The Christian reconquest of Spain proceeded as rapidly as the fraternal chaos of the Spanish kings would permit. The popes gave the name and privileges of crusaders to Christians who would help drive back the Moors in Spain; some Templars came from France to help the cause; and three Spanish military religious orders—the Knights of Calatrava, of Santiago, of Alcantara—were formed in the twelfth century. In 1118 Alfonso I of Aragon captured Saragossa; in 1195 the Christians were defeated at Alarcos; but in 1212 they almost wiped out the main Almohad army at Las Navas de Tolosa. The victory was decisive; Moorish resistance broke down, and one by one the Moslem citadels fell: Cordova (1236), Valencia (1238), Seville (1248), Cadiz (1250). Thereafter thereconquistahalted for two centuries, to allow time for the wars of the kings.
When Alfonso VIII of Castile was defeated at Alarcos the kings of Leon and Navarre, who had promised to go to his help, invaded his kingdom, and Alfonso had to make peace with the infidels to protect himself against the infidelity of the Christians.87Fernando III (1217–52) reunited Leon and Castile, pushed the Catholic frontier to Granada, made Seville his capital, the great mosque his cathedral, the Alcazar his residence; the Church considered him a bastard at his birth, and made him a saint after his death. His son Alfonso X (1252–84) was an excellent scholar and an irresolute king. Attracted by the Moorish learning that he found in Seville, Alfonso el Sabio, the Wise, braved the bigots by hiring Arab and Jewish, as well as Christian, scholars to translate Moslem works into Latin for the instruction of Europe. He established a school of astronomy, whose “Alfonsine Tables” of heavenly bodies and movements became standard for Christian astronomers. He organized a corps of historians who wrote under his name a history of Spain and a vast and general history of the world. He composed some 450 poems, some in Castilian, some in Galician-Portuguese; many were set to music, and survive as one of the most substantial monuments of medieval song. His literary passion overflowed in books written or commissioned by him on draughts, chess, dice, stones, music, navigation, alchemy, and philosophy. Apparently he ordered a translation of the Bible to be made directly from the Hebrew into Castilian. With him the Castilian language assumed the pre-eminence from which it has since ruled the literary life of Spain. He was in effect the founder of Spanish and Portuguese literature, of Spanish historiography, of Spanish scientific terminology. He tarnished a brilliant career by intriguing to secure the throne of the Holy Roman Empire; he spent much Spanish treasure in the attempt; he sought to replenish his coffers by raising taxes and debasing the coinage; he was deposed in favor of his son, survived his downfall by two years, and died a broken man.
Aragon rose to prominence through the marriage of its Queen Petronilla to Count Ramon Berenguer of Barcelona (1137); Aragon thereby acquired Catalonia, including the greatest of Spanish ports. Pedro II (1196–1213) brought the new kingdom to prosperity by protecting with vigorously enforced law the security of harbors, markets, and roads; he made his court at Barcelona the gay and amorous center of Spanish chivalry and troubadours, and saved his soul—and insured his title—by presenting Aragon to Innocent III as a feudal fief. His son Jaime or James I (1213–76) was five when Pedro died in battle; the Aragonese nobles seized the opportunity to renew their feudal independence; but James took the reins at ten, and soon brought the nobles under royal discipline. Still a youth of twenty, he captured the commercially strategic Balearic Islands from the Moors (1229–35), and regained from them Valencia and Alicante. In 1265, in a chivalric gesture of Spanish unity, he conquered Murcia from the Moors and presented it to the king of Castile. Wiser than Alfonso the Wise, he made himself the most powerful Spanish monarch of his century, the rival of Frederick II and Louis IX. His shrewd intelligence and unscrupulous courage likened him to Frederick; but his loose morality, his many divorces, his ruthless wars and occasional brutality discourage comparison with St. Louis. He conspired to seize south-western France, but the patient Louis outplayed him, though yielding to him Montpellier. In his old age James plotted to conquer Sicily as a bastion of strategy and a haven of commerce, and to make the western Mediterranean a Spanish sea; but the realization of this dream was left to his son. Pedro III (1276–85) married a daughter of Frederick’s son Manfred, King of Sicily, and felt entitled to that island when Charles of Anjou seized it with the blessing of the pope. Pedro renounced the papal suzerainty over Aragon, accepted excommunication, and sailed off to fight for Sicily.
As in England and France, this period saw in Spain both the rise and the decline of feudalism. The nobles began by almost ignoring the central power; they and the clergy were exempt from taxation, which fell the more heavily upon cities and trade; but they ended by submitting to kings armed with their own troops, supported by the revenues and militia of the towns, and endowed with the prestige of a reviving Roman law that assumed absolute monarchy as an axiom of government. At the beginning of the period there was no Spanish law; there were separate law codes for each state, and for each class in each state. Fernando III began, Alfonso X completed, a new system of Castilian law, which from its seven divisions came to be known as the Siete Partidas, or (Laws of) the Seven Parts (1260–5)—one of the most complete and important codes in legal history. Based on the laws of the Spanish Visigoths, but remodeled to accord with Justinian’s Institutes, the Siete Partidas proved too advanced for their age; for seventy years they were largely ignored; but in 1338 they became the actual law of Castile, and in 1492 of all Spain. A like code was introduced into Aragon by James I. In 1283 Aragon promulgated an influential code of commercial and maritime law, and established at Valencia, and later at Barcelona and in Majorca, courts of the Consulate of the Sea.
