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The narrative of this thorough and extensive work is divided in two: Iconic Battle and Military Battle. The first section deals with the Mediterranean in the 16th century (The Stage), ships and weapons (The Props), the empires, states, peoples and leaders of the time (The Players), international politics and role of the Catholic Church in the formation of the Holy League (Billboard). Part Two looks at the immediate background (Scene Setters), the campaign of 1570, the Ottoman offensive of 1571, the Holy League response and the details of the battle, concluding with an epilogue.
The book opens with a Chronology of rulers from 1500 to 1600 and important events from 1492 to 1600. Eight pages of colour plates include, inter alia, portraits of Don John, Sultan Selim II, Pius V, and various battle scenes by artists like Vasari, Vicentino, Veronese, Titian, Sebastian de Caster and Juan Luna. The 8 pages of black and white plates include the flagships of Ali Pasha, Don John Of Austria, various types of armor and weaponry, papal galleys and some battle scenes. In addition, there are three diagrams in the text: a depiction of a Venetian light galley, fortification systems and the decorative stern of Don Juan's galley La Real. Thirteen excellent maps enhance the text, focusing on relevant parts of the Mediterranean and Adriatic, on the Ottoman expansion into Europe, Africa and Asia, the 1570 and 1571 campaigns, the battle site at Navpaktos at the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth, the deployment of ships and different stages of the battle.
The vast scope of the book encompasses discussions of culture, religion and representations of the famous clash in Christian art and iconography. Bicheno deals extensively with the myth and the legend in literature by discussing and quoting works by Cervantes, Felix Lope de Vega y Carpio, Luis Velez de Guevara, Shakespeare (Othello), Thomas Moravius, Fernando de Herrera, Alonso de Ercilla y Zuniga and of course GK Chesterton and his magnificent poem Lepanto. The account of the battle itself is quite detailed as Bicheno draws on all available sources (whilst evaluating them) to analyse the vessels, the weaponry, the tactics, the terrible carnage and the liberation of the Christian slaves.
The author is highly critical of Europe and the fractious Christendom of the time in his introduction. He compares the world of the 16th century with our own time and is a Eurosceptic (good) but a bit too repetitive in his assertions of the supposed tolerance and civilizational superiority of the Ottoman Empire against the supposed backwardness of Europe (bad). Bicheno insists time and again that the battle had no major military significance and that the Catholic Church largely nurtured the legend of the great Christian victory. In this, he does not fully convince. Yes, the Turks immediately rebuilt their navy but it was done in great haste to produce a ramshackle fleet that never again threatened the West.
What makes the writing difficult to enjoy, if not exhausting, are the frequent detours that the narrative takes into the events leading up to 1571. Instead of pursuing a thread from beginning to end, the author frequently digresses by smothering the reader with a plethora of minor events, details and personalities so that the plot does not unfold smoothly. This occurs frequently as he deals with flashpoints of the conflict in Malta, Cyprus, Crete, Tunis, Djerba and along the Dalmatian coast. It really makes your head spin if you seek a linear progression of events.
The four appendices discuss the principal actors, the estimate of forces, orders of battle and casualties. There are 5 pages of bibliographic endnotes, a complete bibliography and an index. Despite my irritation with Bicheno's non-linear or frequently interrupted presentation of the conflict between the Holy League and the Ottomans that culminated at Lepanto, Crescent And Cross is a masterpiece of sorts, a most valuable reference work and a detailed study of the culture, weaponry, politics and personalities of the time.