The Last Crusade in the West

The Last Crusade in the West traces Castilian efforts to conquer Granada from the middle of the fourteenth century until the end of the fifteenth. Although the Castilian kings neglected the reconquest for many years, Fernando and Isabel achieved the capitulation of Granada in 1492.

The Last Crusade in the West
Castile and the Conquest of Granada

Joseph F. O'Callaghan

2014 | 384 pages | Cloth $79.95
History / Religion
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Table of Contents

A Note on Money
Genealogical Tables
1. Kings of Castile-León
2. Kings of Portugal
3. Kings of Aragón
4. The Naṣrid Emirs of Granada

Introduction. Castile and the Emirate of Granada
Chapter 1. Pedro I: An Era of Ambivalence
Chapter 2. The Early Trastámaras: An Era of Peace
Chapter 3. The Crusades of Antequera and Ceuta
Chapter 4. The Failed Crusades of Juan II
Chapter 5. The Intermittent Crusades of Enrique IV
Chapter 6. Fernando and Isabel's Crusade: From Alhama to Málaga
Chapter 7. The End of the Crusade: From Baza to Granada
Chapter 8. The Frontier in Peace and War
Chapter 9. A War of Religions

List of Abbreviations

Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]

Castile and the Emirate of Granada

Ever since the Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in the eighth century, the Christians had fought to expel them. The present volume describes the ebb and flow of that conflict, known as the reconquest, from the middle of the fourteenth century until its completion in 1492. Accorded crusading status by the papacy, the struggle continued long after serious attempts to recover the Holy Land had been abandoned, and so can rightly be called the last crusade in the West.

The Reconquest: From Abeyance to Completion

Not long after the Muslims destroyed the Visigothic kingdom, independent Christians in the northernmost reaches of the peninsula expressed their hope of recovering the land that had been lost. The idea that the kings of Castile-León, as heirs of the Visigoths, ought to reconstitute the Visigothic realm, including the ancient Roman province of Mauritania in North Africa, gained early currency and persisted until the close of the Middle Ages. The achievement of that lofty goal was slow, but in the late eleventh century the balance of power shifted in favor of the Christians who drove the frontier south of Toledo on the Tagus River. Invaders from Morocco, first the Almoravids and then the Almohads, temporarily halted that advance but failed to regain lost territory.

Acknowledging that the war against the Moors (as the Christians called the Muslims) was in the interest of Christendom, successive popes offered participants the crusading indulgence or remission of sins, and various personal and proprietary legal protections. The papacy also provided financial aid from ecclesiastical income. As Portugal and Aragón reached their fullest extent by the mid-thirteenth century, only Castile, after conquering Córdoba and Seville, had a frontier directly abutting Granada, the last bastion of Islamic rule in Spain. In 1246, Ibn al-Aḥmar, the first of the Naṣrid dynasty and the founder of the emirate of Granada, in order to preserve his autonomy, became a Castilian vassal, promising court attendance, military service, and an annual tribute (parias). After the fall of Seville in 1248 the Castilian monarchs strove to consolidate their conquest and to dominate the Guadalquivir River valley to its mouth. Intent on curtailing invasion by the Marinids of Morocco, they tried to wrest control of Algeciras, Gibraltar, and Tarifa, ports giving access to the peninsula. Alfonso XI's victory at the Salado River in 1340 effectively ended Moroccan intervention. Though he conquered Algeciras in 1344, his death in 1350, while besieging Gibraltar, brought the crusade to a halt

Marinid decline isolated the Naṣrids, but, as they posed no significant threat, the Castilians felt no urgency to attack them. Consequently, the reconquest fell into abeyance. No longer troubled by a possible Moroccan intrusion, Pedro I concentrated on war with Aragón and the opposition of his half-brother, Enrique of Trastámara, but never undertook a sustained campaign against Granada. The Trastámara monarchs, concerned to secure their throne, arranged a series of truces with the Naṣrids extending into the early fifteenth century. The rupture of the truce enabled Infante Fernando, as regent for Juan II, to capture Antequera in 1410, but his election as king of Aragón diverted his attention from Granada. Quarrels with the nobility disturbed the long reign of Juan II, who defeated the Naṣrids at La Higueruela in 1431 but failed to gain any territory. His son Enrique IV ravaged Granada early in his reign, but increasing discord with the nobility and a dispute over the succession thwarted his efforts to subjugate the emirate. These intermittent crusading efforts are essential to a full understanding of the Castilian conquest of Granada and ought not to be passed over lightly.

