Post-classical history


The later thirteenth century

By the second half of the thirteenth century changes affecting both the institutional and inner lives of the church, some of them long in gestating, were in full life. The emergence of strong national monarchies had serious implications for the way in which the church as an institution functioned. If this can be seen most vividly in the high drama of henchmen of a French king physically assaulting the person of a pope, the phenomenon was played out less dramatically elsewhere. Among the Christian kingdoms of Europe must now be factored the monarchies of the Iberian peninsula, for in the second half of the thirteenth century the long process of the Christian recovery of Muslim lands was complete, save for Granada, and the Christians of Castile, Aragon and Portugal had taken their place in the world of medieval Christianity.

Popes and kings

Let this story begin with the death of a French king in 1270 and end with the death of a pope in 1303. The death of Louis IX in 1270 ended the reign of one of Europe’s most remarkable kings. Known for his undoubted personal piety, Louis spent considerable time daily in prayer and, in private, he wore the coarse garment of the friars. He constructed the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris to house the crown of thorns, which was believed to be the very crown placed on Christ’s head at his trial. Following the conventions of the time, Louis led a Christian army on crusade to the East, but without success. He brought peace between France and her enemies – Flanders in 1256, Aragon in 1258 and England in 1259 – under terms that were equitable and productive of a peaceful realm for his subjects. Taken ill as he was on his way once again to the East, Louis, as he lay dying, advised his son:

My dear son, the first thing I want to teach you is to move your heart to love God, for without God no one can be saved … Love all that is good and salutary; despise evil everywhere … Deal with all your subjects in justice and equity, taking particular care for the poor …

Be sure to insure that your subjects can live peacefully and honestly … Love and respect all those who serve the church … Finally, dear son, have Masses and prayers said for my soul and for me throughout your kingdom.


There died with St Louis the single most effective force for stability in Europe. In England, Henry III was recovering from a civil war with his barons. Germany was in a period known as the Great Interregnum, which saw competing rivals for the king-ship and which saw no emperor crowned. And the papacy was experiencing its longest vacancy in history.

When Pope Clement IV died in 1268, the moment was not conducive to a quick election, and it was to be a long moment lasting almost three years. Sixteen cardinals met at Viterbo, where the pope had died, and they were hopelessly divided, not over spiritual aspects of the leadership of the church but over the political question of supporting the ambitions of the younger brother of Louis IX, Charles of Anjou, the papally installed – but papally regretted – king of Sicily. Exasperated by the long delay and the incompetence of the cardinals and urged on by St Bonaventure, head of the Franciscan order, the people of Viterbo on a hot summer’s day stripped the roof from the place where the cardinals were meeting, locked the doors to bar their escape and threatened to cut off their food supply. The matter was quickly settled. Yet the man elected, then not even a priest, was at Acre in the Holy Land, and it was not till six months later that he became pope, Gregory X (1272–76). His experiences in the East convinced him to seek a reunion with the Orthodox church. In 1261, Constantinople, in Latin hands since the Fourth Crusade went awry in 1204, was retaken by the Greeks. A reunion with the churches of the East would meet the political needs of the Greek emperor, now sitting in Constantinople, and such a reunion was patched together at the Second Council of Lyons (1274). It was not to last. In fact, it took hold only partially among the Greek clergy and was dead by 1283. The schism of 1054 was not healed, nor would another attempt in the fifteenth century effect a healing.

The papacy of the last quarter of the thirteenth century suffered from problems of its own making. In wrenching control of southern Italy and Sicily from the German kings (Hohenstauffen) and placing their man, Charles of Anjou, on the throne of Sicily, the popes had created a monster. Charles, young brother of the sainted French king, quickly became uncontrollable by the popes, and his ambitions threatened papal independence. Charles controlled a significant number of cardinals, who could be relied on to support his candidate during an election. Thrown into this mix was the old story of competing Roman aristocratic families – the Gaetani, Orsini and Colonna – vying for control over the papacy. It was an unholy mix, resulting in a number of deadlocked elections and long vacancies. The provision by Gregory X at the Council of Lyons to lock the electing cardinals in conclave and starve them into action worked for only a short time and was abandoned. But, even while it was in force, bad luck produced three short pontificates: Innocent V (21 January to 22 June 1276), Hadrian V (elected 11 July but died 18 August 1276, before even being ordained priest or consecrated bishop of Rome) and John XXI (8 September 1276 to 20 May 1277). There followed a six-month vacancy. Two other long vacancies occurred within the next 15 years: one of 11 months (1287–88) and another of 27 months (1292–94).

This last vacancy led to one of the most bizarre events in the long history of the papacy. Locked in bitter, seemingly irresolvable disagreement for over two years, the cardinals made a totally unprecedented move. The dean of the college of cardinals read to his fellow cardinals a letter which he had received from a hermit-monk, living in a mountain retreat in southern Italy. This hermit, Peter Murrone, speaking with the unassailable authority of the truly holy, upbraided the cardinals for not providing the church with a pope and said that the wrath of God would fall on them if they failed to elect a pope soon. Not even worldly cardinals could insulate themselves from the prophecy of this other-worldly, non-political, holy man. The dean immediately said that he would vote for Murrone himself, and others of the cardinals quickly followed. The impossible happened: the cardinals elected one whom they called papa angelicus (the angel pope), Celestine V. On 29 August 1294 he rode to his consecration seated on a donkey. Not only was he a very old man – about 85 – but, more importantly, he was gullible and naive. He became the unknowing puppet of Charles II, king of Naples, whose father, Charles of Anjou, had by now lost Sicily to the Spanish. Almost immediately Celestine named 12 new cardinals, all proposed by Charles. Consecrated bishop in the south, Celestine made no attempt to go to Rome. In fact, he made no serious effort to manage the affairs of the church, and the administration of the church quickly fell into disarray. Keeping with his custom of spending the season of Advent, the four weeks before Christmas, in prayerful solitude, in November 1294 he announced that he would leave the powers of the pope in the hands of three cardinals, while he went on his Advent retreat. When objections were understandably made, Celestine asked for advice. Acting on that advice, on 13 December 1294, the hermit-monk-pope appeared before the cardinals, removed his mitre and ring and resigned the office of pope. One might think that this good man would then have been allowed to go to his mountain hermitage to spend the rest of his days in peaceful contemplation, but such was not the case, as we shall soon see.

