Una diferente ‘Plus Ultra’ - the Avís-Trastámara Kings of All Spain and the Indies (Updated 11/7)

41. The Great Turkish War - Part III: Blood in the White Sea
~ The Great Turkish War ~
Part III:
- Blood in the White Sea -


The humiliating defeat of the Hispano-Genoese fleet at Vido in 1554 had opened up the Central Mediterranean to bolder Ottoman aggression. Having made an armistice with Charles IX of France in 1552, Juan Pelayo was free to shift his focus to the Turks. There were grave concerns that the Ottomans would take advantage of their victory at Vido and begin to organize an invasion of Southern Italy, but news of the arrival of Spain’s most esteemed commander, the Duke of Alba, in Naples that year possibly caused them to reconsider for the time being. Preoccupied with the arduous passage of the Leyes Nuevas and the equally arduous abolition of the encomienda overseas, Juan Pelayo relegated the Mediterranean situation to Alba, who organized and expedition to retake the Barbary port of Tripoli, which had been in corsair hands since 1525. A 10,000 man army ended up sailing from Naples in 1556, and captured the city with relative ease, passing its defence and administration to the Órdenes Militantes. Alba would be recalled to France when the ceasefire ended in 1556, however, and, as was so often the case, the Spanish monarchy neglected its fortifications in the Central Mediterranean and the tenuous hold they had over the Hafsid sultanate. Sensing an opportunity provided by the renewal of Franco-Spanish hostilities, Mehmed III ordered his Kapudan Pasha, the feared and accomplished Dragut Reis, to retake Tripoli, promising him whatever number of ships, arquebuses, and galley-slaves he needed to succeed. With a fleet of only 23 galleys, Dragut descended on North Africa, taking not only Tripoli in 1557, but also the critically important city of Tunis in 1559, having distracted the Spanish relief fleet by faking an expedition to take Spanish-held Djerba instead. When another fleet was sent by García de Toledo, viceroy of Sicily, failed to retake Tunis in 1560, the looming threat of an Italian invasion and the painful memories of rapacious corsairs terrorizing the Western Mediterranean slowly began to return to the surface.

The campaigns of characteristic corsair terror returned in late 1560, with the Ottoman admiral Kurtoğlu Hızır Reis raiding the island of Malta and virtually depopulating its sister island, Gozo, taking most of its inhabitants as slaves. Past experiences with honorless corsair freebooters had not prepared the Christian world for the opponent they now faced. The massive war that was gradually brewing between the kingdoms of the cross and the empire of the crescent was distinct from previous confrontations between the Ottomans and their European enemies. Whereas the piratical activity of the Turkish Barbary corsairs that had been ongoing since the 1510s and the incursion into Southern Italy of the 1530s had all been primarily privately funded and undertaken, the corsair captains who now prowled the Mediterranean were state servants of the High Porte, admirals with official titles and official instructions directly from Mehmet III, sailing about in galleys built in the arsenal of Konstantiniyye. The Ottoman Emperor had given his full blessing to the newborn Ottoman navy, bestowing it with a near-endless resource pool, and was now ready to swing it like an iron cudgel at the brittle flotillas and vulnerable coasts of Christendom.

One of the terms of the Treaty of Soissons - signed in 1562 between the Anglo-Hispano-Imperial alliance and the new Sainte-Ligue controlled French monarchy - was that the signatory powers of Europe would begin to take into serious consideration the Turkish threat and would take timely, coordinated action against it. However, coordination against a common enemy - especially the Ottomans - was never something that the Christian princes of Europe were necessarily keen to see through, or even capable of seeing through in any meaningful way. Although the conditions for a united war effort against the Turks had never been more favorable than in 1562, there were still numerous obstacles that had sprung up and would continue to spring up. The 1561 Treaty of Zombor, for instance, was an awkward factor at Soissons. Philipp II had always been eager to see a multinational anti-Ottoman alliance (in no small part due to his Hungarian possessions), but the fact that he was now paying 100,000 ducats a year to Mehmet III in exchange for peace critically stifled any Habsburg contribution. It also allowed Mehmet to refocus what forces may have been expended in Hungary on other under-defended theatres, such as Italy and North Africa. Additionally, the young and newly-enthroned king of France, Charles X - who was supposed to defend the Catholic coherence of France - had to contend with a gargantuan and combative Protestant coalition in the middle of his realm, led by the charismatic and cunning Prince of Condé. To complete the complications, the time and attention of Juan Pelayo and the Spanish power brokers was fully engaged with matters of legal reform and political union between the divided constituent realms of Spain. In contrast, the Ottoman state under Mehmet III appeared to be stable even after decades of ceaseless territorial expansion, and had coffers that never seemed to be empty.

Corsair fleets now began endlessly raking the Italian coast with an intensity that increased with each passing year. The response of the mighty Spanish empire, however, was late, as more pressing issues were closer to home.

- O Novo Reino do Algarve -

The 16th century was a time of significant population growth in Europe, to which Spain was no exception, in part due to the infrastructural improvements and long lasting domestic peace that defined the reigns of Miguel da Paz and Juan Pelayo. Between 1500 and 1560 the Spanish populace had swelled from 11 million to nearly 14 million, and would continue to mount until the end of the century. Long overdue irrigation projects, declining rates of petty crime and banditry, expanding trade networks - both internal and external - and a proliferation of hospitals, orphanages, and charitable services run by the mendicant orders had all been major boons to the overall health and quality of living of the average Spaniard, but a population boom almost invariably brings difficulties as well. With the agricultural methods and technology available in the 16th century, the Iberian Peninsula had surpassed its ability to keep all of its inhabitants fed long before the 1560s, with massive quantities of grain regularly imported by sea from other regions of Europe (particularly from the Netherlands and Southern Italy). The potential of recurrent food shortages and ensuing famines was made much more acute by the resurgent, unrelenting corsair raids on Southern Italy, and by the effects of war, pestilence, and - more recently - rebellion in the Netherlands.


