Castile


CASTILE   CASTILLA; Castille (French, but also used in English).

  1. County in northern Spain;
  2. A Kingdom which gradually extended into the greater part of the Iberian peninsula.
English: This map show Al-Andalus (Almohades) ...

English: This map show Al-Andalus (Almohades) and European Christian kingdoms. 12th-13th centuries. It´s made from “The Historical Atlas by William R. Shepherd, 1926”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It began as the County of Bardulia in the uppermost valley of the River Ebro and the neighbouring Cantabrian Mountains, where it protected the east of the Kingdom of the Asturias (later León) from attack by the Muslims lower down the valley.   In the mid-8th century an enormous frontier zone, thinly inhabited, with the population of its former towns withdrawn to the northern coast, lay between the Cantabrian mountains and the lands south of the River Duero.

Across this zone raids would be mounted by both Christians and Muslims.   Bardulia and its eastern neighbour, Alava, together made the most frequently attacked region in Christian Spain, and were themselves involved in raids.  So many towers and fortified places were planted in Bardulia that it became known as Castile.  In the later 9th century, continuing into the 10th century, both the Kingdom of León and the county of Castile advanced into this frontier zone as far as the Duero, repopulating its towns and founding new ones.   Among the latter was Burgos, which became the capital of the County. The territory of the present province of Burgos is similar to that of the expanded County.

The dynasty that held the County between 923 and 1028 became largely independent of León, though in the 11th century it fell under the domination of Navarre, whose King, Sancho the Great, married the eventual heiress of the County.   Their son, Ferdinand I, became Count in 1029 and when his father died in 1035 became King of Castile.   He also acquired the Kingdom of León through victory in battle in 1037.  

The Kingdom.

The four sons of Sancho the Great of Navarre all became Kings when he died in 1035, including Ferdinand of Castile, the elder son of Sancho’s second marriage.   Castile was just a County, albeit an important one, lying between the two powerful Christian Kingdoms of León and Navarre.

By the time of Ferdinand’s death in 1065 it was well established as a Kingdom.   His royal status was firmly secured in 1037 when he beat his wife’s brother, the King of León, in battle, and, with the King dead, Ferdinand became ruler of León as well.   León was an old-established Christian Kingdom reaching back to the Kingdom of the Asturias founded in northernmost Spain soon after the Muslim occupation of practically all the peninsula.

Ferdinand’s elder brother, King Garcia III of Navarre, was uneasy at the way his subordinate junior had broken the bounds and taken a Kingdom older, larger and more prestigious than Navarre itself, and eventually the brothers fought for supremacy in 1054.   Garcia died.   Ferdinand took Navarrese lands on the Upper Ebro and received the homage of his nephew, Sancho IV.

Navarre also suffered, and León-Castile benefitted, from a change in Muslim Spain.   During Sancho the Great’s reign the Ummayad Caliphate declined, then became a matter of dispute between rival claimants.   The disputes in Córdoba allowed the various governors and commanders of the Muslim territories to strike out on their own as independent rulers.   By the time the last Caliph disappeared in 1031, while Ferdinand was still Count in Castile, there were several petty Kings – the Taifa Kings, the party rulers – in Muslim Spain.

No longer would Muslim Spain be able to mount punitive expeditions against Christian Kings too big for their boots.   Instead of Christian rulers paying tribute to the Caliph, Taifa Kings began to pay money to Christian Kings.   The long frontier of León and Castile with Muslim Spain became an opportunity to be exploited;  Navarre whose short frontier had once helped to protect it had far less chance to grow.   Ferdinand therefore collected protection money from Muslim neighbours.  During his later reign he also advanced into Portugal between the Rivers Douro and Mondego.

When he died in 1065 the normal pattern of dividing the territory followed, and significantly it was Castile, the sometime County, not León, the longtime Kingdom, that was the share of the eldest brother.   King Sancho II of Castile drove his brothers out of León and Galicia, but was murdered in 1072 when the middle brother, Alfonso VI, the inheritor of León in 1065, reunited his father’s lands.   He was to enlarge his Kingdom at the expense of the Muslims and was even able to pass it on to his daughter, his sons having died before him.

