15.01.29, Rodriguez García, La cruzada en tiempos de Alfonso X

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Joseph O'Callaghan

The Medieval Review 15.01.29

Rodríguez García, José Manuel . La cruzada en tiempos de Alfonso X. Serie Historia medieval. Madrid: Silex, 2014. Pp. 321. ISBN: 9788477375722 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Joseph O'Callaghan
Fordham University, emeritus

In 1955 José Goñi Gaztambide published his Historia de la bula de la cruzada en España. Since then Spanish historians have studied the influence of the idea and practice of the crusade on the continuing struggle between Christians and Muslims for ascendancy in the Iberian Peninsula. In the present volume, José Manuel Rodríguez García places the thirteenth-century crusade in Spain in the broader European context of crusading history. His purpose is to emphasize that Spain was an integral part of Western Christendom and that Alfonso X, king of Castile-León, and his Spanish contemporaries were fully aware of the crusading movement that swept across Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

News of European crusades and the fate of the Holy Land reached Alfonso X through a variety of sources. The king had familial connections with the royal families of France, England, the Holy Roman Empire, and Naples, and was in regular communication with the papacy and Italian and German supporters of his imperial ambitions. Castile was in constant commercial contact with her extrapeninsular neighbors and the Genoese maintained a flourishing colony in Seville, one of his favorite residences. Northern European troubadours, poets, legists, canonists, and other scholars found a welcome in his court. Like Christians elsewhere, the king and his people shared the suffering resulting from the permanent loss of Jerusalem in 1187 and the consequent desire to liberate the Holy Land. However, the task of delivering Spain from Muslim domination remained paramount in Alfonso X's mind.

Professor Rodríguez García has not written a traditional narrative of the thirteenth-century reconquest, but rather a study of various crusading elements. After reflecting on the juridical character of the crusade, characterized by the concession of a plenary indulgence and certain ancillary benefits, he directs attention to the principal protagonists. First among them was Alfonso X, who planned a crusade to subjugate North Africa and tried vainly to persuade King Henry III of England to collaborate with him. King Alfonso's plans were derailed in 1264 when his vassal, Ibn al-Aḥmar, emir of Granada, fomented the rebellion of the Mudejars, Muslims subject to Christian rule. The suppression of that revolt and his pursuit of the crown of the Holy Roman Empire distracted Alfonso X from his African crusade. In his later years the Marinid dynasty that had recently come to power in Morocco turned the tables on him and invaded Castile on several occasions. The supposition that the conquest of Morocco would prepare the way for a grand assault to liberate the Holy Land would be echoed in later years but with no more success.

In order to carry out his crusade, the king relied, as Rodríguez García emphasizes, on the Castilian nobility and the Military Orders for military support. In a seeming anomaly, rebellious Spanish noblemen at times entered the service of the Moorish rulers, but they were also attracted by the prospect of fighting for the faith in the Holy Land. They quickly realized, however, that they could gain the same spiritual benefits by participating in the struggle against the Moors. Many made testamentary bequests supporting the crusade or the military orders. Although the Templars and the Hospitallers acquired property in Castile, their chief concern was to provide financial assistance for their holdings in the Holy Land. The principal burden of opposing the Moors on the battlefield was borne by the indigenous orders of Calatrava, Santiago, and Alcántara, and Avis in Portugal. When Alfonso X came to power, the chief seats of those orders were well removed from the frontier which now extended below the Guadalquivir River. Although he tried to induce them to establish their headquarters in advanced positions closer to enemy territory, he was unsuccessful. His creation of the Order of Santa María de España implied a desire to have greater control over the orders. Although the General Chapter of the Order of Cîteaux admitted the Order to affiliation, Pope Nicholas III denounced the king for establishing an order without papal authorization. Noting the distinctively Spanish character of Alfonso X's new order, Rodríguez García compares it to the Order of Teutonic Knights, an essentially German organization, and offered the intriguing suggestion that the king may have hoped to use it to further his imperial aspirations.

