The title to this post is a little misleading. If one really wants to talk about the “Golden Age” of Reconquest it is hard to beat the Reconquista’s final conclusion with Ferdinand and Isabella. However, the time of one of Spain’s greatest warrior kings is a close second.
A New King in Aragon
Alfonso I of Aragon ascended the throne in 1104, and for the next 30 years until his death in 1134 he would invest everything in the Reconquista. His reign was filled with fighting, and so the world remembers him as Alfonso “the Battler”.
Now, it can be confusing when studying the kings of Spain due to the fact that many of them are named Alfonso. For instance, the king of Castile and Leon near this time was Alfonso VI (you may remember him from our post on El Cid), who became the Battler’s brother-in-law when Alfonso I married the VI’s sister Urraca. But do not forget Urraca had a son from a previous marriage named Alfonso Ramirez who eventually became Alfonso VII of Castile. Sometimes it can be hard to keep them straight, which is why the monocure “the Battler” is helpful.
Much of the Battler’s early reign was dealing with a civil war that erupted between Castile and Aragon, however, Alfonso I had several major successes when dealing with the Moors, namely his capture of Saragossa in 1118.
An Epic Campaign
To say the history of the marriage between Urraca and the Battler is interesting is an understatement, however, the greatest stories of Alfonso I come from his campaign beginning in 1126. It came to his attention that the Christians living in Granada were being persecuted by their Moorish masters, so he hatched a plan to go down to Granada to liberate the city and reclaim that area for Christ. The only problem was that Granada does not border the province of Aragon. In fact, Alfonso was going to have to march through hundreds of miles of enemy territory to get to the gates of Granada.
Alfonso was not deterred by the difficulties he faced, and he gathered a force of around 20,000 including near 4,500 horsed knights (when comparing army sizes for Medieval armies how many knights an army has is always the key). This is how Dr. Warren Carroll describes Alfonso I on the eve of his campaign:
Alfonso the Battler was 53 years old, veteran of a hundred engagements, the greatest warrior in Spain and probably in all Christendom. (1)
As Alfonso made his way southwest he called on the Christians living in the Moorish territory to unite with his army swelling his force to nearly 50,000. It is a fascinating story because as he makes his way through the lands in southern Spain, many of these places will not have a Christian flags raised in them again for another 300 years.
On January 7, 1127 Alfonso’s army made it to the gates of Granada, and in those winter months his army experienced seemingly unceasing rains making campaigning extremely difficult. However, by March the Battler was ready for a fight, and the Moors gave it to him near Lucena ( less than 100 km from Granada). Alfonso army’s won a brilliant victory using the terrain to their advantage.
But by the beginning of summer his army was out of supplies, and it was too difficult to sustain such a large host merely off the land, so by May he began a retreat to Aragon. The walls of Granada and their massive defenses had eluded him, however, the campaign is still remembered as a great victory mainly because the Battler brought back tens of thousands of Christian refugees from the persecuting hands of the Moors.
While there were no lasting conquests from Alfonso’s campaign there was a message sent. The Almoravid Moors now knew that the Christian kings of northern Spain meant business. In less than six years Alfonso VII of Castile, the Battler’s “sort of” step son, would make a similar campaign south to capture Cadiz.
Nothing is more destructive to a jihad army’s morale than to be on the defensive because it goes against the narrative. If God wants you to conquer the world why are you losing? And Alfonso I spent his entire life putting the Moors on the defensive.
The Death of a King
Alfonso I of Aragon died in 1134 after the disaster at Fraga. Fraga was under siege by a force of both French and Spanish men when a massive Moorish army came up from the south and surprised the encamped Christians. It was a complete debacle and quickly became about survival for the Christian army. Many nobles and clergymen were killed including the bishops of Huesca and Roda.
Alfonso was able to fight his way out of the nightmare, however, he may have been wounded in the fighting. It was not long after that he died at the beautiful monastery on Montearagon. He left his lands to the Knights Templar and the Knight’s of St John because he believed they would be the best chance for Spain to complete the Reconquest.
Alfonso I “the Battler” is still remembered as one of the greatest kings in Spanish history and rightly so. He almost single-handedly stopped the jihad of the Almoravids in its tracks and inspired hope in the beleaguered kingdoms of Spain.
(1) A History of Christendom. Vol 3, Dr. Warren Carroll, 1993, p 47.