Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Gibraltar Crusade

The Gibraltar Crusade: Castile and the Battle for the Strait

Joseph F. O’Callaghan
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 392
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Gibraltar Crusade
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0463-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Genealogical Tables
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Chapter 1 Spain and the Strait of Gibraltar
    (pp. 1-10)

    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...

  6. Chapter 2 Alfonso X’s African Crusade
    (pp. 11-33)

    Alfonso X (1252–84), an exceptionally ambitious monarch, inherited his father’s dream of establishing a foothold in Morocco and perhaps launching a crusade to liberate the Holy Land.¹ During the first decade of his reign, the new king, armed with papal bulls, proposed to carry out an African Crusade, but his pursuit of the throne of the Holy Roman Empire often distracted his attention from Morocco. Internal opposition from the Mudéjars, Muslims living under Castilian rule, and the hostility of Ibn al-Ahmar, king of Granada, ultimately thwarted his plans. The eventual intervention of a new dynasty emerging in Morocco, the...

  7. Chapter 3 The Crusade Against the Mudéjars
    (pp. 34-59)

    For more than ten years Alfonso X pursued his African Crusade and his quest for the imperial crown, confident that the kings of Granada and Murcia, as loyal vassals, would not impede him. In 1264, however, the revolt of the Mudéjars, aided and abetted by the Moorish kings, took him entirely by surprise and laid bare the vulnerability of his kingdom. Though guaranteed freedom of religion and the right to be governed by Islamic law, the Mudéjars repudiated their allegiance and maintained hostilities for several years. No longer could Islamic Spain be viewed as submissive and subjugated. In order to...

  8. Chapter 4 The Crusade Against the Marinids
    (pp. 60-87)

    In the last decade of his reign Alfonso X hoped to achieve his imperial ambitions, but his plans were disrupted by the Marinid invasion and the disputed succession to the throne. With papal support, he launched a crusade against the Marinids and, with the intent of preventing future Moroccan incursions into Spain, unsuccessfully laid siege to Algeciras. Concern about his health and mental stability, however, led his second son and designated heir, Sancho, to deprive him of royal authority in 1282. In the ensuing civil war, a desperate Alfonso X, feeling abandoned not only by his people but also by...

  9. Chapter 5 Sancho IV and the Conquest of Tarifa
    (pp. 88-111)

    Sancho IV (1284–95), aged twenty-six at his accession and known to subsequent generations as “el Bravo,” the Bold or the Brave, was a courageous ruler confronted by seemingly insurmountable obstacles.¹ His nephew Alfonso de la Cerda, challenged his right to rule and Pope Martin IV had excommunicated the king, placing an interdict on his kingdom and refusing to sanction his marriage to his cousin María de Molina. Thus, as their children could be regarded as illegitimate, their rights to the throne would be disputed.² Compounding these problems was the likelihood of a new Moroccan invasion. The Marinid threat bracketed...

  10. Chapter 6 The Crusades of Gibraltar, Almería, and Algeciras
    (pp. 112-136)

    As the thirteenth century waned, the struggle to command the Strait took second place to the effort to secure the throne for the boy king, Fernando IV (1295–1312).¹ After he reached adulthood, he joined Jaime II of Aragón in a crusade against the kingdom of Granada. Although Fernando IV captured Gibraltar in 1309, he had to abandon the siege of Algeciras and Jaime II similarly failed to take Almería. Fernando IV resumed his crusade against Algeciras, but his untimely death and the minority of his son once again interrupted Castilian efforts to seize control of the Strait. Gibraltar, his...

  11. Chapter 7 The Early Crusades of Alfonso XI’s Reign
    (pp. 137-161)

    In spite of the disorder of the early years of Alfonso XI (1312–50), his uncle Infante Pedro carried out several crusades against the kingdom of Granada.¹ Nevertheless, his sudden death and that of his uncle Infante Juan, during their crusade in 1319, plunged the kingdom into turmoil. During those years, however, the Marinids remained apart from the Peninsula, and discord among the Nasrids minimized their opportunities to seize Castilian territory. After attaining his majority in 1325, Alfonso XI, supported by papal crusading bulls, began a frontal assault on the kingdom of Granada, frightening Muhammad IV, who summoned the Marinids...

  12. Chapter 8 The Loss of Gibraltar and the Crusade of Salado
    (pp. 162-188)

    Preoccupied by their ambition to conquer Tlemcen, the Marinid emirs had not been directly involved in peninsular affairs for nearly two decades. Responding, however, to Nasrid appeals, the Marinids reappeared, delivering a grave blow to Castile by seizing Gibraltar. Alfonso XI’s resolve to reclaim that stronghold led to a decisive confrontation with the Marinid sultan Abū l-Hasan (1331–48), at the Salado River. There, the kings of Castile, Portugal, Granada, and Morocco risked life, honor, and kingdoms in a pitched battle with profound consequences for all.

    Arriving in Fez in September 1332, Muhammad IV was warmly received by Abū l-Hasan,...

  13. Chapter 9 The Crusade of Algeciras and Gibraltar
    (pp. 189-217)

    In the decade following his victory at Salado, Alfonso XI directed his efforts and his treasure to the conquest of Algeciras and Gibraltar. Possession of those ports, he recognized, was essential to protect against a renewed invasion from Morocco. After a siege of nearly two years Algeciras was forced to surrender in 1344, though it exhausted his treasury and his troops. Nevertheless, after allowing time for his people to catch their breath, he returned to the attack, this time against Gibraltar. His campaign and his life ended abruptly, however, when he was struck down by the plague in 1350.


  14. Chapter 10 Waging the Crusade of Gibraltar
    (pp. 218-255)

    For nearly a century the kings of Castile, intent on controlling the principal seaports on the Strait and reducing Muslim territory in the Peninsula, waged bitter war against the Marinids and the Nasrids. That enormous task required the organization and maintenance of armies and navies as well as immense sums of money. Arguing that the threat of Islam to Western Christendom was especially grave, kings simultaneously sought the blessing of the church for their war against the Muslims. The popes, though torn by their desire to liberate the Holy Land, despite growing odds against any possibility of success, conferred on...

  15. Chapter 11 The Aftermath: The Strait of Gibraltar to 1492
    (pp. 256-266)

    The Gibraltar Crusade, the preoccupation of the kings of Castile for almost one hundred years, from the accession of Alfonso X in 1252 until the death of Alfonso XI in 1350, achieved mixed results. Reflecting on that venture, several questions may be asked. Why did the Castilian monarchs feel impelled to engage in the battle for control of the Strait of Gibraltar? What did they accomplish and what did they fail to do? What remained to be done in the nearly 150 years from the demise of Alfonso XI to the fall of Granada in 1492?

    Several factors explain the...

  16. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 267-270)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 271-336)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 337-364)
  19. Index
    (pp. 365-374)
  20. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 375-376)