The Other Armadas: the three Spanish invasions of Algiers: 1516, 1519 and 1541 - Barnaby Rogerson history lecture
The modern frontiers of Algeria were fused together in the 16th century, formed out of the Zayyanid and Hafsid Sultanates. These medieval states were unified in the crucible of war, fuelled by two factors, the relentless assault of the Spanish and the improvised defence organised by two corsair captains – the brothers Barbarossa.
The Barbarossa brothers were born in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos in the reign of Sultan Mehmet. Standing on the harbour front, you look across a ten-mile tongue of water to the hills of Anatolia. Their father was a soldier, called Yacooub (or Mohammadi according to some sources), who had been settled there. It was the wise habit of the Ottoman Sultan, whilst the Empire was in its prime, not to allow his standing army of janissaries to marry while they received the Sultans’ coin, paid out four times a year. For the Sultan wished the disciplined core of his army to remain absolutely mobile, capable of being sent on long campaigns without worrying about the behaviour of their wives. Nor did he wish his soldiers to be softened by domestic life, but to remain aggressive and alert. However when their time of service was up, neither did he want them to remain dependent on the state, nor clogging up the streets of the capital with their political opinions. The answer was to formally discharge them (and examples of these signed, sealed and witnessed papers survive to remind us how efficient the Ottoman Empire was in its clerical administration), and to despatch them to the provinces where they were at last free to marry, to breed, to support themselves and to act as a militia in times of danger.
Such is the probable background for Yacooub, though neither his discharge papers, nor a record of his actual regiment, his orta, survive. Yacooub courted Catalina, a local woman, as his wife. She was the young widow of a priest (for the parish clergy of the Orthodox have always been allowed to marry). Yacoob settled down to work as a potter who traded his own goods and they raised a large family of which two daughters and four sons, Uruj, Elias, Isaac and Khizr, survived into adulthood.
Yacoub and his sons made pots over the winter months and had the summer months free to trade their stock of goods when the sealanes were open between March and September. In his day Yacooub took his ship north to Constantinople and as far south as Antalya. His sons would have accompanied him as they grew up, getting to know the names of the straits and the ports, not just through charts and compass bearings, but with their own eyes. Later they were trusted to take the boats out by themselves and started to make their own way amongst the islands. They grew up to be highly versatile, though Khizr was most adept on the pottery wheel, Uruj had the sea stamped on his face from a child and Isaac advanced from patching up boats to becoming a carpenter. Only Elias seemed a bit apart, the scholar of the family.
One summer, Uruj asked Isaac to crew for him on a trip in the family boat, they would sail south, from headland to headland until they reached the coast of Lycia, where huge pine trees that grew in the mountains were sent down to the coast when the rivers briefly ran as torrents. There they were sawn into crude thick planks and seasoned beside the salt marshes. Boats from all over the Mediterranean flocked to buy these ships’ timbers. Isaac’s practiced eye was well employed sorting out the more desirable lengths of timber, which were then bargained for and loaded up. Then began the long haul back home, using their lanteen sail whenever possible but also rowing when necessary - when the wind slacked or when it proved impossible to tack around an awkward headland.
It was during some such simple everyday manoeuvre that they suddenly came into full view of Our Lady of the Conception – one of the largest war galleys of the Knights of St John - which was paddling its way through these coastal waters looking for something upon which to prey. On its long deck, under canopies raised to the aft and stern, loitered the military knights and sergeants of the Order of St John of the Hospital of Jerusalem, while a Greek crew looked to the actual handling of the craft. From below decks protruded long flexible oars that were powered by galley slaves. All at once the midday indulgence of an Aegean summer’s day was interrupted by the clamour of the ship’s bell, and urgent blasts by the junior officers working their silver whistles. The galley sprang into action like a lean sight-hound let off its leash, the whistles and whips encouraging a fast new rhythm amongst the oarsmen, while the helmsman swung the rudder around so that the galley was set on a course that would cross with that of the merchant ship weighed down with its cargo of timber. The men at arms sprang to action, tightening the breastplates of their armour, securing helmets and greaves and preparing the small light swivel cannon that were mounted on the fore and after decks. Here was action at last. Every apprentice knight, or high-spirited noble youth who came south to earn his spurs with the Order of St John during his ‘year off’, or who wished to qualify as an administrative Prior for one of the rich portfolio of properties that the Order possessed throughout Europe, had to serve two years on the caravans. These water-borne caravans were the wet-stone that kept the crusading swords of the knights bright and keen. They were the active lance of Christendom which jabbed again and again at the enemy, be it raiding the coast, sacking a port or seizing any ships they could find on the high seas. Despite their fame in Christian Europe, and their notoriety within Islam, their permanent fleet was surprisingly small - somewhere between six to ten galleys. These criss-crossed the southern Aegean from the various strong points held by the Knights - the headquarters was at Rhodes of course, but they also maintained castles elsewhere on the island of Rhodes, at Lindos and Archangelos as well as Bodrum on the mainland and other islands.
Uruj urged his crew on, and they rowed with a desperate strength, but in his heart he knew that their only hope was that a sudden wind would fill their sails. But despite their prayerful entreaties, the canvas sails hung sullen and empty.
As the galley pulled alongside, rather than risk any of his men unnecessarily, the commander of Our Lady of the Conception ordered that the merchantman should be raked with gunfire. For you never knew in these waters, who was armed with what. Many fell, both those wounded and those simply in search of protection. A boarding party swung aboard, a line secured the boat and later a huddle of manacled prisoners was led down to the pens in the lower decks of the galley.
Uruj had watched as his bright-eyed younger brother, the skilled carpenter Isaac, had reached his arms up in surrender only to crumple under the broadside of the knights. He was then put to work as a galley slave, stripped and chained to a bench alongside half a dozen other luckless captives. They were treated worse than dogs, beaten by the Christian overseers and disposed of without scruple if they should weaken or show any sign of resistance. They were forced to eat and defecate in their filthy, dark bilge of a deck, in almost an exact antithesis to the practice of their customary Islamic life, with its insistence on cleanliness, modesty and respectful decency. The sudden descent from the bright memories of family life on Lesbos to the realities of the life of a galley slave helped forge the character of Barbarossa.
Two stories are told about his release from slavery. One is that he was ransomed, the other that he escaped while his galley was cutting its way through Egyptian coastal waters. This would have been difficult while he was rowing, for the galley decks were sealed from all direct access to the sea, as the oars passed out through rollock-like portholes, sealed with a padded leather washer that was greased, like the collar worn by a plough horse. But there were times of confusion, when a galley was merely cruising, when half the slaves would rest, sleep and eat. In winter, the galley slaves would be moved to bagnios, slave barracks often sited in old quarries or casements, those subterranean cellars set within the thickness of the city walls. Here they were at hand to labour on improvements to the fortifications and to the harbour works.
What is certain is that by 1490, Uruj was working as a sea-captain in Egyptian waters. During this period he and his younger brother, Khizr, made a journey to the far western end of the Mediterranean where their education into the ways of the Christians continued. It gives some idea of the scale of the displacement that for the next eight years they ferried the Jewish and Muslim refugees who were being driven out of Catholic Spain to new homes and identities within the lands of Islam. All along the coast of southern Spain there was work for sea-captains. Streams of refugees, clutching their possessions and hidden stores of coins, clattered down from the hills of Spain towards the sea. The ports were filled with tens of thousands of victims of Ferdinand and Isabella’s nation-building. Many fell into the hands of unscrupulous captains, who over charged and packed them into un-seaworthy boats. There are horrific stories of Jewish women being raped onboard, fleeced of all their possessions and then dumped on an alien shore, where they were abused all over again by the natives. But there were also good men afloat, who considered it an honourable trade to convey the Moors and Jews of Spain to new homes. Those who have travelled along the shore of North Africa will know that there is hardly a town, let alone a port, that did not shelter these refugee Moors at the end of the 15th century and throughout the 16th century. The Algerian coast has a litany that includes Cherchell, Tipasa, Algiers, Blida, Bejaia and Hippo, sisters to other such Moorish towns in North Africa as Derna in the lee of the Green Mountains in eastern Libya, Testour beside the Mejerda valley in Tunisia or Tetouan and Chechaouen overlooked by the Rif mountains in northern Morocco.
It is impossible to fully understand the career of the Barbarossa brothers without appreciating this unsung and unrecorded period. The process of shipping refugees to North Africa from Spain made them intimate with thousands of suffering Muslims and Jews and taught them the maritime geography of the Maghreb - first-hand experience of the hundreds of bays, harbours, headlands, off-shore anchorages as well as the pattern of seasonal winds. It also created a body of supporters, who time and time again would come to their support. Wherever the Barbarossa’s were driven along the coast of North Africa, they seem to have found men prepared to fight for them – even after the most crushing defeats and change of fortune. They may have possessed an invincible charisma – but they also shared a destiny with the people of the ports, in their burning desire for revenge. And these allies could not have been more useful as they knew their way around their old homelands, and the dialects and languages spoken by the Christians making them highly effective raiders.
But the Barborossa brothers were not alone in this struggle. In the years when Uruj and his young brother Khizr had but a ship each under their command, they were small fry. Especially when compared to such a corsair admiral as Curtogali could call upon thirty ships and was co-ordinating raiding parties of thousands of men. The walled city of Bizerta, on the northern reach of the Tunisian coast, was his base of choice. Surrounded by well-wooded mountains, it sits astride a canal that was first cut by the Phoenicians to link the sea with a succession of internal lakes. Bizerta has always made a superb harbour – and was used by the admirals of Carthage, Rome and Byzantium before the corsairs began to gather here at the end of the 15th century. Curtogali was also formidably well-informed. When the Genoese could bear his raids no longer and fell upon Bizerta with a great fleet, Curtogali had slipped out of harm’s way just a few days before. On another occasion, he seems to have been intimately aware of every movements of the papal court at Rome and landed a snatch squad on the shore which missed kidnapping a Pope by only a few hours.