On Christmas Eve 1294, on the third ballot the cardinals elected Benedict Gaetani, who took the name Boniface VIII. His was to be a momentous, even tumultuous pontificate (1294–1303). Much could rightly have been expected of him. He was a learned, even scholarly man, proficient, as few other of his generation were, in the law of the church. He was an experienced curialist, who knew where all the bodies were buried. He was a skilled diplomat, who spent nearly three years in England (1265–68) at a most crucial time and who, in 1264 and again in 1290, undertook delicate missions to the French court. Yet his is often judged an unsuccessful pontificate, even a disastrous one. He was burdened by the manner of his becoming pope, since it was he who had advised his predecessor that he could resign and who, further, drew up the actual document of resignation. It should be quickly added that there is no evidence that he used any influence on Celestine V to make him resign, but his proximity to the process was to make him liable to suspicion and even to unfounded charges. Also, after his election, Boniface, fearing that the ex-pope, Celestine, might become the centre of an opposition party, ordered that the aged hermit be arrested and kept under house arrest at Castel Fumone near Ferentino, where the former pope died in 1296. Further, Boniface’s temperament – at this distance we catch only glimpses, making generalizations difficult, if not impossible – may have betrayed him. Others, generally his enemies, describe him as haughty, arrogant and given to moments of irrational rage. In addition, the new pope suffered from what contemporaries called ‘the stone’, quite probably kidney stones, which meant that he was frequently in considerable pain. In further mitigation of what was to follow it should be said that the dire condition of the papacy owed much to the house of Anjou and its policies in Sicily and southern Italy. Topping his agenda, as he first sat on the chair of Peter, was the task of ensuring that the papacy would be independent of the control of secular princes.

Almost irresistible is the temptation to recount the pontificate of Boniface VIII solely in terms of his encounters with the French king, Philip IV the Fair (le bel), but it is a temptation to be strongly resisted. There is no contesting the sheer drama of the dispute of pope and king, but Boniface had much more to deal with than the arrogant, handsome king of France. Boniface gathered together the important papal and conciliar decrees published since 1234, when his predecessor Gregory IX had promulgated his official collection of laws in five books, and added these as a ‘sixth book’ (Liber Sextus). All other laws introduced for the universal church since 1234 were now null. The totality of canon law was to be found in these two great collections. Had Boniface done nothing else, he would have a significant place in the history of law. But he did much else in his nine-year reign.

Two years after issuing the Liber Sextus, Boniface called for a Holy Year (or Jubilee Year) to mark the new century. The papal bull decreeing it was issued on 22 February 1300, but the Holy Year was considered to have begun on Christmas Day 1299 and was to run until Christmas Eve 1300. Hereafter, in each hundredth year, the pope wrote, there would be a similar jubilee. The form of the jubilee was a pilgrimage to the basilicas of SS. Peter and Paul in Rome. To those who confessed their sins would be given a full remission of the penance due for their sins, the journey to Rome and the visit to the basilicas being considered signs of interior contrition. During the Holy Year pilgrims came to Rome by the thousands, among them representatives from England, including the bishop of Winchester, from Poland, from Hungary and from every Christian country of central and western Europe. They came down the Italian peninsula, passing through cities whose residents watched in stunned amazement. At Modena an eye-witness saw people from overseas, some walking and some even carrying aged parents on their backs. At Parma, according to a contemporary, a number, almost beyond counting, passed through: ‘barons, knights, noble ladies, men and women of every state, class and condition … from Lombardy, France, Burgundy and from every other part of Christendom’. Dante, who may well have been among the pilgrims to Rome, describes a pilgrim,

Who with joy of spirit travelled from Croatia to see
Veronica’s veil and, who, gazing upon it,
Lingers there with unsated soul.

(Paradiso, 31, 103–5)

One Italian pilgrim, with understandable exaggeration, said that 2,000,000 visitors came to Rome during the jubilee. Whatever the exact number, never before in its long history had Rome seen so many visitors. The pope in calling the jubilee apparently had no ulterior motive – not always true of Boniface – other than to satisfy the pious desires of Christian people. In fact, far from dressing like a Roman emperor and parading through Rome during the jubilee, as some of his enemies said, Boniface spent most of that year outside of Rome (from April to October) at his favourite summer place of residence at Anagni. Whatever the actual papal involvement, the Holy Year of 1300 was a moment unlike any other, a clear sign of a church come of age, its people comfortable, perhaps even triumphant, in the security of their beliefs and of the settled order of their society.

At almost the same time, Boniface was sending missionaries to the East: Dominican friars ‘to the lands of the Saracens, pagans and Greeks, to the lands of the Bulgars, Cuman, Ethiopians, Tartars’ and many others, as the papal letter says, and the Franciscan friars to the Eastern Tartars. Such missions could scarcely succeed without the adequate preparation of the missionaries. The Dominicans had already established schools to train friars for the missions. Ramon Lull, the Majorcan-born intellectual and Christian mystic, who had learned Arabic in order to proclaim Christianity to his Muslim neighbours, travelled to Rome several times, and in the early days of Boniface’s pontificate urged the pope to encourage the study of oriental languages. He was not successful at this time, but 15 years later Clement V, at Lull’s urging, created schools in Hebrew, Arabic and Chaldaic at the papal curia (then at Avignon) and at four universities (Paris, Oxford, Bologna and Salamanca):

We are fully aware that it makes no sense to preach the word of God to ears that do not understand … It is our ardent desire that the holy church should abound with Catholic men who have a knowledge of languages used by infidels. These men should be able to instruct them in Christian ways and bring them through baptism into the Christian fold.

