The secret daughters of Don Juan of Austria, the Christian hero of the Battle of Lepanto



The Holy Alliance that defeated the Ottomans in Lepanto it was shedding according to the earthly figure of Don Juan of Austria it acquired mythical overtones. During his stay in Palermo, after the conquest of Tunis in 1573, the bastard son who Carlos v he had with the German lady Barbara Blomberg adopted a lion cub as a pet, which he had found in an abandoned house in the African square; participated in bullfights; he associated with half a dozen women and, in short, rose up in the prototype of a warrior prince and bizarre.

This is how the Venetian ambassador Lippomano described him in those days:

“He is of average height, well proportioned, with a handsome demeanor, and possesses admirable grace. His beard is trimmed, but his mustache is large and pale in color; her hair is long and turned up, which suits her very well; he dresses with luxury and with so much taste that it is a joy to see him. Active and dexterous to perfection, he has no rival in handling the horse, or in jousting, or in any type of entertainment and military tournaments; in addition, in the practice of the exercises one does not get fatigued ».

An unexpected death

There is no doubt that the stepbrother of Felipe II He was an attractive and charismatic man, a media star of his time. Although he never married, among other things because the King did not want an alternative branch to his own, Don Juan did not lack lovers of all kinds until his death at age 32, when he was in the fortified camp of Namur trying to regain Spanish positions in Flanders.

Mausoleum of Don Juan de Austria, designed by Ponciano Ponzano.
Mausoleum of Don Juan de Austria, designed by Ponciano Ponzano.

Classical historiography mentions the final cause of his death sideways, perhaps because it is difficult to digest that a poorly healed hemorrhoid subjected the “son of the conquering Emperor of Granada and hero of Lepanto.” According to the testimony of Dionisio Daza Chacón, his personal physician in the battle of Lepanto, a failed hemorrhoid operation and the weakening caused by typhus ended the life of the Spaniard:

«The remedy of treating hemorrhoids with leeches is safer than slitting them or opening them with a lancet, because from splitting them sometimes they become very corrosive sores, and from opening them with a lancet the most common thing is to get a fistula and sometimes it is the cause of sudden death; as happened to the serene Don Juan of Austria, who, after so many victories […] He came to die miserably at the hands of doctors and surgeons, because they consulted and very badly landed him in a pile ».

The negligence of these military surgeons caused on October 1, 1578 a hemorrhage that bled Don Juan in a matter of four hours.

The descendants

At the death of the hero of Lepanto, wasteful by nature, his patrimony was minimal and his family circle was concentrated on Doña Magdalena de Ulloa, the woman who had taken care of him as a child and with whom he had always kept in contact. . Of his numerous lovers, the most brother produced two illegitimate daughters.

Still beardless, he had a daughter in 1568 with María de Mendoza, a relative of the Princess of Éboli. Magdalena de Ulloa took care of the girl, named Ana, but later she was sent to the Augustinian convent of Nuestra Señora de Gracia, in Madrigal de las Altas Torres. On the death of Don Juan, Felipe II granted Ana different privileges, including the right to use the surname “from Austria.” However, she lost all consideration in 1594 for being involved in a conspiracy against the King known as the “intrigue of the Madrigal pastry chef.”

Presentation of Don Juan de Austria to Emperor Carlos V, in Yuste, by Eduardo Rosales, 1869.
Presentation of Don Juan de Austria to Emperor Carlos V, in Yuste, by Eduardo Rosales, 1869.

A Portuguese priest persuaded her to marry a man who was pretending to be the Portuguese King Sebastian from Portugal, died two decades earlier in the Battle of Alcazarquivir (1578), which opened access to the Portuguese throne to Philip II. When it was revealed that he was only a pastry chef with quixotic aspirations, the usurper was executed and Ana was ostracized. In 1610, Felipe III visited her in the convent and, feeling sorry for her situation of misery, promoted her to be perpetual abbess of the monastery of The Strikes of Burgos, the highest dignity reserved for an ecclesiastical woman.

As for the other daughter, Juana de Austria, conceived by Don Juan with a lady of the Neapolitan aristocracy, was raised by her stepsister Margarita de Parma. Shortly after her father passed away, the King put her in the convent of Santa Clara of Naples, despite the protests of those who asked that she be raised in the Spanish court out of consideration for Don Juan.

The scandalous and wasteful lifestyle of the German woman filled the patience of Felipe and Don Juan

For her part, Don Juan’s mother, Barbara Blomberg, was never present in the small group of women that made up the atypical family life of this military hero. Charles V granted on his deathbed a pension for life to the German woman, now married to an officer of the court of Brussels, and nothing was heard of her until the death of her husband. In 1569, Barbara begged Philip II to increase the pension to the 2,500 ducats needed to maintain a widow’s house with 16 servants.

The Spanish monarch agreed, but his true wish was for her to enter a convent (the usual method of dispatching uncomfortable women in the 16th century). Don Juan wanted the same, who was scandalized by her libertine character when he met her in Luxembourg. The scandalous and wasteful lifestyle of the German woman filled the patience of Felipe and Don Juan, who through deception transferred Barbara to Spain in May 1577.

Once under her grasp, the King forced her into the convent of Santa María la Real de San Cebrián de Mazote (Valladolid). In the absence of any trace of a religious vocation, he again granted her a pension and installed her in a house in Colindres (Asturias) owned by the late Escobedo. The last thing that was known of her before her death, in 1598, was that she intended to inherit her son’s scarce assets, as soon as the King paid off her debts, which were large.

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