In the tenth century, the kingdom of Asturias, which had slowly emerged as the political expression of resistance to the Muslims in northwestern Iberia, became the kingdom of Leôn after the Christians had occupied the basin of the river Duero. The most eastward expansion along the Duero exposed them to the attacks of the Muslims who had chosen that route for their punitive expeditions into Christian northern territories. That region developed into a strongly fortified frontier march, hence its name Castile (from Sp. castella, “castle”). King Sancho III of Navarre controlled the county of Castile after 1029. At his death in 1035, it passed to his second son, Ferdinand (Sp. Fernando), who assumed the title of king. Soon Ferdinand I of Castile acquired Leôn after the Leonese monarch Vermudo III met death fighting the Castilians at the battle of Tamarôn (1037). The kingdoms remained united until 1157 (save for a brief spell between 1065 and 1072) and again, permanently, from 1230 onward.
One of the main peculiarities of Castile-Leôn (as of medieval Iberia in general) in relation to other European kingdoms in the Middle Ages was its uneasy coexistence with the Muslims over eight centuries, a relationship that frequently led to war to defend or occupy lands and to impose the ideological cement of the Christian faith. That long struggle has been conventionally tagged Reconquista (reconquest), a label that has also been used to sum up the complex history of the Middle Ages in the Iberian Peninsula; that concept was and still is under debate. Traditional historians thought that the desire to reestablish the territorial and religious unity of the Visigothic kingdom was the leitmotif of medieval kings and counts and of social groups as a whole in Iberia. Modern research has related the north-south Christian expansion to the development of societies in search of new lands and has lowered the status of the embracing term Reconquista to the level of an ideological construct. It is true that no continuous process of conquest was possible without inner strength, but it is also true that later the effort was made consistent and historically significant through an image that linked present and future to the Visigothic past.
Originally both elements, the beginnings of unplanned territorial expansion by local groups and its ideological setting, devised by the monarchy as a means of enhancing its power, emerged in the central and western Christian territories of Iberia, that is to say in the kingdom of Asturias, in the second half of the ninth century. A series of chronicles written in the reign of King Alfonso III (866-910) became the official history of the new kingdom and highlighted the figure of the king by tracing his ancestry back to the time of the Goths. Previously, pockets of resistance against overwhelming Muslim control of the peninsula had probably lacked any conscious ideological understanding of continuity with the Visigothic past. Territories to the north of the Cantabrian Mountains had not been fully controlled before by the Romans or the Visigoths, and so their inhabitants had no deep commitment to the lost kingdom. The skirmish of Covadonga, later considered the mythical starting point of the Reconquista, was probably a small guerrilla incident carried out by a local populace with no wider significance. Gradually the defenders of the Cantabrian Mountains gathered strength and developed a society with enough dynamism to overflow its limits from the middle of the ninth century into the valley of the river Duero, a region that lacked effective Muslim control after the rebellion of the Berbers in the central decades of the previous century.
Territorial expansion and the ideological optimism of court chroniclers who expected the end of the Muslim presence in the peninsula in the near future were checked by the growing pressure of the new caliphate of Cordoba in the tenth century, when the center of gravity of central and western peninsular Christians was transferred to the city of Leôn, a nucleus that was nearer to the Duero axis than the previous, peripheral center of Oviedo. The political crisis in al- Andalus after 1031, which gave way to a split into several Muslim states (the so-called Taifa kingdoms), began to reverse the balance in favor of the Christian kingdoms.
The growing strength of Castile and Leôn in the mideleventh century did not lead to immediate expansion and war but rather to a policy of extorting tribute payments (Sp. parias) from the Muslim kingdoms; these payments weakened the Taifa kings just as they helped to consolidate the new Castilian-Leonese monarchy. As frequently happened later, what we might regard as the uncompromising project of reconquest was not the only alternative for monarchs ready to obtain income from the Muslims through peaceful means. A religious war of conquest was not contradictory to other ways of pursuing policies favorable to the nascent monarchies.