After so many years of sporadic military operations, Fernando and Isabel, the "Reyes Católicos" or "Catholic Kings," made the conquest their chief priority. After bringing the fractious nobility to heel, they provided an outlet for their aggressiveness in the war against the Moors. With public order and the prestige of the monarchy restored, they marshaled the resources of the realm and of the church to support the war. Despite the expense and the exhaustion of their people, the king and queen, armed with crusading bulls, persisted in their task for ten years, using artillery to reduce one stronghold after another. Following the capitulation of Granada in 1491, they entered the city in triumph in January 1492. The reconquest was over. As a political entity Islamic Spain was no more. However, the incorporation of thousands of Muslims into the Crown of Castile proved to be a most arduous task.

Granada Around 1350

Mountain ranges intersected by valleys and plains dominated Naṣrid Granada and impeded the conquest. Dotting the landscape were walled cities, each with its citadel (alcazaba) and a string of dependent castles controlling the surrounding region. Countless watchtowers provided early warning of enemy movements in the contested no-man's land between Castile and Granada.

The Mediterranean Sea defined Granada's southernmost boundary. East of Gibraltar the ports of Estepona, Marbella, Fuengirola, Málaga, Vélez Málaga, Almúñecar, Salobreña, Adra, and Almería marked the coastline until it turned northward to Vera and Aguilas adjacent to Castilian Murcia. North of Gibraltar Castellar, Jimena, and Arcos de la Frontera established the western Castilian border before shifting eastward to Olvera. Opposite that line was Ubrique on the edge of the Sierra de Grazalema. Ronda, adjoining the Serranía de Ronda, was the most important Muslim fortress in the west. Between there and Málaga were Álora and Coín. The deep valleys and inaccessible terrain of al-Sharqiyya (Ajarquía) provided a strong defensive bulwark for Vélez Málaga and Málaga. On its northern edge was Alhama. From Olvera the northern frontier ran eastward through Antequera, Archidona, and Loja and then extended just north of the capital.

Traversed by the Genil and Darro rivers, Granada attained prominence in the eleventh century as the seat of one of the petty kingdoms (taifas) emerging from the disintegration of the Caliphate of Córdoba. The Naṣrids developed the palace of the Alhambra with its characteristic red walls on a hilltop overlooking the Albaicín, the nucleus of the medieval city. Numerous villages, farms, wheat fields, orchards, and vineyards, nourished by extensive irrigation canals in the vega or surrounding plain, provided an abundance of food. The Castilians regularly plundered the vega, just as the Moors crossed it to raid Castilian positions. Loja, on the Genil River, guarded access to Granada from the west, while on the north, Montefrío, Íllora, Moclín, Colomera, and Iznalloz formed a buffer against Castilian forays from Alcalá la Real, Priego, and Alcaudete. The Moors similarly raided the Castilian kingdom of Jaén from bases at Cambil and Alhabar in the northeast.

Granada lies in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada, a mountain range stretching eastward about forty-six miles. Spreading southward toward the coast is La Alpujarra or Las Alpujarras, a region of fertile valleys lying beneath sharply rising mountains. The Andarax River, bordering Las Alpujarras and the Sierra de Gador, flows southward to Almería. The principal towns east of Granada were Guadix, often the seat of minor branches of the royal family; Baza, bordered by the Sierra de Baza; Huéscar to the northeast; and Vélez Rubio and Vélez Blanco near the Murcian frontier. South of Baza were the Sierra de las Estancias and the Sierra de los Filabres, separated by the valley of the Almanzora River leading to Vera near the coast.

