Through self-mastery, Don John of Austria saves the Catholic fleet from self-destruction

Don Juan of Austria in battle, at the bow of the ship, painted by Juan Novicio Luna.

D. John, satisfied with this information, ordered the decks to be cleared for action, and this time, in agreement with all the Generals, decided to wait at Gomenizza, while the wind, then contrary, did not permit them to make for Lepanto. The bay of Gomenizza is on the Albanian coast, thirty miles southeast of the port of Corfu, and there for the last time discord managed to upset the plans God was unfolding. This was on the 2nd of October, and the order had already been given to have everything in readiness for sailing the next morning at daybreak. Consequently there reigned in all the galleys the confusion that such maneuvers always bring, and on the Venetian Áquila, whose Captain was a native of Crete, Andres Calergi, two Spanish arquebusiers were disputing with a Venetian sailor as to whether or no the latter had come against them with the end of a yard; the contention became general, owing to the bad feeling between the Spanish arquebusiers and the Venetian sailors, who looked upon them as interlopers on their ships, and it was all aggravated by the Captain, Muzio Alticozzi, taking part. He was a quarrelsome, wrong-headed man, who had already got himself into trouble with the law; words changed to blows, and then arms were used with such rage and violence, that in a few moments the deck was covered with many wounded and some dead bodies. The Ammiraglio, or head of the police, hastened with four boatswains, sent by Sebastian Veniero himself, to make peace, arrest Muzio, and end the fight. But Muzio was not a man to let himself be taken easily, and seizing the first arquebus he could find, he stretched the Ammiraglio dead with a ball in his chest, and put the boatswains to flight, wounding two of them. Meanwhile the Colonel of the arquebusiers, Paolo Sforza, flew to the flagship of Veniero, begging him to go in person to quiet his men, and already blind with rage, threatening to throw him overboard and also to sink his galley, the old Venetian sent his Captain to go on board the ship which was the scene of the struggle. He went on board at the head of his sailors, arrested Muzio and two of the most turbulent Spaniards and in less than ten minutes the fleet could see all three hanging from a yard.

Sebastiano Veniero, commander of the Venetian contingent at Battle of Lepanto

Sebastian Veniero’s usurpation of the exclusive right of the Generalissimo to administer justice was so great and grave an offence against the person of D. John and the King of Spain, whom he represented, that on seeing the corpses swinging in space, in all the fleet there was a moment of terrified silence; the same idea, the same thought of danger, crossed all minds and dismayed all hearts, and without an order being given, or a word spoken, or a signal made, the Venetian galleys were seen slowly grouping themselves round Veniero’s ship, and the Spanish and Pontifical ones falling back in order to surround that of the Generalissimo D. John of Austria, all the artillerymen charging their guns, the sailors sharpening their axes, and the soldiers, without a word, seizing their pikes and arquebuses. A stray shot, an ill-timed cry, and farewell to the Holy League, and Christian would have fallen on Christian, the Turks a mile away, and the whole future of Europe and the triumph of the Cross at stake!
Don Juan of Austria with his pet monkey. Painted by Richard Parkes Bonington

D. John was on deck with Juan de Soto and the Prince of Urbino, playing with a little monkey, which was a great amusement to him, when his attention was aroused by the shots and shouting. He at once asked the cause of the tumult, and before they could give him any reply, Colonel Paolo Sforza hurried on board the “Real,” livid with rage, and with loud voice calling for justice against the injuries that Sebastian Veniero was doing him. D. John heard him in astonishment, hardly believing his own ears, when he saw slowly being raised, on the galley “Aguila,” the yard from which were hanging the three Spanish arquebusiers. Then he was so furious that he walked up and down the bridge like a caged animal, muttering words which seemed like the growls of a lion when pierced by a spear.
Marco Antonio Colonna

The Spanish Captains, mad with rage, came round him, the most moderate asking that the “Real” should attack the Venetian Admiral’s ship and throw Veniero, laden with chains, into the hold. At the same moment from different directions, came on board the “Real” Marco Antonio Colonna, and a corpulent, vigorous old man with an enormous moustache, who was Agostino Barbarigo, coming to D. John with the greatest earnestness, begging for peace, offering explanations and shedding tears. D. John listened to them, leaning his elbows on the side of the ship, digging his nails into his chest until they drew blood, and so much did these two brave and honorable men do and say, that at length the rage of the Generalissimo softened, not little by little but all at once, as a hurricane ceases when God clips the wings of the storm, and his great nature already freed from the chains of wrath which bound it, he turned to his Captains, who, almost in arms, were asking for vengeance and extreme measures, and said to them quietly: “I know better than anyone what I owe to the King, my brother, and to God, who has put me in this enterprise.”
Agostino Barbarigo Photo by Bob Swain

And he sent Barbarigo to tell Sebastian Veniero to go back at once to his flagship; that never was he to show himself on board the “Real,” and that from that moment Barbarigo was appointed in his stead to represent Venice on the Council, and that he should prepare everything to weigh anchor that night, to make for Lepanto.

Rev. Fr. Luis Coloma, The Story of Don John of Austria, trans. Lady Moreton, (New York: John Lane Company, 1912), pp. 253-256.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 186 Editorial comment: —

Being able to win the battle against one’s own disordered passions, to set aside self-interest and vanity in the service of a higher and noble Cause, this is what sets the stage for life’s great victories.
Prof. Plinio Correa de Oliveira held that every man is potentially a nuclear bomb. Any one of us can do unspeakable harm unless we restrain our disordered passions.
D. John of Austria won this important battle. He mastered himself and kept his heart and mind focused on his mission, not on petty self-interest. All that mattered to him was seeking out and destroying the Turkish fleet; being able to crush the naval power of Christendom’s enemies; strict and heroic obedience of the orders received when he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Holy League; giving himself completely to the noble and holy Cause God had called upon him to defend.
It is because he never lost sight of this sublime goal that D. John was victorious in the battle against himself, and then, a few days later, in the grandest naval battle of all time in the gulf of Lepanto.

Through self-mastery, Don John of Austria saves the Catholic fleet from self-destruction