Two experts in each of these Eastern languages were to teach at each of these centres, and provisions were made for their salaries. The world of the medieval church was expanding.

The centrepiece of Boniface’s pontificate, for better or worse, is usually not the missionary activity of the friars nor the pilgrims crowding across the bridges into Rome for the jubilee nor, indeed, the important law collection promulgated in 1298. For modern historiography, the centrepiece remains his disastrous relations with Philip the Fair. Almost inevitably comparisons are made between Boniface and his predecessor 100 years before, Innocent III. Whereas Innocent successfully dealt with the emperor and kings of England and France, not making a false step, measuring his power and that of his opponents, emerging triumphant, so triumphant that history – and this book – can speak of the ‘Age of Innocent III’, Boniface, it is said, misjudged both the times and his opponents, using traditional tactics and weapons, only to fail ignominiously, in the end to be stripped even of personal dignity. Another view suggests itself in a historical scene much more complex than can be satisfied by crude comparisons. In Philip the Fair, Boniface encountered an adversary more formidable than any of Innocent’s opponents. And Philip was well served by lieutenants moved by overarching ambition. As Thomas Cromwell was to Henry VIII and Cardinal Richelieu was to Louis XIII, so too Flotte and Nogaret were to Philip the Fair: immensely talented, single-minded, ruthless, unbothered by sentiments of justice or morality, moved solely by a lust for power to be gained through their master. Perhaps no pope could win out, arrayed against such foes. A new nationalism, it might be argued, played its role in this conflict. To be sure, the French kings were extending the areas of France over which they held direct authority and wars with the English and Flemish produced some sentiments of ‘national’ feeling. The king, it may be argued, was expressing these ‘national’ aspirations and the pope failed to reckon this ‘nationalism’ into his calculations. Yet it is almost to read history backwards to see in the opening years of the fourteenth century a sense of nationalism not present in reality until the seventeenth century. Philip wanted power, and his advisers wanted access to that power, and nothing and no one would stand in their way, not even the pope. A case can be made that the pope, if anything, was too pliable for too long in his dealing with the French kings.

The story can be briefly told. The immediate issue had to do with the French king taxing the church to help finance his war with England. The clergy of France complained to the pope that the king was taking church money to finance a war not against the infidel but against a fellow Christian prince for purely secular purposes. The powerful Cistercian order pressed their strong disapproval:

The church is not bound to such extraordinary demands without the authority of the pontiff.

They were soon joined by ‘all the clergy of France’ in complaining that the king was treating them far worse than the pharaoh had treated the Israelites. The papal response to the complaints from France was the papal bull, known from its opening words, Clericis laicos (24 February 1296). It took account of the fact that both the king of France and the king of England were taxing the clergy on income derived from church properties to finance their war. The pope mentioned neither party by name, and his bull was addressed generally, but the meaning was clear. Unnamed laymen (laicos) have imposed burdens on the clergy (clericis) by exacting parts of their revenues, and some clergy, without receiving permission from the pope (required in such circumstances by provision of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215), have acquiesced to these exactions, fearing whom there is no reason to fear, settling for the peace of the moment, afraid more of offending the temporal than eternal majesty.

Boniface went on to excommunicate rulers who acted in this way as well as clergy who, again, without papal permission, made such payments. Experienced diplomat as he was, Boniface gave wiggle room to Philip by using the words italicized here. They could, as indeed they did, provide the space for manoeuvre by both sides. There is every reason to believe that Boniface was caught surprised by the reaction of Philip to this bull. It had not been sent to Philip nor to any other king; Philip learned about it when, almost two months after it was issued, the archbishop of Narbonne asked the king to be excused from paying taxes and cited the papal bull. In an attempt to show even-handedness Boniface then, on the same day, ordered his legates to England and France to publishClericis laicos, thus not putting either party at a disadvantage by losing ecclesiastical revenues. A compromise was in the works. The pope, while retaining the principle of clerical immunity, now allowed that in extreme national emergencies a king could proceed to tax the clergy without the delay involved in obtaining papal permission. Also, the pope chose this time (11 August 1297) to canonize Louis IX, grandfather of Philip the Fair. The matter could have ended there, but Philip sensed a wounded Boniface and pressed for the kill.

The French now conspired with the Colonna family, arch-enemies of the pope and his Gaetani family, to bring down the pope. In May 1297 the Colonna had waylaid a convoy bringing the pope’s personal money from Anagni to Rome and made off with a fortune. Infuriated, Boniface threatened the two Colonna cardinals to effect its return or face the consequences. They agreed, and so it happened, but, still furious, Boniface demanded even more. The Colonna cardinals, who in fact had voted for Boniface and who had acknowledged him as pope, now claimed that Celestine could not resign and that Boniface’s election was invalid. The cardinals were summarily stripped of their office, and they then added to their accusations against Boniface that he had actually murdered the imprisoned Pope Celestine. The French had found their allies in Italy. Pierre Flotte, chief adviser to Philip the Fair, came to Italy and mischievously told the Colonnas that the French supported their call for a general council to resolve the issue of Boniface’s election. Flotte had a broader scheme in mind than merely stirring the Italian pot. He planned to restore a Latin king at Constantinople, who, of course, would be French, and to set up Frenchmen as kings of Lombardy and Arles. Charlemagne revisited and Napoleon anticipated: France was to be in effective control of western Christendom, the German and English monarchs marginalized and the pope a French puppet, awarded with control over Florence. In the midst of the Holy Year, Pierre Flotte went to Italy again, and, in a meeting with Boniface, told him that people were saying that he was not really the pope, that he had murdered the late Celestine, whom he had imprisoned, and that he was a heretic. At about the same time, complaints were coming to Boniface from French bishops, telling stories of the king infringing their authority. By now Boniface recognized that Philip the Fair was wholly unresponsive to his efforts to alleviate tensions between them. On 18 July 1300 he wrote to the king:

At length, God’s vicar cannot remain silent for fear that he might be accused of being a dumb dog, incapable of speech. For a long time he has waited in patience, hoping that a merciful resolution might be reached, but now he must speak out.

