The two islands of Cyprus and Crete were an essential part of the Levantine trade routes, controlled by the Venetian Republic, they allowed commerce to thrive between Antwerp and the Far East. Until, in 1571, the island was invaded by the debauched Ottoman Sultan, Selim ‘The Sot’, which precipitated a disastrous war for the Sultan. Selim relished taking the rich Mediterranean island, so fertile in the grape for which he craved, and Cyprus soon began to fall under his control, town by town. The Venetians enlisted the help of Pope Pius V who in turn dispatched an envoy to Philip II urging him to join with the Holy League in a sea battle against the Turks. The Muslim populations of Spain, Granada and Aragon had been suppressed and forced to convert to Catholicism, but the toleration was being slowly rescinded and the Morisco Moors of Granada were in open revolt. The Spanish feared that a Muslim uprising on their doorstep would give rise to an invasion and Philip II dispatched his half-brother, Don John of Austria, to quell the revolt. Spanish fears were calmed when the Sultan withdrew his resources away from the Morisco revolt, leaving Philip free to join his neighbours in an offensive. The Spanish king also had his sights set on the recovery of Tunis where his puppet Muslim government had recently been ousted by the Turks, which in turn threatened the safety of his other important possession, Sicily.
The fleet gathered from Spain and Venice, from the Duchy’s of Naples and Savoy, descending on Messina in Sicily with one common goal; the destruction of the Turkish fleet and the recapture of their prized islands. Philip’s forces were led by Gian Andrea Doria from the Genoese republic, under the Pope’s admiral, Mark Anthonio Colonna, assisted by the Venetian, Sebastiano Venier. The Colonna family could rank a Pope amongst its members and list Petrarch as a family friend, but among its living members was the intriguingly named Prospero Colonna, who later led forces under the Duke of Parma in the Low Countries during the 1580’s. The armada sailed for Turkey. Doria urged restraint as the winter was coming on, news came that Nicosia had fallen with only the port town of Famagusta holding out. Colonna was keen to press on, but sickness hampered the fleet’s progress until they were forced to head for home, and while Doria was lucky to make port, but the rest of the fleet was battered by tempests and severely damaged.
While the Venetian fleet was repaired, the Pope rallied aid from the Dukes of Tuscany, Parma and Savoy. For the second armada Philip insisted that Don John lead the attack. The failed attempt had led to wrangles among the parties that comprised the Holy League, and again it was late in the season before Don John could set sail from Messina, but playing on the respect with which he was generally held, and no doubt using his own charismatic charm, he cajoled the League on their holy mission, and set sail with two hundred Galleys and six large Galleases. Also joining the armada was Don John’s nephew, Alexander Farnese. The armada encountered Uluj Ali, admiral of the Turkish fleet, off the Greek coast in the Gulf of Lepanto, modern day Nafpaktos, south of the town of Lepanto, and despite the early loss of three ships belonging to the Knights of Malta, Ali and his fleet were routed, while the Holy League sustained the loss of some six thousand men. As evening drew in a tempest again forced the ships to return to port.
Second Gentleman: A segregation of the Turkish fleet:
For do but stand upon the foaming shore,
The chidden billow seems to pelt the clouds;
The wind-shaked surge, with high and monstrous mane,
seems to cast water on the burning bear,
And quench the guards of the ever-fixed pole:
I never did like molestation view
On the enchafed flood.
MONTANO: If that the Turkish fleet
Be not enshelter’d and embay’d, they are drown’d:
It is impossible they bear it out.
[Enter a third Gentleman]
Third Gentleman: News, lads! our wars are done.
The desperate tempest hath so bang’d the Turks,
That their designment halts: a noble ship of Venice
Hath seen a grievous wreck and sufferance
On most part of their fleet.
Othello, Act. II. Sc. i
Don John harboured great ambitions: he aimed to reclaim Tunis and to become king, he would then free Mary, Queen of Scots and by marrying her, take the English throne for himself. His delusions were only partly realised with the recapture of Tunis, where he refortified the fortress of La Goletta which had been erected by his father, Charles V. Don John held it briefly until the Turks, led again by Uluj Ali, stormed the fortress and took the island back.
The battle of Lepanto is the background setting for three plays; Much Ado About Nothing, which opens in Messina just after the battle has ended; Othello, who is dispatched to the wars in Cyprus; and it is the events of the aftermath that are detailed in The Tempest, with the wedding of Don John the self-styled ‘King of Tunis’.