So in the year 1500, Uruj and Khizr were just two amongst dozens of independent corsair captains operating along the North African coast. The volunteer crews were assembled by the season, the fighters were almost always Moors from Spain. A modest sized galley was known as a galleot, which is what they would have initially commanded, usually powered by nineteen or so oars on each side of the boat. Each oar would have between two and four men working it on the rowing bench, which would mean crews of around a hundred. They would row, fight, fish and form raiding parties by turn. Uruj could speak Turkish, Arabic and Greek, and knew the fusion of Spanish and Italian, which was the lingua franca, the esperanto, of the western mediterranean.
Their first base was on the isle of Jerba, a beautiful, rather mysterious and totally flat island tucked away in the shallow tidal waters of the southernmost reaches of the Gulf of Tunis. From a distance it looks like one vast wild palm grove, though up close it reveals itself as a carefully worked land at the southernmost edge of possible cultivation. It was not on any of the principal trade routes, and was always but has always a place apart, where the sheikhs of the scattered village communities (all belonging to an ancient schism within Islam known as the Ibadi or Kharajites) formed a self-governing community. But for someone starting out in the world, all this would have had its own distinctive appeal, far away from the eyes and ears of the power-brokers.
In 1504 the two brothers were ready to move further north into the cockpit of the Mediterranean. Uruj and his brother sailed to La Goulette – just south of the ruins of Carthage. They petitioned for an audience with the Sultan, who for official business resided in the Kasbah (the citadel-palace) which overlooked the white city of Tunis. They had prospered enough to bring acceptable gifts to the court and were given official permission to make use of the port. This was a great boon, for a narrow canal leading from the sea created a completely protected harbour basin within La Goulette, guarded by a royal fortress. Here in the bustling docks you could sign up well-trained crews, buy and sell galley-slaves and trade in everything, anything and anybody. All the two young captains had to agree, was to accept the Sultan as their commander, and in doing so they implicitly accepted a tradition which reached back to the days of the Prophet Muhammad himself which obliged them to present a fifth of everything they captured to the Sultan.
The next spring, Uruj and his crew worked their way diligently up the coast of Sicily, over to Sardinia and tucked themselves away in a rocky cove on the lee of Elba. In a long ordeal of patience, the crew took turns to fish and cook, but the vital task was to keep watch from the cliffs for any sign of movement on the horizon. They needed to observe but also to remain constantly alert lest they themselves were being marked out as prey.
After weeks of inaction, two galleys were spotted a few miles off the coast of Tuscany making their way south from Genoa to one of the ports of Rome. There was just time for the captain to make a plan: to move, shadow, then race ahead to take up a position where the seas narrow to a five-mile strait. At last, the planning, the tense, half-silent weeks of waiting, were over, to be replaced by a time when strength and fierce energy would flow through every vein. The first rush must carry all, for in a long race the bigger Christian galleys, with twice as many oars and twice as many men to each oar, would win.
So Uruj’s men pulled as one, swept down on the first boat and raked the now terrified decks with arrows and fire. Watching the panic amongst the banks of galley’s oars, they heaved in their own blades at the last possible moment, certain that their momentum would sweep them alongside and allow them to rush, a hundred strong, shouting in the name of God and fallen Granada, to storm the higher decks of the enemy galley. Uruj, undaunted by the magnificence of their prize, one of the papal galleys owned by Pope Julius II, turned his new weapon on the second galley which, having seen the bloody disaster that had befallen their brethren, meekly hove-to and surrendered.
When Uruj brought these dazzling prizes safely back through the Christian seas to Tunis’s harbour of La Goulette, he returned as the hero of the hour. Among the warrior-sailors in the harbour, he was now saluted as Rais – captain - while in Italy they started naming this audacious young captain Barbarossa – the red-bearded one. There was little need for spies in the ports of the Mediterranean, for the lucrative business of ransoms necessitated accurate and detailed reports from both sides. As the near contemporary historian, Diego Haedo, has it, ‘the wonder and astonishment that this notable exploit caused in Tunis, and even in Christendom, is not to be expressed, nor how celebrated the name of Uruj Rais was become from that very moment; he being held and accounted by all the world, as a most valiant and enterprising commander.’
Each season Barbarossa’s activities only added to his fame. But like many a ‘fortunate’ Rais, he made his own luck, by dogged perseverance through foul weather and by the length of his cruises, crisscrossing that vital strategic triangle of water that stretched between Tunis, Sicily and Sardinia. Within this triangle, a scattering of islands (such as Malta, Gozo, Lampedusa, Pantelleria, Meretimo, Ustica and Stromboli) allowed his crews access to fresh water, fresh meat and food cooked over a flaming fire. It was on a seemingly fruitless mission in May of 1505, when a five-day storm had blown every other ship in to shelter, that Uruj came across his greatest prize. A large Spanish galleon was wallowing in the waters off the coast of Lipari. His flotilla of galleys encircled the powerful boat but there was no fighting that day. The corsairs were welcomed as deliverers by the Spanish crew, drained of energy by keeping their ship afloat in the aftermath of the storm. The detachment of soldiers on board were so seasick that they could no longer stand, and the bilge pumps which had alone kept the ship afloat, were about to collapse after weeks of continuous use. On board were chests, within chests, within chests, all stamped with the signed and counter-signed seals of Ferdinand, King of Aragon, Valencia and Catalonia. Uruj had intercepted the coin with which the Spanish garrison at Naples was to be paid.
That winter Barbarossa put this fortune to good work, not on building a courtyard palace in the old city of Tunis and acquiring an estate amongst the beautiful orchards of Cap Bon, but by laying out the hulls of two new galleys. The ship-wrights created boats that were eight times as long as they were broad, with very shallow keels that allowed a galley to be easily beached, or to slip over an estuary sand bank at high tide to seek a river anchorage. They were usually equipped with a single mast and an oar at the stern for navigation, but in this period the bow was being redesigned to take three cannon, something heavy in the centre flanked by two light cannon that could fire anything between a 4 or 12lb cannon ball. By the beginning of their sixth season in Tunis, in 1506, the two brothers commanded a fleet of eight ships. Fast, sea-worthy but small, especially when compared to the great galleys of Genoa and Venice, they nevertheless proved their worth even in the most testing conditions. In one ferocious engagement, three of the corsair galleots, rather than retreating to the safe shelter of La Goulette, pitched themselves against a Christian battleship, The Galley of Naples, which was patrolling the straits. This bitter conflict, likened to a bull bated by three hounds, raged over two days and a night, until a synchronized attack by Uruj on the port side and Khizr on the starboard, allowed the third captain, Hasan Ali, to smash his way through to the stern and carry the day. It was the practice of Uruj to lead from the front, but his wounds were so serious that day, that for the first time he requested that his younger brother assume command. It was after this trial of strength that the Ottoman Sultan despatched an envoy with a splendid document, embellished with a formal signature, his tugra, addressing the brothers with the honorific, Kheyr-al-Din, Protector of Religion.
That winter the brothers were included in a number of audiences with the Hafsid Sultan of Tunis. Their stream of tribute had greatly endeared them to him but now he took the brothers further into his confidence and talked to them about the problems and challenges that were facing the Muslim community of believers. Whether out of their own crusading aggression, to guard their new conquest of Granada or whether in reaction to the corsairs, the Spanish were hitting back, not just with naval patrols and coastal raids, but by building artillery forts at key points along the North African coast. The Hafsid Sultan was not over-concerned that his old rivals, the Sultan of Fez in Morocco and the Zayyanid Sultan at Tlemcen in Algeria, were being inconvenienced. Indeed he may have harboured faint hopes that the Spanish outposts established in Algeria ( at Mers-el-Kebir, Quassa and Oran) and the garrisons in Morocco (at Ceuta, Melilla, Penon de Velez, Tangier and Asilah) might direct the lucrative trans-Saharan trade exclusively towards Tunis. But sometime bewteen the winter of 1509 and the spring of 1510 the Sultan had been informed that three Spanish garrisons were being established within his domains. At Bejaia (the capital of the Hafsid province of eastern Algeria), at Tripoli (the capital of the Hafsid province of western Libya ) and on the island of Jerba, Spanish forces had begun the construction of a series of strongly fortified outposts. These works were usually sited on an offshore islet or a rocky tide-washed peninsular. They were clearly designed to keep a watch on the corsair anchorages and on any unusual mustering of volunteers planning to come to the aid of the Moors of Granada.
But might they also not be a toehold from which a future invasion could be achieved. What could be done? For the last twenty years Spanish ships had aggressively controlled the sea-lanes, sunk any North African or Moorish craft that they could find. As part and parcel of their grand strategy for the conquest of Muslim Granada which might not of fell it had been able to be reinforced from North Africa. It would be an easy task for them to supply the garrisons in these towers with munitions and food. Would the brothers accept the Sultan’s invitation to lead the holy war against these invaders and expel them? Surely, if the catastrophe of Granada and the brutal expulsions of the Moors from Spain had taught them anything, it was that there was no room for compromise with such people. Despite the most solemn oaths they had proven themselves determined to destroy the Muslims, their language and their religion. They had made bonfires of the Holy Koran in the public squares of Granada. They had converted the ancient mosques, hallowed by centuries of prayer, into churches and they had forcibly converted the believers and compelled them to eat the flesh of swine and drink wine. The brothers Barbarossa accepted the invitation to drive the Spanish back into the sea. Over the winter of 1510 the half-built Spanish fort at Jerba was overwhelmed.
