The vernacular literatures of the Iberian Peninsula (Castilian, Catalan, and Gallego-Portuguese) show little evidence of crusading as a specific theme. Frequently involved in conflicts with each other and with the Muslims of al-Andalus, the Christian kings of Iberia were not inclined to participate in crusades to the Holy Land, with the notable exceptions of Alfonso X of Castile and James I of Aragon.
Even though modern historians date the beginning of the Iberian Reconquista (reconquest) to the eighth century, for a long time the religious aspect of the recovery of lost Christian territory from the Moors (the Muslims of Spain) was not of primary importance to the Christian rulers of the northern peninsula: periods of cultural exchange and mutual influence of the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic religions and cultures (Sp. convivencia) often coincided with strife. However, from the beginning of the tenth century, the desire for religious unification and reestablishment of the Visigothic kingdom was articulated by Christian rulers, particularly the kings of Leôn and Castile. For Portugal, the reconquest almost ended in the thirteenth century. The battle of Salado (1340), fought by an alliance of Castilians and Portuguese, produced the final victory for Portugal against the Moors of the peninsula. From that time, Portuguese voyages of exploration along the African coast, bound for Asia, were declared to be crusades, at a time when the crusades to the Holy Land apparently had come to an end. Thus, in the Crônica dos Feitos da Guiné by Gomes Eanes de Zurara, Prince Henry the Navigator (d. 1460), who sent out the expeditions to Asia, is characterized as a knight and crusader.
Iberia began to be affected by the idea of crusades from as early as 1095, when Pope Urban II in his call to crusade spoke of the necessity of fighting the Muslims in Spain. Later papal bulls and calls to crusade repeatedly and explicitly equated the Reconquista with the crusades to the East. Crusade ideas are evident in the Latin compilation known as the Codex Calixtinus, written after 1140. This ascribes to the fight against the “unbelievers” in Spain the same importance and religious merit as to the struggle to free the Holy Land; a pilgrimage to the Galician shrine of Santiago de Compostela has the same spiritual benefit, not only as a pilgrimage to Rome but also as a crusade to Jerusalem. It can be assumed that the composition of the Codex Calixtinus was closely connected to the special interests of the pope and the Cluniac Order, which aimed to give a greater importance to the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela by equating it with participation in a crusade to Jerusalem.
For a long time the absence of lyric poetry connected with the reconquest of the Holy Land was regarded as a peculiarity of the literature of the Iberian Peninsula. However, this view was radically altered with the discovery in the second half of the twentieth century of the poem Ay, Jherusalem! This work, belonging to the genre of lament or complaint (Sp. planto), is the only example of a lyric crusade poem in Castilian medieval literature. Its form belongs to the Castilian popular lyrical tradition: a stanza of five lines (two of twelve syllables and three of six syllables), the last line ending in the estribillo (refrain) “Iherusalem.” The poem probably dates from 1274, and is thus contemporaneous with the Second Council of Lyons; it may also be connected with the compilation of the narrative known as the Gran Conquista de Ultramar. Like the numerous crusade poems known from Old French, Occitan, and Middle High German literature, Ay, Jerusalem! clearly has a propagandistic purpose, namely, the recruitment of crusaders for the recovery of the city of Jerusalem, lost to the Muslims in 1244. The anonymous author describes in dark colors the cruelties of the Muslims and exalts the courage of the Christians. Besides this vernacular work, a Latin poem on the conquest of Jerusalem by the crusaders in 1099 (found in a manuscript also containing a poem on the Cid and another on Raymond Berengar IV of Barcelona) is also known to have originated in the Benedictine monastery of Ripoll before 1218.
The romance chronicle (crônica novelesca) known as La Gran Conquista de Ultramar, dating from the late thirteenth century, can be regarded as a unique and extraordinary example of a crusade narrative in the Iberian Peninsula. Based on French originals, it is a compilation that exists in Castilian, Gallego-Portuguese, and Catalan versions. The Castilian version was probably begun at the instigation of King Alfonso X of Castile, although his son and successor Sancho IV may well have been responsible for part of it. It may have served as propaganda for both kings: possible contexts are Alfonso’s interest in a crusade to the Holy Land or Sancho’s own campaigns against the Muslims of Spain. The core narrative (books 3 and 4) deals with the historical events of the crusades between 1095 and 1271, drawing on the Estoire d’Eracles (the French translation of the Latin chronicle of William of Tyre) and the Chronique d’Ernoul et de Bernard le trésorier. The other two books present predominantly fictional material concerning the legendary ancestry of Godfrey of Bouillon, the first Frankish ruler of Jerusalem (d. 1100), and the life of Charlemagne, king of the Franks and Holy Roman Emperor (d. 814); this material consists of translations or adaptations of French chansons de geste (epic poems), including some belonging to the Old French Crusade Cycle.
