Crypto Connections: The Battle of Lepanto The Duke of Naxos and Don Quixote

On October 7 1571 two great armadas one Christian and one Moslem met at the mouth of the Gulf of Patras off Lepanto Greece The battle is significant for several reasons: It was the last naval battle in history in which both navies used galleys propelled by slaves chained to oars it marked the end of Turkish ascendancy in the Mediterranean and opened the door to Christian dominance of that sea One of the sailors of the Christian fleet was severely wounded The wounded seaman lost the use of his left hand and had to give up a career at sea He took up writing His name was Miguel de Cervantes and with his right hand he produced Don Quixote

But what was the cause of this battle and of greater interest to readers of Halapid what was the cryptoJewish connection?

The war like all wars had many causes but one of the more significant ones was the fact that France owed 150000 ducats to the Duke of Naxos Turkish Sultan Selim II had conquered the Island of Naxos and appointed his close friend Joseph Nasi as Duke Nasi had been been born in Portugal to a family that had been forcibly converted to Catholicism Joseph was baptized in the church and raised under the Christian name Joëo Miguez His aunt was the wellknown Doña Gracia Nasi When Joseph followed his aunt to Constantinople he married his cousin Brianda Doña Gracia’s daughter His famous aunt was now his motherinlaw Earlier he had become a principal in the House of Mendes the family firm and a major trading and banking company of the age Mendes ships often assisted crypto Jews in fleeing Iberia the firm’s agents arranged for bills of credit to save their assets

As a financier Joëo/Joseph often dealt with the royal houses of Europe and a loan to the king of France was made while he was still openly a Catholic For their own safety the family had to emigrate from Iberia and eventually they settled in the Ottoman Empire Here they returned to Judaism and to their Jewish names

Joseph as he was now known became a close friend of Prince Selim the son of Suleiman the Magnificent When Selim ascended the throne he rewarded his Jewish friend with the Dukedom

When King Charles IX of France learned of this he disavowed his debt to the new Duke insisting that the loan was taken from the Christian Joëo and that nothing was owed to the Jew Joseph

Joseph however owed money to the new sultan and could not pay it unless the French loan was collected In 1569 Sultan Selim II gave the Mendes/Nasi banking family permission to seize merchandise from Frenchflagged ships in the port of Alexandria The French protested to Constantinople and Sultan Selim notified King Charles that the merchandise would be returned when the loan was paid The dispute continued and intensified Two years later French vessels joined an allied fleet (about 200 galleys) consisting mainly of Spanish and Venetian ships with other vessels sent by the Pope and some Italian states They defeated the Moslem fleet of Turkish and North African galleys

In 1588 many Spanish veterans of Lepanto were aboard vessels of the Armada that Frances Drake destroyed off the coast of Britain The Battle of the Armada ended Spanish control of the Atlantic and opened the way for English colonization of the New World

Arthur Benveniste has been a member of SCJS since 1993 and is a former president of the society He is the former coeditor of HaLapid the publication of the society His website can be seen at: homeearthlinknet/~benven

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *