"The most important event in centuries", wrote Cervantes of the battle in which he took part, and on which the hopes of Christendom focused. The Spanish monarch's policies were aimed at containing the expansion of the Turkish empire in the Western Mediterranean, which was threatening the coasts of Spain and Italy, largely the property of the Spanish crown.
The sieges of Malta (1565) and Cyprus (1570), an important Venetian possession by the powerful Ottoman fleet, stirred the Republic of Venice, Pope Pius V and Philip II to form a League to fight the Turkish Armada (May 1571). A Christian fleet, led by John of Austria, half-brother of the King of Spain, with the Venetian Barbarigo, Andrea Doria and the Marquis of Santa Cruz, set sail from Messina and met Sultan Selim II's fleet in the bay of Lepanto (Neupactos) at the mouth of the gulf of Corinth. On 7 October 1571 a fierce battle took place. More than 700 ships were involved and over 80000 Christians took part. The official account tells of a remarkable victory: 90 Turkish galleys sunk, and 130 captured, with only 15 Christian galleys lost. The enormous success of this Spanish-led enterprise put a stop to Turkish galleys' incursions in the western Mediterranean.
From among the documents relating to the battle conserved in the General Record Office in Simancas, Testimonio Editorial chose to present the four most important pieces: the original vellum document setting up the League, signed by all three parties (25 May 1571); the original map of the battle, with annotations in Italian and sketches of the ships, giving the relative positions of the opposing fleet – the Turkish fleet in half-moon formation and the Christians in the shape of a cross; the letter from John of Austria to his half-brother Philip II announcing the Victory on 10 October 1571 and an anonymous account, apparently reliable and unbiased, which gives a step by step account of the progress of the battle.