Monday, August 01, 2016

1550 And All That: Dragut's failure in Pollensa

Around eleven o'clock on the night of 30 May 1550, a force of some 1500 men landed at a cove between the Punta Avançada and the beach of Formentor. The force had sailed from Ibiza the afternoon before. It had arrived off the port of Sant Miquel in the north of that island on 27 May and had proceeded to undertake raids. The governor of Ibiza, Jaume Salvà, got wind of a larger operation - one against Mallorca. He was able to get notice of this to the Mallorcan viceroy, Gaspar de Marrades. There was to be an immediate assault on Mallorca, but it wasn't known where.

The lookout warning system was to fail. There was a full moon on the night of 30 May and it is possible that there was cloud cover as well. The force had been by Dragonera off Andratx at dawn on 30 May. It seems that no one was aware of the fact. By sunset it was by Pollensa. The landing was led by Dragut, otherwise known as Turgut Reis, the supreme commander of the naval forces of the Ottoman Empire in the Mediterranean, who had succeeded Barbarossa in 1546. The size of the army - the 1500 men - was later to be confirmed by a notary, Joan Morro, and by the Manacor-born priest and historian, Joan Binimelis.

But Binimelis was only twelve at the time. The author of the "new history" of the island of Mallorca, his work wasn't to appear (in Mallorquín, remarkably enough for a language that has so little evidence of having been written) until 1595. This is just one reason why it is hard to say for certain what really happened in 1550. Binimelis, as with providers of contemporary documentation, would have adopted a one-sided perspective; it would have been subject to elaboration, embellishment and falsehood.

Where there is certainty is the date. The actual landing spot has been taken to be certain, but it was a curious place to come ashore. The Formentor promontory would not have been easy to negotiate on foot. It would also have added distance to the march to Pollensa town. Moreover, had there been an army in waiting, the invasion force would have had great difficulty in making advances on Pollensa. There was no army in waiting. Not near Formentor anyway.

The story goes of course that it was the traitor, Joan Xumet, who had enabled the landing. His act of treachery is what led him to be given the ironic name Lloctinent, the lieutenant to Dragut. The keeper of the watchtower of Albercutx was supposedly asleep when the force appeared in the bay of Pollensa. Or had he been bribed? Had other keepers of watchtowers been likewise "got at"? Historians of the present day put events of that fateful night down to corruption. Perhaps there had been cloud obscuring the full moon. No one knows, but cloud cover wouldn't have been a factor in daylight as the force made its way off the coast of the Tramuntana mountains.

Pollensa, though it wouldn't have had a regular army as such, would have been able to draw on a sizable force of armed men. There was an obligation to carry arms in the event of incursions by enemies. This had been emphasised by a Saracen assault at Cala San Vicente almost twenty years before. With reinforcements that could have been expected to have been drafted in from other villages, such as Campanet, a local force, ready and waiting, would have been able to repel Dragut's army before it got to Pollensa.

As things turned out, or so it is said, Dragut made a mistake. For a supreme commander it might have seemed a basic one. Dividing his force into three perhaps made sense in being able to create different flanks to attack Pollensa, but it appears that lack of local knowledge was to prove to be the plan's downfall. Two divisions got lost.

The rest is, sort of, history. Joan Mas led the people of Pollensa. He called on the assistance of Our Lady of the Angels, Dragut and his men (those not killed and presumably also those who had been lost) were put to flight, Dragut took it out on the castle in Cabrera and the odd Menorcan village before heading away from the Balearics. Some 300 years later - 1860 to be precise - the re-enactment of the Moors and Christians of Pollensa was decided upon. And it was to take place not on 30 or 31 May but on 2 August, the day of Pollensa's patron: "Mare de Déu dels Àngels, assistiu-mos. Pollencins, aixecau-vos, que els pirates ja són aquí!"

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