Portuguese settlers in Morocco being conscripted

An enticing solution to this predicament lay in the Gharb of Morocco, the large coastal plain between the Atlas mountains and the Atlantic, and to the southwest of the Rif. The Gharb is watered by numerous rivers and tributaries - particularly the Lucuz, Morbeia, and Cebu rivers (the latter of which is the largest river in North Africa by volume) - and, consequently, was a fertile grain basket that out-produced much of Iberia. In the past when the Maghreb was on more equal standing with Christian Iberia in terms of political cohesion, military strength, and economic vitality, the Spanish princes were interested in a more stable, neighborly approach to securing the fruits of Maghrebi agriculture, often through fair trade deals. After the obliteration of the fragile Wattasids of Morocco and Ziyyanids of Tlemcen by Spanish armies in the early 16th century, the Spanish Crown and Spanish magnates were less disposed to treat the Maghrebi princes light-handedly in their pursuit of chronically-needed grain.

Faced with a widespread emboldening of Maghrebi insurgents and their sympathizers following the battle of Vido, a coincidental collection of certain important Spanish individuals in North Africa began an initiative to transform the Spanish presence there. The old African Crusade started by Miguel da Paz had ended the political independence of the Maghreb and set the foundation for complete Spanish hegemony over the region, but the thrust behind the actions of the 1510s and 1520s had petered out when more promising opportunities were uncovered in the Americas or Asia. North Africa simply did not offer enough real wealth to attract an interest from the Spanish monarchy or its subjects that could match previous generations, and, more often than not, cost the treasury more money than it was worth. The fortresses and cities in Morocco that belonged to the Crown of Portugal in particular (as part of the Kingdom of the Algarves) each constituted a serious drain on the Portuguese treasury, and were near abandonment before the Spanish monarchy paid off the Portuguese treasury’s debt with Castilian silver in 1547 (through the newfounded Casa de Prestación). At the behest of the leading officers of his Council of Finance, Juan Pelayo ordered the creation of a provisional council to investigate and balance the Portuguese budget after the financial crisis of 1547.

While most of the Portuguese settlements in Morocco were weighed among the first items on the chopping block, the budgetary assessment coincided with the alarming Ottoman absorption of the Mamluk Sultanate, leading the council to conclude that any retraction of Spanish power projection in North Africa was out of the question - at least for the time being. In order to financially justify the continued occupation of North Africa, however, the Portuguese settlements would need to shoulder at least half of their own expenditures. The council suggested a more direct involvement or control of the more profitable local industries, particularly fishing, textiles, the Trans-Saharan trade, and - most importantly - grain shipments. It therefore became critically important for the Christian moradores of the North African towns that the Gharb was made open to more effective exploitation.


Al Gharb

Beginning in 1562, a policy of aggression returned to Spanish North Africa, the impetus for which largely came from the reputable Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, 3rd Duke of Alba. With the most hardened opposition to the Leyes Nuevas coming from the grandees, Juan Pelayo wanted to keep the Duke of Alba as far from Spain as he reasonably could. Alba, despite being a lifelong loyalist to the Crown, had extensive holdings in Spain and considerable influence among his fellow grandees, as well as - most importantly - an intimidating military record and the unbending admiration of the soldiers who had served under him. Although service in North Africa was considered a borderline degrading assignment for someone of Alba’s stature, his placement there for most of 1562 to 1568 was an advantageous accident, and possibly prevented disaster. More or less given free reign in Africa (so as to keep him preoccupied), Alba crossed over the boundaries separating the kingdoms of Spain with impunity, acting as plenipotentiary of the Crown in lands that legally belonged to the Portuguese only. The appointment of a Castilian to a post that was essentially a contravention of promises made by the Spanish monarchy to its Portuguese subjects - during a time when Juan Pelayo was actively trying to chisel away at the separateness of the kingdoms of Spain, no less - would have been objectionable under different circumstances, but time was of the essence: a whirlwind of mujahideen was growing around the Banu Zaydan - the Saadi sharifs of the Sous valley - and their leader, Abdallah al-Ghalib, was openly vowing to march on Marrakech and unite the sultanate of Morocco once more to drive out the murderous Spaniards. The Saadian prince made good on his promise when he surrounded the important port of Agadir - Portugal’s southernmost outpost in Morocco - and put it to siege in the final months of 1562.

A war with the Saadians (and also the increasingly hostile Kabyle Berbers) was not merely a frontier conflict: defending Spanish North Africa meant defending cities and villages that were filled with Sunni inhabitants who had numerous reasons to detest their Spanish overlords and pray for the day that a Muslim prince drove them out. In the cities located directly across the straits of Gibraltar - namely Tánger, Alcácer-Ceguer, and Ceuta - Muslims still comprised a slight majority as late as 1550. The tension in these cities between their Christian and Muslim inhabitants was palpable from the start. For instance, even during times of peace the canons of the Cathedral of Tánger regularly sounded off its bells as lustily as they could at sunset, so as to overpower the Muslim inhabitants’ call to prayer for the salat al-maghrib.