All it would take now was an incident to trigger the almost inevitable explosion, and it happened a year later.

In the summer of 1301 the bishop of Pamiers was arrested by an armed guard and was to be tried on charges before a secular tribunal. Becket had died in defence of the principle of clerical immunity from lay courts. Philip and his advisers, particularly, it would seem, Guillaume de Nogaret, aimed to confront the pope by their clear violation of canon law. Some of the French bishops, hitherto rather silent, protested at the king’s treatment of their fellow bishop. Still hoping to resolve the issue but not willing to compromise further, Boniface, perhaps unwisely, wrote a fatherly letter to Philip, Ausculta fili (‘Listen, son’) very late in 1301. The letter was burned when received, and a forgery was quickly produced, which attributed to the pope claims concerning his authority in temporal matters, which had not in fact been made in the letter. When a delegation of French bishops appeared before the pope in June 1302, he denounced by name three French royal advisers as responsible for the forgery and for publicizing it: Pierre Flotte, Robert of Artois and the count of St Pol. Evil things will befall them, the pope prophesied. And just over a fortnight later all three were killed in a battle in Flanders. If the pope needed any reassurance for his position, this was surely it. When less than half of the French bishops attended a council in Rome in the autumn of 1302 and no results were achieved, Boniface issued his most famous decree.

The bull Unam sanctam Boniface issued on 18 November 1302, and it remains the best-known pronouncement of a medieval pope. Its principal emphasis is on the unity of the church, its opening words being, ‘There is one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.’ The pope is head on earth of this one church, and anyone who denies the pope’s authority is not part of that one church. For that reason Boniface asserted that the two swords of power, the spiritual and the temporal, were both given by God for the service of the one church. The spiritual with the goal of human salvation transcends in importance all things material. From this it follows that the spiritual power can and should judge the temporal when it departs from the ways of goodness. The bull’s concluding sentence reads,

We declare, state, define and pronounce that it is necessary for salvation for all human beings to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.

This might sound as if the pope were declaring universal power, but it is a statement concerning his spiritual authority and not about the relations of church and state. Although no mention was made of the king of France or, indeed, any other temporal ruler, the meaning had to be patently clear to Philip: the pope was claiming that Philip had morally erred by his treatment of the church and that the pope had the right and duty to correct him. In response to a papal legate sent to France to threaten Philip with dire consequences should he not reverse his treatment of the church, the king claimed that the pope misunderstood him and his intentions. A clash of wills with dramatic consequences was about to occur.

It was now open season on the pope and his character. The first shot was fired at a meeting of king and council at the Louvre Palace on 12 May 1303, when Nogaret accused the pope of not being pope but of being heretical, simoniacal and guilty of unspeakable sins: he should be tried by a general council. In June the king called an assembly of the great men of the realm, including 5 archbishops, 21 bishops and 11 abbots. An indictment of Boniface was read to the assembly:

he consults sorcerers

he does not believe in transubstantiation

he forces priests to violate the secrets of confession

he fails to fast

he commits sexual sins

he murdered Pope Celestine V

he hates Frenchmen and says he would rather be a dog than be a Frenchman and other charges, twenty-nine in all

The assembly appealed for a general council that would resolve the Boniface problem. French bishop after French bishop subscribed to the appeal for a council; the notable holdouts were the Cistercians. When the pope learned of these events, probably not till August, he prepared a formal, explicit excommunication of Philip the Fair to be nailed to the cathedral door at Anagni, where the pope was spending the summer. The date set for this was 8 September.

Meanwhile, Nogaret was at Siena, preparing for a personal attack on the pope, whom he planned to abduct physically and bring to France for trial. On 7 September, with a large band of Italian mercenaries, possibly 1,000 in number, Nogaret with Sciarra Colonna at his side entered Anagni. In the early evening they forced their way into the papal palace and into the pope’s room. They found Boniface sitting on the papal throne, clothed in papal robes and clutching a cross to his breast. Sciarra Colonna was probably intent on murder, and some accounts say that he actually struck the pope. ‘Take my head and pierce my breast’, Boniface said calmly. Nogaret intervened, for a martyred Boniface was not in his plans. The tenor of feeling among the townspeople of Anagni quickly turned against the attackers, for, whatever minor grievances they may have held against the pope, he was one of them, a son of Anagni. Nogaret now had to flee for his life. Boniface had a harsh critic in Dante, but even the poet was deeply disturbed by this attack on the pope:

The fleur-de-lys I see Anagni invade,
And, in his vicar, Christ is made captive.
I see Him mocked a second time;
The vinegar and the gall again renewed,
And Him slain again between living thieves.
The new Pilate [Philip] I also see,
So cruel that he is not even sated by this.

(Purgatorio, 20, 86–92)

Broken and weary of life, Boniface returned to Rome to die, and on 12 October 1303 there ended the troubled pontificate of this pope of contradictions.

History should perhaps be less severe than was Dante, who at least ten times inveighed against Boniface in Divine Comedy. Not by name but by clear reference Dante called him, ‘the prince of a new breed of Pharisees’ (Inferno, 27, 85). The poet reserved a place for him among the simoniacs in the eighth circle of hell (Inferno, 19, 53). To be sure, he and Boniface were political adversaries in the impassioned world of contemporary Italian politics, and Dante, the greatest of medieval poets, cannot be seen as a sober detached observer of popes, who by now had become active players in contentious politics, which inevitably distracted them from their spiritual mission. Let the final word be from Dante, who meets St Peter in paradise and puts in the mouth of the first pope the words,

Wonder not if I change colour
For, as I speak, you shall see
All change with me.
He who on earth usurps my place,
Yes, my place, my very place,
Which lies vacant in the eyes of the Son of God,
Has made my tomb a common sewer of blood and pollution
Into which the malignant fall.

(Paradiso, 27, 139–41)

A harsh judgement, but one aimed at unworthy popes who have polluted Peter’s grave. Should history include Boniface among them? Almost certainly not.


By the time of the death of Ferdinand III, king of Castile, in 1252 Christian kings ruled almost all of Iberia. Seville, the great Muslim city and, for the Christians, a great prize, had fallen in 1248, and, in the immediate aftermath, resistance crumbled. Ferdinand’s son, Alfonso X (d. 1284), consolidated the victories by annexing two small Muslim states and by beginning a Christian settlement of some of these regions. From the late thirteenth century all that remained of Muslim rule in the Iberian peninsula was the emirate of Granada, which would remain Muslim until 1492. The reconquest of Spain was all but complete.

The use of the phrase ‘Reconquest of Spain’ to describe the successful taking of Muslim lands by Christian kings has long been in dispute. It has been a dispute not wholly divorced from modern events in Spain, particularly the central event in modern Spanish history, the Civil War (1936–39). Those political considerations put aside, the objection to the use of Reconquista is that it distorts the history of the period 711 to 1492. To make the Christian reconquest the central and defining issue, many believe, neglects other, more or, at least, equally significant issues of a social, economic, political and even ecclesiastical nature. It cannot be argued here that the reconquest was the goal of all Christian rulers at all times, for it was not, or that alliances were not struck between Christian and Muslim rulers, for they were, very often against other Christians, or that Christian rulers were always motivated by high principle, for very frequently crass self-advantage lay behind their land-taking. Motivation was seldom pure and probably never wholly altruistic.

The sense of ‘reconquest’ depends both on contemporary articulations of this ideal and post factum, modern historical constructs, although the latter perhaps have had greater influence on historical writing. What can be said is that the expansion of Christian holdings over this long period led in time to the control of the entire Iberian peninsula by Christian rulers. The goal of reconquering was enunciated shortly after the Arab conquest, when, according to a later chronicle, in 722 a Christian prince, in a cave in the Cantabrian Mountains, told his warriors,

We trust that by the mercy of the Lord from this hill will come the recovery of Spain and the restoration of the [Visi-]Gothic army … We trust in God to restore church, people and kingdom.

Writing about 883, another chronicler said, ‘Our glorious lord, prince Alfonso, will rule over all Spain.’ There can be little doubt that the reconquest existed as a goal from fairly soon after the Muslim conquest up until the time that the reconquest was completely accomplished, yet it was often little more than a vague and unarticulated desideratum and for long periods not a matter of very high priority.

When last seen (chapter 3), Spain was being conquered by a Muslim army that left but a small remnant of the peninsula unconquered. That remnant had no exact borders but extended across the top of Spain from the eastern slopes of the Pyrenees to the Atlantic Ocean on the west. It is mountainous terrain, dominated by the Pyrenees and the Cantabrian Mountains. It was scarcely worth the effort for the Muslims to try to ferret out the resistance in these areas. Thus, from 719, when the Muslim conquest can be said to have been completed, there were two sets of Christians in the peninsula, those living in the mountainous north and those living under Muslim rule in the rest of the peninsula, the area called al-Andalus. The condition of the latter Christians should be looked at first.

As elsewhere, the Muslims treated their non-Muslim subjects (Christians and Jews) with a tolerance greater than the tolerance shown at that time in most Christian countries to religious minorities. Christians could continue to practise their religion, and no attempt at forcible conversion to Islam was made. There were some minor restrictions regarding the public display of Christianity: not allowed were public Masses and public processions as well as the ringing of church bells. In addition, Christians paid significantly higher taxes than the Muslims, as did the Jews. The Christians, however, with their churches still standing and their bishops still in place, continued much as before the conquest. Yet the powerful Arabic culture had a penetrating influence. Large numbers, while remaining Christians, adopted Arabic ways, including the Arabic language. From the eleventh century they were called simply Mozarabs (i.e., like-the-Arabs), although that term may not have been used everywhere: cultural Arabs and religious Christians. The so-called Mozarabic rite used by Christians in Spain till the eleventh century is a misnomer, for it was used in Spain before the Arab conquest, and, after that conquest, it was used in Christian Spain in the north as well as in al-Andalus and, in fact, was a Latin-language rite. The Christian scriptures were translated and annotated in Arabic, for, indeed, that language had become the vernacular language of a considerable number of Christians in al-Andalus. A Christian writer, at Cordova in the middle of the ninth century, lamented this development:

Many fellow Christians read the poems and stories of the Arabs and study the works of Islamic theologians and philosophers, not to be able to refute them, but to learn correct and elegant Arabic. There is scarcely one Christian in thousands who can compose an acceptable Latin letter to a friend, but the number is countless of those who speak in Arabic and there are even many who can compose in Arabic more artfully than the Arabs themselves.

Yet, even without pressure, many Christians converted to Islam. We may never know how many, but reliable estimates suggest that by the eleventh century a majority or a near majority converted. Their conversions were frequently suspect and, for some time, their descendants (muwalladun) were not fully accepted by their Arab masters.

