The Last Crusade in the West: Castile and the Conquest of Granada

The Last Crusade in the West: Castile and the Conquest of Granada

The Last Crusade in the West: Castile and the Conquest of Granada

The Last Crusade in the West: Castile and the Conquest of Granada


By the middle of the fourteenth century, Christian control of the Iberian Peninsula extended to the borders of the emirate of Granada, whose Muslim rulers acknowledged Castilian suzerainty. No longer threatened by Moroccan incursions, the kings of Castile were diverted from completing the Reconquest by civil war and conflicts with neighboring Christian kings. Mindful, however, of their traditional goal of recovering lands formerly ruled by the Visigoths, whose heirs they claimed to be, the Castilian monarchs continued intermittently to assault Granada until the late fifteenth century.

Matters changed thereafter, when Fernando and Isabel launched a decade-long effort to subjugate Granada. Utilizing artillery and expending vast sums of money, they methodically conquered each Naṣrid stronghold until the capitulation of the city of Granada itself in 1492. Effective military and naval organization and access to a diversity of financial resources, joined with papal crusading benefits, facilitated the final conquest. Throughout, the Naṣrids had emphasized the urgency of a jihād waged against the Christian infidels, while the Castilians affirmed that the expulsion of the "enemies of our Catholic faith" was a necessary, just, and holy cause. The fundamentally religious character of this last stage of conflict cannot be doubted, Joseph F. O'Callaghan argues.


Ever since the Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in the eighth century, the Christians had fought to expel them. The present volume describes the ebb and flow of that conflict, known as the reconquest, from the middle of the fourteenth century until its completion in 1492. Accorded crusading status by the papacy, the struggle continued long after serious attempts to recover the Holy Land had been abandoned, and so can rightly be called the last crusade in the West.

The Reconquest: From Abeyance to Completion

Not long after the Muslims destroyed the Visigothic kingdom, independent Christians in the northernmost reaches of the peninsula expressed their hope of recovering the land that had been lost. The idea that the kings of CastileLeón, as heirs of the Visigoths, ought to reconstitute the Visigothic realm, including the ancient Roman province of Mauritania in North Africa, gained early currency and persisted until the close of the Middle Ages. The achievement of that lofty goal was slow, but in the late eleventh century the balance of power shifted in favor of the Christians who drove the frontier south of Toledo on the Tagus River. Invaders from Morocco, first the Almoravids and then the Almohads, temporarily halted that advance but failed to regain lost territory.

Acknowledging that the war against the Moors (as the Christians called the Muslims) was in the interest of Christendom, successive popes offered participants the crusading indulgence or remission of sins, and various personal and proprietary legal protections. The papacy also provided financial aid from ecclesiastical income. As Portugal and Aragón reached their fullest extent by the mid-thirteenth century, only Castile, after conquering Córdoba . . .

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