Although the conquest of the “kingdom of Fes” - the half of Morocco north of the river Morbeia - had been relinquished to Portugal by Castile since the Treaty of Alcáçovas in 1479, Castilian assistance was becoming increasingly vital to the Portuguese presence in North Africa. From very early on, the Portuguese garrisons were almost exclusively resupplied by Castilian convoys and fed with Andalucian grain, and it was also not uncommon for the services of Castilian men-at-arms to be leased by the Spanish monarchy to the Portuguese Cortes for additional manpower. The grand scheme of Spanish was proving to be endlessly precarious in both the short and long term, and its protection and expansion could therefore no longer be jeopardized by the myriad legal divisions of the three realms of Spain. The Portuguese claim to the kingdom of Fes and the consequent limitations placed on Castilian and Aragonese assistance there had seriously strained the resources of the Órdenes Militantes and had threatened the territorial and political gains made in the region over the past century with total collapse. The Spanish monarchy’s critical need for freedom of operation within Portuguese North Africa led Juan Pelayo to reapportion the kingdom of Fes away from the Crown of Portugal, tacking it - alongside the rest of North Africa - directly onto the “Crown of Spain” in 1562. This was blatant disregard of the kingdom of Portugal’s territorial integrity, and in other circumstances would have sparked vocal displeasure from Juan Pelayo’s Portuguese subjects, but necessities demanded by the trumpet of cruzada could not be sensibly denied in times such as these.

Claiming the fecund riverine valleys of Morocco through a policy of extermination and repopulation - to simply put the non-Christian Maghrebis to the sword and transplant Christians from Iberia or elsewhere to take their place - was both unthinkably heinous and logistically unfeasible. Instead, in the space of a few months, Alba sent mixed companies of Castilian-Portuguese soldiers to encroach on the possessions of the emirate of Fes, establishing garrisons first in Alcácer-Quibir (Ksar el-Kebir), and from there in Soquelarba (Souk El Arbaa), Masmuda (Masmouda), and Uezán (Ouezzane). As was to be expected, the emir of Fes was powerless to protest, and the tribal leaders of the local Jebala Berbers called for ghazis to rise up and cast out the intruders themselves. While the harrying Berbers did much to agitate the Spaniards, they were ultimately just as powerless to prevent a garrison from being placed in the Spaniards from inserting themselves deep in the interior. With the cooperation of the governor of Larache, Fernão Carvalho, Alba then ordered a 4,000 man Castilian-Portuguese expedition to march up the Lucuz river, accompanied by scribes and land surveyors who would parcel out the river’s basin to be awarded to Spaniards on a meritocratic basis as donataries. At a stroke, more than 3,000 square kilometers of some of Morocco’s most fertile farmland - and all the inhabitants therein - had been placed under the supervision of hundreds of Spanish donatários. Further south, Mamora (Kenitra) was re-fortified and a prefabricated fortress was assembled upriver at Mogrão (Mograne), and Alba prepared to conduct an identical campaign along the Cebu river. This was a mostly non-violent endeavor, although those who resisted were often brutally punished.


Um donatário português em Marrocos

This quick and decisive action was a refreshing change of pace for Spain’s activity in North Africa, but foreboding news came packaged with it. A relief force for Agadir was still being assembled when word arrived that the city had fallen after the Saadian army unexpectedly gained entrance within the walls by tunneling into the subterranean cistern. Not a single member of the Portuguese garrison was spared in the slaughter. The claimants to the Moroccan throne now had solid access to the sea and was apparently equipped with Ottoman-crafted cannons, one of many things the Saadians had been accumulating over the past 15 years via the difficult, but not impassable route along the valleys and passes of the Saharan Atlas. Wasting no time, Abdallah al-Ghalib and his army completed the laborious journey through the Tizi n'Tichka, the pass through the High Atlas from Uarzazate, and reached Marrakech in early 1565, which was taken with minimal trouble. In less than a year’s time, Saadian troops were surrounding the Portuguese-held ports of Mogador, Aguz, and Safim. Further abroad, relations between the Ottomans and the Republic of Venice had unraveled rapidly.

- Böl ve fethet -

Mehmet III was a cautious planner, and took care not to embroil himself with too many enemies at once. With the Turkish invasion of Chios, the territorial possessions of the Serene Republic became the only enclaves in the Eastern Mediterranean that remained outside of Ottoman control. It was becoming progressively obvious that the arrangement by which the Turks and Venetians operated could not last indefinitely, and that the Turks were becoming more assertive of their direct rule over the Eastern Mediterranean - not just their suzerainty over Venetian colonies. Callous treatment by the Ottomans in the 1540s and 1550s led to a remediation of relations between Venice and its former enemies in Europe, namely Spain, the Papacy, and the Habsburgs, all of whom were showing interest in roping Venice and its sizeable navy into an anti-Ottoman Catholic League. A letter sent by Mehmet III in 1558 to the Venetian governor of Cyprus demanded to know why Ottoman tax collectors had been denied their right to collect customs, dues, and also head taxes in the port of Limassol. 3 years later, when an Ottoman ambassador arrived on the island he was ostensibly there for architectural purposes, studying the columns of the island’s many ruins. The true purpose of this visit was revealed to be more devious when a 30,000 man Turkish army unloaded on the shoreline west of Nicosia in 1564.

News of the furthest, and one of the oldest Christian strongholds in the East being overwhelmed by the Turks sent waves of alarm throughout the West, and Juan Pelayo soon authorized an offer of military aid to the Venetians in order to restore trust and curry their favor. The doge of Venice, Girolamo Priuli, and the viceroy of Naples, Pedro Afán de Ribera, quickly reached an agreement to assemble a joint relief force, ultimately consisting of 11,000 Spanish and 9,000 Venetian troops, with a mixed fleet of 57 ships. The panicked mood setting in was frenzied when an unseasonal storm struck the Hispano-Venetian expedition near the isle of Saria. At least 15 vessels were dashed on the shore near Paphos, while almost half of the fleet was misdirected to Chrysochous Bay - almost 70 kilometers off course. The force that was intended to relieve Nicosia was now split, and the closest army was nowhere near large enough to challenge the Ottomans, who diverted 16,000 of to crush the seasick half (numbering under 8,000) that landed at Morphou Bay. The remaining soldiery was either ferried back to Sicily, or was used to swell the garrisons of Limassol, Larnaca, and Famagusta, and hope for the best. The Venetian defense held out valiantly at every location and gave the Turkish expedition a bloody nose, but the island had definitively fallen by the last days of 1565.



