Holy Leagues: Christians vs. Turks by Sea

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  • 0:05 What Is a Holy League?
  • 1:53 Battle for the Mediterranean
  • 5:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Elam Miller

Jessica has taught college History and has a Master of Arts in History

This lesson focuses on the formation of Holy Leagues and the battle between Christian and Turkish forces in the Mediterranean Sea during the Sixteenth Century.

What is a Holy League?

The term Holy League can refer to many different groups that were in existence fairly close together (considering the time frame). The time period we are considering for this lesson is the 16th century. A Holy League can describe any allied group involving the Papacy or a religious dispute.

Leagues generally had their own name to help specify their purpose. For example, the League of Venice was a Holy League organized in 1495 including Pope Alexander VI, Emperor Maximilian, Ferdinand of Aragon and some Italian city-states, like Milan and Venice. This league's purpose was to expel King Charles VIII (King of France) from Naples.

Holy Leagues can also be named by their years of existence. For example, the Holy League of 1510-1513 was established by Pope Julius II and included Emperor Maximilian, Ferdinand of Aragon, Henry VIII (of England), the Papacy and Swiss soldiers. The Swiss soldiers had once been paid mercenaries but were then under their own command. This league's purpose was to gain control over France's influence in Italy. Although France was dominant in the fight against the League initially, its influence was soon stamped out completely. The League split after no agreement could be met regarding any further actions.

Another League in the 16th century was the Santa Junta of 1520-1521. This league was created by a group of 13 Castilian towns. The League was formed as part of the Revolt of the Comuneros, who were opposed to the policies set by the new King of Spain, Charles V. The League sought to fight against his heavy taxation of Castile towns to fund his campaigns. The League was easily defeated due to a lack of strong leadership and consistent direction.

Battle for the Mediterranean

Our main focus in this lesson is the battle between Holy Leagues and the Ottomans. Christians started crusading (fighting a Holy War) as early as 1096 under the encouragement of Pope Urban. Pope Urban and many of his successors were determined to regain control of the Holy Land in Jerusalem from the Muslims. Battle ensued between Christians and those with control over the Holy Land. Many battles involved Ottoman Turks.

The Holy League of 1538-1540 was formed as an alliance between the Papacy, Venice and Charles V. Charles V was the ruler of the Habsburg Empire. The League formed in the early months of 1538 with the hopes of destroying Ottoman control in the Mediterranean Sea and Near East. The Ottomans had been growing in power since the 14th century.

Venice and Charles V had been involved in other battles with the Ottomans during the 1530s. Charles had regained control over Tunis and won a huge naval battle over Barbarossa. Venice was fighting to keep its trade routes safe from attack. However, they were not successful in creating roads into the Turkish threat. France had been involved in both financial and military agreements with the Ottomans, which were mostly agreed upon secretly.

Charles intended to create a crusade to overtake control of Constantinople. Charles and Venice were at odds and didn't totally trust each other. Pope Paul III had to get involved under the pretext of a maritime fleet to convince them to become allies. This was the beginning of the Holy League. The maritime fleet met at Corfu in the spring of 1538. The alliance hadn't really eradicated any of the resentment between Venice and Charles.

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