About 300,000 to 350,000 persons resided in the emirate. In the fifteenth century the capital had approximately 50,000 inhabitants, Málaga, 20,000, and Almería, 9,000. The numbers for Guadix, Baza, Loja, Alhama, Ronda, and Vélez Málaga were about 6,000 to 10,000 and for Antequera, Marbella, Coín, Vélez Blanco, Vélez Rubio, and Vera about 2,500 to 5,000. Many smaller places had between 500 and 1,000 residents. In contrast to the majority of Berber origin, the aristocracy claimed descent from the Arabs, but their rivalries often disturbed public order. Even worse were conflicts within the Naṣrid dynasty that weakened the monarchy and ultimately led to its downfall. Granada, where most people were Muslims, was hardly a land of three religions. There were only about 3,000 Jews, who were settled in coastal towns and the capital and dedicated to small crafts and commerce. The Mozarabs or indigenous Christian population had long since disappeared. Small numbers of Christian merchants, especially Catalans and Genoese, dwelled in the ports and principal cities. In the fifteenth century Christian soldiers served in the royal guard, but many converted to Islam. Most Christian inhabitants were slaves taken in wartime and put to hard labor in the towns and countryside. Some, in order to ameliorate their condition, became Muslims and rose to prominence in the royal court. There were also many black slaves from Africa.

Agricultural production included wheat, barley, and millet, but as the wheat supply was never sufficient more had to be imported from North Africa. Apples, oranges, and figs were produced in great quantities, as were olives and olive oil. Vineyards were plentiful and, despite the Qur'anic prohibition, wine was consumed regularly. Irrigation canals brought an abundance of water to thirsty fields. Sheep, cattle, and goats were raised especially in mountainous areas, but they were the constant target of Castilian marauders. Although iron, lead, and zinc were mined, there were few important deposits of gold and silver. Inland transport was difficult where good roads were lacking; mules were particularly useful in carrying goods over mountain passes.

Granada maintained an active overseas commerce with its Christian and Muslim neighbors. Its products could be found in the ports of Valencia, Cádiz, Seville, Lisbon, Tlemcen, and Tunis, and as far north as Montpellier, and Bruges. Dominating that trade were the Genoese, who were prominent in Málaga (where they had a consulate) and Almería. They imported wool and finished woolen cloth from Flanders and Tuscany, as well as cotton, spices, drugs, pearls, silver, oil, and paper from the east. Major exports included sugar, raisins, figs, almonds, and saffron. Exchanges at Málaga, Granada, and Almería regulated the quantity and quality of silk for export. After the fall of Granada many emigrants put their assets into easily transportable silk bundles that could be converted into other forms of wealth.

The tax burden was heavy partly because of the tribute owed to Castile. Although levied spasmodically, it usually amounted to 12,000 gold doblas or one-quarter to one-fifth of Naṣrid revenues. Especially important were the alms-tax of one-tenth ('ushr, zakāt, açaque), ordinarily payable in coin or wheat, barley, and millet, and a comparable levy on vineyards and olive orchards. Al-ma'ūna (almaguana) was an annual tax of 2.5 percent on landed property and al-fiṭra (alfitra) was a yearly head tax of 2 dirhams. Various taxes were imposed on livestock, including migratory sheep, either in coin or one to two head for every forty animals. A sales tax (magran) of 10 percent was comparable to the Castilian diezmo y medio diezmo de lo morisco of 10.5 percent. Other taxes were collected on fisheries and maritime commerce. Exports were taxed at 2.5 percent and imports at 11 percent. Inheritance taxes ranged from 17.3 percent to 34.6 percent. The Jews paid a poll tax (jizya).

