Gateway to the Classics: Spain: A History for Young Readers by Frederick A. Ober
Spain: A History for Young Readers by  Frederick A. Ober

Kings of Castile and Aragon

We have been hitherto tracing the course of several streams which, rising in various parts of Africa and Spain in the south and in the north, yet have mingled their currents somewhat; but we shall soon find that the stream which had its source in the north became eventually a resistless torrent that swept all before it.

At or near the close of the twelfth century we find three Alfonsos on as many thrones: Alfonso VIII, surnamed the Noble, in Castile; Alfonso IX in Leon and Oviedo; and Alfonso II ruling in Portugal, which had become separated from Spain in 1095. Navarre was under Sancho VII, while Aragon and the greater portion of Catalonia acknowledged Pedro II. At the same time the Moslems were governed by Mohammed abu Abdallah, the son of Yacoub, who had won the great battle of Alarcos. These are names merely, some of what have hardly survived, in connection with neat deeds, the lives of those who bore then . But it was permitted Alfonso VIII, in the year 1212, to inflict a defeat upon the Moors from which they never recovered. This was at the great battle of Navas de Tolosa; when, according to the statements of the victors, at least one hundred thousand Moslems fell, victims to Christian prowess, and, sad to relate, after the victory was assured, objects of Christian bigotry; for they treated with shameful barbarity those who survived.

The battlefield of Tolosa was the turning point of Moslem fortunes, for from the date of that great event the followers of Mahommed lost steadily in Spain, retreating ever nearer the southern coast, whence their ancestors had invaded the peninsula five hundred years before.

Alfonso the Noble survived this achievement but two years, and died in 1214, leaving a reputation not only as a great warrior, but as a lover of learning, having established, it is said, the first university in Spain in the year 1209. He left his throne to his son Henry I, and under the regency of his daughter Berenguela, who, when Henry was accidentally killed, secured the kingdom for her own son Ferdinand. Two momentous eventscame to pass at this time—the battle of Tolosa, which drove back the Moslems, and the union of the kingdoms of Castile and Leon under one ruler; for at the death of Alfonso IX of Leon the kingdom passed to Ferdinand III, who was thus placed in possession of resources and armies which he could unite toward the expulsion of the Moors.

He was later canonized for his great services to Christendom, and is known to history as St. Ferdinand. It is a curious fact that his cousin, Louis of France, son of his mother's sister, and likewise a grandson of Alfonso VIII of Castile, was also canonized; and the grandmother of both was Eleanor of England, daughter of Henry II.

Well, St. Ferdinand, to call him by the title bestowed upon him three hundred years after his death, was a flaming sword as toward the Moors. He captured their capital, Cordova, in "Queen the city of Jaen in 1246, and at "Queen of the Guadalquivir," beautiful Seville (ancient port of the Phoenicians, the Roman Hispalis), where he died in 1252, and where his tomb and many precious relics of his time may be seen in the great cathedral there.

Almost equally renowned was James I, the King of Aragon, who took the Balearic Isles from the Moors in 1229, Valencia in 1239, the province of Murcia in 1266, and who, before he died in 1276, had gained thirty pitched battles with the enemy, and had founded, some say, more than two thousand Christian churches. But he has the credit of having introduced into Spain the terrible Inquisition (in 1232), and that goes far toward counter-balancing his meritorious work for the freedom of his country.

Alfonso X, called "the Wise," because he was more a scholar than soldier, succeeded St. Ferdinand, and under him, it is recorded, the Castilian became the national language. Slowly but steadily the ancient Gothic had been changing, and it was now in a sense crystallized when Alfonso caused the Bible to be translated into the Castilian, as well as works on chemistry and philosophy, and wrote a chronicle of Spain down to the time of Ferdinand, his father and predecessor. The "Fuero Juzgo, or Forum Judicum," the ancient Visigothic code of laws, which he translated and codified, became the law of the land and the model of yet existing laws in Spain.

But, though quite learned, Alfonso was not morally much in advance of his time, for he caused his brother to be strangled, and provoked a rebellion of his sons, by which he was driven from his throne two years before his death. His son, Sancho IV, who was as vigorous as his father was feeble, drove the Emir of Morocco back to Africa in 1291, and after a short reign left the kingdom to his son, Ferdinand IV, who, dying in 1312, was succeeded by Alfonso XI of Castile. He was the last of that name to sit on the throne until Alfonso XII, father of the boy king of our time, Alfonso XIII, after an interval of five hundred and sixty years.

Ferdinand IV was an infant too young to reign at the death of his father, but affairs of the kingdom were ably managed by the queen regent, his mother, and when he reached man's estate he nobly devoted himself to the great work bequeathed him by his ancestors. Under him the Castilian frontiers were extended to Gibraltar, the fortress of which he took, in the year 1302. But his reign was likewise short, and at his death he left the kingdom to an infant son, and the regency to his mother, Maria, who a second time assumed the cares of royalty without its remunerations.