The rule of al-Andalus was originally from the Umayyad caliph in far-away Damascus. When that dynasty fell in 750 and was succeeded by the Abbasids, who moved their capital to Baghdad, a prince of the Umayyad family escaped to Spain and set himself up as emir over Spain, thus creating an independent Umayyad dynasty with its seat at Cordova. There on the site of the Christian cathedral was built the Great Mosque, one of the marvels of world architecture. The emirate and, later, the caliphate of Cordova flourished for centuries. The Muslim settlers were Arabs, the elite leaders of the conquest, who took the prized lands in the south, and the Berbers (i.e., Moors), the bulk of the soldiery of the conquest, who got poorer lands in the northern plateau. Inevitably friction between these two Muslim groups led to at least a partial abandonment of the northern lands by the Berbers, thus leaving something of a vacuum for Christian expansion southward from the mountains. Some evidence suggests that the movement south, now and later, served to relieve serious demographic stresses in the Christian-held regions, where there was a growing imbalance between population and basic resources for subsistence.

The Christian remnant in the far north, within a century or so, appears in several broad groupings. In the north-east, growing up around Barcelona in the region soon to be called Catalonia, was the Christian county of Barcelona. To its west in the southern slopes of the Pyrenees was Aragon. Catalonia and Aragon were both to expand to the south, and, in 1137, each having doubled its territory, the two federated, forming what has become known to history as the Crown of Aragon, although Aragon was the junior partner. Traversing the Pyrenees at their westernmost part was the Basque principality of Navarre, its principal settlement at Pamplona. To the west of Navarre and south of the Bay of Biscay was Castile. And further to the west across northern Iberia south of the Bay of Biscay there developed the Christian region of Asturias with Oviedo as its central town and with a shrine to St James (Santiago) soon to be built at Compostela. It was from these regions that the ‘reconquest’ started and grew not steadily but in spurts.

By 911 the king of Asturias had conquered a large part of the lands to his south, much of it underpopulated. Within 50 years the town of Leon had become the centre of Asturian rule and the associated frontier principalities of Portugal and Castile had appeared. Neither exact dates nor exact territorial borders should be expected, but by about 1040 a line drawn across the peninsula roughly from just below Oporto on the west to just below Barcelona on the east, along the Duoro and Ebro Rivers,

Plate 19 Great Mosque, Cordova. Reproduced by permission of the Courtauld Institute of Art.

would give a broad indication of where Christian and Muslim areas met, although Salamanca and Saragossa were still in Muslim hands.

A crucial moment came in 1031, when the caliphate of Cordova fell. For the previous 25 years the caliphate was disputed, as various Muslim factions fought one another, some supported by Berbers and others by Christians. When the Arab aristocracy of Cordova finally abolished the caliphate, al-Andalus was already fractured into many conflicting parts. What emerged from these troubles was a collection of a score or so of small Muslim states (taifas), ruled by local kings. The Muslim rule in the peninsula was in deep crisis, a crisis of its own making, from which it would never recover. The ‘reconquest’ was now in the ascendant. At this time, a Christian knight is reported to have said to a Muslim ruler,

In the beginning the Christians had al-Andalus, until you Arabs drove them into the poor region of Galicia. Circumstances have now changed. Since it is now possible for us to recover these lands by force, we will weaken you, and, when you no longer have money and soldiers, we shall easily conquer the country.

Whether boast or prophecy, the predicted outcome was to occur but not ‘easily’.

The Franks had long had an interest in Spanish affairs, particularly in the northeast, where the Carolingians had established counties (e.g. Barcelona), but, in the last half of the eleventh century, the reformed and reforming papacy signalled its interest. Alexander II (1061–73) encouraged Christian warriors to join the fray, and, in 1064, French armies, led by nobles, joined with the forces of Catalonia and Aragon to besiege Barbasto. Although promised safe conduct if they surrendered, the Muslim inhabitants were slaughtered as they made their way out of the city gates, and in the slaughter it was the French ‘crusaders’ who distinguished themselves by unspeakable barbarities, at least according to Spanish sources. In that same year, 1064, Christian armies took Coimbra, and King Ferdinand I of Leon–Castile appointed a count for Portugal. Further advances were soon to take place in the western part of the peninsulas as Portugal was taking shape. Alexander’s successor, Gregory VII (1073–85), encouraged military support for the campaigns in Spain, although, when that support came, it was exercised almost exclusively in eastern Spain between the Pyrenees and the Ebro River. No one knew it in the 1080s, but the future lay with Leon–Castile, the central kingdom, definitively united in 1230 as the kingdom of Castile, which would push further and further south, expanding on broad flanks. In a moment of some drama, the talented king of Leon–Castile, Alfonso VI (1065–1109), won the surrender of Toledo and entered the city on 25 May 1085. For the first time since 712, a Christian king entered what had been the seat of Christian kings before the Muslim conquest, although, for strategic reasons, Alfonso did not move his capital there. Alfonso promised tolerance to the Muslim inhabitants of Toledo and had to be restrained from executing those of his followers who, acting against his wishes, seized the Great Mosque and converted it into a cathedral. Alfonso’s victory gave him control over the heartland of the peninsula. The taking of Toledo put the Christian king within striking distance of Valencia and Cordova and must rank high among the principal events of medieval Spanish history.

What Alfonso VI may have forgotten – and what students of medieval Spain should never forget – is the African connection. The Berbers, who had helped to conquer and settle Spain, were North Africans. Across narrow straits from Muslim Spain lay a kindred people, sharing a common culture and religion. After the fall of Toledo the petty kings of the taifas panicked. A contemporary Muslim writer commented,

It is from the edges that a robe unravels, but I see the robe of the peninsula unravelling from the centre.