Sources for Study

Christian narrative and documentary sources for this study are much fuller than previously. The anonymous Fourth General Chronicle continued the history of the Castilian kings down to 1454. Of greater value are the histories of individual monarchs by several laymen holding prominent positions in the royal court. A soldier, diplomat, and statesman, Pedro López de Ayala (1332-1406) has been called the first Castilian humanist. Initially an adherent of Pedro I, he abandoned him for Enrique II and thereafter loyally served Juan I and Enrique III, who appointed him chancellor. His chronicles of their reigns from 1350 to 1395 constitute a valuable record by a perceptive observer and participant in many events. Though he depicted Pedro I as cruel, he otherwise strove to be objective and generally displayed sound historical judgment. A poet of some ability, in his Rimado de Palacio he lamented contemporary immorality, the evils of the Great Western Schism, and government abuses.

The chief falconer Pedro Carrillo de Huete (d. 1454) chronicled the reign of Juan II from 1420 to 1450. Although his pedestrian style lacks literary grace, he was an eyewitness and utilized many chancery documents. Lope de Barrientos, the bishop of Cuenca (d. 1469) and royal confessor, subsequently amplified his composition.

Appointed the royal chronicler, Álvar García de Santa María (d. 1460), a convert from Judaism, began the detailed Chronicle of Juan II . An eyewitness of many occurrences, for others he secured "certain and complete information from prudent men, worthy of faith." His assessment of Fernando de Antequera is positive and he normally favored the king. Straightforward and almost journalistic in his recording of everyday happenings, he avoided hyperbole and exaggeration. The first part, covering the years 1406-19, focused chiefly on Fernando's activities as regent and later as king of Aragón. The second part spans the years 1420-34.

In 1517 when Lorenzo Galíndez de Carvajal (d. c. 1530), a member of Fernando and Isabel's council, revised the Chronicle of Juan II, he acknowledged that several others continued Álvar García's work down to the king's death. Chief among them was Fernán Pérez de Guzmán (d. c. 1460), whose reworking of the text is distinguished by its harmonious style and appreciation of the significance of historical events. A nephew of López de Ayala, he was active during the reigns of Enrique III and Juan II, but his opposition to Álvaro de Luna hastened his retirement. In Lineages and Portraits, he sketched the leading figures of his time whom he knew personally. His Praise of the Distinguished Men of Spain is a poetic description of kings, princes, bishops, and other great men.

Historical works relating to Enrique IV reveal the heated passions that marked the contemporary political arena. Alonso Fernández de Palencia (d. 1492), named the royal chronicler, supported the attempt to make Enrique IV's half-brother Alfonso king and later took the side of Isabel, who named him ambassador to Aragón. His Deeds of Spain, written in elegant Latin, extends from the end of Juan II's reign to 1481. Known familiarly as the Décadas, the Gesta is divided into four decades, and these in turn into ten books, save the incomplete Fourth Decade, which has only six. His relentless hostility toward Enrique IV strongly influenced modern interpreters of the reign.

By contrast, Diego Enríquez del Castillo (d. 1480), the royal chaplain and official chronicler, defended Enrique IV and denounced those who betrayed him. A staunch royalist, he seldom suggested that the king caused his own misfortunes. The anonymous Chronicle of Enrique IV or Castilian Chronicle was once thought to be a translation of Palencia's Décadas, but its independent origin is now recognized. Written about 1481-82 and covering the entire reign, it avoids Palencia's excessive negativity and is generally favorable to the king. Diego de Valera (d. c. 1488), a nobleman and royal counselor who participated in the Hussite wars and served on missions to France, was highly critical of Enrique IV in his Memorial of Diverse Events . Utilizing both Palencia's Deeds and the anonymous Chronicle of Enrique IV, he composed his work about 1486-87. Lorenzo Galíndez de Carvajal drew upon these authors for his Chronicle of Enrique IV.