Alfonso XI showed the lack of parental guidance during youth by the errors of his early manhood, among other indiscretions forming an illegitimate alliance with a lady who became the mother of Don Enrique of Trastamara, who later slew his half-brother Pedro "the Cruel." By the great victory of the Rio Salado, in 1340, Alfonso retrieved his damaged reputation in the eyes of the people and firmly established the kingdom upon an impregnable basis. The combined hosts of Spanish Moors and Africans had assembled and laid siege to Tarifa, the southernmost town in Spain. The Christian armies, under the lead of Alfonso and the king of Portugal, met and overthrew them near the plains of Algeciras, inflicting such slaughter that the dead lay piled in heaps, the slain, it was estimated, amounting to two hundred thousand.

This was the last invasion from Africa, which had been so prolific in barbarian and semi-barbarian conquerors; and if any other was in contemplation it was prevented the following year, when Alfonso's fleet destroyed that of the Moors in the Straits of Gibraltar. King Alfonso besieged the fortress of Gibraltar itself—which had been in Moorish possession since 1333—but failed to dislodge the enemy, and it was not until more than a hundred years later, in 1462, that it again fell into the hands of the Spaniards. Alfonso doubtless held the ambitious project of ridding the peninsula entirely of the Moors; but his country was not sufficiently united, and one hundred and fifty years were to elapse before the consummation of this object, under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. That he was a valiant warrior, despite his many failings is shown by his death in the field, while besieging Gibraltar, when he fell a victim to the terrible pestilence known as the "black, death," in the year 1350.

His son and successor, Don Pedro of Castile, is known to history as "Pedro the Cruel," which name well illustrates his character. Cruel and licentious to a degree never before shown in any occupant of the throne, Pedro; followed his father's pernicious example, his amour with Dona Maria de Padilla being maintained while his lawful wife was a prisoner by his command. Though for a time popular with the masses, owing to his inclination rather toward the people than the nobility, his lust, covetousness, and cruelty caused a revolt. He overcame his opponents, but signalled his return to power by the murder of his half-brother, Don Fadrique, his mother, many of his relatives, and his wife. It is charged against him that he cut the throats of the Emir of Granada and fifty of his nobles, while they were his guests under a flag of truce, and committed other atrocious deeds. His half-brother, Henry, having escaped to France, returned with an army, but Pedro appealed to the son of the English Edward III, the "Black Prince," and that gallant adventurer, then fighting in France, came to his assistance. By his aid he discomfited his enemies, but his cruelty to prisoners so disgusted his noble ally that he retired and left him to his fate. Henry then appeared with a small force, around which the people eagerly gathered, and Pedro was defeated and taken prisoner.

The last act of this terrible drama took place in a tent where the half-brothers, sons of the same father, met in deadly combat, which ended by Pedro's being stabbed in the back, and pouring out his life-blood at the fratricide's feet. Thus were the sins of Alfonso XI quickly visited upon his children, and the kingdom which he had founded threatened with disruption.

Pedro, the Cruel was killed in 1369, and as Henry II his half-brother, the regicide, assumed his place, claimants arose to contest his dubious title to the throne, and among them John of Gaunt, the English Duke of Lancaster, Pedro's son-in-law. At the same time, as enemies, he could count the Kings of Moorish Granada, Aragon, and Navarre. But he defeated the machinations of all these opponents and eventually reduced the kingdom to a state of peace, in which it continued till his death, in 1379, which was occasioned by a pair of him as a present by the Granada.

His son, John I, reigned eleven years, from 1379 to 1390, though in 1385 the Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt, assumed the title of king, with the arms of Castile, Leon, and France. He was, however, dissuaded by the promise that his daughter Catherine (whose mother was Constance, daughter a Pedro the Cruel and Maria de Padilla) shout marry Henry III, who succeeded to the throe; of Castile in 1390, and reigned until 1406 The heir of this union was John II, who was King of Castile from 1406 to1454, and whose chief claim to distinction is as the father of Isabella, who, after her brother, Henry IV had died, in 1474, became Queen of Castile. Thus in the veins of the woman who was to become the greatest of her line ran the blood, not only of Pedro the Cruel, but of his bastard brother, Henry of Trastamare.

But the resultant issue of her marriage with Ferdinand of Aragon, in 1469, was to be yet more deeply tinctured with the blood of the regicide; for the son of Henry of Trastamare had married a daughter of Pedro of Aragon, who was almost as cruel and implacable as Pedro of Castile. Ferdinand, son of John I, and grandson. of Henry, became King of Aragon, and was succeeded by his son, John II of Aragon, through whom at his death the throne passed to Ferdinand, later called the Catholic, and who became the royal consort of Isabella.

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