Spain and Medieval Europe: History of Conflict and Unification

Spain during the Middle Ages was a landscape of conflict, religious struggle, the beginnings of French domination in central Europe and the Holy Roman Empire, periods of vacant monarchies, the Spanish Inquisition, and their own Empire.

The Spanish people did not have total autonomy of their peninsula going into the Middle Ages, many conflicts occurred between the Muslims and Christians on the peninsula, which would affect Spanish identity into the final days of the culmination of the Reconquista in 1492.


Spain and Medieval Europe: History of Conflict and Unification

Spain and Medieval Europe: History of Conflict and Unification

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The constant warfare between the Christians and Muslims in the Middle Ages, became the high point of Medieval Spain, its survival and sovereign identity.

The battles that would push the Taifa Muslims in the North out of further contention of Spanish soil, by the Christian realms, weakened the negotiating power of the Muslims after the Battles at Toledo in 1085. The Muslim leaders had no choice but to invite the Almoravides to invade the Iberian Peninsula, from Morocco North Africa invading Al-Andalus (Andalusia) creating another empire.

By the 1200’s the Amoravides had broken up again. They were followed by the Almohad invasion. It took a Christian alliance to defeat the Almohad’s  at the decisive Battle of Nas Navas de Tolosa defeat them by 1212. The Christian alliances and their solidarity were vital if they were to clear all of Spain of Muslim occupation. Most of Spain was in Christian hands by 1250, only the Kingdom of Granada remained under control of Islam.  

Central to Christian leadership and victory against the Muslim armies was the Castilian knight Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar , called al ci’d (1043 – 1099) by the Muslims (El Cid to the Spanish), an honorary title bestowed upon him by the Muslim and Spanish Christian armies alike.

Interestingly he had fought with both sides during his lifetime. El Cid became a national Spanish hero, even in modern times, he was pivotal as a leader to the Christian cause, retaking the Levante (Eastern) Iberian Peninsula and the Taifa of Valencia , during the Reconquista (reconquest) in Spain, briefly removing the Moors. He would rule as Prince of the Taifa Valencia principality until his death.


The Spanish Inquisition

The early Medieval Inquisition of 1184, which consisted of  several Inquisitions conducted by the Roman Catholic Church tasked with the suppression of heresy amongst early movements that were apostate or heretical to the Roman Catholic Church. These were the early reformists who recused themselves from attending Catholic churches.

Many Roman Catholic detractors believed in what would become the early church reform movements where individuals formed groups who held different opinions on Christian doctrine and worship contrary to the traditional Catholic Church. The Waldensian movement and Catharism practitioners, and their Christian beliefs held externally of the Catholic church.

The Roman Catholic hierarchy labelled such practices as heresy, who became targets of derision within Catholicism. Catholic persecution of individuals in both practices would become central to the Inquisitions functions by the bishops of the Catholic church.

The Waldensian movement and Catharism, first practiced in Northern Italy and France were early practitioners of the later church Reformation movements, the eventual splitting of the Roman Catholic church and the new Protestant church movements in Central Europe.

The consolidation of the Roman Catholic church in Spain, by the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition conducted towards the end of the Reconquista campaigns in 1478, would promulgate the protection of the Catholic Church as the only Christian authority in Spain. The Inquisition would be responsible for violent persecution of Christian non-Catholics holding other Christian views and practices. Muslim followers and Jews were instructed to convert or face deportation, many Jews were murdered, and the remaining Muslims and Jews deported.

The Spanish Catholic Inquisitions were designed purely as a crude method of preventing the rebirth of belligerent Muslim groups and the Jewish communities from ever creating internal strife again in Spain, the Jewish population had never occupied regions of Spain in the past nor occupied provinces, they were seen as undesirable in early Roman Catholic Spain.


The Spanish Unification

Several difficulties occurred during the move to unification in Spain. There was diversity during and after the Reconquista among the oligarchy’s present in the peninsula. The Navarre and Catalonia provinces were linked closer to France.

The monarchies as always in Europe made their mark, the marriage of Spanish Ramon Berenguer the Great to Dulcia the French heiress of Provence in France, the Spanish association with the Southern French peoples of langue d’oc, were rather much closer to the Southern French in the merging of Catalonia.