Finances loomed large in planning a crusade. In addition to his ordinary sources of revenue, the king endeavored to exploit a variety of extraordinary sources such as customs duties and grants made by the Cortes. Rodríguez García emphasizes that the king's expectation that the church would contribute to the crusade, a war in defense of the faith, was of greatest importance. Alfonso X pointed out that as he and his predecessors endowed and protected churches, especially against the incursions of the Moors, and converted mosques in liberated towns to churches, they had a right to exploit the wealth of the church when necessary. The king recognized that spiritual and financial assistance from the papacy was essential to the success of his crusade. Nevertheless, when the Mudejar revolt broke out, rather than wait for the pope to proclaim a new crusade, the king did not hesitate to direct his bishops to preach a crusade utilizing papal crusading bulls issued in 1246 and 1259. Throughout this time, the popes were more interested in liberating the Holy Land and only reluctantly authorized the use of the decima or tenth of ecclesiastical income and the tercias, theoretically a third of the tithe. These exactions prompted the Castilian clergy to plead poverty. Eventually, Nicholas III, accusing the king of oppressing the church, charged him with diverting some of those funds to other purposes.

Rodríguez García notes that evidence of crusade preaching in Castile is scarce, but he suggests that the themes touched on by preachers elsewhere in Europe were probably adapted to the peninsular situation. Under the direction of the local bishop, the clergy and especially members of the mendicant orders attempted to stir the faithful to take the crusader's vow or to contribute financially to the crusade. As a religious war, the crusade also entailed a litany of rituals: the taking of the crusader's vow, the blessing of banners, the celebration of liturgy, prayers for the crusaders, absolution of sins, and the possibility of martyrdom.

Rodríguez García also addresses the question of whether the conversion of the Muslims was an objective of the crusade. There is a long-standing theological tradition that affirms that religion is not to be imposed by force. After successive crusades failed to deliver Jerusalem, St. Francis of Assisi, believing that the use of force against Islam was ineffective, made a personal appeal to the sultan of Egypt. Though he was unsuccessful, he encouraged his friars to undertake missionary work, though that was not without its hazards. Several of his friars met their deaths when they attempted to preach in Muslim lands. While some popes spoke about conversion, papal efforts on behalf of the church in Morocco were directed principally to supporting the Christian people there. Alfonso X, following Castilian tradition, guaranteed the right to worship freely to the subject Muslim population, but he was also quite clear that the Muslims were in error. Though individual conversions occurred, no campaign of mass conversion was undertaken, as Rodríguez García makes clear. After the Mudejar revolt, the king removed the Mudejars from sensitive areas along the frontier and he also established Franciscan houses there. His purpose, however, was not so much conversion, but safeguarding Christians against apostasy which was punished severely. While it is true that one might speak of convivencia in the sense that Christians, Muslims, and Jews co-existed in the kingdom of Castile-León, Rodríguez García is aware that they never enjoyed equal status and the modern notion of religious tolerance that accords no special privilege or standing to one religious group as against the others does not accurately describe the peninsular situation in the thirteenth century.

Rodríguez García brings his book to a close with a lengthy chapter on crusading ideology. He focuses on the historiographical, literary, and legal works carried out in the name of Alfonso X and at his direction. In the Estoria de España or Primera Crónica General (and in the version known as the Crónica de veinte reyes), the translation of the Gran Crónica de Ultramar attributed to Alfonso X, as well as in the Cantigas de Santa María, and the Alfonsine law codes (Espéculo, Fuero real, and the Siete Partidas), Rodríguez García finds references to the crusades to the Holy Land and also to the war against Islam in Spain. Islam is depicted in harsh language as the enemy of Christianity and the theme of recovering lands occupied by the Moors and their expulsion from Spain is persistent.

This most welcome book opens up new vistas for consideration and research as the author places peninsular events in the general European context. The book is thoroughly documented with many extensive notes that reveal an exceptionally broad range of reading in the history of medieval Spain and of medieval Europe in general. There is an ample bibliography but no index. There are also minor typographical errors.

In concluding his work, Rodríguez García alerted his readers that he had much more to say on this issue. Soon thereafter he published Ideología cruzada en el siglo XIII: Una visión desde la Castilla de Alfonso X, which may be read in conjunction with the volume under review.

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Author Biography

Joseph O'Callaghan

Fordham University, emeritus