Algiers expedition
Part of the Ottoman–Habsburg wars

Siege of Algiers in 1541 (1542) Cornelis Anthonisz
DateOctober–November 1541
Location36°46′35″N 3°3′31″E / 36.77639°N 3.05861°E / 36.77639; 3.05861
Result Algerian victory[2]

Empire of Charles V:

Sovereign Military Order of Malta Order of Saint John
 Republic of Genoa
 Papal States
Kingdom of Kuku[1]

Regency of Algiers

Commanders and leaders
Charles V
Navy: Andrea Doria
Army: Duke of Alba[3]
Ferrante I Gonzaga
Spain Hernán Cortés
Republic of Genoa Giannettino Doria
Spain Bernardino de Mendoza
Sovereign Military Order of Malta Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon
Hasan Agha
Total of 80 galleys
Total of 500 ships[3]
12,000 sailors[3]
24,000 soldiers[3]
100 transports[3]
Spain 50 galleys[3]
Spain 100 transports[3]
Republic of Genoa 14 galleys
Papal States 8 galleys
Kingdom of Naples 150 transports[3]
Sovereign Military Order of Malta 700 knights
2,000 troops[4]
800 Odjak of Algiers
5,000 Moors[3][5]
Casualties and losses
300 officers killed[3]
8,000[3] or 12,000[6][7] killed
150 ships sunk[3]
200 killed[8]

The 1541 Algiers expedition occurred when Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire and king of Spain attempted to lead an amphibious attack against the Regency of Algiers. Inadequate planning, particularly against unfavourable weather, led to the failure of the expedition.


Algiers had been under the control of the Ottoman emperor Suleiman the Magnificent since its help in 1529 by Hayreddin Barbarossa. Barbarossa had left Algiers in 1535 to be named High Admiral of the Ottoman Empire in Constantinople, and was replaced as governor by Hasan Agha, a Sardinian eunuch and renegade.[3] Hassan had in his service the well-known Ottoman naval commanders Dragut, Sālih Reïs, and Sinān Pasha.[3]

Charles V made considerable preparations for the expedition, wishing to obtain revenge for the recent siege of Buda.[9] However, the Spanish and Genoese fleets were severely damaged by a storm, forcing him to abandon the venture.[10][11]


Charles V embarked very late in the season, on 28 September 1541, delayed by troubles in Germany and Flanders.[3][12] The fleet was assembled in the Bay of Palma, at Majorca.[3] It had more than 500 sails and 24,000 soldiers.[3] A fleet led by Andrea Doria was dispatched with the help of allied nations including the Republic of Genoa, the Kingdom of Naples, and the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem to transport the troops from Spain and the Netherlands.[13]

After enduring difficult weather, the fleet only arrived in front of Algiers on 19 October as a storm formed.[14] Distinguished Spanish commanders accompanied Charles V on this expedition, including Hernán Cortés, the conqueror of Mexico, though he was never invited to the War Council.[12]

Troops were disembarked on 23 October, and Charles established his headquarters on a land promontory surrounded by German troops.[12] German, Spanish, and Italian troops, accompanied by 150 Knights of Malt, began to land while repelling Algerine opposition, soon surrounding the city, except for the northern part.[3] Hayreddin's deputy Hassan Agha had a strong defence at the gate of Bab Azzoun and caused serious casualties among the Maltese knights.[15]

The fate of the city seemed to be sealed; however, the following day the weather became severe, with heavy rain. Many galleys lost their anchors, and 15 were wrecked onshore. Another 33 carracks sank, while many more were dispersed.[16] As more troops attempted to land, the Algerines started to make sorties, attacking the newly arrived. Charles V was surrounded, and only saved by the resistance of the Knights Hospitaller.[17]

A Maltese knight thrusts his dagger into the gate of Bab Azzoun, by Léon Galibert (1844)

Andrea Doria managed to find a safer harbour for the remainder of the fleet at Cape Matifu, five miles east of Algiers. He enjoined Charles V to abandon his position and join him in Matifu, which Charles V did with great difficulty.[18] From there, still oppressed by the weather, the remaining troops sailed to Béjaïa, still a Spanish harbour at that time. Charles could not depart for the open sea until 23 November.[19] Throwing his horses and crown overboard, Charles abandoned his army and sailed home.[20] He finally reached Cartagena, in southeast Spain, on 3 December.[21]