Alonso de Palencia was among several authors who recorded the reign of Fernando and Isabel. His Narration of the War Against Granada encompasses the years 1481 to 1489. The Latin text remains unedited, but there is a Spanish translation. An eyewitness of many episodes, he had a positive view of Fernando, but his harsh criticism of Isabel's counselors and eventually of the queen herself cost him her confidence. When recounting the war against Granada in his Chronicle of the Catholic Kings (1474-88), Diego de Valera closely followed Palencia. His letters offering counsel to Juan II, Enrique IV, and Fernando and Isabel are also important.

Fernando del Pulgar (d. c. 1490), the royal secretary and chronicler, composed a Chronicle of the Catholic Kings Fernando and Isabel ending in 1490, but an anonymous author continued it for several years. Pulgar occasionally used public documents but seldom established a clear chronology. In accord with humanist practice, he wrote speeches for his principal characters and offered moral reflections. Clearly favoring Isabel, he even allowed her to review his preliminary text. His Distinguished Men of Castile, describing Enrique IV and the principal personages of the late fifteenth century, was dedicated to her. In order to satisfy her curiosity, he wrote a brief Treatise on the Kings of Granada. Andrés Bernáldez (d. 1516), the curate of Los Palacios near Seville and chaplain of the archbishop of Seville, authored a History of the Catholic Kings Fernando and Isabel down to 1513. Written in a pleasant style and with attention to dates, the History recorded many events that he observed.

Several nobles also found their biographers. Álvaro de Luna, the dominant personality in Juan II's court, was the protagonist of the Chronicle of the Constable, which is attributed to an admiring dependent, Gonzalo Chacón (d. 1507). Pedro de Escabias purportedly wrote the Chronicle of Miguel Lucas de Iranzo, a favorite of Enrique IV. Covering the years 1458 to 1471, it described the customs of a magnate residing at Jaén. The History of the Deeds of the Marquess of Cádiz recounts the career of Rodrigo Ponce de León, one of the principal military commanders in the war of Granada, down to 1489. The author may have been Juan de Padilla (d. 1520), a poet and Carthusian monk. Fernán Pérez del Pulgar (d. 1531), not to be confused with Fernando del Pulgar, in 1526 wrote a "Brief Account of the Deeds of the Great Captain," namely, Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, in the war of Granada.

Portuguese chronicles contain valuable material concerning Castilian-Granadan relations. The royal chronicler Fernão Lopes (d. c. 1459) narrated the reigns of Pedro I, Fernando I, and João I down to 1412 in a simple and engaging style. He frequently quoted official documents and made ample use of oral discourse. In his Chronicle of João I Gomes Eanes de Zurara (or Azurara) (d. 1474) concluded his predecessor's incomplete work. Adopting an adulatory attitude toward Henry the Navigator, the patron of overseas expansion, he recorded the beginning of Portuguese exploration of the African coast in his Chronicle of the Taking of Ceuta and Chronicle of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea. The Chronicle of Duarte by Rui de Pina (d. 1522), the last of the medieval Portuguese royal chroniclers, is of particular interest.

The narratives described above were written by Christians and reflected Christian opinions of the Moors. Occupying a somewhat intermediate position is Hernando de Baeza's incomplete account of "Events That Occurred Among the Kings of Granada." Written around 1505, it is a unique source of information concerning intrigue in the Naṣrid court. Acquainted with many Muslims and renegade Christians and fluent in Arabic, Baeza resided in Granada during the final years of Naṣrid rule. He was on good terms with Abū 'Abd Allāh, the last Naṣrid monarch, and served as his interpreter and messenger. He related that the emir knew Castilian but was hesitant to use it, lest he do so incorrectly. He also remarked that "if he [the emir] became a Christian he would be one of the best there ever was." In the mid-sixteenth century an anonymous author acquainted with Fernando del Pulgar's work wrote A History of the Royal House of Granada.

