his path, so the Jacobites returned to Scotland to fight the next redcoat army on their own terms.
The fake British army that was still being assembled in 1745, invaded Scotland in March 1746 under the King George II’s obese little brother the Duke of Cumberland. Cumberland had a large 9000 man army versus the Charlie’s’ 5000. On 15 April, Cumberland stopped to celebrate his 25th birthday and Charlie decided on a surprise night attack on the celebrating camp. After an overly ambitious night march, Bonnie Prince Charlie realized that his stumbling army wouldn’t make it in time and stopped famished and fatigued at the boggy Culloden Moor. Bonnie Prince Charlie, against the advice of the clan commanders, awaited an attack.
Cumberland didn’t look the part, but he was a ruthless trainer of men. He drilled his soldiers so much in the basics, that he increased their musket rate of fire from two rounds a minute to three, and cannon from one to two, a significant increase in firepower. Instead of charging, Cumberland bombarded the Scots to devastating effect. The Scots, armed in the traditional manner of broadsword and targe (small round shield) with few muskets or cannon, stood there and took it, losing nearly 800 men as Charlie hesitated. After thirty minutes, Bonnie Prince Charlie finally ordered an assault, but the feared, and up to this moment usually successful, “Highland Charge” was not enough to overcome the British firepower advantage. At 400 paces round shot sent columns of torn bodies through the Scottish ranks. At 100 paces, condensed and rapid musketry piled the bodies up as the Scots clamored over. At sixty paces, grapeshot turned men into red mist. At three paces, the disciplined redcoats bayoneted, not the man in front of them, but the man to his right, which avoided the targe. The single breakthrough was easily contained by Cumberland’s second line. 1100 more Scots died in the charge.
As the broken Scots fell back, the British army advanced and bayoneted the wounded, and dragoons chased down and ran through another thousand. Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped and the ten month chase is the stuff of legends, but in the process Cumberland killed any man he found with a musket or broadsword, or even suspected of rebel tendencies. The Jacobite resistance was broken forever and thousands of Scots fled or were banished to Ireland and the Thirteen Colonies. The Battle of Culloden was the last major land battle on British soil, and has left an indelible mark on the Scottish consciousness.
The late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries were the height of the Tokagawa Shogunate in Japan, and were characterized by self-sufficiency, foreign isolationism, and strict social order. It is personified by the samurai, the warrior caste of the land. In 1701, one of the 300 daimyo (samurai lords) of Japan, Asano Naganori, was grievously insulted by a minor bureaucrat of the shogunate, Kira Yoskinaka, and in his rage, attacked him (Kira called him an ill-mannered country boor for not bribing him enough). Kira survived and, backed up by the power of the shogun, ordered him to commit hari kari or ritual suicide. Asano, as a matter of honor, did so on 6 February, 1701.
As a result, his lands and retainers immediately became forfeit. His samurai became ronin, literally “wave riders” or masterless, and they were expected to die trying to avenge their master. Many tried and were slain, but 46 banded together with one of Asano’s junior councilors, Oishi Kuranosuke Yoshio.
Oishe was determined to kill Kira despite what was expected of former samurai to a disgraced master, i.e. to die immediately. Kira was heavily guarded, expected an attack, and Oishe knew their death would serve no purpose. He became a drunk, and over the next year many others took inconspicuous jobs as servants, merchants, or artisans. The Forty Seven were despised by society for lacking the honor to die trying to avenge their master.
But Oishe convinced the others to bide their time: it was all part of the plan to lure Kira into complacence. In the course of their new employments, the 47 Ronin infiltrated Kira’s household: they delivered his food, cleaned his stables, and one even married the daughter of his butler. One evening in December of 1701, Oishe and the Forty Seven Ronin attacked Kira’s compound and slaughtered his retainers, sparing only the women and children. They initially could not find Kira, who was hiding in a closet, but eventually he was recognized by the scar left by Asano. Kira, in a great disgrace, refused to commit hari kari, so Oishe beheaded him. The Forty Seven took his head to their master’s tomb and laid it reverently outside. They then awaited their fate.
The shogun could not tolerate the death of one of his officials, even one as minor as Kira, so he ordered the Forty Seven to commit suicide for their crime against his rule.
Without hesitation they committed hari kari, and all were buried outside of their lord Asano’s tomb.
Today, they are emblematic in Japanese culture of dedication, loyalty, sacrifice, and honor.