A remarkable shift of policies toward the Muslims took place in Castile-Leôn, as well as in other peninsular kingdoms, in the last decades of the eleventh century. Without abandoning the system of parias, which was complementary to open war, King Alfonso VI of Castile (1065-1109) pressed on militarily and conquered the city of Toledo in 1085. At the same time, the Roman Church was in the process of accepting violence for the Christian faith as a suitable path to salvation. The old tradition of religious war in Iberia began to combine with the Roman ideological preparation for the crusade when a new Muslim power menaced Christian superiority in the peninsula. The conquest of Toledo alarmed other Taifa kings to the point of seeking the aid of the Almoravids of western North Africa. They crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and routed Alfonso VI at Sagrajas (1086). The Castilian king’s call for help produced a French expedition, which did not go beyond Tudela in the valley of the river Ebro. After their victory at Sagrajas, the Almoravids aimed at controlling the mosaic of Taifa kingdoms, which came to resent their unifying policy.
The Kingdom of Castile and Leôn and its neighbors in the final stages of the Reconquest
The new invaders increasingly became a great menace to Castile-Leôn. The tributary relationship with the Muslims was no longer operative, as the Almoravids refused these practices, and Alfonso VI needed combatants to withstand military pressure. Pope Paschal II was well aware of the danger and insisted on forbidding Castilians and Leonese from travelling to Jerusalem. As Urban II had done previously in relation to Tarragona, Paschal II now equated military service against Iberian Muslims with the crusade to the East, offering similar spiritual rewards. The parallel between Jerusalem and the Iberian Peninsula was fixed in Canon 10 of the First Lateran Council (1123). Archbishop Diego Gelmirez of Santiago expressed it even more clearly at a council in 1125: Spain was the easiest way to reach the Holy Sepulchre. Reconquista and crusade, though always different paths, joined their ways at the turn of the eleventh century and went on doing so in the future, as long as the Castil- ian-Leonese kings used the crusade as a useful expedient to proceed with their policies of territorial expansion and monarchical reinforcement.
In the late 1140s, while the Second Crusade (1147-1149) was developing, important campaigns against the Muslims took place throughout Iberia. Lisbon fell in 1148 as a result of joint military action by King Afonso I Henriques of Portugal and Anglo-Norman and Flemish crusaders on their way to Outremer. That same year Count Raymond Berengar IV of Barcelona conquered Tortosa at the mouth of the river Ebro with the help of the Genoese. In 1147 King Alfonso VII of Castile-Leôn laid siege to and briefly occupied Almeria. At that time Pope Eugenius III placed campaigns in Spain and against the Wends in central Europe on the same level as actions in the East. A few years later the pope’s legate in Castile-Leôn took the initiative of promoting a crusade at the Council of Valladolid (1155). A new wave of uncompromising North African Muslims, the Almohads, had landed in Spain in 1146 and were beginning to impose unity on the scattered Taifa kingdoms. The proposal of Cardinal Hyacinth at Valladolid did not develop into a major campaign, but it was certainly a sign of the fears the Almohads aroused among Christians.
The renewed Muslim strength did not find a unified Christian opposition in central and western Iberia in the second half of the twelfth century. Castile and Leôn, which had remained united since 1072, were split between Alfonso VII’s sons on the latter’s death in 1157. This division led to opposition and frequent war between the two kingdoms. Portugal, which had broken its dependency onCastile-Leôn earlier on, was ready to foster turbulence. The kings of Castile and Leôn were keener on controlling each other’s territorial expansion than on checking the Muslims, whose alliance they sometimes sought, as Alfonso IX of Leôn and Sancho VII of Navarre did in 1196, after Alfonso VIII of Castile had quarrelled bitterly with the Leonese king on account of the victory of the Almohads over the Castilians at Alarcos in the previous year. Pope Celestine III was outraged at the sight of Christian monarchs fighting each other and blamed Alfonso IX, whom he excommunicated. Some historians even think that it was the king of Leôn the pope had in mind when he told the people of southern France that they could perform their crusading duties in Spain.