1563, 1564, and 1565 were truly somber years for the kingdoms of Spain. Beyond the fall of Marrakech to the Saadians and the disastrous expedition to Cyprus in 1565, the Castilian and Portuguese nobility were on the verge of open rebellion against the monarchy, the Kabyle Berber kingdoms of Kuku and of the Ait Abbas (known as Labes to the Spaniards) had mobilized against Spanish Bugia and Algiers, and all of Tunisia was now an Ottoman protectorate in the hands of the Hafsid pretender, Ahmad. Bugia fell quickly, being undermanned like most Spanish North African outposts. With the city surrounded on land by thousands of Berber horsemen from the highlands of Aurès, and at sea by dozens of Turkish galleys from Tunis, the 700 Spanish soldiers behind the walls were poised for defeat from the start. Aid from Spain was too slow to assemble, and, after the city fell, the commander of the Spanish garrison was taken aboard the galley of the Turkish commander, Salah Reis, and offered a quick death should he convert to Islam. He refused, and was beaten to death on the ship deck. The 900 Spanish and Italian residents of the city were all sailed to Tunis in chains to be sold into slavery.

Algiers evaded the same fate at the last minute, when relief came to the Peñón as Salah Reis and the Ottoman ships were arriving to reinforce the besieging Berbers. Salah was caught at unawares as the Spanish ships - headed by the massive, 200-gun Portuguese galleon known as Botafogo (Spitfire) rounded the Peñón to meet his flagship head on. Salah brashly ordered his oarsmen to ram them head-on, confident in the strength of his sizeable galley and oblivious to the thick hull strength of such a bulky galleon. The damage wrought on the Botafogo amounted to oak chips in the water, while the Spanish captain waited until the Turkish vessel lodged itself against his, and the bristling salvo of dozens of bronze cannons that followed almost split Salah's ship in half and quickly consigned its captain to the frothing, bloody waters. This encounter was a singular incident and its implications went unnoticed in Konstantiniyye and Lisbon, but it was an episode that was telling of things to come in naval warfare.

Hoping to foment even greater despair in Spain and Italy, the now 81-year old Dragut Reis was fitted with a sleek 27 galley fleet to plunge into the Western Mediterranean and make a cursory series of raids, as well as to reconnoiter the Maghreb and the Morisco-laden provinces of Iberia (and hopefully take on Morisco renegades who could pass on useful information about the coast and interior). Dragut's appearance was indeed unexpected, and he was able to ravage the eastern shores of the Balearic Islands in less than two weeks. Although he was informed that a fleet was being amassed at Cádiz to hunt him down, Dragut opted to push the envelope with a daring excursion to Gibraltar, where his flagship's mortars cratered the courtyard of Fort Santiago, the headquarters of the Órdenes Militantes. Dragut embarked two days later, while just 40 kilometers ahead of the Spanish fleet, which was unsuccessful in pinning him down afterwards. Dragut lived two years more, passing away peacefully in Istanbul at the impressive age of 83, succeeded as Kapudan Pasha by his lieutenant, Piyale. Mehmet III planned for another, larger fleet to enter the Western Mediterranean in the year following this expedition - this time to also unload thousands on troops on the North African shore near Algiers - but had to scrap the plan when a Venetian fleet under Sebastian Venier inflicted a surprising and stinging defeat on the Ottoman navy at Cerigotto, effectively halting any major Turkish naval activity for the next two years.

It would be much more difficult, however, to extend aid to the Muslims of the Maghreb than it would have been in the past. For one, direct maritime access to the tribes of the Maghrebi interior was now virtually nonexistent, even with Bugia in Berber hands. By 1550, the Spanish were regularly and meticulously combing the entire North African coastline from Mogador to Bugia with dozens of small galiots, manned by less than 50 men each, with varying armaments including 4 to 8 falconets, 2 to 4 pedreros (swivel guns), and a mortar on the top deck. Any coastal activity that was within the patrol of these galiot squadrons and was not operating out of a Spanish-controlled port or tied to a Christian seigneury had effectively been stamped out, and was continuously being stamped out wherever it struggled to re-emerge. Countless fishing villages and pirate lairs that had been operating for hundreds of years had been abandoned, plundered, and demolished in the Spanish monarchy’s vengeful campaign to extirpate Barbary piracy. If the Ottomans’ potential allies wanted a base of operations in the Western Mediterranean, they would have to wrestle it out of Spanish hands.

Spain's North African possessions and its internal stability were nonetheless reasonably vulnerable. The failed Cypriot expedition and now this frightening swipe at Gibraltar - the very gullet of Spain - finally drove home the need for an immediate shift in Spanish priorities. The closesness of this threat became even more painfully obvious when another small-scale revolt broke out in the Alpujarras, instigated by the region's Moriscos against measures that included prohibition of the Arabic language. While Spain's empire was global, and therefore had considerable obligations in regions distant from home, the Turks and their implicit Morisco and Maghrebi allies now posed a grave threat to European Spain itself. Spain, its nearby overseas possessions, and the waters surrounding them needed to be soberly and resolutely guarded, and this could not be fully achieved while resources were being diverted to mount foolhardy expeditions to the opposite end of the Mediterranean. If tens of thousands of Spanish men-at-arms were to be sent anywhere, it should be to protect the Iberian coastline, or, better yet, to kick down the front door of the insolent upstarts of the Saadi clan.