In the summer of 1512 they sailed around the coast of Tunisia recruiting volunteers for the attack on the Spanish fort outside the medieval city of Bejaia (sometimes spelled Bujeya/Bougie). By the time they reached Bejaia the brothers sailed at the head of a fleet of a dozen galleys and a thousand “Turks and Moors” under their command. They were welcomed by a Hafsid prince who had recruited a force of three thousand highland warriors by calling upon the Caids of the mountain clans. These tribesmen had placed the town under a blockade but were totally lacking in the artillery, ordnance and technical skills to effect a breach of the walls. The Spanish bastion had been erected just two years earlier under the supervision of Count Pedro de Navarro was the key to the position. It was not quite finished and lacked the full complement of both armaments and men. So when Barbarossa’s galleys intercepted and then captured a Spanish ship that had been sent to supply the tower at Bejaia, they struck a double blow.
Khizr, the younger of the two brothers, advised that the demoralised garrison would fall sometime that season if they maintained a tight blockade. It was sound advice but somewhat lacking in the heroic glamour that was one of the vital ingredients in his older brother’s leadership. Uruj prepared for a dawn assault with a hand-picked team of just fifty warriors. The idea was that they would scale the walls but they were observed and repulsed by the light cannon that the Spanish garrison had managed to mount on the walls. Barbarossa led from the front, and received another battle wound that day, for a piece of shrapnel smashed up his left fore arm. A surgeon had to amputate the arm above the elbow, and alarmed at the subsequent loss of blood, his younger brother insisted that he should be taken back to Tunis to recover. The siege was over, but the tribes promised to continue harassing the Spanish garrison and to keep them hemmed in within its walls until the brothers were fit enough to return.
Operating out of Tunis, Khizr managed to seize a galley off the island of Tabarka. It was not a popular move, for Tabarka acted as a neutral free-port. It was leased to the Genoese, who did a good trade in the bright pink-red fossilized coral from these waters, but made an even more successful living by arranging the finance for the ransom of wealthy captives from both Christian and Muslim corsairs. To show their displeasure, the Genoese struck back at Tunis, sending a squadron to bombard the fortress of La Goulette, sink what they could find and tow away the rest. Although they were not officially expelled by their host after the Genoese attack, it was agreed that it would be better for all concerned if the brothers found another port from out of which to operate. Barbarossa was permitted to stay a while longer in Tunis in to recover from his wounds, but his younger brother moved to the harbour of Jijil (also spelled Jigelli or Jejel) sixty miles east of Bejaia as their new base. By chance it was held by a Genoese, not a Castilian garrison, which allowed for a double sense of revenge. This time the younger brother, Khizr, was left to make his own dispositions. Supported by a mass of volunteer tribesman who poured down from the hills, he placed the garrison under such a close siege, by land and sea, so that they were cut off from any supply. As the trenches of Khizr’s methodical siege crept closer and closer, the garrison grew ever more weak and beleaguered. As a last desperate resort the commander of the Genoese garrison determined to lead a break out, sallying forth from the walls in the dead of night. It was a recklessly brave but doomed adventure. They were cut down to a man and the tribes poured in to sack the castle, now empty of all but the wounded. The next day, bearing the grim trophies of five hundred heads impaled on pikes, the tribes saluted Khizr as their commander.
Shortly afterwards his elder brother sailed into Jijil harbour and was hailed as Emir. He showed characteristic mettle by besieging the Spanish fort at Bejaia once again. The Castilian garrison stood firm but he had the satisfaction of fulfilling his promise to the tribes that he would return. It may be that he had also been promised help from the Sultan of Tunis which failed to arrive. Whether by design or not, the Hafsid Sultan of Tunis was now publicly seen to be failing to lead his people in the struggle against the foreign crusaders. Barbarossa decided to make a decisive political break with the past. A delegation was despatched from Jijil to Istanbul to offer the loyalty of the corsairs, tribes and the two brother-commanders to the Sultan. It was a dangerous gamble. If the Ottoman court had looked askance at this delegation, Barbarossa would have been left exposed to revenge from the Hafsids and an unanswerable charge of treason. But the Ottoman court had been following the careers of the brothers with great interest. The delegation was honoured and given a going-away present of fourteen Ottoman galleys. It was a generous gift, but there might have been additional reasons for it. It may well have served to distract attention from the Sultan’s real objectives, which were not to assist his fellow Muslims against the Christian enemy, but to launch a surprise attack on his Muslim neigbours. For by this period Sultan Selim must have been deeply immersed in his secret plans for the invasion of Mameluke Syria.
The death of old King Ferdinand of Aragon that same year, seemed to indicate a further turn in the fortunes of war. For the people of the port of Algiers, Ferdinand’s death seemed just the opportunity that they were looking for to expel the Spanish from the artillery fort that they had built on an offshore islet, which commanded the anchorage and access to the town harbour. The fort had been well constructed, a key point in the chain that Count Pedro Navarro had sought to impose on the coast of North Africa in 1510. Its defences were usually watched by at least one Spanish guard-ship.
The ruling sheikh of Algiers, Salim al-Thumi had promised the support of the townsmen if Barbarossa would take command of the maritime siege of the Spanish fortress.
That spring Barbarossa advanced at the head of a fleet of sixteen galleys and six thousand men. On the way there they put in at the harbour of Cherchel, where a corsair-captain had set himself up as leader, after deserting Barbarossa when his arm had been blown off at Bejaia. Kara-Hassan was invited on board Barbarossa’s flagship but this was not to be an amicable reunion of old comrades. After a short interview he was taken away and killed. His deputies now quickened to obey the orders of Barbarossa, lest they also be judged to have shared in their master’s desertion. However the siege of the Penon of Algiers, ‘Navarro’s bastion’ held by a determined garrison of two hundred Castilians, proved to be beyond the capabilities of Barbarossa’s artillery. A twenty-day-long bombardment made little impression on the thick angled walls of the distant bastion and Barbarossa’s offer of a safe-conduct and a ship with which to return to Spain was rejected by the commander, who famously replied that ‘neither threats nor proffered courtesies vailed aught with men of his kidney.’
Some of the leading citizens of Algiers now began to reflect more closely on the situation, and they did not like what they saw. It seemed to them that Barbarossa would fail to clear the Spaniards out of the Penon at Algiers, just as he had failed at Bejaia, and they would be left to suffer revenge at the hands of the Spaniards when the corsair fleet sailed away. They began to plot, what exactly we don’t know, but possibly to get rid of Barbarossa while they still could and make peace with his enemy. But Barbarossa got to hear about their machinations. He made certain that for the midday Friday prayers the central mosque was packed with his men. After the prayers were over, he gave a signal. Twenty-two of the leading men of the city of Algiers were seized and dragged before him and solemnly upbraided for their cowardice and treachery. They were then taken out of the mosque, through a jeering crowd of corsairs and citizens, to a summary execution just outside the city gates. Sheikh Salim al-Thumi was not amongst their number, for he had been more discreetly disposed of. While washing himself for the Friday prayers in the local hammam, as was his habit, he had been drowned in a bucket of water by a pair of strong masseurs.
It was a savage action and led Barbarossa towards establishing himself as the uncrowned king of the coast of Algeria, for now the people of Jijil, Bejaia, Cherchel and Algiers all acknowledged his leadership. Nor had the execution of two dozen rich citizens ruined his standing amongst the locals. In fact it proved to have been a highly popular action. Barbarossa was acclaimed as the leader of the Jihad by both the Berber tribes of the mountains and the Moors in Algiers.
This leadership was to be tested soon enough. The Regent of Castile and Aragon had reacted with customary speed and efficiency to the news of the corsair siege of the Spanish fort at Algiers. The old Cardinal-Primate had long pushed for an aggressive crusading invasion of North Africa. Now he was free to act. He appointed Don Diego de Vera to command an expedition of 15,000 men for the relief of the fort at Algiers. Don Diego had already proved himself to be a resourceful officer in a war against the French that had been fought just three years before. He had even received ‘avia bien aprovado con el Conde Pedro Navarro’ ( the good opinion of Count Navarro). Two supply ships, escorted by a powerful naval squadron would have done the job just as well, but the Cardinal knew what he was doing. He hoped to provoke another Crusade. For while his old master, King Ferdinand had been alive, his attempt to interest the King of Aragon in prolonging the conquest of Granada with a Crusade into North Africa had failed time and time again. It was not that Ferdinand objected in principle (for he could hardly object to his saintly wife Isabella’s last will and testament which clearly stated, ‘I beg my daughter and her husband that they will devote themselves unremittingly to the conquest of Africa and to the war for the Faith against the Moors’) but in conference after conference with the Cardinal he rattled him on the details. Where would their advance stop, at the walls of the cities, or in the mountains, or the arid steppe beyond, or should they plan to advance right to the edge of the Sahara? How many men, how many ships, how much would each stage of this cost? and who would pay? Now the King was dead, and the old Cardinal could pursue the vision of a prolonged holy war that he so avidly shared with the dead Queen Isabella the Catholic. Though there was a rumour that the Queen’s old confessor might have been a little too influential in the drafting of that clause in her last will.
So it was that on the day of San Hieronymo, that thousands upon thousands of Spanish soldiers were disembarked on the shore just east of the walled city of Algiers. Within a few hours this highly disciplined body of men had started to throw up entrenchments. By the end of the day the first cannonade had been fired at the walls of Algiers, echoed by that of the Spanish fleet.
Barbarossa seems to have learned nothing from his bitter experiences at Bejaia, for once again he planned to stand at the head of his men and lead a frontal attack on the Spanish lines. Nor did he delay, but launched his desperate assault that very first day of the siege. At the head of ‘one thousand Turks and five hundred Moors…he flung his forces upon them with loud cries. And so great was the fear inspired by Barbarossa that they were routed almost without loss to the Moors; and with much ease did these slay three thousand men and capture four hundred’ as the Spanish chronicler Sandoval dispassionately has it.
It was considered a great mystery how the finest army in Europe had been routed so decisively in September of 1516. De Vera managed to evacuate about half of his expeditionary force to the safety of the ships. In the confusion of night, fighting on a foreign shore, this was in itself an astonishing achievement, but his career was finished. To its eternal credit, the isolated Spanish garrison within the fort at Algiers continued to defy Barbarossa, despite having watched the destruction of the Spanish force sent to their relief.
