Hayreddin Barbarossa, also known as Redbeard, was one of the most notorious pirates of his day. Together with his older brothers, Ishak and Aruj, they conquered the North African city of Algiers and submitted it to the Ottomans, as a means of protecting themselves from the Spanish.
Nevertheless, this did not stop the Spanish from attacking Tlemcen in 1518, a city located near Algiers which was under the rule of Hayreddin and his brother. During this siege, Ishak and Aruj lost their lives. As a result, Hayreddin inherited his brother Aruj’s position as the ruler of Algiers and continued to serve the Ottoman Empire . It was during this post-Aruj period that Hayreddin continued his privateering / pirating activities and created a name for himself, thus ensuring a place for himself in the history books.
The Life and Names of Hayreddin Barbarossa, a.k.a. Redbeard
Hayreddin Barbarossa was originally known as Khizr or Khidr. Born on the Greek island of Lesbos around 1478, Hayreddin had three brothers. By 1518 he was the only one left, as the all his brothers had been killed during combat.
When Aruj was killed at Tlemcen, Hayreddin not only inherited the rulership of Algiers, but also his brother’s nickname amongst the Europeans—the Italian name Barbarossa meaning “Redbeard”—due to his red-colored beard. On the subject of names, Hayreddin has been translated into English as “goodness” or “best of the religion” and was an honorary title given to the pirate by the Ottoman sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent .
Suleiman I was the tenth and longest-reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, from 1520 to his death in 1566. ( Public domain )
Hayreddin Redbeard’s Ottoman Connections
Although the Spanish had captured Tlemcen around the middle of 1518, Hayreddin Redbeard was able, with fresh troops sent by the Ottomans, to recapture the city at the end of the same year. In retaliation, the following year a joint Spanish-Italian force attacked Algiers, though Redbeard was able to repel them and soon had his vengeance when he raided the French region of Provence in the same year.
In 1520, the Ottoman Sultan Selim I died and was succeeded by his son Suleiman the Magnificent . In return for the services of his pirate fleet, Hayreddin Redbeard requested the new sultan for further Ottoman protection for North Africa from the Spanish threat. When this was granted by Suleiman, Redbeard’s fleet immediately began raiding the French and Spanish coast.
Then, in 1522, Redbeard contributed to the conquest of Rhodes by sending his ships under the command of one of his subordinates, Kurtoğlu. Rhodes was the stronghold of the Knights of St. John —Christian pirates who often raided Ottoman vessels in the western Mediterranean. Thus, their expulsion was a removal of a thorn in the side of the Ottomans.
Portrait of Redbeard’s adversary Andrea Doria, c. 1520, by Sebastiano Del Piombo. ( Public domain )
Redbeard’s Raiding Begins to Cause Trouble with Europe
Redbeard’s raiding spree continued and caused much trouble to the Europeans. As a result, in 1530, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V , decided to seek the help of Andrea Doria, a formidable Genoese admiral. Hayreddin Redbeard’s first engagement with this adversary happened in 1531 when he bested his opponent, who commanded a Spanish-Genoese fleet of 40 galleys, and won the personal gratitude of the sultan.
Whilst Hayreddin Redbeard was on a military expedition to Habsburg Austria in the following year, Doria captured several cities on the coast of the Greek mainland. Although the Ottomans successfully recaptured these cities, it was then that the sultan realized the importance of having a strong navy to protect Ottoman interests in the Mediterranean from the seasoned seamen of Europe, including the Genoese and the Venetians. As a result, Redbeard was summoned to the court in Constantinople and was appointed the admiral of the Ottoman fleet.
The Battle of Preveza, in September 1538, was a historic naval battle between the Ottoman navy under Hayreddin Redbeard and the Western Christian navy under Captain Andrea Doria. (Actia Nicopolis Foundation / CC BY 4.0 )
A Capable Naval Commander: Hayreddin Redbeard and the Battle of Preveza
Hayreddin Redbeard did not let his patron down and continued his raids on Christian Europe. He proved his capabilities as a naval commander once again in 1538. This time, a Holy League was assembled by Pope Paul III, led by Andrea Doria. The Genoese admiral commanded a fleet consisting of vessels belonging to the Papal States, the Spanish Empire, the Knights of Malta and the Republics of Genoa and Venice.
The Battle of Preveza , which took place on the 28th of September 1538, resulted in another victory for Redbeard and ensured that the eastern Mediterranean would be dominated by the Ottomans until the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.
Tomb of Hayreddin Redbeard in the Beşiktaş district of Istanbul. (Darwinek / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Redbeard’s Loyalty and Peaceful End
Hayreddin Redbeard continued to serve the Ottoman Empire loyally. For instance, when Charles V attempted to bribe the pirate to switch sides, it is said that he refused the offer outright.
Additionally, the raids of coastal cities continued. Some, such as the Genoese, eventually gave up trying to defeat Hayreddin Redbeard , and chose to pay tribute in order to be spared from being attacked. At one point of time, the Ottomans entered into an alliance with the French, and Redbeard found himself defending southern France from Spanish attack during this time.
A truce was finally reached between the Ottomans and the Spanish in 1544. In the following year, Redbeard retired to a villa on the northern shore of the Bosporus. While his son was appointed as the new ruler of Algiers, Redbeard ensured that his memoirs written for posterity. In 1546, he died of natural causes and was buried on the European side of the Bosporus Straits.
Top image: 16th century depiction of the notorious pirate Hayreddin Barbarossa, known as Redbeard. Source: Public domain
By Wu Mingren
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