The Gibraltar Crusade: Castile and the Battle for the Strait

The Gibraltar Crusade: Castile and the Battle for the Strait

The Gibraltar Crusade: Castile and the Battle for the Strait

The Gibraltar Crusade: Castile and the Battle for the Strait

Synopsis

The epic battle for control of the Strait of Gibraltar waged by Castile, Morocco, and Granada in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries is a major, but often overlooked, chapter in the history of the Christian reconquest of Spain. After the Castilian conquest of Seville in 1248 and the submission of the Muslim kingdom of Granada as a vassal state, the Moors no longer loomed as a threat and the reconquest seemed to be over. Still, in the following century, the Castilian kings, prompted by ideology and strategy, attempted to dominate the Strait. As self-proclaimed heirs of the Visigoths, they aspired not only to reconstitute the Visigothic kingdom by expelling the Muslims from Spain but also to conquer Morocco as part of the Visigothic legacy. As successive bands of Muslims over the centuries had crossed the Strait from Morocco into Spain, the kings of Castile recognized the strategic importance of securing Algeciras, Gibraltar, and Tarifa, the ports long used by the invaders.

At a time when European enthusiasm for the crusade to the Holy Land was on the wane, the Christian struggle for the Strait received the character of a crusade as papal bulls conferred the crusading indulgence as well as ancillary benefits. The Gibraltar Crusade had mixed results. Although the Castilians seized Gibraltar in 1309 and Algeciras in 1344, the Moors eventually repossessed them. Only Tarifa, captured in 1292, remained in Castilian hands. Nevertheless, the power of the Marinid dynasty of Morocco was broken at the battle of Salado in 1340, and for the remainder of the Middle Ages Spain was relieved of the threat of Moroccan invasion. While the reconquest remained dormant during the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, Ferdinand and Isabella conquered Granada, the last Muslim outpost in Spain, in 1492. In subsequent years Castile fulfilled its earlier aspirations by establishing a foothold in Morocco.

Excerpt

The epic battle for control of the Strait of Gibraltar waged by Castile, Morocco, and Granada in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries is a major, but often overlooked, chapter in the history of the Christian reconquest of Spain. It must also be seen in the broader context of the confrontation between Christianity and Islam during the crusading era.

The reconquest reached a climax with the fall of Seville in 1248 and the submission of the Moorish kingdom of Granada as a Castilian vassal state. the ensuing Castilian attempt to dominate the Strait is often regarded as a secondary episode in the reconquest. For some, the reconquest becomes important again only in the late fifteenth century when Ferdinand and Isabella conquered Granada, the last Muslim outpost in Spain. However, Castilian success in the fourteenth century in denying the Moroccans easy access to Spain made possible the ultimate conquest of Granada.

While Castile contested the battle for the Strait at the western end of the Mediterranean, the crusader states in the Holy Land ceased after 1291. Despite that overwhelming loss, the papacy, well into the fourteenth century, persistently attempted to convince western European rulers to liberate the Holy Land. Acknowledging the significance of that task, the Castilian kings contended that the Muslim presence in the Iberian Peninsula constituted a more immediate threat to Western Europe. Indeed, successive popes had recognized the importance of the reconquest by granting crusading privileges to those who participated in it. As a continuation of that enterprise, the struggle to command the Strait also received the character of a crusade. the kings of Castile suggested that, once they had overthrown peninsular Islam and gained a base in Morocco, they could participate in a general European crusade to rescue the Holy Land.

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