Once he heard the news of this victory, Barbarossa’s brother at once sailed from Jijil to assist, bringing with him six galleys.
The following year Barbarossa took a momentous decision. In 1517 he turned his back on the sea and marched inland, towards the capital city of one of the three independent sultanates of North Africa. The Zayyanid Sultans had ruled western Algeria from the medieval city of Tlemcen for hundreds of years. In their heyday they had ruled all of western Algeria and controlled the central crossroads of the trans-Saharan trade. But their power was now in such decay that the Zaayanid Sultan Abu Hammu III had accepted a tributary alliance with the Spanish. This was why Barbarossa decided to march against Tlemcen accompanied by a disaffected Zayyanid prince, Abu Zayyan, whom he planned to place on the throne. A battle was fought outside the walls. Barbarossa’s victory was welcomed by the merchants of Tlemcen who were now freed from this ignominious alliance with the Christians. Guided by his new ally, Barbarossa now struck out against another ambitious prince, Hamida al-Awda, who had also planned to carve out an Emirate with Spanish military support. The eastern coast of Algeria was within the domains of the Hafsid Sultan of Tunis, but even here a Hafsid prince, Ahmad, sought the protection of the Spanish lest Barbarossa advance in his direction. To add further complexity to all this diplomatic footwork was that Barbarossa had always enjoyed good relations with the corsair ports of the Moroccan coast filled with Moorish refugees. Badis, tucked into the folds of the eastern Rif mountains as well as Tetouan, overlooked by the wild Alpine-like summits of the western Rif, were in tactical alliance with him. His agents now made formal contact with the Moroccan ruler in Fez, the Wattasid Sultan al-Burtughali. This ruler had tasted the humiliation of foreign captivity and personally led his own armies in battle against the Christian invaders. He was locked in a struggle to oppose the relentless advance of the Portugese on his kingdom’s Atlantic coast, which made him a natural ally of Barborassa.
The invasion of Algiers, and its defeat, may have blown up in the face of the Cardinal regent of Spain, but the Spanish Court did not remain idle whilst Barbarossa embroiled himself in the murky world of North African dynastic politics. The new young monarch Charles V, had responded to the urgent entreaties of the Spanish governor of Oran. Ten thousand Spanish veterans were sent to the Marquis of Comares so that he could wipe out the memory of the disaster at Algiers. Oran was the urban lynchpin of Pedro Navarro’s advance upon North Africa. But even the capture of this city back in 1509 had been achieved without King Ferdinand’s support. All the money and men for the expedition had been recruited from Church lands and from the revenues of the Cardinal. Advised by Girolamo Viannello, a Genoese captain who knew these waters, the Count and the Cardinal had occupied the city in May 1509 at the head of an army, the latter reciting the verses of Palm 115 as he processed through the streets. The Cardinal had returned in triumph to Spain, burdened with trophies of his victory: bronze candlesticks and libraries of books looted from mosques, as well as slaves and a picturesque troop of camels. He later commissioned a fresco of the uplifting scene of his triumphal procession, which was painted on the walls of the Mozarabic side chapel in the cathedral of Toledo. But after the first rush of this surprise victory, things had not all gone Spain’s way. A substantial proportion of the invading force had been left behind to continue the crusade. Under the command of Diego Fernadez de Cordoba they ventured out of the city walls. On their first expedition inland, they were isolated by tribesmen and cut down at the debacle of Las Grebes.
King Ferdinand had been right to be wary of the problems of exporting the crusade against Granada to North Africa. But his 17 year-old grandson, King Charles V, was desperately proud of the crusading traditions of both his Burgundian and Spanish ancestors. He would order that thousands of the best soldiers of Spain be sent to replace those that had fallen. The governor of Oran had also confidentially written to the young king, ‘now was surely the time to unseat them…before the Barbarossa brothers were able to gain complete control of their kingdom.’ The governor was right, for Barbarossa’s dramatic rise to power was resented by many of the tribal chiefs and regional power-brokers. They had briefly decided to back Spain in this venture, if it meant that they could be rid of their ever-active corsair king. So when the new Spanish army marched out of Oran to attack Barbarossa and replace the old Sultan back on the Zayyanid throne at Tlemcen, they found themselves for the first time being escorted, not opposed, by a host of tribal cavalry.
Cut off from his supporters, his corsair allies and his brother, who were all on the coast, Barbarossa nevertheless organised the defence of Tlemcen against the Spanish. Only when he realised that the citizens of Tlemcen could resist the blockade no longer, did he decide on a characteristic undertaking. With fifteen hundred men at his back he broke out of the city, cut his way through the siege lines and made a forced march towards the safety of the coast. The Spanish aided by their local allies, set off after him in hot pursuit. At one critical moment, Barbarossa ordered that purses of gold coin be thrown down a mountainside, knowing that the pursuing soldiers would be delayed by their treasurehunt. At another, he hurried back on his tracks in order to escort his rear-guard, which was being harassed as they struggled across a river. It was in just such an encounter that he found himself cut off from his men, trapped the wrong side of a dry-stone wall that was part of goat-herders pen. The one-armed warrior made a rush at the ring of Spanish soldiers who cautiously circled around him. He seemed on the point of breaking through when a savage jab from a pike caused him to stumble, whereupon he was struck again and felled. Pinned to the ground, it was left to Lieutenant Grazia de Tineo to behead Barborassa but even then received a deep wound that the lieutenant proudly bore for the rest of his life. In the words of Morgan, the valiant Barbarossa had ‘resided in Barbary for fourteen years, during which the harms he did to the Christians are inexpressible’. He was but forty-four years old when stabbed by that fatal Spanish pike, ‘not very tall of stature but extremely well set and robust. His hair and beard was perfectly red; his eyes quick, sparkling and lively … he was a man excessively bold, resolute, daring, magnanimous, enterprising, profusely liberal and in no-wise bloodthirsty except in the heat of battle, nor rigorously cruel but when disobeyed. He was highly beloved, feared and respected by his soldiers … and when dead was by them most bitterly regretted and lamented. He left neither son nor daughter.”
Barbarossa might have fallen, but a second Barbarossa immediately arose to take command of his inheritance. His younger brother Khizr assumed leadership of all the soldiers and seamen who had so devotedly served Uruj. The fragile alliance with the local tribes that had supported the Spanish army in its assault on Tlemcen dissolved with the news of Barbarossa’s death. The Marquis of Comares was later criticized for failing to advance on Algiers at this time, but it seems certain that he acted prudently in withdrawing his army safely back into Oran. He had received a report that the Wattaside Sultan had despatched an army east from Fez to rescue Barbarossa. This rumour turned out to be correct, though the force arrived just fifteen days too late.
Kherredine-Barbarossa moved quickly to reinforce his personal position as his brothers heir. He despatched an ambassador, Haj Hussayn, to renew his oath of loyalty to the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Selim the Grim had just returned from the conquest of Syria and Egypt was delighted to accept yet another vast new province for the Empire. Barbarossa was saluted as a Beylerbey (Lord of lords) and sent the official insignia of the horsetail banner, which preceded an Ottoman governor on his journeys. Accompanying this insignia was the loan of 2,000 janissaries, trained in the use of artillery and arquebus. They arrived in time to reinforce the city of Algiers from the threat of a second enormous Spanish invasion.
The viceroy of Sicily, Admiral Hugo de Moncada, had been directed by his master Charles V to bring together a fleet of some 58 galleys, troopships and men-of-war. All Charles’s Italian allies and the Spanish soldiers garrisoned in Naples and Sicily were to furnish contingents for this great venture. Indeed with soldiers drawn from Genoa, the Knights of St John, the Papacy and the Gonzaga rulers of Mantua it had more than something of the air of a real crusade about it. Admiral De Moncada succeeded in getting the whole of the Armada into the bay of Algiers on the 24th of August, which is usually a period of sultry fine weather. It was however the very same day that the first expedition, under de Vera, had landed at Algiers, the ill-omened day of San Hieronymo (St Bartholomew’s day). True to these premonitions, the weather started to worsen. The crusaders attempted a forced landing but the bad weather rapidly turned worse. The Algerians watched in delight as their sea took to a northward swell that so often precedes violent winds blowing in from the north-west. As the storm was unleashed, Kherredine-Barbarossa ordered an assault on the vanguard that had been landed. 4,000 men, from out of the 23,000 strong invasion force would be killed or drowned that day and twenty ships would be wrecked as the storm worsened. Admiral de Moncada would eventually lead his storm battered Armada back to the safety of Ibiza. Here they would mutiny for lack of pay.
To evert the ill omens associated with St Bartholomews day, the Spanish made the saint a gift. They had triumphantly born away the fine Maghrebi cloak that Barbarossa had been wearing when they killed him outside Tlemcen. They reverently embroidered and turned it into a vestment which was then draped over the statue of Saint Bartholomew. It become a relic in its own right, La Capa de Barbarossa.
The Turks, Moors, Berbers and citizens of Algiers were triumphant. Twice now they had driven the brutal crusaders from their shore. Apart from the odd island fortress, all of Algeria: be it Constantine, Bona, Meliana or Mustaganem now offered their loyalty to the victorious Beylerbey. Barbarossa, for his part, acted with greater clemency and circumstance than his brother, forgiving rebels and confirming many of the existing princes as rulers. Thanks to the patronage of the Barbarossa brothers, Algiers, from being one of many middle-ranking ports along this coast, gradually rose to become the capital of a new nation. Indeed the frontiers established by Barbarossa still define the modern state of Algeria.
The entire coastline of Algeria was now a springboard for raid upon raid to be launched against the northern coast of the Mediterranean. This was the golden decade for the Algerine corsairs, as the 1520’s saw the two powers of western Europe, Charles V and Francis I of France, locked in a relentless series of wars. That of 1521-26 followed by that of 1526-1529, fought across Italy and the low Countries. At the same time, Spain and Germany were racked by social rebellions, Rome was brutally sacked by a mutinous army and in Eastern Europe, first Belgrade, then the fortress of Rhodes surrendered to the new young Ottoman Sultan.
