It’s Good To Be King, It’s Even Better To Have A Castle

by Daniel Russ on March 20, 2010

Alhambra Castle, Spain, Muslim Stronghold Until 12th Century

The Spanish Reconquista was a trend that took 400 years to play out, and everything we know about people could have predicted the outcome. After having swarmed the North African coast-line and the Mideast, the Muslim expansion that began in the tenth century AD created a backlash, one that brought huge Spanish cavalry and knight forces to surround and lay siege to every major castle fortress in possession of an imam and eventually force the Muslim armies out of the Iberian peninsula. This was the trend that is marked mostly by five major sieges. The Siege of Toledo (Fall 1084 – May 25th 1085), The Siege of Valencia (July 1093 – June 16th 1094), The Siege of Saragossa (Winter 1118), Siege of Lisbon (June 28th – October 24th 1147), The Siege of Alhambra, or the Battle for Lisbon (February 1482 – January 2nd, 1492).

When Guy de Lusignan and Richard I took the castle of Acre from the Muslims in  1191, the castle itself and the easily defended accesses gave the Christian States in the Crusades a secure fortress to operate from for a very long time. The nature of a large castle like Acre allows it to house an army, cavalry, service personnel, an administrative arm for governance, and even weapons factories and places for artisans and engineers. A Castle allows one to keep food, and supplies and the thick walls are, during the Middle Ages, the single greatest defensive asset around.

Castle De Sao Jorge at Lisbon

The bureaucratic and political caliphate at Cordova allowed the Christians to regroup and use the new infighting against the Muslims. When it fell, infighting among the more minor Muslim rulers left in the aftermath prevented them from massing large counterattacks and predicting when their new Christian enemies would come from next. The very fact that castles are the high ground in almost any land battle afforded the politicians in the Muslim governments time to squabble.

In 1084, King Alfonso VI of Leon struck against the remainder of the Caliphate that occupied Toledo’s castle fortress in Central Spain. The siege was simply a waiting game, starving out the occupiers and it worked on May 25th of 1085, Al-Quadir surrendered and this was the beginning of the end of Muslim rule in Iberia.

In 1086, an imperial Muslim force came from Morocco and smashed into the forces of Alfonso the VI, bringing a huge Spanish army to its knees. In 1093 El Cid, Rodrigo Diaz, led a force to lay siege to Valencia, a fortified walled community. El Cid had siege engines, battering rams, ramps and catapults. He also used food shortages and razed earth tactics to force Ibn Jehhaf to surrender. El Cid lived in the fortress city until his death.

Castle At Saragossa

In 1118, Alfonso I of Aragon and French Knights under Gaston de Bearn brought catapults and siege engines to bear on Saragossa. After several months of raining projectiles into the castle, and after defeating a relief force, the Muslim inhabitants surrendered and opened the gates.

Alfonso Henriquez, the first King of Portugal convinced a Flemish, German and English flotilla headed for the Mideast to stop first and help him attack the Muslims in Lisbon in June 1147. The naval forces agreed and landed in Lisbon and began an advance upon the fortress castle at Lisbon. The defenders made a good showing, destroying several catapults, repulsing a cavalry attack through a breach in their own wall. But the attackers were determined and built a new siege tower. As they toted it to the castle wall, the Muslims agreed to surrender in return for  promise not to pillage. The Christians agreed, and nonetheless pillaged.

The King and Queen, Ferdinand and Isabella mounted a huge ten year campaign to reverse the fortunes of the Muslims in Spain and Portugal beginning in 1482 and ending in 1492. With hundreds of cannons and siege engines and thousands of light cavalry, the rulers forces were successful in sweeping across the countryside and taking down one Muslim stronghold after the next. Granada was the last to fall and in the early 16th century, the Moors were forced to accept Baptism or exile.

Source: Wikipedia.

Battle. By R.G. Grant. 2008, Covent Garden Books


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