Don John Of Austria, a Spanish general, natural son of the emperor Charles V., born in Ratisbon, probably in 1547, died near Namur, Oct. 1, 1578. His mother was Barbara Blom-berg, said to have been originally a washerwoman; she at one time declared in a fit of passion that Don John was not the emperor's son, so that there still remains some doubt as to his origin, though Charles himself never entertained any. The child, at first called Ge-ronimo, was carried to Spain and brought up with great care by the emperor's majordomo, Don Luis Quixada; but his parentage was concealed till after Charles's death in 1558, when a private letter to his son and successor Philip II. was found acknowledging him. Philip changed his name, gave him a splendid establishment at Madrid, and sent him to Alcala to be educated. He was distinguished for beauty and for martial tastes and accomplishments. In 1565 he departed secretly for Barcelona to take part in the defence of Malta, but was compelled to return by command of the king. Philip manifested for him the tenderest affection, and his countrymen came in time to regard him with feelings little short of idolatry.
In June, 1568, Don John sailed in command of an expedition against the Barbary corsairs, with Requesens as lieutenant, and returned triumphant at the end of eight months. In the same year the great insurrection of the Moriscos of Granada had broken out, and Don John was sent thither as nominal commander-in-chief, but hampered by a council to whose will he was obliged to defer. His first independent exploit was the capture of Galera, which fell Feb. 6, 1570, after immense losses on both sides, and all the inhabitants except a few women and children were by his order put to the sword, and the place was razed to the ground and sown with salt. Other successes followed rapidly until the final expulsion of the Moriscos from Granada, in which Don John had but a subordinate share. In 1571 he was placed in command of the immense armament organized by the holy league against the Turks, which won the famous naval victory of Lepanto, Oct. 7. Although this success was not followed up, owing to the dissensions of the chiefs, and subsequently to the avoidance of battle by the Turks, all Europe rang with the praise of the young hero, and his ambition rose with his glory.
In September, 1573, he made a descent on the Barbary coast, and captured Tunis, the fortifications of which he repaired and strengthened, although ordered by Philip to destroy them, and conceived the project of establishing a throne for himself on the ruins of Carthage. The pope favored the scheme, but the king thwarted it, and the next year Tunis was recaptured by the Turks. He then turned his attention northward, and, promised all the aid in the power of the pope, dreamed of liberating and marrying the captive Mary, queen of Scots, and reigning with her over all Britain, Elizabeth being dethroned. Opportunely, as it seemed, for this wild plan, he was appointed governor general of the Netherlands, and, disguised as a Moorish slave to one of his attendants, travelled secretly through France, and entered Luxemburg Nov. 4, 1576, the very day of the terrible massacre and pillage by the Spanish soldiery known as the "fury of Antwerp." Don John came with the contradictory instructions to conciliate the provinces, but concede nothing; but before he could procure his recognition as governor, he found himself obliged to sign the treaty called, after its ratification by Philip, the perpetual edict, and to send away the hated Spanish soldiers, on whom he had relied for carrying out his personal designs upon England. The edict ostensibly confirmed the "pacification of Ghent," concluded between the provinces just before his arrival, for the purpose of securing religious toleration; but William of Nassau, and the provinces of Holland and Zealand under his guidance, perceiving the duplicity of its stipulations, and the governor's insincerity, refused to accept it.
Don John, for his own purposes, was sincerely desirous of establishing peace, but at the same time determined to maintain the royal supremacy and suppress heresy; and the long and harassing negotiations carried on with these irreconcilable aims, during which he made to no purpose unbounded offers of wealth and power to the prince of Orange, chafed his fiery spirit and embittered his hatred of the Netherlanders. At length he seized the castle of Namur, held for the states by a feeble garrison, but of which he had the right as governor to take peaceable possession, and recalled in small bodies and at intervals the troops he had sent to Lombardy, while in spite of the treaty he had all the time retained a numerous German force. Meantime the archduke Matthias of Austria, called in by a faction of nobles, had been nominally accepted by the states general as governor of the Netherlands, while the real power was placed in the hands of William of Nassau; and on Dec. 7, 1577, Don John was formally deposed, and denounced as an infractor of the peace which he had sworn to maintain. The states had by great exertions raised a force equal to his own, but led by lukewarm nobles, which assembled near Namur, and then retired to seek a stronger position.
The governor followed with his army, and his vanguard came up with them near Gembloux, Jan. 31, 1578. There, while they were struggling irregularly through a marsh, Alexander Farnese with a small body of cavalry attacked them by surprise, and almost annihilated them, many thousands being slain, all their equipments captured, and many prisoners carried off and put to death; while on the Spanish side scarcely a man was lost or a wound received. This stunning blow, however, Don John could not effectively follow up from want of resources, though he possessed himself of many towns. All through his administration he had received abundant promises, but very little substantial aid, from Philip II., who, by the intrigues of his minister Perez, had been led to suspect him of designs upon the throne; and he was forced to remain idly in his intrenched camp a league from Namur, while the provinces, more united than ever, were again gathering head under the exertions of William, and the duke of Alencon was threatening him with a French force from another quarter.
Moreover, his own soldiers were dying in crowds of the plague; and he now heard of the assassination, by royal order, of his secretary and confidential friend Esco-vedo, whom he had sent to Madrid in the previous year to represent his grievances. (See Perez, Antonio.) At length he was carried off by a fever which had long been consuming him, dying in a wretched hovel hastily prepared for his reception. His body after death presented strong appearances of having been poisoned, but no other evidence of the fact has ever transpired. His funeral was celebrated with great pomp at Namur, and then his embalmed remains were by order of Philip, in order to save the expense of a public progress, divided into three parts and secretly transported through France in bags slung at the pommels of troopers. On their arrival in Spain they were reunited by wires, magnificently robed for presentation to Philip with a mockery of life, and then interred in the Escurial, in accordance with his wish, by the side of Charles V. He was succeeded in the government of the Netherlands by his nephew Alexander Farnese.