This was the time when the captains who had served under by the Barbarossa brothers emerged in their own right to win their laurels - men such as Dragut, Salih Reis, Black Hassan, Sinan ‘the Jew of Smyrna’ as well as Aydin Reis, nicknamed Cacha-Diablo by the Spanish. The North African shore had been burned, sacked and raided by the Spanish for the last thirty years, now was to be the time of many revenges. But it was not only the Spanish coast that was attacked but also that of more innocent Christians along the southern Italian coast and on the islands of Majorca, Menorca, Ibiza, Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica were hit time and time again by the hungry corsairs.
But even in this heyday Kherredine-Barbarossa could be tripped up by local ambitions. A group of rivals, a triumvirate formed by a Hafsid Prince, a sheikh of the Berber tribes of the Kabylie mountains, Ahmad ibn al-Cadi, and one of his own corsair-captains, Kara Hasan, managed to take over the city of Algiers in 1520. But Barbarossa, making use of his old base at Jijil contained this local coup, bided his time and in 1525 returned to Algiers as its ruler.
These local disputes did not effect the corsair raids, indeed Kara Hasan remained one of the most effective of the corsair-captains. But none of their operations would quite match that of the summer cruise of 1529 commanded by Cacha-Diablo and Salih Reis. Using the network of look out islands across the western Mediterranean, they worked their way up to the southern coast of Majorca at the head of fourteen galleys. They had already made two armed landings on this shore when word reached them that a party of forcibly converted Moors, who had renounced their conversion, were desperately trying to make contact with them. A bounty of 10,000 coins had already been offered for the capture of the Moors. Who would be turned over to the Inquisition. Knowing their fate, a corsair raiding party landed a third time, made contact and fetched them away under cover of night. Then a swift sailing boat brought news that a small squadron of Christian galleys, returning to Spain from Genoa, might cross their path. After catching an early glimpse of the power of the enemy squadron the captains decided to land the civilian refugees on a deserted island before they engaged the Spanish in action. It was a merciful decision, but must have been highly alarming to the stranded refugees. For no one could doubt their fate at the hands of the Inquisition if the Spanish ships won. In the vicious naval battle that followed the corsairs managed to seize seven Christian galleys. That autumn they sailed back into Algiers as the heroes of the hour, their decks burdened with hundreds of Moorish refugees, plus the thousand Muslim galley-slaves they had released from the Spanish ships.
For the next season’s cruise, Barbarossa’s corsair fleet numbered thirty-six galleys under the command of his various captains. They drew upon a reserve of 70,000 Moorish volunteer soldiers from all the different harbours and anchorages of Algeria. But before the raiders set out there was one piece of unfinished business that needed attending to. The Spaniards still held the fortress off the harbour of Algiers. So that spring the corsairs were summoned to assist in yet another attempt to break down the Tower of Navarro. Every inducement had been offered to the governor of the fort, Don Martin de Vargas, who according to the traditional account, replied thus,
“ I spring from the race of the De Vargas, but my house has never made it a practice to boast of the glory of their long descent; they profess merely to imitate the heroism of their ancestors. So I wait with calmness all your efforts, and will prove to you, with arms in my hands, that I am faithful to my God, my country and my King.’
The cannons of the Beylerbey, now directed by experienced janissary officers and gun crews and reinforced by some heavy cannon acquired from the French, then spoke their own message. They pounded the little offshore fort for fifteen days, from the shore and from a sea filled by a fleet of galleys. On May 16th 1530 the corsairs made their assault, some thirteen hundred warriors swarming over the cracked and broken walls of the fort. Barbarossa proved merciful in victory and the Spanish garrison was spared massacre. Instead they were put to work. It was their task over the next two years to hack down every last stone of the Tower of Navarro and to put this rubble to good use by building a new harbour mole. Thus the four rocky islets off Algiers were to be joined to the mainland by a causeway so that they could never be occupied by an enemy again.
It was a timely victory which marked the golden decade of Muslim naval power in the Western Mediterranean. In 1529, the Emperor and the French King had at last made a peace, and that same season the army of Sultan Suleyman reached its western-most zenith with the two week long siege of Vienna.
Barbarossa first became aware of the winds of change threatening his control of the Western Mediterranean in 1531. In that year Andrea Doria launched a sudden raid on the Algerian port of Cherchel, releasing seven hundred Christian prisoners from the citadel. It would have been a triumph if the soldiers he had so efficiently landed had obediently responded to his orders to re-embark. Instead they ignored the sound of his signal gun and attempted to break into and sack the town. The admiral was not used to being disobeyed. He ordered his ships to cast off and left the soldiers to their fate. He was heavily criticised, for the abandoned soldiers failed in their attempt to take the town and were pushed back on to the beach where they were all slaughtered. But Andrea Doria argued that he could not risk his squadron, upon which the defence of Christendom now rested, because of the greed of disobedient soldiers.
The next year, he showed his critics what he meant. His attack on the coast of Greece in 1532 would check the whole western advance of the Ottoman army, which was recalled to defend this region. Suleyman the Magnificent was also sufficiently concerned by these developments to rethink his whole strategy. So much so that in the autumn of 1533 he sent a message requesting a personal conference with the Beylerbey of Algiers. That winter, Barbarossa appointed a trusted renegade, Hasan Agha, to govern Algiers and the North African coast in his absence, while he prepared to sail east towards Istanbul. After the first meeting, the grand vizier advised Suleyman, ‘we have set our hand upon a veritable man of the sea. Have no hesitation in naming him Pasha, Member of the Divan, and Captain General of the Fleet’. With the Captain-Generalship, which normally went with the job of commander of the forts of Gallipoli, Barbarossa was awarded an annual salary of 14,000 ducats a year, financed by the revenue extracted from such Aegean islands as Rhodes and Lesbos – the island of his birth.
Barbarossa also acquired responsibility for supervising the construction of a brand new fleet in the dockyards that stretched along the safe anchorage of the Golden Horn of Istanbul. Sixty-one slimmer, faster more seaworthy galleys were to be launched, and the Admiral helped train and select their crews. In July he led a fleet of some eighty galleys throughout the Aegean. He struck southern Italy with precision, encircling the town of Reggio and deporting its entire population as slaves to Istanbul. Avoiding the well defended cities of the Neapolitan coast – with their watch-towers and early warning signals – he fell upon little Sperlonga – where Tiberius’s seaside palace can still be found. Like some fabled monster from a border ballad, he sent a raiding party inland to surround the little town of Fondi, intent on seizing the most beautiful woman in Italy – Giulia Gonzaga – widow of Vespasiano Colonna. While the town was sacked Giulia escaped out of her bedroom window and rode off to safety in her nightclothes. This tale of misadventure and partial nudity, has encouraged artists, poets and historians to add their little embellishments to the story. An Austrian has the Countess Giulia condemn her attendant for being overbold in his rescue, a Frenchman visualises her bare-breasted as she cuts her way through a line of lustful Turks with her cutlass, while an English chronicler imagines Barbarossa surveying the miserable selection of captives borne back from Frondi by his men and thundering out a reproof, ‘I sent you to bring back a pearl without price, and you return with these cattle.’
Towards the end of the summer of 1534 Barborassa steered his fleet towards his true objective, Hafsid Tunisia. On August 16th he stormed into his old safe-haven of La Goulette. Once a guest, he was now its master. The Hafsid Sultan waited for him to advance a little inland, to the city of Tunis, where he imagined that the tribal cavalry under his command would have an advantage. But his cavalry were scattered from the field by the disciplined fire of Barbarossa’s janissaries. The Hafsid Sultan then decided to abandon Tunis and retreated to the old inland capital of the country, the steppe-land city of Kairouan, and left Barbarossa in charge of the coast. But the bulk of the Ottoman fleet and army were recalled back to Istanbul from Tunis to contribute to the Sultan’s primary adventure, a two-year long invasion of the Shiite Persian Empire through Iraq.
This left Barbarossa dangerously exposed. He was left in command of his original forces in the Mediterranean but these were barely adequate to control a state that now stretched from the frontiers of Morocco to Libya. Furthermore his raid in force along the coast of Italy had awoken the whole of Europe to the scale of the threat. Charles V had been resident in Spain since 1533, after a long period away from the affairs of the Mediterranean, and was at last free from the concerns of Germany, Burgundy and his war with Francis I of France.
Throughout that winter of 1534 he threw himself into planning a counter-attack, which was to be launched not just by himself as a King of Spain but as the annointed leader of Christendom. His governor-generals in Granada, Naples, Aragon, Sicily and Castile were instructed to assemble regiments at designated embarkation ports, as were his allies in Italy and Germany. Andrea Doria was invited to guard the invasion fleet, which would rendezvous off Sardinia, a conveniently central point. The Knights of St John, recently established by the Emperor’s gift in Malta and the Libyan city of Tripoli (in 1530) also hurried to profess their support. An invitation was sent to Charles’s brother-in-law, the King of Portugal, to ask if he would join the Crusade. Nor could the loyalty of Genoa to Charles’s cause be doubted, for the recent alliance between Francis I and Suleyman was everywhere seen to mark out the Republic of Genoa as a future victim of France imperialism. As part of this diplomatic war of nerves, the Emperor instructed envoys to make contact with Barbarossa to see if he could be weaned from the Ottoman alliance.
