Holy Roman Empire Attacks Ottomans in Algiers Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Charles V, attempting to reassert his authority in the Mediterranean, assaulted the North African coast, despite the misgivings of some of his top advisers. The attack failed, weakening the Holy Roman Empire and establishing Ottoman domination of the western Mediterranean.

Summary of Event

The Holy Roman Empire’s policy of expansion in North Africa began under Charles V’s predecessors: The years 1509-1511 had seen the conquest of Oran, Bugia, and Tripoli, as well as the submission of Algiers. However, the rich prospects of Spanish America had distracted Charles from the empire’s energetic expansion southward until North African corsairs of diverse nationalities, especially Barbarossa and his brother ՙArūj, seized Tunis and Algiers, ruling them as semiautonomous Ottoman provinces. This extension of the Ottoman sultan’s power into the western Mediterranean marked the beginning of a long conflict with Habsburg-controlled Spain. Ottoman Empire;Holy Roman Empire and Holy Roman Empire;Ottoman Empire and Barbarossa Charles V (1500-1558) Süleyman the Magnificent Francis I (1494-1547) Doria, Andrea Charles V (Holy Roman Emperor) Barbarossa ՙArūj Francis I (king of France) Doria, Andrea

Charles V retook Tunis from Barbarossa in 1535, but he knew that this victory neither guaranteed his empire’s naval supremacy nor inflicted permanent damage on the Ottoman-controlled pirates in the western Mediterranean. Charles had therefore planned an expedition against Algiers as early as 1536. By 1541, however, he had become determined to eliminate any Ottoman bases of operations in the Mediterranean Sea, a vital link in the chain of imperial communications. Lurking in the background was the constant threat of Charles’s archenemy, France’s King Francis I, joining forces with the Ottomans against the extensive Habsburg territories. In fact, such a possibility did occur to both Süleyman I and Francis I. Moreover, in the preceding years, some of the Barbary pirates under Ottoman sponsorship had made raids on the coasts of Spain. Privateers;Barbary

Because of the delay in marshaling German, Spanish, and Italian troops and resources in Genoa in 1541, it was already September when the expedition finally set sail under Charles’s personal command. The fleet had missed the season of clement weather, and Andrea Doria strongly urged against the campaign as a result, but Charles could not face the prospect of wasting the cost of recruiting the men, ships, and supplies that he had undertaken over the several previous months. The attack went forward.

A force of twenty-one thousand men was landed twelve miles east of Algiers on October 20, 1541. Just as their attack was beginning, however, a serious storm arose, preventing them from putting ashore the bulk of Charles’s heavy artillery, ammunition, and food. Most of the imperial fleet—perhaps as many as 150 ships—foundered or had to escape out to sea, while the soaked contingents already on shore were barely able to use their compromised ammunition to attack the city.

Algiers’s Muslim defenders took advantage of the situation to stage a sortie and attack the imperial forces from October 24 to 26, causing heavy casualties. A hasty, improvised evacuation of Charles’s forces mandated the abandonment of all supplies. Charles and fourteen thousand survivors were forced to reembark on the remaining galleys and transports on October 27 and give up the operation to avoid an even greater disaster. The Holy Roman Empire’s Tunisian triumph six years earlier had turned into the Algerine rout, not only by virtue of the great losses suffered by Charles’s forces but also because Barbarossa’s navy now felt free to attack waters vital to Habsburg power throughout the Mediterranean, while Francis I pondered how he could benefit from Charles’s predicament. Indeed, by the following year, 1542, the two were again at war.

The attack on Algiers was one of the greatest military setbacks in Charles’s career and the last of his important naval endeavors. It was also a major political defeat, for it signified the Holy Roman Empire’s relinquishment of the western Mediterranean to the Turks. In addition, Charles’s misadventure in Algiers encouraged France’s king to renew his alliance with the Ottoman sultan Süleyman the Magnificent against their common enemy, while Süleyman now felt free to attack Habsburg Hungary, annexing the city of Buda that same year.

By 1551, Tripoli in North Africa had fallen to the Ottomans, followed by Jerba (Tunisia) in 1560 and Tunis itself in 1574. Charles, striving to establish a universal, Catholic empire, was also overwhelmed by his conflict with the German Protestants and with others who preferred nationalism as a basis of political organization to Charles’s multinational imperialism. Even the popes wavered in their divided loyalty to their Catholic coreligionists, Charles V and Francis I, and those who tried failed to organize a Christian crusade against Muslim Ottoman power.


Not even all the gold brought by Spanish galleons from the New World could support the imperialist and religious goals of the Holy Roman Empire. Indeed, part of the delay in getting the Algiers expedition under way earlier in 1541, during more clement weather, had to do with Charles’s perennial difficulties raising sufficient funds from the great German banking concerns, such as those of the Fuggers and the Welsers.

During the truces between the four wars between Charles V and Francis I, the Holy Roman Emperor had also tried to convince the French monarch to join him in a Christian crusade against the Muslim Ottomans. This did not happen, but rather, it was the Habsburg sovereign who proved unable to contain the combined power of the Ottomans and their Barbary state allies with France’s tacit consent. As a result, the Turks were to retain control of the Mediterranean until the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Alvarez, Manuel F. Charles V, Elected Emperor and Hereditary Ruler. Translated by J. A. Lalaguna. London: Thames and Hudson, 1975. The rise and decline of a king, emperor, statesman, and soldier, as well as his ideals. Maps, genealogy, bibliography, illustrations, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Imber, Colin. The Ottoman Empire, 1300-1650: The Structure of Power. New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2002. A topical approach, ranging from history and chronology to dynasty, geography, law, and institutions. Maps, glossary, bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lewis, D. B. Wyndham. Charles V of Europe. New York: Coward-McCann, 1931. A classic about Charles V’s religious ideals and political rivalries. Maps, genealogy, illustrations, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lynch, John. Spain 1516-1598: From Nation State to World Empire. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 1991. Covers the reign of three Habsburg monarchs, including Charles V, in chronological fashion. Maps, plates, appendices, bibliographical essay, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schwarzenfeld, Gertrude von. Charles V: Father of Europe. Translated by Ruth Mary Bethell. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1957. A chronological and geographic breakdown of Charles’s reign, including an account of Algiers in 1541. Biographical profiles, bibliography, illustrations, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tracy, James D. Emperor Charles V, Impresario of War: Campaign Strategy, International Finance, and Domestic Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Biography, history, and military campaigns of the Holy Roman Emperor and the problems of financing his wars. Maps, tables, bibliography, illustrations, index.

1463-1479: Ottoman-Venetian War

1520-1566: Reign of Süleyman

June 28, 1522-Dec. 27, 1522: Siege and Fall of Rhodes

1529-1574: North Africa Recognizes Ottoman Suzerainty

Sept. 27-28, 1538: Battle of Préveza

1552: Struggle for the Strait of Hormuz

May 18-Sept. 8, 1565: Siege of Malta

July, 1570-Aug., 1571: Siege of Famagusta and Fall of Cyprus

Oct. 7, 1571: Battle of Lepanto

Categories: History