These interferences between history and fiction did not present a problem to the readers of the Middle Ages, for whom the Gran Conquista was a historical narrative. This was made clear by James I, king of Aragon (1264-1327), who in a document of 1313/1314 asked his daughter Dona Maria for a translation of the Gran Conquista into Catalan out of historical interest, as he expressed it. In that context it is worth noting that in 1269 there had been an Aragonese crusade to Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel) led by the bastard sons of James I, Fernando Sanchez and Pedro Fernandez. The Aragonese ambitions with regard to crusading in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were connected with the growing interest of merchants from Venice, Genoa, and Aragon in the routes to and ports in the Near East and North Africa. The “revival” and translation of the chronicle into Catalan reinforced this aim. The final version of the Gran Conquista de Ultramar, included in the Portuguese Crônica general of 1404, is the only example of crusade literature in Gallego- Portuguese; it is remarkable for its explicit connection of the crusades to the Holy Land with the Reconquista in the Iberian Peninsula, which is not found in the original Castilian text, or in the Catalan version.
The popularity of the Gran Conquista de Ultramar lasted for a long time. As the only vernacular narrative on the crusades to be produced in Iberia, it had a great importance for the evolution of the Spanish chivalric novel (Sp. novela de caballerias), which flourished during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as exemplified by the Castilian Amadis by Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo andTirant lo Blanc (first edition 1490) written in Catalan by Joanot Martorell (1414-1468). Even before these works were written, in the time of Sancho IV, or by the mid-fourteenth century at the latest, the Gran Conquista had been used as a source for an early novela de caballerias, the Historia de Enrique, fi de Oliva. It later went on to influence numerous other chival- ric novels, up to the composition of El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616), who superseded the chivalric novel with his masterpiece, thus initiating the modern novel.
Together with the Gerusalemme liberata of the Italian author Torquato Tasso, the Gran Conquista even served as a model for Lope de Vega’s La Jerusalén conquistada (1603), a tragic heroic epic dealing with the Third Crusade (1189-1192) and the deeds and adventures of King Richard the Lionheart of England and King Philip II of France, as well as King Alfonso VIII of Castile, who, at the instigation of Pope Innocent III, mounted a campaign that culminated in victory against the Muslims in the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212.
At the end of the fifteenth century, in the time of the “Catholic Monarchs,” Isabella I of Castile (1451-1504) and Ferdinand II of Aragon (1452-1516), there emerged a clear religious dimension in the political ideas of the final phase of the Reconquista as it was formulated by Pope Sixtus IV in his crusade bull of 1483, which defined the fighting against the Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula as a crusade.
Crusading in this wider sense had already begun to find expression in Castilian literature, as, for example, in the fourteenth century Libro de Patronio o Conde Lucanor by Alfonso X’s nephew Don Juan Manuel: though its first three books are devoted to worldly ethics inspired by ideas and writings from antiquity and oriental sources as a result of the influence of the convivencia, the fourth book propagates militant Christian attitudes toward Muslim and Jewish “unbelievers.” In the sections of his Libro de los Estados dealing with military science (chapters 76-79), Don Juan Manuel describes the peculiarities of warfare between Christians and Moors in a most realistic way. Another work to be mentioned in this context is one of the most famous poems of medieval Spain: the Coplas a la muerte de su Padre by Jorge Manrique (1440-1479), a poem of lament for his father, who had died in battle against the Moors.
The complex situation of the convivencia of the three cultures and religions in the Iberian Peninsula, as well as the continuous Reconquista, gave rise to literary testimonies to the encounter of Christians and Muslims in times of peace and war: these can be found in the anonymous fifteenth-century Romancero, a collection of poems (Sp. romances) in octosyllabic stanzas of diverse length and contents. It is in the romances histôricos (historical poems) and especially in the romances fronterizos (border romances) that the image of the “good” Moor appears and respect for him is manifested, in contrast to the official Christian policies of conversion and expulsion in the later Middle Ages. Examples of the best known romances are Moricos, los mis moricos, Romance del rey moro queperdiô Alhama, and Romance que dicen Abenâmar. The same positive image of the Moor is present in the novela morisca (Moorish novel) of the sixteenth century, for example, the anonymous Historia del Abencerrajey la Hermosa Jarifa (1561) and the Historia de los bandos de Zegriies y Abencerrajes, caballeros moros de Granada by Ginés Pérez de Hita.