Spain led the medieval world in developing free cities and representative institutions. Seeking the support of the cities against the nobles, the kings gave charters of self-government to many towns. Municipal independence became a passion in Spain; little towns demanded their liberty from larger ones, or from the nobles, the Church, the king; when they succeeded they raised their own gallows in the market place as a symbol of their freedom. Barcelona in 1258 was ruled by a council of 200 members, of whom a majority represented industry or trade.88 For a time the towns were sovereign to the point of independently waging wars against the Moors or one another. But also they formed hermandades—brotherhoods—for mutual action or security. In 1295, when the nobles tried to subdue the communes, thirty-four towns formed the Hermandad de Castilla, pledged themselves to a common defense, and raised a joint army. This Brotherhood, having overcome the nobles, supervised and checked the officials of the king, and passed laws for the common observance of the member towns, which sometimes numbered a hundred.
It had long been the custom of Spanish kings to call, on occasion, an assembly of nobles and clergy; one such gathering, meeting in 1137, received for the first time the name Cortes, courts. In 1188, at the Cortes of Leon, businessmen from the towns were included—probably the earliest instance of representative political institutions in Christian Europe. In this historic congress the king promised not to make war or peace, or issue any decree, without the consent of the Cortes.89 In Castile the first such Cortes of nobles, clergy, and bourgeoisie met in 1250—forty-five years before the “Model Parliament” of Edward I. The Cortes did not directly legislate, but it formulated “petitions” to the king; and its power of the purse often persuaded his assent. A decree of the Cortes of Catalonia in 1283, accepted by the king of Aragon, ruled that thereafter no national legislation should be issued without the consent of the citizens (cives); another provision required the king to summon the Cortes annually; these enactments anticipated by over a quarter of a century similar pronouncements (1311, 1322) of the English Parliament. Furthermore, the Cortes appointed members from each social class to a Junta, or Union, to keep watch, in the intervals between the sessions of the Cortes, over the administration of the laws and funds that it had voted.90
The problem of government in Spain was complicated by divisive mountains impeding the wide enforcement of a common law. The uneven terrain, the dry plateaus, and the periodic devastations of war discouraged agriculture, and made Spain largely a grazing land for cattle and sheep. The fine sheep herds fed thousands of looms in the towns, and Spain maintained its ancient high reputation for the quality of its wool. Internal trade was harassed by difficulties of transport and diversities of weights, measures, and currencies; but foreign trade grew in the ports of Barcelona, Tarragona, Valencia, Seville, and Cadiz; Catalan merchants were everywhere; and in 1282 the merchants of Castile held a position in Bruges rivaled only by the Hanseatic League.91 Merchants and manufacturers became the chief financial support of the crown. The urban proletariat organized itself into guilds (gremios), but these were strictly controlled by the kings, and the working classes suffered economic exploitation without political representation.
Most of the industrial workers were either Jews or Mudejares—Moslems in Christian Spain. The Jews prospered in Aragon and Castile; they shared actively in the intellectual life of the two kingdoms; many of them were rich merchants; but at the end of this period they were subjected to increasing restrictions. The Mudejares were allowed freedom of worship, and considerable self-government; they too included many rich merchants; and a few found entry to the royal courts. Their craftsmen strongly influenced Spanish architecture, woodwork, and metalwork to the Mudejar style—the use of Moorish forms and themes in Christian art. Alfonso VI, in a catholic moment, called himself Emperador de los Dos Cultos—Emperor of the Two Faiths.92 But the Mudejares in general had to wear a distinctive garb, live in a separate section of each city, and bear especially heavy taxation. Ultimately the wealth aggregated by their industrial and commercial skill excited the envy of the majority race; in 1247 James I ordered their expulsion from Aragon; over 100,000 of them left, taking their technical skills with them; and Aragonese industry thereafter declined.
The partial absorption of Moslem culture into Spanish civilization, the stimulus of victory over an ancient enemy, the growth of industry and wealth, and of manners and tastes, stirred the mental life of Spain. The thirteenth century saw the establishment of six universities in Spain. Alfonso II of Aragon (1162–96) was the first Spanish troubadour; soon there were hundreds; and they not only wrote poetry, they developed the ceremonies of the Church into secular plays, opening a path to the triumphs of Lope de Vega and Calderon. To this period belongs the Cid, the national epic of Spain. Better than all these were the music, songs, and dances that flowed from the hearts of the people in their homes and streets, and graduated into the splendor and pageantry of the royal courts. The first recorded bullfight in the modern style was given at Ávila in 1107 to adorn a wedding feast; by 1300 it was a common sport in the cities of Spain. At the same time the French knights who came to help against the Moors brought the ideas and tournaments of chivalry. Respect for women, or for a man’s exclusive property in a woman, was made a point of honor as vital as a man’s pride in his courage and integrity; the duel of honor became a part of Spanish life. The mixture of European and Afro-Semitic blood, of Occidental and Oriental culture, of Syrian and Persian motives with Gothic art, of Roman hardness with Eastern sentiment, generated the Spanish character, and made Spanish civilization, in the thirteenth century, a unique and colorful element in the European scene.