Wednesday, November 10, 2010

People: The Brothers Barbarossa Part II

Yesterday we saw the rise of one time galley slave Uruj known as Barbarossa from merchant’s son to governor of Algiers. And everything owed in large part to piracy. But when the elder brother lay in the Moroccan sand with a Spanish pike through his body, the younger took up the leadership, the war and the name with a vengeance.

When word of his brother’s death reached him in Algiers, Hizir cagily decided that it was time to bring in the big guns. He sent messengers to Istanbul asking Sultan Selim I for reinforcements to help in the fight against Spain. Hizir promised nothing less in return than “… all or the greatest part of Barbary” for the Ottoman Empire whose only holding in Africa at that time was Egypt. The Sultan jumped at the chance. Selim immediately declared Algiers an Ottoman province and made Hizir the official Governor. After that, he sent thousands of elite Turkish troops to reinforce Hizir’s new province, particularly the coasts.

Hizir managed to retake Tlemcen with his larger forces. Once that old score was settled he turned to making a navy out of his corsair galleys. By 1529 he was spoken of as “… nothing less dreaded” than his famous brother. He took the fortress of El Penon at the head of the harbor of Algiers from the Spanish and shortly thereafter began construction on what would be known as the Great Mole. The 300 yard long earthwork connected the island of El Penon with Algiers proper and enclosed the harbor against both storms and invaders. With things secure at home, Hizir returned to the sea.

The younger Barbarossa set up a campaign of terror against the European coast. He raided Gibraltar, Southern France, Italy, Sardinia and Sicily, destroying harbors and towns as he went while amassing enormous wealth in loot and particularly slaves. The governor of Algiers’ consistently large tribute payments caught the attention of the new Ottoman Sultan, Sulaiman, who called Hizir to Istanbul in 1533. Overjoyed at the success of the now middle aged corsair, Sulaiman made Hizir Admiral of the Ottoman Navy, governor not just of Algiers but all of North Africa, and bestowed on him the title of Khair ad-Din which loosely translates to “Upholder of the Faith”.

Hizir, now known as Khair ad-Din Barbarossa, spent some time in Istanbul evaluating the Empire’s naval strengths and weaknesses. When word reached the capital that Tunis had fallen to the Spanish, Hizir decided to see what his navy could do. With a force of 20 war galleys and over 50 smaller ships, he successfully lead his forces in retaking Tunis. It was a shallow victory, however. Hizir returned to his raids on Europe and the King of Spain Charles V, who had recently been crowned Holy Roman Emperor as well, retook the city within a year. Certain that the populace had something to do with Hizir’s success, Charles had all Muslims expelled. When Hizir heard of this affront, he vowed revenge.

By now the Ottoman navy could claim over 100 massive war galleys and Hizir Khair ad-Din turned them en mass against Spain. He raided Charles V’s coast from Portugal to France, taking foodstuffs, livestock, goods and humans away with him. The final blow to the Spanish King came when Francois I of France, who was grumbling about being left out of all the pillaging over in the New World, entered into a treaty with Sulaiman against Spain in particular. Part of this pact was France’s agreement to pay the Ottoman Empire a yearly fee (which amounted to a bribe) for safe passage of her ships in the Mediterranean and beyond. Thus began the long-standing system of payments to Barbary that was only broken up by the Second Barbary War in the early 1800s.

By the winter of 1543, the Barbary corsairs were so chummy with the French that the majority of Hizir’s fleet, and the Admiral himself, spent the winter in Toulon. Francois even ordered his own subjects out of the city, effectively forcing them to give up their homes to the pirates. The walled city could not contain the vast horde, however, and a sea of brilliantly colored tents sprang up around Toulon’s walls.

Having amassed an unimaginable fortune, embarrassed the crown heads of Christendom and wrecked havoc in the Mediterranean and Atlantic, Hizir returned from Toulon, paid his respects to Emperor Sulaiman in Istanbul, and retired to a palace built for him on the Bosphorus in 1545. The merchant’s son turned pirate, Admiral and Governor, who was described in his lifetime as tall, “… portly and majestic, well-proportioned and robust” died at his home on July 4, 1546 at around the age of 68. His son Hasan took over the Governorship of North Africa.

Throughout the glory days of the Barbary corsairs Hizir Khair ad-Din was something of a seafaring saint. In the 18th century a European traveler wrote that “… no voyage is undertaken from Constantinople by either public or private persons without their first visiting [Hizir’s] tomb.” The pirates that sailed from Algiers, Tripoli and Sale were said to offer prayers to both brothers’ names for safe passage and rich prizes. Pretty impressive for a pair of boys from a small island village.

Header: Hizir Khair ad-Din as an elder statesman (the trident in this and the painting posted yesterday indicates his status as a corsair)


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Pretty impressive indeed, Pirate Queen...

But now am I strangely reminded of They Might Be Giants' song "Istanbul Not Constantinople".

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! Yeah, I think Europeans had a hard time letting go of that one. Regardless, the Barbarossa brothers were certainly a force of nature. They remind me of these other pirate brothers from France. Perhaps you've heard them spoken of...