chapter  13
21 Pages

The Iberian Kingdoms

Between the reigns of Ferdinand I (1035-65) and Ferdinand III (1217-52), Kings of Castile-León, and Alfonso I (1104-34) and James I (1213-76), Kings of Aragon, Christian reconquest transformed the Iberian peninsula. Since the defeat of the Visigoths between 711 and 715 and the establishment of the Umayyad Emirate in 756, Iberia had become largely Islamic in government and religion, but multicultural and multiracial in composition. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries it emerged as a land all but dominated by what thirteenth-century Christian chroniclers liked to call ‘the five kingdoms’, leaving only the dependent Emirate of Granada in the south-east under Muslim control. The unifying theme of the period, therefore, is the attention paid to the ever-changing frontier, the southward movement of which, seen from the point of view of a world inspired by papal ideology, represented a triumph unmatched elsewhere in Christendom. However, it was a triumph achieved only by forging a mentality largely incompatible with the previous relationships which had existed between Christian, Muslim, Mozarab (Christians who had assimilated Arabic customs) and Jew. The cost was seen in the creation of deep-seated internal tensions-political, social, economic and religious-which, in the later middle ages, began to corrode any steps towards acculturation and assimilation which had been, consciously or unconsciously, taken. The reason for this was that Christian success was achieved only fitfully, unevenly, and with many serious setbacks. The major invasions from north Africa of the Almoravides in 1086 and the Almohades in 1146 both seemed, each in its own generation, to have decisively reversed the tide of Christian progress, while even after the much-vaunted Christian victory at Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212, there was still considerable life in the Muslim cause, expressed both in internal revolts against new Christian overlords and in the very troublesome attacks of the Marinids of Morocco after 1275, sometimes skilfully exploited by the rulers of Granada (see Map 7). Moreover, despite the general increase in the population of western Christendom, the natural pressures for more space were far from overwhelming and, with the exception of a few favoured areas, the repeopling of the newly conquered terrain proved to be a daunting task beyond the resources of the Christians. To counter Muslim resistance and offset demographic deficiencies, the Christians had to develop a political and military ruthlessness and a spiritual harshness which, when the frontier could expand no more, turned in upon itself to leave a society riven by political and social conflict.