Navarre too was subject to change when the Spanish King Sancho the Elder faded, the ties to France would be prominent with the passing of the vacant crown to the Blois of France (1234). The Evreux (1349-1441) of the Navarre kingdom would remain within much closer relations and influence of the French states and monarchies, than with the Spanish states. An indicator of the position and power of state monarchies and allegiances.

The monarchs in the Western Kingdoms of the House of Navarre brought about their own feudal usages which split the Kingdom into constantly changing partitions of smaller states within one kingdom.

The belligerence of feudal usages by Ferdinand I , founding five splinter states, Castile, Leon, Galicia, Zamoro and Toro, would soon be reversed in time and returned to the unity of the kingdom by Sancho the Strong, a son of Ferdinand I. Sancho the strong in doing so successfully eclipsed any claims his brothers might make, by doing so.

The effects of conflicting monarchies would impact again with the reinstallation of Castile and Leon by the then Emperor Alonso VII, returning both as separate Spanish Navarre states. The feudal usages of the Burgundian princes also resulted in the state of Portugal. Portugal in time would become a separate sovereign state in Europe.

Alonso VI gave his two daughters Urraca and Theresa in their marriages to Raymond and Henry of Burgundy, both daughters being monarchs themselves of Castile and Leon and Theresa as Countess of Portugal, respectively.

The two Burgundian princes Raymond and Henry founded the Portuguese and the Castile, Leon dynasties. The Feudal customs of the Burgundian princes would separate Portugal on route to Portuguese independence .

Theresa conflicted with her half-sister Urraca, Theresa claiming to be an independent queen of Portugal. This claim was ratified by Pope Pashal II, crowning Theresa officially as Queen of Portugal in 1116. Theresa was captured and forced to accept that Portugal be seeded to the Leon state, for her to keep her crown in acceptance.

So would be the monarch’s feudal usage in Spain’s often splintered states and eventual unity. The importance of the power of the Roman Catholic Church in Spain and official endorsement from the pope in Rome was accepted as the centre of the Spanish monarchy’s rites.

Some even accepted and believed themselves to be raised to a position of deity when crowned by any pope, purely by association with the Vatican. The practice of crowning Emperor deities was discontinued by the Vatican during the period of Reform within the church during the period of the Holy Roman Empire.

The two states of Aragon and Catalonia once merged were the consequence of the geographic conditions assigned to it during the Reconquista, before moving eastward in Spain.

Peter II, the Catholic, ruler of the unified Aragon and Catalonia, went to the pope to annul his marriage and sought to be crowned for the merged states. He did receive the latter, not the former. This crowning would afford him great trouble, as the Aragonese nobles would not accept the position of vassalage with the Holy See that he had placed his kingdom.

The Holy See or the See of Rome among several names, is the authority of the pope in Rome, an ecclesiastical and episcopal within Roman Catholic law and authority over the Church in Rome and Central Europe, assigned to the pope. In this case the Aragonese nobles did not accept Peter II’s solo pilgrimage to Rome to entirely usurp his personal position of authority over the Aragon and Catalonia province without their connivance.

The nobles from thence onward would force for union or a confederation of the Spanish mainland. They would not back down, even through the reign of Peter III, excommunicated by Pope Martin IV in 1238, seeking to consolidate the authority of the popes.

Peter IV dealt with the disturbances caused by the papal Holy See documents of Peter III’s crowning, that Peter IV had the documents ceremoniously destroyed by cutting them up with a dagger. Peter II (1178-1213) would be mortally wounded in the Battle of Muret in 1213 close to the French town of Toulouse. Essentially a conflict instigated by a papal decree from Pope Innocent III to destroy Catharicism.

The Battle was a tactical mismatch between both the Aragon Forces under King Peter II of Aragon, and the French Simon DeMontfort IV, sent by Pope Innocent III.

The Albigensian Crusade was a papal Roman Catholic movement instigated to destroy the Catharic movement. It was of French origin with the express design of using whatever military force was necessary to achieve a breakdown of the alter religious groups opposed by the  Catholic church in France.