Oddly enough, despite being one of the most militarily active nation states on the planet, neither Spain as a whole nor any of its constituent realms possessed a standing army, and there was very little to speak of in regards to a Spanish navy beyond the yearly convoys that transported goods from the Americas. While the Catholic Monarchs pioneered the practice of national debt as a means of regularly funding their soldiery, there was no additional framework in Castile, Aragon, and Portugal to ensure a year-round fighting force, and armies were usually assembled through Medieval levying practices. There were, however, developments underway in this tense period that would lead to a more workable military system for Spain, whether by accident or innovation.

- Matamoro -

The most immediate concern was, of course, Spain’s naval capabilities. Despite having long lost most of their presence in the Western Mediterranean and only having just re-entered the Central Mediterranean in a meaningful fashion, the Ottomans now seemed to stalk every corner of the middle sea, less abatedly with each passing year. Serendipitously, Andrea Doria’s fall from grace following the battle of Vido and Juan Pelayo’s budding program to reform the navy saw a native Spaniard, Álvaro de Bazán (the Elder), granted the position of “Captain-General of the Galleys of Spain” alongside the governorate of Gibraltar, both of which his son, also named Álvaro, was in turn granted upon the death of his father in 1558.


Álvaro de Bazán
Capitán-General de las Galeras de España

As Grand Master of the Military Order of St. John, Álvaro de Bazán (the Younger) used his newfound influence to safeguard Spanish Morocco on the advice of his most trusted lieutenant: a Morisco by the name of Juan Isidoro Benámed (born Yahya bin Ahmed). An Alpujarrano from the village of Bayárcal, Benámed’s parents placed him in the care of the Church at the age of 7 - a common practice among Moriscos who wished to either ensure the Old Christians of their good faith or to allay their suspicions of continued crypto-Islam. After Benámed’s parents passed away and their property was targeted by a powerful local, he was largely abandoned by his older siblings, who all elected to find passage to North Africa and revert to Islam. As part of an initiative to raise up churchmen fluent in both Castilian and Arabic, Benámed was sent to a Gregorian abbey in Orán at the age of 10 (the first Gregorian institution on the African continent). Taken as a squire at the age of 15 by a Knight of St. John, Benámed officially passed under the guardianship - and eventually into the service - of the Órdenes Militantes in North Africa. By the age of 34, Benámed was maestre de campo to Álvaro de Bazán and held command over the chapters of Mogador, Aguz, Safim, Mazagão, and Azamor. It was exceedingly unusual for a Morisco to be entrusted with such a command, but Benámed had the good fortune of having served directly under Álvaro de Bazán (who himself was a native of the kingdom of Granada) and therefore had the captain general’s endorsement. Fortunately for the defenders of Portuguese Morocco, Benámed was not noble-born, unlike most of his other high-ranking comrades in the militant orders, and was also significantly more enthusiastic about his vocation as a knight of Christ in a heathen land.

Under the guidance of a lesser knight, each one of the Portuguese-held settlements south of Casabranca may have fallen to the 300 kilometer-long network of sieges set up by the Saadians, leading to a resurgence in Barbary piracy and allowing the Islamic world maritime access to the Atlantic once more. As Spanish control of the sea was unchallenged along the Atlantic coast of Morocco and with Álvaro de Bazán offering the complete assistance of the galleys of Castile, Benámed was able to hop from one besieged port to another, bringing with him whatever supplies and reinforcements were needed. Benámed’s fluency in Arabic and intimate understanding of Maghrebi culture also allowed him constant information regarding the movement of the Saadian troops and the goings-on in the countryside. Making benevolent overtures to the Muslim inhabitants within the walls, Benámed let the occasional group of Islamic refugees spill in with frightful stories of Berber ruffians - unaccustomed to the ethical standards of the non-nomadic society north of the Atlas mountains - harassing and lording over the local Muslims they claimed to be liberating. Indeed, as the sieges dragged on and the Saadians became more aggressive when foraging for additional supplies, the Arabic-speaking populace of the coastal plain became less enthusiastic over the removal of Spanish rule.


Juan Isidoro Benámed de Bayárcal, el caballero morisco

Meanwhile, with Abdallah al-Ghalib accumulating an army large enough to strike at Northern Morocco, the Spanish had limited time to take direct control of as much of the country as possible before the Saadians waged their inevitable holy war. News of al-Ghalib's impending departure from Marrakech (with roughly 20,000 men in tow) pushed the Duke of Alba to hasten his pacification of the Lucuz and Cebu basin, and he began looking for any outliers that might give his opponent the advantage. The most conspicuous target lay at the mouth of the Buregregue river, a town called Salé. The Buregregue estuary had largely been ignored by the Portuguese since the 1520s after they pulled apart the walls of the Kasbah of the Udayas, the large fortress located opposite of Salé, and, consequently, the communities in this area had been able to regrow to a more appreciable portion of their former size and significance. Salé in particular had started to attract the attention of wary Portuguese governors in São João da Mamora and Casabranca de Anafé when its inhabitants completed a modest ringwall around their town and were beginning to bring limestone downriver from the upland hills to rebuild the great kasbah across the river. What made the situation more troubling was the presence of Spanish-born Muslims within the city, as Salé was also one the leading recipients of the steady flow of Morisco and Mudéjar exiles filing out of Andalucía and València. Salé was now the only port of any significance on the Atlantic coast of Morocco that did not have a permanent Portuguese garrison, and consequently was growing to be a source of considerable unease for Spain.