But behind the sealed walls of his innermost council chamber, Charles had to put up with strongly worded rebukes. The new Cardinal-Archbishop of Toledo (de Tavera) warned his master that Spain now required his attentive presence, not another absence, and that the ‘endeavour’ risked starting another European wide-war. Indeed he classified the enterprise as ‘the adventure-lust of a young nobleman’, phrase that was echoed by another trusted advisor (Granvelle) that Charles ‘ought to avoid enterprises fit for young lordlings.” And they were right. But the spirit of a Christian Crusader knight-chivalrous burned deep within the Emperor. And despite all the battles and sieges fought in his name, he had never yet faced an enemy army himself. What is more, in launching a Crusade against the corsairs in Tunis, he would also be seen to be the good feudal lord, fulfilling his half of the medieval social pact, the protection of his people. To be a true and Holy Roman Emperor.
So in late May of 1535 the Emperor left the port of Barcelona, sailing with the galleys of Aragon, Castile and Portugal to join up with the fleets of Italy and Sicily, which met outside Cagliari on June 10th. They left on the 13th June carried by an excellent wind that brought the entire fleet to the Tunisian anchorage of La Goulette just twenty-four hours later. It is claimed that six hundred head of sail filled the gulf, the largest such congregation in living memory. The army of the Holy Roman Emperor at once disembarked, making its camp amongst the Roman ruins of Carthage: the circular walls of the amphitheatre, the long striding arches of the aqueduct and the subterranean vaults of the massive water cisterns. These monuments did not survive by mere accident as the crusading army soon learned. For the provision of fresh water and food, amongst the brackish lakes that surround and protect Tunis like a series of vast moats, soon became their critical concern, just as it had been for the Romans trying to supply the city of Carthage before them. As dysentery spread through the camps, an early assault was deemed vital. The earth banks that protected the strong stone-vaults of the central fortress of La Goulette were pounded hour after hour, day after day for three weeks. The Emperor, with becoming modesty, was content to serve in the army under his appointed supreme commander, Marquis de Vaso. The German and Spanish regiments faced the north and east walls of the fort, the Italians the west, while the Knights of St John directed a coordinated naval bombardment.
Barbarossa had placed the cream of his forces, the Turks and Moors, to man the fort of La Goulette, which had been well supplied. Having received word of the size of the invasion fleet, he had sent all his available craft to seek shelter in the ports of Algeria. He remained in the city of Tunis, directing a series of hit and run raids on the Christian camp with the cavalry and soldiers under his command. But in truth he knew that only another summer storm or a plague spreading itself over the disease-ridden camp, could the fortress hold out against the vast host that besieged them.
On the morning of July 14th the galleys of the Knights of St John delivered three volleys in fast succession. It was a pre-arranged signal and it silenced all the land batteries. Christian troops from a dozen nations advanced on the fort from all sides, initially under the shelter of the trenches but then in a pell-mell dash as they rushed towards the smashed walls of the bastions. After a short resistance the Turks were forced to strike their flag, though some of them managed to survive by making their way via a causeway that led across the lake to the walls of Tunis. Amongst the booty that fell that day were a large quantity of cannon that had been sold by France to her Ottoman ally. It was lucky, for the besmirched honour of France in the crusading camp that night, that it had been a knight from the French Tongue of the Order of St John, the Chevalier Cossier, who had been the first to plant the standard of the cross on the battlements.
During the last days of the siege of the fort, the Hafsid Sultan Moulay Hassan had ridden up from Kairouan to place some three hundred tribal cavalry at the service of Emperor Charles V. After the fall of La Goulette Moulay Hafid renewed his pleas that they should advance on Tunis, expel Barbaossa and his corsairs and restore him to his native throne. This idea appealed to Charles, but the lack of water and the unrelenting heat of the North African mid-summer brought its own problems. The men were forced to become their own beasts of burden as the pack-animals weakened, leaving it up to the soldiers to drag the monstrous cannon through the sterile mud of the salt marshes. As Charles wrote in his own hand to his sister Mary, ‘We die of thirst and heat’. The battles fought for possession of the few good wells in the region were the fiercest, for Barbarossa knew that this was the one tactical card that might reverse the imbalance of forces. In one such engagement Charles’s horse was killed, as was his page-boy, who fought with desperate gallantry to protect his master. Although Charles had been proud enough of his youthful victories in the jousting grounds and tourney fields, the bitter experience of war made a man of him. He never talked about these days in North Africa.
The battle for water that was fought out over the wells that summer was never to be resolved. For something totally unexpected broke apart the walls of Tunis. In council Barbarossa and his captains had argued about what they should do with the several thousand Christian slaves that were then being held prisoner in Tunis. Under normal conditions they would have been held in the casements beneath the thick walls of the fortress of La Goulette ready to be led in chains to the galley benches, or housed in reed huts that sprawled across dozens of old quarries in the suburbs. But they had all been evacuated and packed into the city of Tunis before the Christian army had landed. Now they were not only a burden on the city’s limited food and water supplies, but were a considerable security threat in their own right. As the sound of the Christian guns came ever closer, these eight thousand tough, brawny galley slaves became increasingly confident and excitable. A proposal to slaughter the lot was aired in Barbarossa’s council but the decision to order such a cold-blooded massacre could not easily be agreed upon. However, news of the council debate was reported to a group of ex-Christian renegades in Barbarossa’s service. They were so horrified at the prospect of this massacre being agreed at a later date, that they decided to free the slaves. With nothing to loose but their chains, the freed slaves stormed the citadel walls and opened the gates to the Christian army. Barbarossa saw at once that the city was lost, and using one of the city’s north-western gates led his own troops in a series of quick marches towards the safety of the Berber hills. From there they marched inland to reach the harbours of Algeria where the corsair galleys had been withdrawn for safe keeping.
Tunis was not so fortunate. Whether at the hands of the escaped slaves or the Emperor’s soldiers who now pressed in through the city gates, there was to be no pity or quarter given. ‘The streets became shambles, the houses dens of murder and shame’ as ‘abominable outrages were committed by the licentious and furious soldiery of the great Emperor’.
The Burgundian painter Vermeyen and the Spanish poet Garcilaso de la Vega accompanied the expedition. From their sketches and descriptions a celebrated series of tapestries were made which show the crusader fleet, the sea-voyage, the siege and the camp in Carthage. They do not show the sack. But to an extent the city of Tunis still does. The medieval buildings of this capital city, the like of which you will find in Fez, Marrakech, Granada and Cairo, do not exist in Tunis. For all its heritage, the medieval colleges, mosques and palaces were destroyed, just as libraries of Korans were broken up and used as bedding straw for the cavalry horses that were stabled in the main Zitouna mosque. After three weeks of occupation the ghost city of Tunis, a wreck framed by walls, was handed back to the Hafsid Sultan. In exchange he promised to surrender the harbour and fortress of La Goullette to be a permanent bastion of Spain, to forbid corsairs to use his harbours, to pay an annual tribute and to release any Christian slaves found in his territories. It was a compromising way in which to regain a throne - a powerless Muslim ally of a destructive Christian power.
On August 17th the victorious crusade fleet set sail, landing at Trapani in Sicily just a few days later. It was the first time that Charles V had visited his Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. He came to them out of the sea at the head of a victorious fleet and was greeted as a hero Emperor, by adoring crowds, hymns, triumphal arches and acclamations. In Palermo, the gate that the citizens built to welcome him into their city still stands, its two vast Hercules-like figures sustaining the archway, a deliberate joyous salute to Charles’s own heraldic symbol, the two standing pillars which represent Ceuta and Gibraltar, the Two Pillar’s of Hercules that watch over the entrance to the Western Mediterranean. They would be used as symbols on the Spanish silver dollars that poured out of South America and thence they would migrate to the design of the US greenback. Embroidered banners stretched from steeple to steeple, ‘Long Live Our victorious Emperor, father of the fatherland, conqueror of Africa, peace-maker of Italy.’ This architectural commemoration of The Emperor’s passage up Italy can still be followed through the freshly carved commemorative portals erected to him on the Porta Capuana in Naples, then along the Appian way to be feted by the proud women of Rome, of the Farnese, Orsini, Colonna and Pescara families. In the Vatican he spoke to the Pope and the college of Cardinals for a whole hour in Spanish, protesting his love of peace and his desire to lead the next crusade against Algiers. Although he used eloquent hand gestures to convey his meaning, especially his continued suspicions of Francis I and the German heretics, the choice of language was not lost on the Holy Conclave. He could have chosen any one of the half dozen languages in which he was fluent (including Latin) but he now chose to present himself as a King of Spain. It has also been noted that throughout his triumphal tour of southern Italy, he had abandoned the magnificent jewelled textiles of Burgundy and wore the sober black of a Spaniard. He saw himself as a crusader from Spain rather than he richest Prince in Christendom.
At Bejaia Barbarossa and the survivors of the sack of Tunis rejoined the corsair fleet. There was consternation in the town. Would the admiral choose to evacuate the Algerian coast, and pull back his fleet to the Levant and the safety of Ottoman territories? Were they to be left at the mercy of another Spanish-led crusade?
Barbarossa had no such plans. He took his galleys out of port in a north-westerly direction, away from all the familiar island look-out posts, in order to sweep straight onto Menorca’s coast from the north. News of the Emperor’s victory over the corsairs at Goulette and the city of Tunis was still being celebrated when Barbarossa’s fleet suddenly filled the anchorage of Port Mahon. The place was looted, burned and an impressive booty of captured cannon and six thousand slaves were taken back to Algiers. It was a piece of fabulous defiance in the face of such crushing reverses and it also advertised to the cities of Algeria that the admiral remained in charge.
The following year he set sail once again for Istanbul, undoubtedly to request resources with which to recapture Tunis or another powerful fleet with which to burn the Italian coast. But despite the bravado of the Port Mahon raid there was no mistaking the turn in the wind. In 1536 Andrea Doria took his fleet deep into the Aegean, seizing all the merchant ships that he came upon, before taking on a squadron of the Ottoman navy commanded by the Lieutenant-Governor of the Dardanelles. His tactical victory, greatly reinforced by the capture of several galleys, was a sharp reminder to how vulnerable Istanbul could be to any resurgence of Christian naval power. That same year the King of France and the Sultan progressed from their tactical understanding to a secret alliance. It was not exactly a trump card for either sovereign, separated as they were by several seas, mountain ranges, nations and languages. The only direct application of the new alliance was that a combined French and Turkish naval squadron fought a small engagement against the Spanish. Much more talked about was that Turkish boats were drawn up in Toulon, where the crews out-wintered the storms before returning home.
In 1538 the Sultan’s aggressive policies helped create a union of the four greatest naval powers in Italy to oppose the fleet commanded by Barbarossa. The joint fleet was composed of 36 galleys from the Papacy (under Marco Grimani), eighty-one ships from Venice (under Vincenzo Capello), thirty galleys from Spain (under Ferrante Gonzaga) and forty-nine galleys from Genoa. All had been placed under the overall command of Charles V’s admiral, Andrea Doria. It was a unique experience in European unity, that had been extremely difficult to organise and was riddled with personal and national rivalries. And it was missing one vital ingredient, a squadron of fifty sailing ships, the Spanish and Portugese galleons - who had proved themselves to be such a formidable force in the Indian Ocean.
Barbarossa had fewer ships under his command but enjoyed an absolute command of all his subordinates. Many of his captains, such as Dragut, had loyally served him for years. The only new addition was the Red Sea fleet of Egypt, which had been patiently constructed over the last two decades to take on the Portugese in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean. Instead the bulk of this force had been transhipped at the last moment and sent north to join Barbarossa.
A skirmish by the captain of the Papal galleys just beneath the Ottoman fortress of Preveza, first established that the two battle fleets were in close proximity. Barbarossa took his ships into the Gulf of Arta (the self same bay in which Actium had been fought between Octavian and Mark Anthony). It was a safe anchorage, shielded by islands and overlooked by Turkish-held forts, islands and headlands. Andrea Doria, having at last assembled all the elements of the allied fleet sailed south from Corfu on September 25th to confront them. It was later in the season than he might have wished, right on top of the autumn equinox, a time traditionally associated with sudden changes in weather. He was old, but the caution he displayed in the coming days was well founded. He tried to lure Barbarossa out of his very favourable, fort-defended anchorage, and on the morning of the 27th led his fleet south. The differences between the various squadrons were as nothing to the difficulty of keeping a fleet composed of both galleys and full-rigged galleons together. The line of Christian ships soon stretched ten miles, all the way down the length of the island of Levkas (just north of Ulysses’ Ithaka).
Barbarossa, observing this disordered fleet (whether by design or accident), raised his flag to signal for the Ottoman fleet to follow and pick off the stragglers. So it was against a long, drawn-out line of Christian ships that the compact Ottoman fleet, a tidy crescent of well-disciplined galleys, made their speedy advance. Dragut in command of the right squadron, Salah Reis of the left and Barbarossa at the centre, they soon swept up against the first Christian stragglers. This included The Galleon of Venice, her progress across the waters literally weighed down by the cannon she carried and an early version of armour-plating. Though encircled by the entire vanguard of the Ottoman navy, the captain of The Galleon of Venice, Alessandro Condalmiero, maintained absolute control over his crew. Her masts were blown away by the cannonades from the pack of galleys that rowed towards her, but still he forbade his men to fire back until the enemy further closed the range. When he finally did give the order to unleash the first broadside at point blank range, it was to be a sudden and devastating revelation to the Ottoman captains of the evolution of naval fire-power. One galley was literally blown out of the water by the ferocity of the Venetian cannonade and then immediately sunk beneath the waves, while half a dozen galleys were severely disabled. The Ottoman captains quickly backed their craft out of range of The Galleon of Venice – though some had been so decimated by the broadside that they required to be towed away. The rest of that day, Barbarossa and his captains quartered the waters, waiting their opportunity to nip in and launch another attack. They swooped on a few other stragglers that trailed behind Doria’s fleet but which did not share The Galleon of Venice’s bewildering new fire-power.
Andrea Doria refused to come to the aid of the beleagured Venetian ship. Captains Marco Grimani and Vincenzo Capello took turns to go aboard his flagship and begged him to intervene. Dark political motives have been heaped on him for this, fired up by the usual murderous jealousy that exists between Genoa and Venice, but the reason was simple enough. Doria aspired to lure Barbarossa’s fleet out from the protection of the Ottoman-controlled shore. In the deep sea, he knew that his galleons had a chance of damaging the entire Ottoman fleet, after which the gates of Istanbul lay open. But for him to draw his fleet after him into the shore of Levkas in order to defend The Galleon of Venice, was to hand over all the tactical advantages. Neither admiral wished to be drawn into each other’s chosen battleground. So at the end of the day, Barbarossa was left in possession of seven christian galleys that he had captured, to be set against the loss of three galleys that had been crippled by the gunfire of The Galleon of Venice. Incredibly enough, Captain Condalmiero’s ship managed to survive the attention of the Ottoman fleet and despite being un-masted managed to work its way north to the safety of the harbour of Corfu. In the morning light it could be clearly seen that the fleet of Barbarossa held its position on the seas while Andre Doria had used the cover of the night to retire to Corfu. Why, remains a mystery to this day. As the French naval historian de la Graviere would later comment, ‘for less than this the English shot Admiral Byng in 1756.” The battle of Preveze was an Ottoman naval victory, but for all its individual bravery it remains a curiously unsatisfactory engagement, the Jutland of the sixteenth century.
Even before the battle of Preveze, Emperor Charles V was having difficulties with his Spanish Kingdoms. Though he sketched out the basic outlines of his planned crusade in lecture after lecture (one even delivered to the collected Senate of Venice) the Spanish would not be persuaded. Neither money nor men, nor Spanish ships were pledged by the various Cortes of the kingdoms of Spain for his prospective crusade in the East. The Emperor had learned much from the experience of the Tunis crusade and had all the practical details in his mind. Strong ocean-going barges would be gathered from the Duchy of Burgundy to transport the best Italian guns, while great quantities of Germans would be recruited because of their steadfastness as infantry. The Spanish were to provide the backbone of the force, the whole fleet escorted by the combined navies of Venice and Genoa. But the Spanish were not interested in joining any expedition to conquer Istanbul. Their taciturn response was a single word, ‘Algiers’. They would gladly sail against the corsair city any year, even though two Spanish expeditions had already failed on this shore and thousands of young Spaniards had perished in the various expeditions that had been launched out of Oran.
The next year seemed set for peace in the Mediterranean. The naval victory of Preveze combined with a new peace treaty with Venice seems to have left the Ottomans content with the status quo. While in 1541, the Emperor Charles V was also seemingly removed, deeply embroiled in Central Europe, tied up with months of negotiations with German princes at the Diet of Regensburg, to produce a compromise between the Catholics and Protestants. But in a last minute frenzy of diplomatic activity held, through the night of the 28th and into the morning of 29th July 1541, Charles V managed to pull several rabbits out of the hat. A much-amended agreement was signed in which the Protestant princes agreed to lend 10,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry to fight the Turks on the south-eastern frontier of Germany for three months. So at 2pm before the ink had dried on this document, Charles V had galloped out of town – off to join another Spanish assault on Algiers. Riding non-stop through Munich and Innsbruck, over the Brenner Pass by way of Milan and Pavia, he took ship from Genoa to join the fleet that he had ordered to be assembled at Palma, the capital of the island of Majorca. An agonising delay blew his ship to shelter in Corsica before they could be underway again, rowing all day and night to make the rendezvous. Spanish troops under the Duke of Alva, the Genoese under Andrea Doria, the Neapolitans and Sicilians under Ferrante Gonzaga and thousands of German mercenaries were waiting to leave for the invasion of Algiers. But the Emperors delayed arrival would not be the only one to afflict this polyglot, multinational force.
It would not be until October 19th that five hundred transport ships, manned by 12,000 men and carrying 24,000 soldiers stood of the bay of Algiers on October 19th. It was late in the season, but this had its own distinct advantage for it avoided any encounter with Barbarossa’s fleet. For the Admiral of the Ottoman navy was based on Istanbul and this late in the season would not in a position to also guard the North African coast.
All through Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd October, a heavy swell made a landing quite impossible. But having heard Mass on Sunday morning, the weather changed and the Emperor was able to lead his army ashore in beautiful weather, a few miles to the east of the city. A cannonade had cleared the tidal strath of tribal cavalry, and the men waded ashore through the surf to find themselves not in the blazing wilderness of Africa but in an enchanted suburb of well-watered walled gardens and orchards. Once sufficient of the regiments had arranged themselves on the shore, they marched directly on the city. The Spanish left wing took the high ground and picketed the hills, the Emperor and his German troops took the centre, while the Italians and the Knights of Malta advanced closest to the shore.
The city they looked at hungrily that evening shone at its very best, a dazzling series of white houses piled up in terrace after terrace as they climbed the hillside, the skyline broken only by the neat rectangular towers of the mosque minarets. On the high ground to the north of the city stood the citadel, a free-standing fortress which was connected to the circuit of city walls. The bastions that reinforced the sea walls and the handsome harbour mole, built by captives with stone that was once the Spanish fort, were new works, well supplied with cannons. But between these harbour defences and the hill-top citadel Charles V and his commanders looked with keen-eyed interest at a less well-defended, old curtain wall.
Out of a sense of almost chivalric courtesy, a messenger was despatched to the governor of Algiers, the renegade captain Hasan Agha, demanding the keys of the city: to surrender with terms or face the consequence of the sack of Algiers. Hasan Agha, in command of 1,000 janissaries and some 5,000 armed citizens, including many experienced corsairs and refugees from Andalucia, held his position with defiant confidence. Five hundred sail might fill the horizon to the north, but the Algerians remained confident. For Barbarossa’s naval victory at Preveze had been confirmed by another military success in Algeria. The bellicose military-governor of Oran, Count Alcaudete, had been instructed to expand the authority of Spain. So just a year after his arrival, in 1535, he had sent an army inland to support another client Zayyanid prince trying to claim the throne of Tlemcen. On their way back to Oran from this Spanish expeditionary force were pinned down within the fortress of Tibda. Isolated from assistance they had been overwhelmed by the Beni Rashid tribe. Only seventy men survived and these all as prisoners.