Mark Anthonio Colonna
The characters of Anthonio and Sebastian represent his two Admirals, Mark Anthonio Colonna and Sebastiano Venier, while Prospero is obviously Prospero Colonna. Othello, the Moor fighting for the Venetian State like Jan Baptista del Monte, is a character we should revile as an enemy and a turncoat, but far from being a racist stereotype Othello stalks the stage with supreme dignity. His natural nobility raises him above the common man, above the audience, who witness the cruel destruction of his love for Desdemona by Iago, and cannot but sympathize; that is until he reverts to the Elizabethan stereo-type of a ‘savage’ and kills her in a jealous rage. The story reworks the gossip surrounding Philip II’s court in the Escorial Palace, where Machiavellian events were common currency. Philip was suspicious of the ambitious Don John and on the advice of his secretary, Antonio Perez; he had placed a spy at the Austrian court in the form of Juan de Escobedo, who Perez believed would make a loyal plant. Working as Don John’s secretary, Escobedo had grown loyal to his new master and Perez had used this to fan the flames of Philip’s jealousy.
ANTONIO PEREZ (1539-1611)
As secretary to the Low Countries, Perez was in a position to tamper with Escobedo’s letters to suit his own ends, even writing his own derisive comments in the margins before he presented them to the King. He convinced Philip that Escobedo was fanning Don John’s ambitions and the pair were plotting his overthrow, and that Escobedo should die. The King consented and, when Escobedo came to Madrid on an errand for his master, Perez made several bungled attempts to poison him, eventually hiring assassins from his native Aragon to corner Escobedo in a dark alley and run him through. Perez had chosen his assassins from amongst his loyal servants, and despite absenting himself during the murder, suspicion soon lighted on him. The unexpected death of Don John a few months later gave Philip cause to question his part in the assassination, the blood of Escobedo was equally on his hands, but Perez knew too much for Philip to have him arrested and the family of Escobedo were demanding justice, so the king instructed Perez to pay them off and waited for an opportune moment to place him under house arrest.
A slow judicial process had begun and Perez was gradually relieved of his power, culminating in charges being brought against him for tampering with the king’s ciphered letters. Philip was aware that his secretary had incriminating papers stashed away somewhere and he alternated between offering Perez relative freedom and harsh punishment in an attempt to get them back, eventually resorting to torture.
The confession they elicited from him was vague, but damning for Philip, as it implicated him in the murder of Escobedo, and Perez, who was sure that his days were numbered, organised a daring escape. With the help of his wife, he arranged for two of his loyal servants to break him out of his prison in Madrid and, using the Royal Post horses, they rode through the night for Aragon. Because of his age and the poor condition he was in after his torture, a second group followed, whose purpose was to tire the Post horses should anyone try to pursue them.
Once in Aragon, Perez gathered his loyal followers and demanded to be tried under their laws, thus protecting himself from Philip and the laws of Castile. The king was incensed and immediately began judicial proceedings, accusing Perez of the murder by falsifying the reports and misleading him. In his absence a judge in Madrid found Antonio guilty and sentenced him to death and Philip had his own guards placed around the prison in Aragon. Perez used this infringement of Aragon’s sovereignty to garner support, causing Philip to change tack and accuse him of heresy, thereby avoiding the Aragonese legal system, as the Inquisition had power in Castile and Aragon. Trouble flared when they attempted to move Perez to a prison under the Inquisitions control, riots broke out in Aragon and Philip’s local representative and the Chief Justice were both killed by the angry mob.
The King of Spain was furious at this flagrant rebellion and ordered an invasion by his Castilian troops, causing Perez, disguised as a shepherd, to make his escape to France through the heavy November snow, to seek refuge at the court of Navarre.
Anthony Bacon traveled in Europe in the 1580’s and he also found his way to the court of Navarre, where Henri, and his sister Catherine de Bourbon, welcomed the young Englishman, but a sprained ankle meant his stay was extended for many months, avoiding his return to England where he would have to face the wrath of his mother and ‘the landlady’ Lord Burghley. Anthony was gaining a sordid reputation amongst the locals in Montauban for the goings-on at his lodgings, located near the bridge that vaulted the river, which divided the small town. Young pages were being attacked, bullied, and even raped, by Bacon and his stewards. Daphne Du Maurier, whose research turned up an arrest for buggery that had lain gathering dust for four hundred years in the archives of Montauban, refused to believe the rumours of Anthony’s sadistic sexual appetite. He was far too nice, too genteel, for such beastliness, protested Daphne in her book about the Bacon brothers, Golden Lads. In his absence Anthony’s brother, Francis, was busy trying to improve his own standing at court, despite the Cecil’s continued recalcitrance, but he was being hampered by his wayward brother, who insisted on selling property to pay off his creditors.
In 1593 Perez journeyed to England as an emissary from the King of France, and Elizabeth and Burghley had initially attempted to use him to their ends, with the queen chatting familiarly to him in his native Castilian, which she spoke with some fluency. Still looking for a patron to sell his secrets to, he lodged first with Anthony and then with Francis. His attempts to ingratiate himself with Burghley failed, but he was quickly snapped up by the Earl of Essex, who installed him in Essex House, where the Earl’s secretaries were enamored of his Pedacos de Historia o Relaciones, printed in London in 1594 under one of his fecund pseudonyms ‘Raphael Peregrino’. Perez cited Tacitus’ Histories to justify the Escovedo assassination, bewailed his own persecution, and praised the Aragonese uprising at Philip’s harsh dealings.
Tacitism was popular amongst Essex’s followers and they employed the services of Richard Field to print Perez’s Pedaco, although under a fake imprint and with Field’s dishonest proviso that he published the volume ‘with little knowledge of the Spanish language’. The earl’s secretariat saw Perez as the model tutor for the study of Tacitism, publishing his Relations in which Perez used his own mode of political inquiry to examine the tyrannical rule of the Spanish King, thus furthering the republican ideals of the Essex circle. Anthony Bacon, Essex’s foreign secretary, oversaw Arthur Atey’s English translation of Perez’s betrayal of the Spanish King, while Henry Wotton produced a synthesized English version. Antonio became the centre piece at Essex House, where he gained a reputation for his voluminous correspondence, which he wrote in Latin and Spanish, praising the members of Essex’s circle, and in particular the Lady Rich, on whom he lavished his prolix prose, writing to her in Spanish, and declaring her to be his muse. It is Antonio’s relationship with Francis Bacon that caused a flurry of letters from his mother, Anne Bacon, to Anthony, urging her sons to conduct themselves in a more appropriate manner and not to consort with ‘cormorant seducers’ like Perez, who shared Francis’ private rooms at Gray’s Inn, and Anne knew the two were committing ‘foul sins’. In a letter Perez wrote to Anthony Bacon, he implies that he and Francis have had a homosexual encounter;
Your brother invited me to dinner. He has wounded me in writing – his pen being the most rabid and biting of teeth. As if he himself were above blame – some kind of chaste vestal virgin. You can tell immediately what this imagined modesty of his is all about. For I am just the same. Those who claim to love modesty are in fact the most bold of men, and submit to force, and enjoy the excuse of being taken by force, like the Roman matron in Tacitus who consented to be raped by her lover.
There was no pulling the wool over Anne Bacon’s eyes, she wrote of her concerns to Anthony, ‘Though I pity your brother, yet so long as he pities not himself, but keepeth that bloody Perez, yea as a coach companion and bed companion, a proud, profane, costly fellow, whose being about him I verily fear the lord God doth mislike, and doth bless your brother in credit and otherwise in his health, surely I am utterly discouraged, and make conscience further to undo myself to maintain such wretches as he is, that never loved your brother but for his own credit, living upon him.’
It is Antonio Perez’ visit to Cambridge in February 1595 that provides the background setting for Love’s Labour’s Lost when the Earl of Essex and his circle descended on Cambridge for the B.A. Commencement celebrations. The itinerary for their three-day visit included academic discussions and the performance of several plays staged at Trinity and Queen’s, culminating with the awarding of honorary M.A. degrees on a dozen of Essex’s retinue, including Perez and the Venetian Merchant, Giovanni Battista Basadonna. Bassadonna was the Venetian republic’s agent at court and a nobleman with literary pretensions. He was, no doubt, one of the people who Lewes referred to for information he was gathering for his translation of Gasparo Contarini’s The Commonwealth of Venice.
Bassadona presided over his own miniature Venetian court in London, at which Anthony Bacon represented the Earl of Essex, allowing Perez to initiate his scheme to establish a spy network in Italy for the Earl, using Bassadona as their financial backer taking advantage of his large merchant fleet which sailed under the Venetian flag from the port of London. The character of Don Adriano de Armado is a direct parody of Antonio Perez, taking swipes at his letter writing, his linguistic peculiarities and aphorisms, and painting him as an archetypal Spanish braggart straight out of the Commedia dell’arte. Placing him at the court of Navarre, where the King, Ferdinand (although in reality the King of Navarre at that time was the future Henry IV of France) says of him;
Our court, you know, is haunted
With a refined traveller of Spain,
A man in all the world’s new fashion planted,
That hath a mint of phrases in his brain,
One who the music of his own vain tongue
Doth ravish like enchanting harmony,
A man of compliments, whom right and wrong
Have chose as umpire of their mutiny.
This child of fancy, that Armado hight,
For interim to our studies shall relate
In high born words the worth of many a knight
From tawny Spain, lost in the world’s debate.
How you delight, my lords, I know not, I,
But I protest I love to hear him lie,
And I will use him for my minstrelsy.
Love’s Labour’s Lost: I, i
If we are in any doubt that the person aimed at is Antonio Perez we need look no further than the London edition of his Pedacos de Historia o Relaciones, were we find inscribed the telling phrase ‘the worth of many a knight from tawny Spain, lost in the world’s debate’.