The increase of the Muslim pressure on Castile and Leôn in the second half of the twelfth century was the main stimulus for the establishment of military orders, which were given the task of defending the frontier. Two of the three new foundations were Cistercian offshoots. In 1147 Alfonso VII had entrusted the defense of the recently conquered position of Kalaat-Rawa (Calatrava), a fortress on the Guadiana River, to the Templars, but they soon abandoned the task. His son Sancho III of Castile offered the fortress in 1158 to Raymond, abbot of the Cistercian monastery of Fitero, who developed a military order within the Cistercian structure that was approved by the pope in 1164, after the monks had abandoned the place some time before and the Cistercian general chapter had agreed to incorporate the new development into the scheme of the Cistercian Order. The Order of St. Julian of Pereiro, which is documented for the first time in 1176, may have been originally a dependency of the Order of Cala- trava in Leôn. The link weakened as time passed, but it was still operative in the fifteenth century. The general chapter of Cîteaux of 1190 associated Pereiro with the Cistercian structure. In 1218 Pereiro received as headquarters the frontier town of Alcantara (in mod. Extremadura, Spain), which gave the order its future name.
The Order of Santiago was born in the southern fringes of the kingdom of Leôn in 1169, though its almost immediate association with the archbishop of Compostela and the protection of St. James broadened its appeal and stamped it with the name of the Apostle. Santiago had no connections with Cîteaux, and its rule, approved by the pope in 1175, had distinctive traits when compared with the codes of other orders. The geographical scope of Santiago was soon extended to Castile, when in 1174 King Alfonso VIII gave the knights Uclés, which became the headquarters of the order in that kingdom. In 1272 the new strategic character of the fight against the Muslims, which highlighted Christian control of the Strait of Gibraltar, favored the foundation of the maritime Order of Santa Maria de Espana whose short life came to an end when, already deprived of its naval character, it was incorporated in the Order of Santiago in 1281. All these new institutions, which appeared mainly in the twelfth century, shared basic principles with the prestigious orders of the Temple and of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem. Yet the fact that they were confined basically to the territories of Castile and Leôn meant that they had to align themselves with the wishes and policies of the monarchs of those kingdoms, who nonetheless initially left these institutions considerable freedom of action in internal affairs. From the fourteenth century onward, however, the kings controlled masterships, which they conferred on members of the royal family or on loyal nobles. The last step was the direct control of these institutions by the Castilian monarchy achieved by the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, at the end of the fifteenth century.
Warfare between Castilians and the Almohads after the battle of Alarcos (1195) was temporarily halted by a truce, which was prolonged until 1210. The lack of a military target for Castile in those years left the military orders idle. A project to transfer knights of Calatrava to the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem showed how the fight against Muslims at both ends of the Mediterranean was interchangeable. Alfonso VIII of Castile resumed hostilities in 1210, to the point that the Almohad caliph Muhammad al-Nasir crossed the straits in 1211 to face the Castilian aggression. The Muslim campaign in the summer of that year was aimed at striking at a symbolic fortress as a clear sign to the Castilians. Salvatierra, an advanced post conquered by the knights of Calatrava in 1198, was taken by al-Nasir. Alfonso VIII, alarmed at the turn of events and mindful of his imprudent move at Alarcos, prepared thoroughly for a campaign, which was to take place the following year. His appeal to Pope Innocent III was swiftly answered with a call to a proper crusade preached in France and Provence. Before the assembly date of 20 May 1212, Toledo was already bustling with ultramontanos (people from beyond the Pyrenees), who nonetheless left the expedition early after not being allowed any plunder when the fortress of Calatrava la Vieja was taken. A few remained, among them Arnold Amalric, archbishop of Narbonne; when commenting on the resounding victory of Las Navas de Tolosa (16 July 1212), he again established a clear parallel between all crusades: those against southern Saracens (the Almohads), but also those against Eastern schismatics (a reference to the Fourth Crusade) or Western heretics (the Cathars). The campaign of Las Navas de Tolosa had also gathered considerable peninsular contingents. The kings of Aragon and Navarre were present, but not the monarchs of Leôn and Portugal. Alfonso IX of Leôn even attacked Castilian territory, in disregard of all papal warnings.