After drafting and sending Salé a brief list of demands (including the complete dismantling of the kasbah and the placement of a Spanish garrison within the town), Alba immediately mustered what forces he had available (2,000 Portuguese and 1,200 Castilian men at arms, accompanied by 3,000 Moorish mercenaries) and departed south. Unexpectedly, the oligarchs and imams of Salé refused Alba's ultimatum and prepared themselves for battle, possibly placing hope in the vast army under al-Ghalib that grew by the day. Realizing that he would have to settle in for a siege with less than 7,000 troops (3,000 of whom in which there was very little trust) while an opposing army numbering in the tens of thousands and full of apocalyptic zeal was only a 3 days' march away, Alba used his plenipotentiary powers to order the officers of the Órdenes Militantes in Northern Morocco to empty their barracks and assemble at Salé, while he issued an additional petition directly Juan Pelayo, stressing the seriousness of the situation and requesting at least 5 to 6 veteran tercios (15,000-18,000 men). There were also perhaps 12,000 able bodies that could be drawn up from the Portuguese moradores as well as the Castilian expeditionary companies in a reasonable timeframe.

The forces being amassed by the Avis-Trastámaras outside the walls of Salé and by the Saadians in Tédula entered a standstill, but after two weeks Juan Pelayo informed the Duke of Alba that such a sizable reinforcement would be impossible for the foreseeable future with armed revolt underway in Spain. The ongoing struggle between the royalist and anti-royalist factions on the Iberian peninsula and the resistance of the Islamic inhabitants of Salé offered the perfect window of opportunity for the Saadians to crush the larger share of Spanish military strength in North Africa. By the time he departed from Marrakech in late January of 1567, the Saadians outnumbered the still assembling Spanish army 4 to 1. Arriving two weeks later, the 40,000 man army under Abdallah al-Ghalib fanned out to surround the entire mouth of the Buregregue.



Concurrently, the Duke of Alba was close to losing the cooperation of the Portuguese. The local Portuguese power holders were growing both tired and nervous with the overbearing Duke of Alba and his equally overbearing cadre of Castilian compatriots. The arrival of Alba and thousands of Castilian troops in 1562 was seen as much-needed (if regrettable) aid from the Crown by the Portuguese in Morocco, but the dissolution of de jure Portuguese exclusivity in the kingdom of Fes that same year and the revitalized persistence with which Juan Pelayo was trying to bind and standardize Portuguese law with that of Castile and Aragon had heightened their apprehension. This atmosphere of suspicion hovered for three years until it was exacerbated when the Portuguese in Morocco heard that a number of Portuguese grandees had joined their Castilian counterparts in open rebellion against the Crown in 1565, and was finally sent over the edge when news arrived in 1566 that the leader of the Portuguese side of the rebellion, Teodósio de Bragança, had been murdered in cold blood. While aware that joining a rebellion against the Crown would be futile and inappropriate given their location and circumstances, many of the Portuguese who resided across the Strait of Gibraltar had been holding their breath watching the duke of Bragança's bid for independence, and now felt distinctly threatened by their intruding Castilian brethren.

Al-Ghalib was mistaken about his enemy’s numbers, however. Having been told there were at most 12,000 Spaniards and Spanish allies at Salé, al-Ghalib departed Marrakech before his two younger brothers could arrive from the Middle Atlas (having secured the loyalty of the emir of Debdu) with an additional 15,000 fresh recruits. As the leader of a religiously-charged movement and a quasi-messianic figure to the influential Sufi marabouts of the Sous valley, Abdallah al-Ghalib's authority rested on his ability to make rapid victories against the infidel, and the longer he waited for the moment to strike, the less faith his subordinates had in him and the more likely they were to fall back into their inter-tribal disputes. Al-Ghalib had also pulled troops away from the coastline in order to speedily enlarge his army before departure, leaving the besieging forces to the west more vulnerable to sorties by the Órdenes Militantes. Now the Saadi prince faced not 12,000 Spaniards, but 22,000, unaware that the rebellious junta in Spain had been beaten decisively in less than a year and a half, and in 3 months’ time three Andalucian tercios had been raised up, marshaled in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, convoyed to Mamora, and encamped in good order near the old kasbah. The Saadians’ only real experience against the Spanish had been at the distant outpost of Agadir and the dozens of isolated blockhouses in the coastal hinterland, and they were therefore unware in general had been unaware of the level of Spanish preoccupation with France and with legal reform. The Saadians and their poorly-equipped followers were unprepared to face the full weight of the newly-invigorated, silver-rich Spanish war machine.

Bypassing the easier target of Casabranca de Anafé and the nearby donatário of Fédala, it became clear that Abdallah al-Ghalib had elected to take the Spaniards head-on. Given his unique circumstances, al-Ghalib had no choice but to seek out a confrontation with the Spanish army here and now - the rest was in Allah’s hands. The battle was by no means a foregone conclusion. Alba’s troops - even the tercios - were not seasoned veterans, and many had little to no military experience beyond irregular militia activity and small-scale skirmishes. Hoping to overwhelm the most openly disciplined and well-armed component of the Spanish army, al-Ghalib concentrated the greater mass of his army on the three tercios, which barely held together against the seemingly endless flood of Berber horsemen while the artillery batteries they were arranged to protect were nearly captured twice. The battle was also spread out over 25 kilometers, with separate engagements occurring simultaneously outside the walls of Salé - where the Spanish were nearly overran - and near the towns of Tamesna and Témara, the latter of which saw the bulk of the action.

