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  • "Are we turned Turks?":English Pageants and the Stuart Court
  • David M. Bergeron (bio)

In early June 1613, Queen Anne made a westward progress, stopping for a few days in Bristol. Part of the entertainment that greeted her was a sea battle, allegedly between Christian and Turkish forces. In some ways this pageant recalls the 1574 entertainment in Bristol for Queen Elizabeth, but with the striking difference of the Turks. This paper tries to answer why Turks should be represented in this and several other pageants in the Stuart period by situating the pageants in the context of the English understanding of the threats and attractions of the emerging Ottoman Empire.

In the early days of Elizabeth's reign, the church issued A Fourme to be used in Common prayer every Wednesday and Fridaye, which attempted to pray for a victory over the Turks in the siege of Malta. The service, used in celebration, closed with this prayer: "Almightye and everlyving God ... we thy disobedient and rebellious children, nowe by the juste judgemente sore afflicted and in great daunger to be oppressed, by thine and our sworne [End Page 255] and most deadlye enemyes the Turkes, Infidels, and Miscreantes, doe make humble sute to the throne of thy grace for thy mercye." The prayer characterizes the Turks as "impure, wicked, and abhominable lyfe." The Turk "goeth aboute to set up, to extol, and to magnify that wicked monster and damned soule Mahumet."1 Although Queen Elizabeth herself sought to have favorable relations with the Ottoman Empire, the prayer probably captures considerable public sentiment about the Turks. And James, author of the celebratory poem Lepanto, which sees the Turks in bleak terms, does not interrupt the prejudice against the Turks, even though trade with them began to flourish during his reign. James's first year in England saw the republication of Lepanto and, perhaps more important, Richard Knolles's Generall Historie of the Turkes, which underscored antipathy toward this group.

The Christian resistance to the Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth century gained its singular reference point in the Battle of Lepanto, 7 October 1571, which pitted European forces, organized by Pope Pius V, against the Turkish navy, which had earlier captured Cyprus from the Venetians, except for Famagusta, which lay under siege for months. The forces of Sultan Selim II had invaded Cyprus in 1570 in an attempt to drive the Venetians out of the eastern Mediterranean. Such action rallied the pope, the Spanish, and the Venetian Republic to form a "Holy League" under the military leadership of Don Juan of Austria, illegitimate half-brother of the Spanish king Phillip II. This enterprise satisfied the pope's desire to war against the "infidel" and thus protect western Europe from further encroachment by the Ottoman expansionist zealots. The European forces began to gather in Messina, Sicily, in July 1571; Don Juan arrived in August. They learned that the Turkish navy had stationed itself in the Gulf of Lepanto, near Corfu, Greece; and the European navy therefore set its sights on an encounter there. The Christian fleet of 208 galleys completely defeated the Turks on that single day in October, capturing 180 out of the 274 Turkish ships and thereby freeing thousands of Christian prisoners. Don Juan confronted Ali Basha, the opposing commander, boarded his ship, and captured the Turks. A common solider killed and beheaded Ali Basha, whose head was then fixed to the masthead of Don Juan's galley.

This total victory did not last long; within a year the Turks had regrouped and captured the Spanish protectorate of Tunis. "In 1573 the [End Page 256] Venetians, working independently of the League, negotiated a separate peace with the Ottomans, ceding Cyprus and a large indemnity in return for the reestablishment of trade."2 Thus the Battle of Lepanto represented a tactical, not a strategic, victory for the Christian forces.3 But that realization did not dim enthusiasm for and idealization of this battle, which lingered in the English imagination, although England had had no involvement in the battle whatsoever.

George Gascoigne wrote a "masque" in 1572 that focused on Lepanto, making him the first to create a drama about the event...


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