As the first lines of the crusader siege trenches were being prepared that evening the heavens opened. The troops were soaked and then battered by winds while a dangerous onshore wind picked up strength and stopped all further disembarkation. No tents, no cannons, no further food and supplies could be landed. That night the army shivered, while the colonels began to fret about keeping the gunpowder sufficiently dry in these appalling and unexpected weather conditions.
Hasan Agha, with the example of Barbarossa’s elder brother before him, seized the moment to launch an attack that morning, under cover of shrieking winds and rainstorms. They pushed the Italians back to the coast and seemed on the point of making their way through to the Emperor’s post. But the steadfast resistance of the Knights of St John stemmed the first approach of panic, for they were well used to fighting in armour in the most appalling conditions. This gave the German troops time to come up and defend their Emperor. A counter-attack, once again led by the Knights, threw Hassan’s men out of the trench-works. Then the crusaders ebbed forward and pushed the Algerines back to the very walls of the city. The storm prevented the fleet from assisting with a naval bombardment, so that the fighting that morning reverted to a medieval contest of sword and pike, fought hand-to-hand in the mud. One Knight managed to jab at the closing gates of the Bab Azun with his sword, but as soon as their brothers were safe within the walls, the defenders on the battlements felt free to open fire with their light cannons. This soon cleared the immediate approaches to the walls of Algiers of any Christians.
Then Hasan launched his second stroke. As tribal warriors descended from the hills towards the embattled crusader camp, he had the gates of the Bab Azun once again opened, and led his cavalry out at a gallop in a frontal attack on the enemy lines. This was more than just a brave gesture. The Emperor himself had to rally the troops himself to fight again that day. Protected by his bodyguard, the corps of gentleman adventurers that had been recruited from the grandees of Castile and Aragon, the King of Spain rode forward once more to repel an attack of Moorish knights. Even this skirmish, fought over the siege trenches overlooking Algiers, left some three hundred dead.
The rest of that day and the next, the weather ruled. Sufficient supplies for only two days had been landed, so it was with great relief that the hungry besiegers looked out on Wednesday morning, 25th October, to see that the weather had at last cleared. Over this day, the invasion fleet slowly reassembled beside the beachhead a few miles to the east of the city. A few supplies were run ashore and messages exchanged.
Then, unexpectedly from the north-east a mother of an autumnal storm broke upon the scene. There was no room for manoeuvre. The devastation was awesome, compounded by confusion as ships ran over one another’s cables, snagged in each other’s rigging, ran into half sunk boats and disabled masts. This storm raged for two days, driving dozens of galleys to a splintered death on the immediate shore, while others were driven west, past the walls of Algiers to founder on the offshore rocks. Even the Emperor took it is a judgement from God. He was seen in a long white cloak outside his tent, murmuring ‘et Fiat voluntas Tias’ - ‘and thy will be done’. For the Algerines, thrice rescued from the destruction of a Spanish army by ‘miraculous winds’, it must have imbued them with an awesome sense of the imminence of the divine.
The Emperor struck camp, and his drenched, starved, disillusioned army was led on a march west, skirting the high citadel to pass above Algiers and then to plough its way on through the foothills. They were harassed by tribesman who now swarmed down from the mountains to join in attacking the retreating invaders, as well as by Hasan Agha who once again led his Turks and his Moors in attacking the rearguard. Deprived of supplies, the Crusader army only survived this desperate two day march by plundering the suburban orchards and gardens and devouring their own pack-animals. The remains of the fleet had established a secure anchorage at the Bay of Temendefust, where under the cover of the ships guns an orderly camp was at last created. It was here that Hernando Cortes, one of the gentleman-adventurers who formed a marching bodyguard around the Emperor, begged him to try again, to turn adversity into good fortune by leading one more assault on Algiers. Cortes, who had conquered an empire by kidnapping the Aztec Emperor in his own capital city, might have been the man to lead such an unexpected counter-attack. But for Charles V God had spoken in the storm. The order to embark was given. On 2nd November, the Emperor, who wished to be one of the last to leave the African shore, waded out into the surf and was hoisted into a rowing boat. That night he settled down to write a long letter of explanation to his brother, the Archduke Ferdinand, about what had gone wrong. As if to remind him, a third storm pinned the fleet to the Algerian shore, twice driving them back south towards the North African shore, before releasing them. They reached Cartagena, which could take a day with a fair wind, a month later. Once back in the ancient capital of Valladolid he wrote a frank appraisal to his intimate councillor, Granvelle. ‘We must thank God all of us and hope that after this disaster he will grant us of his great goodness, some great good fortune … Nobody could have guessed the weather beforehand. It was essential not so much to rise early, as to rise at the right time, and God alone could judge what that time should be.’
In Algiers that winter a Christian slave was scarce a fair barter for an onion, though in later years the Algerines grew curiously fond of their old enemies. The grave of the Knights of St John who had held back Hasan Agha’s first attack was pointed out with respect, as was a hilltop to the west of the city that was considered to have been the site of the tent of Charles V. To this day it is still known as the ‘Emperor’s Castle.”
Barbarossa led a fleet of some eighty galleys north, landing raid after raid on the Italian coast as he worked his way up towards France. In the Gulf of Lyons, Francois de Bourbon, commander of the French fleet, awaited with his galleys dressed in a long, welcoming line. His guns sounded a salute as the White Lillies of France dipped in honour of the arrival of their Ottoman allies. Aside from these gallantries, the practical preparations that had been made for the arrival of the Turkish fleet at Marseilles proved to be minimal, much to the disgust of Barbarossa. The central objective of the alliance was to attack the Italian city of Nice which was bombarded, besieged, stormed and sacked. The addition of this burnt-out city, a small advance in the frontiers of France, came at a heavy price. The French crown had to supply the needs of the Ottoman fleet throughout the winter of 1542 and they, to all practical purposes, turned the harbour of Toulon into a Turkish enclave. Genoa’s old suspicions of French intentions were revived and the rest of Europe was free to comment on this unnatural and ‘impious alliance’. For their part, the Ottoman navy behaved with quite exemplary decorum, as an astonished visitor confessed, ‘To see Toulon one might imagine oneself at Constantinople, everyone pursuing his business with the greatest order and justice … never did an army live in stricter or more orderly fashion than that one.” The French ambassador to Venice freely confessed that ‘they are more hardy, more obedient, and more enduring than us. They have one great advantage, that they think about nothing except war.’
Before settling down for the winter, Barbarossa despatched a squadron under Salah Rais to raid the Spanish coast and then over-winter in Algiers. During the winter the two rival admirals, Andrea Doria and Barbarossa, exchanged a series of embassies from their Riviera hibernations. Once again the courts and chanceries of Europe buzzed with talk of secret plots. Was Barbarossa being approached to defect to Charles V, or was Andrea Doria negotiating the cost of bringing his fleet over to join the Franco-Ottoman accord? But the only known result of these talks between the two old corsair admirals was an exchange of prisoners and ransoms. Amongst many such deals, Barbarossa paid 3,000 crowns for the release of one of his vice-admirals. It seems that back in the summer of 1540 Andrea Doria’s nephew, Giannettino Doria, had caught Dragut unawares. The corsair squadron of twelve galleys had been drawn up on a beach in Sardinia, where he was resting the crews, drawing fresh water and repairing the hulls with molten pitch. Suddenly the corsairs found themselves totally surrounded, with soldiers on the heights and Doria’s ship-mounted cannons covering the entire beach. It was a famous coup, the entire squadron taken - crew, boats, booty and all - without a shot fired. Dragut was put to work in one of the galleys of Andrea Doria’s fleet, where he was visited by a French Knight of the Order of St John, called de la Vallete. Dragut was saluted with a taciturn greeting by this Knight, Usanza de Guerra - it is the custom of war, to which he is said to have replied, Y mudanza de fortuna - I see a change of luck. When last they had met, they had occupied different seats. Then it was Dragut who patrolled in majesty on the prow while La Vallete worked away at the five-man oars, chained by his ankle to a bench, amidst the stink of a hundred unwashed galley slaves.
So when Barbarossa sailed away in the spring of 1543 from Toulon, Dragut had been returned to his command. After leaving France, the corsairs raided down the Italian coast until they reached the Sicilian straits. Barbarossa may have known that this would be his last active cruise. He was content with the deputy he had appointed in Algiers. Hasan Agha, though a Christian renegade and a eunuch, had proved himself a loyal and accomplished warrior. His defence of Algiers, even if assisted by a divine wind, had been exemplary. Barbarossa also had a son (Hasan) by his Algerian wife, who would prove himself a talented officer and rise to become Beylerbey of Algiers himself one day. But it was Dragut (also known as Turghut Reis/Turgud Rais) who was his true heir on the high seas.
Barbarossa returned to the Bosphorus that summer in time to watch the construction of a magnificent waterside mosque that was consuming most of his fortune. It was built on an embankment just upstream from the Imperial cannon foundries at Tophane – Istanbul’s answer to the arsenal of Venice. It was equipped with an imaret, an enormous kitchen which prepared food for the poor. It is a splendid if heavy building, its roof more like a great leaden helmet than a dome. Here he would be buried in the summer of 1546 in a mausoleum that overlooks the fast-running waters of the Bosphorus and the ferries that criss-cross its waters from the Besiktas landing. It became a custom amongst the Ottoman navy that ‘no voyage is undertaken from Istanbul … without their first visiting his tomb, whereat they say a Fatiha* a sort of prayer for success … saluting the remains of so efficacious an individual with repeated vollies of small fire-arms, both at arrival and departure. All of which is done with much ceremony and singular solemnity.’
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by Barnaby Rogerson