Mindful of his grandfather’s fate at the battle of Mequinez 43 years prior, al-Ghalib decided to cut his losses and withdraw with whatever elements of his army were still in relatively good shape. With the still sizeable remnants of al-Ghalib’s army now recuperating just 140 kilometers away, Alba remained camped at Témara, sending a smaller contingent to relieve Mazagão by sea (so that the Saadians would not be able to pin them down by numerical superiority on the coast), followed by the remaining seaside fortresses over the course of the year. No attempt could be made to ride the victory at Témara all the way to Marrakech, however, as the Spanish needed to turn east towards Fes, where a coup against the Spanish puppet-emir was underway. After mopping up the conspirators in Fes, Alba left permanent garrisons at Mequínez (Meknes), Quemisete (Khemisset), and Azrú (Azrou) to shield the emirate from the south. With each passing year, it had become clearer that merely occupying the good harbors of North Africa and making desultory, half-hearted endeavors into the interior was leaving the gate open for expensive complications, if not outright existential threats for Spain and her subjects. The crisis years of the 1560s, with the insertion of armies and investment of funds into North Africa on a level not seen since 1525, offered a watershed moment for Spanish involvement in the region. The pressing need for Moroccan grain and the arrival of certain gung-ho, resource-rich Castilians into the Portuguese system brewed a revival of old Reconquista strategies on the African continent: swiftly capture the local cities and strongholds and coax the local Moorish potentates into a disadvantageous field battle; heavily garrison the captured cities, strongholds, and chokepoints and assign the subjugated Moorish peasantry to encomenderos and donatários; finally and most importantly, import Christian colonists to stabilize and consolidate the regional gains. All of these steps needed to be accomplished very quickly once initiated, and overall territorial expansion must be piecemeal and done slowly.


The Relief of Mazagão

The battle of Témara did not collapse the dominion of the Saadians, nor did it render Morocco unto the Spaniards. It did, however, reverse the tide in North Africa, and the Spanish finally turned eastwards. His name ruined by defeat, Abdallah al-Ghalib was killed by his brother and successor Mulay Abdelmalek (Mulei Maluco to the Portuguese) two years later in 1569, following which the conflict with Spain subsided into border raids. Following the relief of besieged Algiers, Juan Pelayo instructed the viceroy of Catalonia and the leader of the relief force, Luis de Requeséns y Zúñiga, to gut the city and re-order the surrounding plain - the Mitidja - that served as Algiers’ breadbasket. Building fortifications at Merad, Bulaida (Blida), Larba, Bumerdés, and Cape Chinete (Cape Djinet), Requeséns essentially bottled up the Mitidja, turning it into a closely-controlled island within a hostile sea - a procedure that would become normative for Spain in North Africa. Across the sea, Juan Pelayo set Álvaro de Bazán on the task of building a large and regularly maintained Spanish-made fleet and a harbor to house it. With many of the kingdom of València’s ancient liberties permanently brushed aside by the Crown to restore order following the Revolt of the Germanies in 1520 and 1525, most of the kingdom's namesake port could easily be appropriated by the monarchy for its own purposes. With the Balearic Islands as its watchtower and windbreak against the prowling corsairs, the harbor of València was carved out to make room for a grand naval arsenal befitting the power of Imperial Spain. Acquiring an equitable number of ships from each constituent kingdom of Spain would be much more difficult. Bazán was ordered to secure 35 ships from Castile, and 15 ships each from València, Catalonia, Sicily, and Naples. Castile, with its streamlined procedures for collecting taxes and soldiers, was easy enough to utilize. As usual, the Cort General of Catalonia offered the stiffest resistance, but was successfully swayed with promises that would have long-term effects on the region. Specifically, the Principality of Catalonia committed 12 galleys and 3 galleasses after Antonio Pérez offered to relocate the head offices of the Casa de Prestación, the rudimentary central bank of the Spanish monarchy, to Barcelona - something which had already long been considered due to its proximity to Genoa - along with implicit promises of debt cancellation.

The languorous realms of Spain were beginning to stir into efficient, collaborative action towards total war against the behemoth that was global Islam, but they were perhaps not stirring quickly enough. After an abortive assault on the island of Malta and the Órdenes Militantes defending it, it was assumed the Turks were content to settle into the gains they had made in the Central Mediterranean. In truth, the Turkish withdrawal from Malta was owed to the fact that the island’s harbor was not worth the effort taking when the harbor of Tunis - along with those of Avlonya and Durazzo - was just as suitable for their plans, and in good proximity for their next target.


Top: North Africa in 1550
Bottom: North Africa in 1570
(Yellow: Spain, Green: Spanish tributaries, Red: Spanish enemies, Blue: Neutral)
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Is there large-scale immigration from Naples-Sicily to the Spanish colonies?

Not yet ;)
I'm not sure to what extent the Italian subjects of the Spanish Crown will eventually settle in the colonies numerically speaking, but - like all other Spanish subjects - there have been small instances where they've been able to find their way legally or illegally into the colonies, similar to how numerous Portuguese found their way into the Spanish colonies IOTL
Have the Spanish taken into consideration the idea of deporting certain numbers of unruly locals to the New World colonies? Better there than in North Africa where they might serve as a fifth column.
when the harbor of Tunis - along with those of Avlonya and Durazzo - was just as suitable for their plans, and in good proximity for their next target.
Seems that the next Ottoman target would be the key Central Mediterranean island of Sicily ...
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Lied reading the new chapter Torbald. I'm glad you're back to writing this wonderful ATL. I hope that there will be something like the Battle of Trafalgar and or an ATL version of the Battle of Lepanto that will finally cement Iberian naval supremacy over the Western Mediterranean and North Africa for good over the Ottomans. Keep up the good work, Torbald. Please write more of this ATL of yours version soon, especially chapters on what's going on in the various parts of the Iberian Empire (and its allies, clients) and partners, especially after the war with the Ottoman empire over the Western Mediterranean and North Africa.


It's back, hurrah !

The sleeping giant has awoken! Because it is a sleeping giant. The total power of a united Iberia is larger than the OTL sum of independent Spain+ Portugal. Add the fact that the Low Country ulcer is absent and a thriving western Med basin that is not depopulated by corsairs and the results should be stunning. Last but not least, the Pelayan Reforms will strengthen considerably Spain, compared to OTL.