In this unravelling the Muslim leaders looked to North Africa, to Berber cousins, to save them from the Christian threat. Enter the Almoravids. Half a century or so earlier, in North Africa, a zealous Muslim preached a fundamentalist interpretation of the Koran. He drew followers from among the Berber tribes of the Sahara. They believed in a strict, even fanatical, interpretation of Muslim laws, fighting against fellow Muslims who disagreed with them. At the time of the fall of Toledo they controlled Morocco and western Algeria. In 1085 they stood poised to cross the straits. It was to these Almoravids that the Muslim rulers turned. They soon regretted their decision. By 1094 the Almoravids controlled al-Andalus and had restored unified Muslim rule at the expense of the local Muslim rulers. At this moment, the man known to history as El Cid (The Lord), Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, captured Valencia from the Muslims and held off an Almoravid attempt to take the city. The El Cid, hero of the Poem of El Cid, the Castilian epic, came to symbolize the Reconquista, although the real El Cid was a mercenary, fighting at times for Christian and at other times for Muslim rulers. It is this historical El Cid who comes nearer the representative norm. Valencia, however, was to fall to the Almoravids in 1102 and remained in Muslim hands for over 100 years. Within 25 years of these events at Valencia associated with El Cid, the Almoravid power began to wane as peoples in al-Andalus became restive and new taifas began to appear. Christian kings took advantage of this situation. The Aragonese were able, in 1118, to take Saragossa, situated at a strategic point on the Ebro. This positioned them for the eventual taking of the region of Valencia.

From across the same straits another group of Berbers, the Almohads, having already destroyed the Almoravid empire in North Africa, stood ready to do the same in Spain. They arrived in the spring of 1146 and soon controlled parts of southern Spain and the Algarve to the west. Within a year they had seized Seville, Cordova and much of al-Andalus. In this unsettled atmosphere Christian kings once again took advantage of the situation. In 1147 Alfonso Henriques, count of Portugal but now styling himself ‘king of Portugal’, seized Lisbon, aided by over 10,000 crusaders, who had landed at Oporto on their way to the Holy Land. In the same year, Castilians gained Almeria, their window to the Mediterranean, yet it was a short-term gain, for it was to fall to the Almohads. These new Berbers were exerting themselves forcefully and by 1172 controlled most of al-Andalus. Yet, like the Almoravids before them, they soon settled in as but another aspect of the peninsular landscape.

The recently established military orders of knight-monks (see p. 119) were not happy with this fairly peaceful status quo. The archbishop of Toledo and other bishops also found the situation unsatisfactory. In 1209 Pope Innocent III urged the archbishop to convince the king of Castile to reopen the campaign. The result was a crusade. Innocent granted crusading indulgences, urged Christians, particularly the French, to assist and, further, admonished the Christian kings of the peninsula not to attack one another. At Pentecost, 1212, a crusading army gathered at Toledo. They marched south, French, Aragonese and Castilians. After an early victory the French withdrew, allegedly because of the heat, and their place was taken by Navarrese. At the plain called Las Navas de Tolosa a bloody battle ensued, at which the crusading army triumphed. The Almohad threat had effectively been ended. The three Christian kings of Castile, Leon and Portugal met at Coimbra in November and agreed to put aside their differences and to join together in a push against the Muslims.

Between 1212 and 1252 the momentum from Las Navas de Tolosa led to the capture of town after town, region after region, until all that was left of Islamic Spain was the emirate of Granada. For all intents and purposes, the ‘reconquest’ was complete: the peninsula, Granada excepted, was ruled by the Christian kings of Castile (lastingly united with Leon in 1230), Aragon (and Catalonia) and Portugal. Population displacement occurred as Christians began to settle in the cities of the south. Conversions of Muslims to Christianity followed, but they were apparently no more forced than the previous conversions of Christians to Islam in the wake of the eighth century conquest. The story of the gradual conversion of the bulk of the Muslims has left little by way of record.

An exclusive emphasis on Reconquista does not give nearly a full picture of ecclesiastical history in the peninsula. The Christian territories experienced the changes affecting the Western Church generally. The impact of Cluny (see pp. 99–101) was early felt, although this is sometimes exaggerated. Bernard of Sediros, a French Cluniac and friend of the reforming Pope Urban II (1088–99), was imposed on the abbey of Sahagún in 1080 and became archbishop of Toledo shortly after its capture. During his long tenure (1086–1124) he helped to insert reforming French bishops into sees such as Valencia, Salamanca, Segovia and Zamora. The winds of reform brought the first papal legate in 1067, and many others were to follow. The new orders of the twelfth century came to Christian Spain, among them the Cistercians, Augustinians and Premonstratensians. In 1140 Alfonso VII of Castile granted lands for the first Cistercian monastery, at Fitero. Fairly quickly thereafter the White Monks were opening houses in recently conquered lands: in 1150 at Poblet and Santa Creus in Catalonia and in 1153 at Alcobaça in Portugal. In the following centuries the friars came very early and prospered. The Dominicans were founded by the Castilian Dominic. A Spanish province was established by 1221, and by the end of the century there were more than forty priories in Spain. In 1214 St Francis was in Spain, and in 1217 the Franciscan general chapter created a Spanish province and sent friars there to open a mission. They flourished, and centuries later, it was Franciscan friars who went to New Spain to open missions, many surviving to this day. Spanish bishops attended all the general councils of the period: 26 at the Fourth Lateran Council (1215). The popular devotions were the same as elsewhere in western Europe, but with a Spanish flavour. During the reign of Alfonso X of Castile (1252–84) the immensely popular Cantigás de Santa Maria (Canticles of Holy Mary) were composed, over 400 popular songs in the vernacular, extolling the role of Mary in saving souls ‘at the hour of our death’.