Shipwreck of Christian ships in the bay of Algiers, 1541

Losses amongst the invading force were heavy with 150 ships lost and large numbers of sailors and soldiers.[3] A Turkish chronicler wrote that the Berber tribes massacred 12,000 invaders.[22] Leaving war materiel, including 100 to 200 guns which were recovered for the ramparts of Algiers, Charles' army was taken prisoner in such numbers that it was said the markets of Algiers were filled with slaves; so much that in 1541, it was said they were being sold for an onion per head.[23] Hasan Agha was rewarded with the title of Beylerbey for his exploits over the Christian forces.[24]


The chronology of the expedition reconstructed by Daniel Nordman.[25]


The disaster considerably weakened the Spanish, and Hassan Agha took the opportunity to attack Mers-el-Kebir, the harbour of the Spanish base of Oran, in July 1542.[26]

Charles Lamb suggests that this storm may have influenced Shakespeare's character, the sea witch Sycorax in The Tempest. Sycorax, an Algerian sorceress, was banished from her homeland for wreaking havoc with her witchcraft, but was spared execution "for one thing she did". This elusive "one thing" is never stated; however Charles Lamb suggests that Shakespeare drew upon the legend of an unnamed Algerian witch who summoned a ferocious tempest which destroyed the 1541 invasion fleet, and it was this act of defending her nation which prevented her people from executing her.

See also


  1. ^ Berber Government: The Kabyle Polity in Pre-colonial Algeria, p191
  2. ^ Phillip C. Naylor (5 September 2006). Historical Dictionary of Algeria. Scarecrow Press. p. 157. ISBN 978-0-8108-6480-1.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s The Story of the Barbary Corsairs by Stanley Lane-Poole p.114ff [1]
  4. ^ Murray (Firm), John; Playfair, Sir Robert Lambert (1887). Handbook for Travellers in Algeria and Tunis, Algiers, Oran, Constantine, Carthage, Etc. J. Murray.
  5. ^ Handbook for travellers in Algeria and Tunis, Algiers, Oran, Constantine ... by John Murray (Firm),Sir Robert Lambert Playfair p.38
  6. ^ Garcés, María Antonia (2005). Cervantes in Algiers: A Captive's Tale (illustrated, revised ed.). Vanderbilt University Press. p. 24. ISBN 0826514707. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  7. ^ ibn Ruqaya al Tlemceni, Al Zahra nai'ra, p. 122[2]
  8. ^ ibn Ruqaya al Tlemceni, Al Zahra nai'ra, p. 120[3]
  9. ^ Garnier, p.201
  10. ^ European warfare, 1494–1660 by Jeremy Black p.177
  11. ^ E.J. Brill's first encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913–1936 by Martijn Theodoor Houtsma p.258 [4]
  12. ^ a b c Garnier, p.202
  13. ^ Crowley 2013, p. 73
  14. ^ Garnier, p.203
  15. ^ de Haëdo, fray Diego (1881). Histoire des rois d'Alger(History of the Kings of Algiers), translated and annotated by H.-D. de Grammont. Alger: Bibliothèque nationale de France. p. 64.
  16. ^ Garnier, p.204ff
  17. ^ Garnier, p.204
  18. ^ Garnier, p.205
  19. ^ Garnier, p.207
  20. ^ Roger Crowley, Empires of the Sea, faber and faber 2008 p.73
  21. ^ Garnier, p.206
  22. ^ Garcés, María Antonia, p .24
  23. ^ Crowley 2013, p. 73
  24. ^ Spencer 1976, p. 27
  25. ^ Daniel Nordman (2011). Tempête sur Alger : l'expédition de Charles Quint en 1541. Saint-Denis: Bouchène. p. 702. ISBN 978-2-35676-059-3.
  26. ^ A history of the Maghrib in the Islamic period by Jamil M. Abun-Nasr p.155 ff