What is the situation in Newfoundland? In OTL, the Portuguese tried to establish a colony in Cape Breton Island , in the 1520s. Another attempt possibly took place in 1567. There were reports that the colony in Breton Island survived for decades on its own, at least until 1570 https://books.google.com/books/about/Explorers_and_Colonies.html?id=P7OuMkzGKw0C

One should not underestimate the value of the cod trade. By the end of the 16th century, more than half of all fish consumed in Europe was salted cod (source: Cod, by Kurlanski). Cod was perhaps the cheapest source of almost pure protein, especially for the Catholics during Fridays and Lent. If the spanish population increases in such rate in TTL, then cod becomes even more valuable resource.

The Spanish and Portuguese were kicked out of Newfoundland during the 1580s-1590s and had to import cod from french and english traders. By the end of the 18th century, cod was the second most valuable British export to Spain. There was a veritable outflow of silver to pay for saltfish. Source https://books.google.com/books/about/British_Atlantic_American_Frontier.html?id=oMvXsDXvI_YC

Moreover, the Basques had established a whale fishery in the area by the 1540s.

A few more books with google previews on the topic

Well, whatever that would be the target, I think that would be very possible for them to think in this way... Because until now, except for some (from their perspective) minor losses on the naval side and/or minor skirmishes on the empire 'periphery'; their armies only have known of victories against their enemies.
We, also, should be considered and taken into account, the Ottoman and especially from the Sultan, their self trust (even if they shared it with the Iberians) given to be fighting for a righteous/sacred cause...
So, given the above, I think that de, it would possibly for the Sultan and/or his advisers believe that would be possible for them to achieve success...
Of course, that's, on the practical side an Ottoman adventure/expedition to Sicily from this kind... it would be an entirely different matter evening only considering the logistical side...
Also, if started and/or for the Ottomans would achieve success with an amphibian invasion of this kind would be necessary to force a decisive naval battle for destroying the Iberians/Holy league fleet...
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Also, if started and/or for the Ottomans would achieve success with an amphibian invasion of this kind would be necessary to force a decisive naval battle for destroying the Iberians/Holy league fleet...

I think the author is preparing us for the ultimate 16th century showdown: Tercios vs Jannisaries. So, perhaps the Ottomans will manage to disembark, in order to have a land battle.

This will be a Lepanto on steroids: To the veritable spanish fleet of 90 galleys (instead of 49 in otl), add the mighty portuguese oceanic navy. Add Genoese, Papal and Venetian galleys. There is no force in the world that can withstand this naval assembly.

Hell, I would bet that just the portuguese galleons on their own, can go through the ottoman fleet as knife through butter. Dont forget that the Ottomans have less naval assets than otl (fewer Barbary galleys and no mariners from the Cyclades).
Very big and juicy update, can't wait for more. Probably best way to convert the population in North Africa is to use Islam's own system of relative tolerance coupled with institutional inequality based on religion (most obvious shown through the Jizya tax but also being unable to advance in govt. hierarchy) to have them convert on their own over time. Perhaps sped up by mendicant orders preaching and doing good works. I feel this is vaguely where the Spanish are going.

Anyway can't wait for the Ottomans to get their butt handed to them, I feel it is coming. I just wonder what will it cost them. Perhaps simply forgetting about influence beyond eastern Mediterranean. Or they lose land in the Balkans, Egypt and influence in the Indian Ocean hard to say.


Probably best way to convert the population in North Africa is to use Islam's own system of relative tolerance coupled with institutional inequality based on religion (most obvious shown through the Jizya tax but also being unable to advance in govt. hierarchy) to have them convert on their own over time. Perhaps sped up by mendicant orders preaching and doing good works.

Well said!

We know from history that the Ottomans managed to convert 25% of the Balkans through the head tax and negligible colonization of ethnic Turks. I would argue that islamic institutions had limited influence on the conversions, with the exception of the waqf system. In contrast, the mendicant and other catholic orders can be incredibly better conversion tools. The fact thay Maghreb is in a condition of constant warfare, only assists in the conversion rate: communities friendly to christianity/mendicants will fare better than those who will be hostile and face displacement/punitive campaigns/additional taxes. If we judge by otl, the conversion efforts will be constant and deemed important by the spanish crown.

Last but not least, the Maghreb is excellent dumping ground of Greek or christian Albanian mercenaries that in otl were utilized by christian states in the Med. Even some communities tried to escape the Ottoman Empire, e.g the Greeks who relocated to Corsica.

Iberia and South Italy are the loins of Europe. Their colonizing potential is enormous. Check the pied noirs many of whom were Spanish and Italians: in one century they managed to become 10% of the total Algerian population, even without the slightest effort to convert the locals. At the same period, Spanish could also migrate to Latin America (Argentina the best choice) and the Italians to either Argentina or USA, so its not as if they didnt have better choices.

I think the closest otl analogue will be Russia and expansion towards the Caucasus and the Urals. Anything north of the Atlas mountains could be as much spanish as Kuban is russian.
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Awesome timeline!

Spain is one of the most interesting countries for a TL but it's also one that have very few of them.

Also a Spain with so much population will have a very big population flow to America and Asia.
Funny you mentioned that, there is precedent for a reverse-jizya on Muslims. The Normans implemented such a policy when they conquered Sicily.

Very big and juicy update, can't wait for more. Probably best way to convert the population in North Africa is to use Islam's own system of relative tolerance coupled with institutional inequality based on religion (most obvious shown through the Jizya tax but also being unable to advance in govt. hierarchy) to have them convert on their own over time. Perhaps sped up by mendicant orders preaching and doing good works. I feel this is vaguely where the Spanish are going.

Anyway can't wait for the Ottomans to get their butt handed to them, I feel it is coming. I just wonder what will it cost them. Perhaps simply forgetting about influence beyond eastern Mediterranean. Or they lose land in the Balkans, Egypt and influence in the Indian Ocean hard to say.