THE LAST CRUSADER
by Louis de Wohl
(Ignatius Press, 2010, 497pp, ISBN: 978-1-58617-414-9. Available from Freedom Publishing)
In recent years, Ignatius Press has made available to another generation of readers a number of the works of prolific Catholic writer Louis de Wohl. Born Ludwig von Wohl in Berlin in 1903, he was already an established novelist when he left Nazi Germany in 1935 for Britain.
De Wohl was also an astrologer and during WWII the British had him cast the horoscopes of leading Nazi figures, including Hitler, with the intention of using the charts as the basis of misinformation they fed the Germans, in the knowledge that leading Nazis placed great credence in their horoscopes!
His extensive range of novels based on the lives of saints and sections of the Bible belong to his latter literary career and were a response to the deepening of his faith and the belief that his talents should be directed to promoting Catholicism.
While the subjects of many of his other novels, such as those about Sts Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, are familiar to many readers of AD2000, Don John of Austria is perhaps less well known. However, Don John played a key role in the preservation of Christian Europe, particularly as the Commander of the combined fleet of ships which defeated the Ottoman navy at the Battle of Lepanto on 7 October 1571.
De Wohl's novel commences with Charles Prévost collecting the seven-year-old Jerome from his foster mother early in the 1550s and delivering him to Don Luiz Méndez Quixada who, together with his wife, reared Jerome. While Jerome senses that his background is significant, it is not until well into the novel that he and the reader learn his real identity - namely, the illegitimate son of the Holy Roman Emperor/King of Spain Charles V and the uncle of King Philip II of Spain (although he was younger than his nephew!).
As a young man, Don John desired to be a soldier. His plans to join the Spanish contingent to fight against the Ottoman empire in its assault on Malta were frustrated by Philip II's agents. However, his leadership qualities were soon recognised. Even though still in his early 20s, he was appointed admiral of the Spanish fleet and in this capacity played a seminal role in suppressing the revolt of the Moriscos in southern Spain.
The climax of the novel is the Battle of Lepanto. The Last Crusader depicts Don John not only as being a brave soldier, but also a brilliant strategist, a crucial facet of his genius being his ability to get forces from disparate European powers to fight together so as to ward off a common threat. The previous Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, had made significant inroads - particularly the capture of Rhodes - partly because European powers had failed to support each other when attacked.
It is interesting to note that de Wohl ends his novel with this triumph as the champion/saviour of Christian Europe and does not deal with Don John's later and more controversial role as Governor General of the Spanish Netherlands. The Last Crusader is a lengthy work of fiction. However, for those who enjoy reading Louis de Wohl's novels, this one is not to be missed.
Michael E. Daniel is a secondary school teacher in Melbourne.