While exploring the beautiful town of Burgos in northern Spain, the traveler will be struck by the many medieval sites, including the monumental Cathedral and the ruins of the fortress. In addition to the remnants of actual structure from the medieval periods, many plaques, street names, pamphlets, and books that one encounters throughout Burgos celebrates the medieval history of the town, with particular attention to the deeds of its past kings, nobles, and prominent citizens.
(Catedral de Santa María in Burgos, constructed between the early 13th and 16th centuries . Source)
The past week (March 23rd to be exact) marked the 650th anniversary of the assassination of Pedro I of Castile-León (r. 1350-1369), one of medieval Iberia’s most controversial, enigmatic and interesting sovereigns. For some, he represents a vicious tyrant whose repressive policies were catastrophic for Castile. Meanwhile, others have memorialized him as a sovereign who promoted a culture of toleration, employed Jews and Muslims in significant numbers within his administration, and sought to curb the power of the nobility. Far from attempting to grapple with or unpack his complex legacy, this post introduces the English-speaking reader to this complicated sovereign in order to encourage further inquiry into his life and times.
The following is my own summary translation of pp. 33 to 38 of Dr. ‘Abd al-‘Azīz Sālim’s book al-Jawānib al-Ijābiyah wal Silbīyah fī al-Zawāj al-Mukhtalaṭ fī al-Andalus (Rabat, 1994). Although it is heavily dependent upon the perspective of (later) Arabic primary sources and contains some errors, this is a particularly interesting passage that sheds light on the extent of the intermarriage between Muslim and Christian dynasties in early medieval Iberia,. The main primary sources relied upon by the author include the anonymous Akhbār Majmū‘ah, Ibn al-Qūṭīya’s Tā’rīkh Iftitāḥ al-Andalus, Ibn al-Khaṭīb’s A‘māl al-A‘lām, Ibn Idhārī’s Bayān al-Mughrib, al-Maqqarī’s Nafḥ al-Ṭīb, and Ibn Khaldūn’s Kitāb al-‘Ibar. Continue reading →
One of the most significant battles in fifteenth-century Iberia was undoubtedly the Battle of La Higueruela, fought in July 1431 between the forces of Juan II of Castile (r. 1406-1454), whose army was led by the Constable of Castile Álvaro de Luna (d. 1453), and the Nasrids, led by Sultan Muhammad IX (d. 1454). The battle was fought in the valley around Granada, known as the Vega, and ended in a victory for Castile, although without any territorial gains. One of the main consequences of the battle was the overthrow of Muhammad IX and the brief enthronement of Yusuf IV (d. 1432) who agreed to resume tribute payments to Castile.
This is the third and final installment of my short series on the Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris (for part I: https://ballandalus.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/the-coronation-of-1135-and-the-question-of-empire-in-kingdom-of-castile-leon-in-the-12th-century/ and part II: https://ballandalus.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/the-chronica-adefonsi-imperatoris-ca-1148-cluniac-historiography-and-imperial-sovereignty-in-12th-century-iberia/) which has sought to explore some of the implications of Alfonso VII’s imperial coronation in 1135 in both contemporary chronicles as well as modern scholarship. In this piece, I want to look a bit more concretely at how the Chronica seeks to represent the authority of Alfonso VII by looking particularly at two elements: the role of military leadership and the role of Alfonso VII as a “holy warrior” against Islam in the Iberian peninsula.
Royal Authority and Rebellious Nobles: Alfonso VII as Virtuous Christian Prince and Pacifier of the Realm
From the outset, it is important to note that the Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris is not the only source in which Alfonso VII is designated as imperator, since this title appears to have been utilized quite regularly from 1126 onwards in royal charters issued in the kingdom of León.  However, the Chronica is perhaps the most important twelfth-century text which clarifies in concrete terms what this title was intended to convey with regard to royal sovereignty. The chronicler declares that God worked His will through Alfonso VII “so that the salvation of the people of Christ in the midst of the earth might be achieved” in order to underscore the relationship between his sovereign’s reign and the divinely-ordained destiny of the Christian peoples in the Iberian peninsula. Alfonso is also depicted as succeeding his mother, Queen Urraca (r. 1109–1126), and acceding to the throne of León with divine endorsement. He is represented throughout the text as a just sovereign who is concerned with peace and security throughout the realm since it was conducive to Christian unity in the face of an increasingly-powerful Muslim threat.
The emergence of the unified monarchy of León-Castile in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries is perhaps one of the most significant developments in the history of Iberia, and one which was to have long-lasting consequences for the religious, political, and cultural configuration of the Iberian peninsula. While traditional Spanish (national) historiography has tended to depict this political development as an inevitable reemergence of a “united Spain” following the rupture inaugurated by the Muslim conquest, more recent scholarship has tended to be wary of such an essentializing approach in which there is institutional and ideological continuity drawn between the Visigothic monarchy and the Christian kingdoms of northern Iberia. Rather than viewing the emergence of the kingdom of León-Castile as a natural political evolution, modern historians have emphasized the importance of the Muslim-Christian frontier in Iberia and the process of Christian conquest and settlement, known as the Reconquista, at the expense of al-Andalus (Muslim-ruled Iberia) as central to the rise of the Christian kingdoms of northern Spain between the tenth and twelfth centuries.
Perhaps one of the most interesting surviving monuments from late medieval Iberia is the tomb of Ferdinand III (r. 1217–1252). This sovereign had a monumental career and is best remembered as the unifier of Castile and León and as the conqueror of most of al-Andalus, greatly expanding the Castilian kingdom by annexing the vast majority of the lands of southern Iberia, including the major Muslim cities of Badajoz (1228), Cordoba (1236), Murcia (1243), Jaén (1246) and Seville (1248) among others. He was also responsible for establishing the treaty of vassalage with the Nasrid kingdom of Granada, a political reality that would be sustained for the next 250 years.