Map 17 Reconquista to c.1140

Map 18 Reconquista during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries

Spanish universities were among the earliest, following Bologna, Paris and Oxford. In 1209, the cathedral school of Palencia in Castile developed into a university, and, when it became moribund, its privileges went to Valladolid. Others followed: Salamanca in Leon (c.1227), Lisbon in Portugal (1290), which moved to Coimbra in 1355, Lorida in the County of Barcelona (1300) and Huesca in Aragon (1354). The fifteenth century saw the founding of six other universities. The questions asked by theologians at Paris and elsewhere were also raised and disputed at these centres of learning in the peninsula. Iberia had become part of the intellectual world of the Europe of the time.

As important as the contributions of the universities were, it may be argued, of far greater importance to the world of learning was what was transpiring at Toledo. It became the first and pre-eminent centre for the translation of learned works from Arabic into Latin. After the Christian capture of Toledo (1085) many Muslims stayed on and Jewish scholars fled there from the intolerance of the Almohads in the south. These translators were the principal agents for introducing Greek learning into the West. The knowledge of Greek in western Europe was nearly non-existent in the twelfth century, but the Arabs had long since translated the scientific and philosophical works of Greek antiquity into Arabic. Toledo became a centre where learned men translated the works of the Greek scholars from Arabic into Latin. There became known among Western scholars for the first time almost all the works of Aristotle and Plato (except some dialogues) as well as the works of many other Greeks, including Galen and Hippocrates on medicine and Ptolemy and Euclid on mathematics. The intellectual achievements of Western philosophers and theologians in the twelfth century and, particularly, in the thirteenth century would have been unimaginable without such translations. It might not be too great an exaggeration to say that without a Toledo there would not have been a Paris.

The ‘reconquest’ must take its place as one among several strands that made up the pattern of medieval Spain. Above all else, what was accomplished during this long period was the shift of the peninsula’s axis from Islamic Africa and the Middle East to the Christian world of western Europe. The ‘reconquest’ brought Spain back into Europe.

Further reading

Jacques Le Goff has written an extensive study in Saint Louis (tr. Gareth Evan Gollrad; Notre Dame, IN, 2009). Louis’s canonization and the subsequent cult is the subject of M. Cecilia Gaposchkin, The Making of Saint Louis: Kingship, Sanctity, and Crusade in the Late Middle Ages (Ithaca, NY, 2008). Joinville’s life of St Louis can be found conveniently in Joinville and Villehardouin, Chronicles of the Crusades (tr. M.R.B. Shaw; Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1963). For the popes of this period one can use with profit the essay by J. Watt in The New Cambridge Medieval History, vol. 5, c.1198–c.1300 (ed. David Abulafia; Cambridge, 1999). For Boniface VIII, still of value is T.S.R. Boase, Boniface VIII (London, 1933). For a detailed narrative of the pontificates of this period see Horace K. Mann, The Lives of the Popes in the Middle Ages, 1294– 1304, vol. 18, (London, 1932). Debra J. Birch’s Pilgrimage to Rome in the Middle Ages: Continuity and Change (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1998), although principally concerned with a somewhat earlier period, has a useful section on the Holy Year pilgrimages of 1300. H.L. Kessler and J. Zacharias, Rome 1300: On the Path of the Pilgrims (New Haven, 2000) presents an art-history view of Rome in the year 1300.

Medieval Spanish history has benefited from a number of valuable modern works. For a general overview one may start with Joseph F. O’Callaghan, A History of Medieval Spain (Ithaca, NY, 1975). For the coming of the Muslims see Roger Collins, The Arab Conquest of Spain, 710– 797 (Oxford, 1989). A somewhat impressionistic encomium on al-Andalus is Maria Rosa Menocal’s very readable Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain (Boston and New York, 2002). Two different views of ninth-century al-Andalus are Ann Christys, Christians in al-Andalus (711–1000) (Richmond, Surrey, 2002), and Janina Safrai, ‘Identity and Differentiation in Ninth-Century al-Andalus’, Speculum 76 (2001), 573–98. Kathryn A. Miller has written from Arabic sources about Mudejar scholars mostly in Aragon in Guardians of Islam: Religious Authority and Muslim Communities of Late Medieval Spain (New York, 2008). For the period it covers nothing surpasses Jocelyn N. Hillgarth, The Spanish Kingdoms, 1250–1410 (2 vols; Oxford, 1976–78).

The best account of the Reconquest in English is Joseph F. O’Callaghan, Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain (Philadelphia, 2003). Derek W. Lomax’s The Reconquest of Spain (London, 1978) remains a good account. Of considerable value are the works by Peter A. Linehan. His The Spanish Church and the Papacy in the Thirteenth Century (Cambridge, 1971) develops the theme of papal influence in Spain, and his History and the Historians of Medieval Spain (Oxford, 1993) should be consulted by every serious student of the subject. Dr Linehan writes about the crucial century and a half in Spain, 1157–1300 (Oxford, 2008). Bernard F. Reilly has written a series of learned books on medieval Spain; among them is The Contest of Christian and Muslim Spain, 1031–1157(Oxford, 1992). Among regional studies, of particular value is Thomas N. Bisson, The Medieval Crown of Aragon (Oxford, 1986). Robin Vose’s important study is Dominicans, Muslims and Jews in the Medieval Crown of Aragon (Cambridge, 2009). On the Mozarabs see Richard Hitchcock, Mozarabs in Medieval and Early Modern Spain: Identities and Influences (Aldershot, Hants., 2008), the essay by M. de Epalza, ‘Mozarabs: An Emblematic Christian Minority’, in S. Jayyusi (ed.), The Legacy of Muslim Spain(Leiden, 1992) and Rose Walker, Views of Transition: Liturgy and Illumination in Medieval Spain (London, 1998). The principal narrative sources of the reconquest can be found in Simon Barton and Richard Fletcher, trs, The World of El Cid: Chronicles of the Spanish Reconquest (Manchester, 2000).

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