In comparison to the relative abundance of Christian chronicles, narratives by Muslim authors are scant. Relating the history of the Naṣrids to 1363, the royal vizier Ibn al-Khaṭīb (d. 1374) described each ruler's character and physical appearance, mentioned his officials, and the principal events of his reign. After incurring the displeasure of Muḥammad V, he fled to Morocco where he was assassinated. Ibn Khaldūn (d. 1406), a descendant of a family that emigrated to Tunis after the fall of Seville, returned to serve Muḥammad V but later retired to Egypt. In his Kitāb al-Ibar or Book of Examples, he devoted two books to the Berbers. Recounting the history of the Naṣrids and their relations with the Moroccan rulers, he displayed the signal traits of attention to detail, balanced presentation, and critical reflection. He is considered one of the most notable of all historians.

For the fifteenth century two important works are extant. Ibn 'Āsim (d. 1453), in his Kitāb Ŷunnat al-ridā or Book of the Leafy Garden, written about 1450, related the turbulent reign of Muḥammad IX, whom he served in various capacities. The anonymous Kitāb Nub?at al- 'asr fī akhbār mulūk Banī Naṣr aw taslīm Ġarnāta wa nuzūl al-Andalusiyyīn ilā l-Maghrib, or Fragment of the Age Containing News of the Naṣrid Kings or the Capitulation of Granada and the Emigration of the Andalusians to Morocco, chronicled the reigns of the last Naṣrids. Writing in exile in Morocco about 1540, the anonymous writer began his account in 1477 and carried it into the early sixteenth century.

Although he wrote long after the downfall of Granada, al-Makkarī (or al-Maqqarī) (d. 1631) is a very valuable source. His Exhalation of the Sweet Fragrance of the Green Branch of Al-Andalus and History of the Vizier al-Din ibn al-Khatib is an encyclopedic work. The first part, narrating the history of Islamic Spain until the loss of Granada, quoted extensively from medieval authors, especially Ibn al-Khaṭīb, the focus of the second part of his book.

Many episodes described in the historical narratives were retold in poetic form as ballads or romances. Written mainly in the fifteenth century by anonymous authors, they often purport to be spoken by Moors. They usually relate the deeds of great lords along the frontier from about 1407 to the sixteenth century. Initially transmitted orally, they were written down and collected.

Narrative sources must always be used in conjunction with documents that, in addition to precise chronology, often provide more accurate reports of events. The loss of the Castilian royal archives is partly offset by the recovery of original documents from ecclesiastical, municipal, and noble repositories. The Colección de documentos inéditos para la historia de España and the Colección de documentos para la historia del reino de Murcia are especially noteworthy. Many late medieval documents, especially for the reign of Fernando and Isabel, preserved in the Archivo General de Simancas, were published by Antonio de la Torre, Luis Suárez Fernández, and Juan de Mata Carriazo. Maximiliano Alarcón and Ramón García, Andrés Giménez Soler, Ángeles Masiá de Ros, and Roser Salicrú i Lluch edited letters of the kings of Castile, Aragón, Granada, and Morocco kept in the Arxiu de la Corona d'Aragó. Although the Naṣrid archives have disappeared, Mariano Gaspar Remiro published surviving documents and diplomatic correspondence. Papal crusading bulls have also been printed. Many of these documents will be cited throughout this work.

In addition to these texts, some unique visual sources should be mentioned. On the ceiling of the central vault in the Sala de los Reyes in the Alhambra are the portraits of ten figures, traditionally identified as Naṣrid kings, or, more recently, as the royal council. In the great hall of El Escorial an elaborate painting done by Italian artists in 1585 depicts Juan II's triumph at La Higueruela in 1431. Between 1489 and 1494, the German Rodrigo Alemán, commissioned by the archbishop of Toledo, created a pictorial record of the final crusade against Granada by carving scenes of sieges and battles on fifty-four wooden choir stalls in the cathedral of Toledo. The names of many towns were inscribed on their walls.

Now, let us turn to the Castilian conquest of Granada, the last great crusade waged in western Europe.