The Battle of Muret was the final battle of the Albigensian Crusade. It is considered as one of the biggest battlefields of the Middle Ages. Peter II thought that a large army of around 20,000 cavalry and infantry would easily sweep away a force consisting of no more than 1700 Albigensian cavalry. Peter II was also within the Albigensian Crusade and had kinsmen who he wished to support in defence from Simon DeMontforts belligerent task.

Simon DeMontfort was a known skilled tactician with an enviable reputation in the field. Peter II was no slouch either and was equally well known for his tactical capability.

DeMontfort would seize the day using his cavalry in 3 sections commanding the third himself, in doing so he drew successfully on Peter II’s flanks with the express initial intent of killing Peter immediately. Having achieved this, the Aragon forces gave up their positions after learning of their commanders very early death, cohesion was lost, and chaos ensued. The Aragonian forces were routed and would never venture into Southern France again.

Peter IV by his disdain of papal decree which was stoking derision amongst alliances within the Catalan-Aragonese alliance, by having destroyed the papal documents which carried the decree of the pope, came into conflict with the Vatican in Rome.

The son of Peter II, James Ist, the conqueror laid siege to the island of Majorca and the city of Valencia with a joint Catalan-Aragonese force, annexing Majorca and Valencia between 1228-1238, Majorca staying within the Catalan-Arragonese Reconquest for the Catalan-Arragonese alliance.  He assisted his son-in-law Alfonso X, the Wise, in conquering The Taifa of Murcia a tiny Islamic capital on the south-eastern shoreline of Spain, left behind after the fall of the Ummayad Caliphate of Cordoba in the 11th Century.

Peter III had championed the cause for the conquest of the kingdoms of Sicily and Naples, in the name of his wife Constance II of Sicily. Constance was a daughter of Sicilian parentage; the conquests would give the Catalan-Aragonese kingdom a new direction.

The annexations by the Catalan-Aragonese kings antagonized the popes in Rome, who in turn were protecting the rights of the House of Anjou. Pope Martin IV excommunicated Peter III for his actions amongst other transgressions in the Mediterranean.

The Catalan and Aragonese left on Sicily, offered their services to the Emperor Andronicus Palaeologus in the crusade against the Turks. The Greeks break would break their relations with the Catalan and Aragonese by killing their leaders as an act of treachery.

The Catalan-Aragon battles with the Greeks that followed under the leadership of Bernard Rocafort and the Berenguer of  Entenca in the ‘Catalan Vengeance’ would revenge the Greek treachery, taking the Duchies of Athens and Neopatras in 1313.

The Castile Dynasty would be passed the crown from the vacant Catalan-Aragonese dynasties that dissolved during the time of Martin the Humane(1356-1410), who had tried to pass the accession to his illegitimate grandson Frederic, Count of Luna.

 The Compromise of Caspe would pass the crown to the Castile Dynasty, and the House of Barcelona was no more. The Compromise of Caspe was a gathering of parliamentary representatives in a resolution of the constituents of the realm of the Crown of Aragon, held at  Caspe.

As there was no legitimate heir to the vacant crown of King Martin of Aragon, the resolution of the Compromise  passed to the crown to the Castile Dynasty. The resolution would prepare the final union. Alfonso V, the Magnanimous as king of Aragon (no longer the dissolved Catalan-Aragonese union) would once more turn Aragonese policy and attention towards Italy.

He had acquired the Kingdom of Sicily and Naples by claiming the status of his adoptive son of Queen Joanna (1479-1555)-the nominal Queen of Castile from 1504. These events would lead to the wars between Spain and Italy.



The history of the Iberian Peninsula and the future Unification of Spain was one of a fight for survival against the Islamic Invasions, the acceptance and spread of Roman Catholic Christianity and the excesses of the Dynastical power of the monarchs, the struggles, and alliances through the Catholic popes in Rome and the allegiances with France, that would unify Spain. This project is certainly not concluded with Alfonso V , the Castile Dynasty and the Kingdoms of Sicily and Naples. The Spanish and Italian Wars take us through these kingdoms, right through to the 18th century which will be covered next.

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