HISTORY: THE CHRISTIAN STATES OF THE NORTH UP TO THE 13TH CENTURY
Parallel to the history of Al-Andálus, and in close relationship with it, that of the Christian states of the North develops. For a historical paradox, the mountaineers-marauders of the Cantabrian and Pyrenees, who had so much resistance to the Romans first and then to the first Christian Spain, ended up becoming the defenders of the faith against Islam and promoters of the national recovery. The first kingdom was that of Asturias, with the semi-legendary Pelagius I (718-737), and capital first in Cangas de Onis and later (early 9th century) in Oviedo. But it is clear that strong support came from the Franks, worried about the Muslim danger on their southern frontier; for this Charlemagne carried out an expedition in 778 that could not conquer Zaragoza, but strengthened a second small state, that of Pamplona (with its own dynasty, of Iñigo Arista, from the middle of the 9th century), and then led to the creation of the Marca Hispanica, a strong military stronghold, with an indigenous “county”, that of Barcelona, starting from Wifredo il Velloso (874- 898). Other small Pyrenean counties, starting with that of Aragon (the first count known was an Auriolus who died around 809), were born for the support of the Franks, only to become independent from them. In the sec. X the Asturian kingdom had been able to extend, almost undisturbed, towards W (Galicia) and SE (with new capital in León, 914), reaching the Duero valley and favoring its “repopulators” with strong “democratic” privileges: from here Castile (“region of castles”) would later be born, a border mark destined by its own peculiar situation, as well as by the proud and dynamic spirit of its Cantabrian residents, to become independent and to take the initiative of the Reconquista. The political-military apogee of the Caliphate of Cordoba (10th century) came too late to annihilate those kingdoms and, ultimately, the great victories of al-Mansur (Zamora, Simancas, Barcelona, 985; Coimbra, León, 988; Santiago, the “holy city”, 997; Burgos, 1000).
According to Shoefrantics, the collapse of the caliphate, the anarchy of the taife and the new general impetus of the entire Christian Europe after the year 1000 turned the situation upside down. Alfonso VI of Castile, aided by Frankish “crusaders” (one of whom was later his son-in-law and first “count of Portugal”), went down to the heart of the peninsula and conquered Toledo (1085); Alfonso I of Aragon finally took Zaragoza (1118), making it the capital of the second peninsular kingdom, then made more powerful by the union with the Mediterranean Catalonia; and meanwhile the “road of San Giacomo” (camiño de Santiago) brought thousands of pilgrims, monks, traders and European nobles to Galicia. The great Cluniac (11th century) and Cistercian monasteries were born (XII) and with them the new studies, the Romanesque art, the history, the epic, the courtly lyric, the codes in which the Roman law was superimposed on the barbarian customs. From Alfonso VI to Ferdinand III, above all, the decisive role of Castile shone forth, a “revolutionary” country, without closed social classes, reckless and adventurous (Europe and especially America later realized this), conqueror and repopulating the center and south of the peninsula, where he also imposed his own language, more modern, clearer and more dynamic than other noble and archaic languages. Obviously, the speed of this phase of the Reconquista (13th century) brought with it a very serious problem: the assimilation of large masses of active population, traders, artisans, farmers, mudéjares, Jews and Moorish, different in religion, language, economy, customs and in general culture superior to that of the conquerors. This macroscopic phenomenon resulted in an advantage, on a cultural and linguistic level (Mudejar art spread throughout the peninsula; Castilian was enriched with thousands of Arabic words and expressive casts, etc.), but on the political and socio-economic level it could not fail entail difficulties and obstacles of all kinds, as the following centuries clearly demonstrated.
HISTORY: FROM THE CONQUEST OF CADIZ (1262) TO THE CATHOLIC KINGS
The “golden” phase of the Reconquista ended with the conquest of Cádiz (1262), it entered a long stasis, due to a complex of causes. First of all, the danger of yet another Muslim invasion was by no means excluded and Castile, without its own navy, had to “stand guard” on the Strait of Gibraltar, using above all the Genoese fleet (nor was there no lack of armed clashes, especially at the time by Alfonso XI, who rejected the last Moroccan attempt at the Battle of Salado, 1340, and four years later conquered Algeciras with the naval help of Aragonese and Genoese). Secondly, the “imperialist” ambitions, born from the victories over the Moors, had to put Castile in collision with the other two most important peninsular kingdoms: Aragon (strong and rich due to the conquests and politics of James I in the Mediterranean and the commercial activity of the Catalan navy) and Portugal, very tenacious in rejecting Castilian supremacy and winner in Aljubarrota (1385). But the internal crisis was more serious: by distributing the fertile southern lands taken from the Moors between the military orders (Calatrava, Alcántara, Santiago) and the Castilian knights who collaborated with the conquest, the kings of Castile created powerful and rebellious feudal lords, incapable on the other hand of to produce their large estates, often in conflict with the Moorish peasants and easy debtors of money to the Jewish bankers (to which, moreover, the kings themselves continually resorted, completely lacking ideas on financial matters). The decline of Andalusian agriculture ensued, also due to the lack of ships to transport its products, the affirmation of medieval sheep farming – with easy sale of wool to Flemings and Florentines, and consequent power of the Mesta (cartel of wool producers, which came to be a real state within the state) – and finally famines, riots and anti-Jewish hatred. From here to the civil wars there was only one step and in fact, which began at the time of Alfonso X, perhaps too “learned” to be a good administrator, they continued for a long time with tragic moments and episodes, as in the time of Peter I the Cruel (1350-1369), murdered by his half-brother Henry of Trastámara. Added to this are natural disasters, such as the terrible black plague of 1348 (with successive waves in 1362, 1371, 1375), which devastated the country even more than civil wars. Henry of Trastámara, the fratricide, and his successors, increasingly weak and uncertain, reigned for a century over a country devastated by hunger, by pogroms anti-Jewish (fierce that of Seville in 1391), by the revolts of the peasants, the bourgeoisie, the great lords, in vain opposed by some rare enlightened politician, such as don Álvaro de Luna, who ended up on the gallows in 1453. The last of the Trastámara, Henry IV (1454-74), tried to defend the conversos and put an end to the insubordination of the great nobility, but was finally deposed by the latter, who replaced him with his sister, Isabella, married in 1469 to the king of Aragon, Ferdinand. With them an entirely new era began.