The Kingdom of Castile and León was eventually partitioned again, in 1157, when the elder brother, Sancho III, took not only Castile but the eastern lands of León as well.   The ancient Kingdom had been completely overtaken by its former borderland.   The last of its separate Kings, Alfonso IX, died in 1230, and was succeeded by his son, Ferdinand III, already King of Castile in succession to his mother’s brother.

Castile also expanded at the expense of Navarre, taking Navarrese Rioja in the 11th century and taking control of the Basque provinces by the end of the 12th century.   For a time in the 12th century Castile lost land to Aragón, but it was recovered in part when Alfonso VII succeed his mother Urraca in 1127 and the rest came back after the death of Alfonso the Battler, King of Aragón and estranged husband of Urraca, in 1134.   For a while it seeemed as if Alfonso VII might subdue Aragón, but it survived, while in the west the County of Portugal, originally part of León, managed to break away and become an independent Kingdom at the end of the 1130s.

Aragón, Portugal and Castile were the three Christian Kingdoms that could take advantage of the problems of Muslim Spain, but Castile was the best placed of them to benefit from the Reconquest, for it faced the south along a much wider front than either of its rivals.   In 1085 it reached the River Tagus and the city of Toledo, and then advanced beyond them into La Mancha, though the arrival of the Almoravids soon drove Castile back from there.   The mid-12th century saw a general advance in the middle of the peninsula, the result of Almoravid decline, but it was halted and partially reversed by the Almohads.

The great victory of Alfonso VIII of Castile at Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212 finally secured La Mancha for Castile and opened the way for the conquest of Lower Andalucía in the 1230s and 1240s.   In the 1260s the fragments remaining under Almohad rule along the Atlantic coast of Andalucía were added to Castile, as was Murcia, a tributary Muslim Kingdom that had riskily encouraged a Muslim rebellion in Castilian Andalucía.   By 1270 only the Kingdom of Granada remained unconquered, though as a tributary state.

Not until 1492 did Granada fall to Castile and by that time Isabella Queen of Castile was married to Ferdinand II of Aragón.   Their marriage led to the two Kingdoms having one Sovereign, the King of Spain, though the Kingdoms themselves were not united until the 18th century.   In 1492 too came the expedition of Columbus that led to the creation of a great Spanish Empire in the Americas, an Empire which belonged to the Kingdom of Castile.

The last Iberian acquisition by Castile came in 1515 when Ferdinand II, King of Aragón and Regent of Castile for his mad daughter Juana, transferred the lands south of the Pyrenees that had belonged to the Kingdom of Navarre to his daughter’s Castilian Kingdom.

In 1515 Castile held the greater part of the Iberian peninsula and was some three times the size of its partner Kingdom of Aragón.   Its size, its occupation of the centre of the peninsula, its place in developing the new lands across the Atlantic, made it the more important of the Kingdoms.   It was also a more centralised Kingdom than the lands of the Crown of Aragón, and so, provided noble power was kept in check (an enormous provision given Castile’s history), decisions were easier to reach there.

Ferdinand II acknowledged Castile’s supremacy within Spain.   When he married Isabella in 1469 he swore always to reside in the Kingdom his wife would probably inherit and not leave it without her permission.   When he came into his own inheritance in 1479 he ruled his several Kingdoms in eastern Spain and southern Italy through Viceroys and created a Council of Aragón, resident in Castile, as part of his administration.

He and Isabella formed a strong partnership, but when she died in 1504 it looked for a time as though all the cooperation, all the subservience, of Aragón had been in vain.   Juana, Isabella’s successor, and her husband, the Habsburg Philip, turned Ferdinand out.   He married a second wife, his own half-great-niece.   A son would of course inherit Aragón, and the union of the Crowns, already half-dissolved, would be ended, but there were no children of the marriage.   Philip died in 1506;  Juana was incapable of ruling.   Ferdinand outmanoeuvred his Castilian enemies and took back the government of Castile.   But ever the realist, he still acknowledged Castile’s supremacy.   The transfer of conquered Navarre from his Kingdom of Aragón to Castile in 1515 was his recognition of reality.

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