Spain at this point is three Kingdoms: Aragon, Castile & Leon, and Granada. I think it is best we discuss them separately for this century and in the next one we will see them begin to unite into Spain.
The Kingdom of Aragon sits along the south-western border of France, and the west of Navarre. It spreads south in a mostly straight pattern into the coast of the Mediterranean. It also included the islands of Ibiza, Majorca, and Menorca. We enter the country at the beginning of the century with as King James II attempts to create peace among himself and the Pope. France, and the Pope with them, had been fighting over territory with them for the better part of the 13th century, mixed with attacks from the Anjou branch of the English royal family known as the Plantagenets. He returned the country of Majorca to his uncle, who had betrayed his James’ elder brother, and settled his own claim to the Kingdom, Sicily, and a mercenary group named the Catalan Company secured him the Duchy of Athens, though he never truly ruled either. He sent his brother to rule over Sicily, but his brother ended up its king.
The Pope also gave him Corsica and Sardonia for giving Majorca back to his uncle, and that is where he chose to base his Kingdom. The country of Genoa, who perceived they had claim to the country, gave way to war for the next three generations. A brief war distracted James with Castile, until they came to a settlement and both turned their attention south to the Muslim country of Granada. While they won a few cities, they were ultimately unsuccessful.
His son Pedro IV took over in 1336 and went onto conquer Mallorca before turning his attention back to Castile in what became known as the ‘War of two Pedros’. It ravages much of the later years as both France and the Pope poked and prodded each side as Aragon remained neutral in what is known as the Great Schism (basically, when the papacy returned to Rome there was an issue of more than one pope being elected: Urbino VI and Clement VII, the Avignon). John I, son of Pedro, changed this when he supported the Avignon Pope. John reigned until his death in 1396 when his brother, Martin succeeded him just in time to greet the 15th century.
Castile and Leon spanned over most of the Iberian peninsula, and shared borders with Navarre, Aragon, Granada, and Portugal. We enter their history as Sancho IV greets death after a reign marked in blood. He had gone against his father’s wishes and took the crown after the death of his nephew (he attempted after his brother’s death but was unsuccessful) and spent his reign defending the crown from his other brother, John, who chose to fight for the rights of their nephew’s heirs. Sancho had seven children, but his eldest son, Ferdinand IV, was only 9 when he succeeded his father. History has shown us that this tends to be a death sentence unless they have a strong regent. Sancho had chosen his wife, María de Molina, to fulfill this role and well to say she was excellent is an understatement. Ferdinand owes his reign to her, and she goes onto fulfill the same role for her grandchild, despite having to constantly fight for her reputation. When she secured an alliance with Portugal, sealed with Ferdinand’s marriage to Constanza of Portugal, María was accused of malfeasance. The marriage would only last 10 years for Ferdinand died in 1312, and she followed the year after leaving their children, Leonor and Alfonso, as orphans. She fought over her regency and shared it until her death in 1321. Alfonso came into his majority in 1325 with one goal in mind: secure royal authority. There are many ways he did this: fighting to take Granada, treating his mistress as a second wife and using her family and their children to bolster his support, and working with Portugal to take and seize land. He married Maria of Portugal and ruled until 1350.
His son, Pedro, succeeded him and almost instantly started causing problems. Determining his true wife is challenging due to having multiple weddings and lying to priests and women that his previous married were nulled regardless if they were or not, but his Queen has been stated to be Blanche of Bourbon who he may or may not have ordered the murder of. It was that or plague. He would start the ‘War of Two Pedros’ with Aragon which lasted until 1566 when he started having more issues at home. His half-brother Henry of Trastámara was tired of the cruelty Pedro and decided to claim the throne for himself. Henry claimed Pedro to be ‘King of the Jews’ and began a vicious campaign against Jewish people. The tactic worked, and he earned support throughout the country for a civil war to ensue. It lasted until 1569 when Pedro was tricked into confronting his brother and lost. It had been so long since the brothers had seen each other that they did not recognize each other, and Henry left Pedro’s body exposed for three days to be ridiculed and abused.
Perdo’s daughter had married the English Duke, John of Gaunt. He was brother to the Black Prince (we will learn more about them later) and decided he should be King of Castile and Leon instead of Henry. He even led an expedition to take the throne and was even crowned, but he was mostly unsuccessful. The Black Plague was still ravaging Europe and stopped the war in its tracks before it truly began. Henry’s son would go onto attempt claiming Portugal in a similar manner , “right of his wife”, but also failed. His sons would go on to become Henry III of Castile and Ferdinand I of Aragon (their uncle was Martin I of Aragon, who died without issue). We will learn more about how these brothers and how they affected the start of the 15th century in future posts.
The last country I believe we should discuss is the Kingdom of Granada, who, as we have already observed, tends to be a target of Aragon and Castille. While those two are powerful, respectable, and entertaining, it is important to remember the atrocities they committed. In the next century we will see them succeed in ethnic cleansing of Jews and Muslims from their countries (the Reconquista) and it is important to remember these communities and the influences they have on Spain. It is not uncommon to find Muslim and Catholic relics intermixed and their influences blended in artwork.
Granada escaped the Reconquista in the early 13th century and found its root it’s Spain being called the last Muslim Kingdom of Spain. Other Muslim states fought vigorously against the Christians, but they were not unified, which let Christianity to dominate. Granada, defended from Aragon and Castile by the Sierra Nevada mountains, decided to sign an agreement with Castile to become a tributary state. It was futile, for neither of the former countries abode by it, and were constantly attacking their lands for more territory, and eventually they fell. They did hold on for another 250 years and their influence is undeniable. If they had collapsed as their brother countries did, we may not have the resources to their culture that we do. Plagued by war and trapped by a violent sea, the people made the best of their situation. They planted gardens that amazed travelers, vineyards that created delicious drinks, fountains to keep people cool, and were considered dependable. They built schools for both Jews and Christians, encouraged arts and science, and allowed women to participate in freely in their culture. It was a world of warmth and beauty, and it is a tragedy what will happen to them in the next century.
There are more topics we could discuss regarding all three of these countries, and we will, but I believe this is a satisfactory overview of the challenges and changes they encountered during the 14th century. Over the years of studying, it is plain that there is never an inactive or quiet period in Spainish history and there will be plenty for us to discuss if you are hungry for more.
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Side note, in future post we may refer to the term “moors”. It was a common and frequent term of the time to describe Spanish Muslims.
- Forey, Alan. “Chapter 18: The Crown of Aragon.” The New Cambridge Medieval History:C. 1300-C. 1415, by Michael Jones et al., Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 595–618.
- “Western Schism.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., http://www.britannica.com/event/Western-Schism.
- Pepin, Paulette L. María De Molina, Queen and Regent: Life and Rule in Castile-León. Lexington Books, 2016.
- “Castile. Early History and Formation.” Spain Then and Now – Spain Then and Now. An Overview of the History, Literature, Architecture, Art and Culture of Spain., http://www.spainthenandnow.com/spanish-history/early-christian-kingdoms-castile.
- Hale, Edward Everett, and Susan Hale. The Story of Spain. G.P. Putnam’s Son’s, 1886.
- “Remembering Granada: The Last Muslim Kingdom of Spain.” EgyptToday, 19 June 2017, http://www.egypttoday.com/Article/4/8091/Remembering-Granada-The-last-Muslim-Kingdom-of-Spain.
“Granada: 1300-1492.” Erenow, erenow.net/postclassical/the-reformation-a-history-of-european-civilization-from-wycliffe-to-calvin-1300-1564/56.php.