The victory at Las Navas de Tolosa was less decisive than is often currently thought. A deceptive link can be established between the defeat of al-Nasir in 1212 and the extraordinary territorial expansion of the 1230s and 1240s in Andalusia. The immediate effects of the battle were not great. The conquests of Ùbeda and Baeza were quickly abandoned. Besides, Alfonso VIII’s death in 1214 introduced the uncertainties of a minority government in Castile (12141217), which was balanced by a similar situation in the Almohad caliphate. A truce was the obvious answer to internal weaknesses on both sides; it was to last for ten years. Apart from the victory of 1212, which like most medieval battles was not conclusive, other key aspects were at the heart of later developments in the central Iberian kingdoms. The Almohad caliphate began to disintegrate soon after al-Nasir’s death in 1213, leaving the feeble and quarrelling Taifa kingdoms to their own fate.
The final union of Castile and Leôn in the person of Ferdinand III, king of Castile from 1217 and of Leôn from 1230, was also decisive. It was not coincidence that the great expansion into the valley of the Guadalquivir took place after that date. Previously Ferdinand III’s father, the quarrelsome Alfonso IX of Leôn, who had been impervious to common crusading efforts before, had used the crusade to extend the frontiers of his kingdom as far as the fortress of Alcantara in 1217 and the cities of Mérida and Badajoz in the spring of 1230. The attitude of the papacy to the Iberian kings’ petitions after 1212 showed clearly that Rome, conscious of the impossibility of keeping two theaters of war active, swung its support either to East or West depending on circumstances. Innocent III and later Honorius III regarded matters in Iberia as temporarily settled by the victory of Las Navas de Tolosa and the subsequent truce. They thus favored actions in the East, such as the Fifth Crusade (1217-1221), and were ready to offer only ad hoc spiritual advantages to some campaigns in Iberia, like the one promoted by Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada, archbishop of Toledo. This policy of using scant European fighting manpower in one way or the other through the stimulus of spiritual benefices showed once again that the war against the Muslims had the same status in Iberia and in Outremer.
Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada was responsible for the initial stages of the great Castilian move to the south. In April 1231 he was granted the same privileges as those conferred by the Fourth Lateran Council to those journeying to the East, that is to say indulgence for those participating in the campaign as well as for those financing it. In that year he took Quesada and Cazorla. Nearby Ùbedawas conquered in 1233 by Ferdinand III, who was then ready to concentrate on military actions against the Muslims after having asserted his authority over the kingdom of Leôn. A bold and unexpected coup by a small Christian contingent that captured a section of the city of Cordoba at the end of 1235 forced the king of Castile- Leôn to undertake the conquest of that most symbolic city, which took place in June 1236 and was undoubtedly favored by the fierce opposition between the two main rulers of al- Andalus: Ibn Hûd, who controlled Cordoba, among other important centers, and Ibn al-Ahmar, king of Jaén and future founder of the Nasrid dynasty in Granada. In September 1236, Pope Gregory IX granted Ferdinand III post eventum privileges that ensured financial support by the church for the campaigns and protected the king from ecclesiastical sanctions. They also extended the same spiritual benefits conferred in 1215 on those voyaging to Outremer to those collaborating personally or economically in the wars against the Muslims in Iberia. Jerusalem was nevertheless the main goal, as shown when Gregory IX tried to enlist the support of the Iberian kings for the crusade that he had proclaimed in 1234, regardless of the fact that Ferdinand III in Castile-Leôn and James I in the Crown of Aragon were dealing with the initial stages of their great campaigns against the Muslims of al-Andalus. In 1244, the final fall of Jerusalem, which had been under precarious Christian control since 1229, increased the psychological pressure to aid the East at the precise moment when Ferdinand III of Castile-Leôn was launching the great campaign to conquer the whole Guadalquivir valley. Conflicting theaters of war led the knights of Santiago to abandon their commitment to assist the Latin emperor of Constantinople, according to a contract signed with the emperor in 1246, in the face of the military requirements of the projected conquest of Seville.
