Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Early Reconquest Episcopate at Cuenca, 1177-1284

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Early Reconquest Episcopate at Cuenca, 1177-1284

Article excerpt

The Christian Iberian Reconquest is often assumed by scholars outside of the peninsula (and sometimes by those within it) to be a part of the crusading movement. The customary image of such enterprises posits crown and miter, priest and citizen linked in a joint endeavor to spread the word of Christ by means of the Church Militant. Any serious investigation of medieval Luso-Hispania soon reveals a reality far more complex. Christian rulers fight each other, often in alliance with Muslim princes. Bishops occasionally find themselves caught between the press of the emerging territorial monarchies, the striving municipalities, and the designs of the papal reform movement. The citizens of the new frontier towns, as elsewhere in Europe, contended bitterly with the bishop over questions of authority and economic resources. Indeed, the episcopacy is often a neglected element in the study of the military, political, and economic forces combined in the Reconquest effort. A useful micro-model for examining many of these elements is the town of Cuenca. Captured from the Muslim Almohads in 1177, it was designated as an episcopal see virtually at the outset. The shape it would take as town and bishopric on a militarized frontier is most instructive in observing these forces at work, revealing a more complex portrait of Reconquest economic politics.

Cuenca as a municipality possessed no particular Roman background, although the modern province that it administrates is liberally sprinkled with Roman archaeological sites. It came into existence as Muslim Kunka, a town which Ibn Sahib al-sala described in the twelfth century as peaked by its "lofty citadel, unconquerable, whose height reached heavenward to touch the clouds."1 The town sits astride a precipitous ridge carved out in geologic time by the joining of the Jucar and the Huecar rivers, positioned approximately 175 kilometers east of Toledo and about an equal distance southeast of Madrid. During the eleventh century King Alfonso VI had acquired control of the town through marriage and diplomacy, only to lose it again in the wake of the disastrous battle of Ucles in 1108, which had also cost him the life of his only son. As a salient and supply base, it continued to threaten the eastern flank of Toledo during the reigns of Queen Urraca (1109-1126) and her son King Alfonso VII (1126-1157).2 It fell to king Alfonso VIII (1168-1214) of Castile to secure this region soon after attaining his majority.

One clear incentive came from the east, provided by King Alfonso 11 of Aragon, who captured the town of Teruel 150 kilometers to the northeast in 1171. Teruel constituted a potential portal to Cuenca and La Mancha, as well as a strategic thrust to the south against the declining kingdom of Murcia under the renegade Muslim King Lobo.3 Lobo's death in 1172 introduced an even greater threat. Abfl Yalqfjb Yfisuf 1, the Almohad Muslim caliph who had just crossed over from North Africa, moved to consolidate the Murcian kingdom in his own hands. AbFa Yalqfib struck first at northern La Mancha, capturing the castles of Vilches and Alcaraz, and then laying siege to the Christian castle town of Huete, sixty kilometers west of Cuenca. These settlements were established during the reign of Alfonso VII, and stood at risk of just such an onslaught.4 Alfonso VIII hastily gathered a relief army at Toledo, while the tenacity of the Christian defenders, aided by an unusual summer rainstorm that refilled their cisterns, proved too much for Abu Ya`qub's army. Before Alfonso VIII reached Huete, the Muslim caliph had already retreated to the safety of Cuenca's walls. This safe haven allowed the Muslims to re-supply and subsequently to continue their raiding in the Tajo Valley later in the summer.5 By 1177, Alfonso VIII had determined to remove this dangerous salient before it sustained any additional Islamic campaigns or provided an invitation for an Aragonese incursion into his southeastern frontier zone. …

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