In the 1240s Castilian expansion on the southern and western regions of the Guadalquivir valley and into the kingdom of Murcia in southeastern Iberia reached its climax. In 1244 the Treaty of Almizra drew the final line between Aragonese and Castilian areas of expansion. The border ran from Biar in the inner coastal mountains to Denia on the Mediterranean Sea. James I of Aragon reached both points in 1244 and 1245, thus ending Aragonese territorial expansion in Iberia. The southern parts of Alicante and Murcia were either conquered or submitted to Castilian suzerainty, until the revolt of the Mudéjars in 1264 led to full control of those areas by Castile in 1266. At the same time that Ferdinand III was planning the extension of Castile to the Mediterranean, he began operations against Jaén in the upper Guadalquivir valley; the town surrendered in 1246. At the end of that year, he started the campaign to subdue Seville; by July 1247 the siege by land and sea was completed, and the city, with great defenses but devoid of any effective help from either Tunis or Morocco, had to surrender in November 1248.
Ferdinand III had thus achieved the spectacular acquisition of some 150,000 square kilometers (c. 57,900 sq. mi.) of land, which was also of immense significance because great centers of Muslim power fell into Christian hands. The emirate of Granada was now the only surviving Muslim state. Europeans were well aware of this feat; the English chronicler Matthew Paris commented that Englishmen regarded Ferdinand III as a true champion of Christendom, who had done more for the church than the pope and all the crusaders. Pope Innocent IV was of course also conscious of Ferdinand III’s contribution when he allotted the Castilian- Leonese king the third part of the tithe destined for the upkeep of churches (Sp. tercias), thus establishing a decisive precedent in crusade finance.
When Alfonso X of Castile-Leôn succeeded his father Ferdinand III in 1252, Muslim territory in Iberia had been drastically reduced to eastern Andalusia (the Nasrid kingdom of Granada) and some districts west of Seville. Alfonso X was planning an intervention in North Africa to check Moroccan help to Granada when a Mudéjar rebellion occurred in 1264, encouraged by the ruler of Granada, who resented the feudal submission of his kingdom to Castile-Leôn. The revolt was suppressed, not without difficulty, in 1265-1266, and the Nasrid king turned to North Africa for help. The usual cycle followed. The Marinids, one of the new unifying Muslim powers in North Africa, crossed the straits in 1275 and checked the disintegration of the remainder of al-Andalus, although their presence produced mixed feelings at the court of Granada, as the intervention of the Almoravids and Almohads had previously done in the Taifa kingdoms. Control of the northern coast of the straits to prevent easy communication with Africa thereafter became the main military objective of the Castilian-Leonese kings. Tarifa was conquered by Sancho IV in 1292, and Gibraltar fell briefly into Christian hands between 1310 and 1333. The Marinid effort to reoccupy Tarifa was halted by Alfonso XI at the battle of El Salado (1340). His subsequent siege and capture of Alge- ciras (1344) was not followed by that of Gibraltar because the king died of plague while conducting the siege of the Rock in 1350.
By the mid-fourteenth century, Castile-Leôn controlled the straits, although internal developments then delayed action against Granada for decades. The Castilian Civil War (1366-1369), which brought the Trastamara dynasty to the throne, focused the policies of the kings on strengthening their own position in the kingdom. Only Ferdinand of Ante- quera, regent for his nephew John (Sp. Juan) II, and future king of Aragon after the Compromise of Caspe (1412), was active against the Muslims of Granada. The fifteenth century witnessed a hard war of attrition on the frontier, but no important sustained campaigns, apart from those of the years 1431-1439 and of the early period of Henry IV’ s reign. Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, known as the Catholic Monarchs, finally put an end to the long status quo of forced submission to the Castilians and of intermittent rebellions of the Muslims. From 1482 they led a bitter war that chipped away at Nasrid territory until the city of Granada finally surrendered in November 1491. The outcome of this war was favored by internal dissensions in the royal court in Granada, a situation similar to the struggle among the Taifa kingdoms that had contributed to previous Christian conquests. Like their predecessors, Ferdinand and Isabella also benefited from the spiritual and financial support of the papacy, which was repeatedly given by Sixtus IV and Innocent VIII. Reconquista and crusade went hand in hand to the very end. They were different but converging processes, which had both been controlled by the Castilian- Leonese monarchy from the late eleventh century.