The Medieval Review 15.03.10

O'Callaghan, Joseph F. The Last Crusade in the West: Castile and the Conquest of Granada. The Middle Ages. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014. Pp. xiv, 364. $75.00 (hardback). ISBN: 9780812245875 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Hannah Barker
Rhodes College

This book is the final volume of Joseph O'Callaghan's excellent trilogy on the crusading movement in medieval Spain. The first volume, Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain (2003), traced the history of Christian-Muslim struggles for control of the peninsula from the eighth-century Muslim conquest to the mid thirteenth century, when the Nasrid emir of Granada agreed to become a vassal of the king of Castile. The second volume, The Gibraltar Crusade: Castile and the Battle for the Strait (2011), focused on the mid thirteenth century to mid fourteenth century contest between the Castilians and the Nasrids, with help from their Marinid allies in Morocco, for control of the Straits of the Gibraltar. The third volume, the subject of this review, describes the final series of Castilian campaigns against the emirate of Granada, beginning in the mid fourteenth century and culminating in the surrender of the city to Fernando and Isabel in 1492.

O'Callaghan portrays the final century and a half of conflict between Christian and Muslim rulers in Iberia as a period of almost constant border raiding and instability punctuated by the occasional organized campaign. Both the Castilian and Nasrid states suffered from internal strife as well as external threats from their sometime allies, sometime rivals in Aragon, Portugal, and Marinid Morocco. Such considerations prevented either side from mounting a lengthy and extensive military campaign until the reign of Fernando and Isabel, whose active commitment to the project of reconquest and crusade led to the final defeat of the Nasrids. The decisive sieges of Malaga, Baza, and Granada were all carried out under their leadership.

Like the other two volumes of this trilogy, The Last Crusade in the West consists of a chronological narrative accompanied by several thematic chapters which highlight O'Callaghan's main arguments. Although the narrative is constructed from the point of view of the Castilian monarchy, it is balanced throughout by a Nasrid perspective. It also highlights connections between crusading activity in the eastern Mediterranean and the Iberian peninsula, and it includes numerous references to literary romances and works of art inspired by the Castilian crusades. In constructing his account, O'Callaghan relies primarily on ecclesiastical and royal Castilian narrative and documentary sources, but he supplements these effectively with Portuguese and Arabic sources.

After an introduction that sketches the chronology of the period, describes the state of Granada in 1350, and surveys the available sources, chapter one begins the narrative with the reign of Pedro I of Castile (1350-69). During this period, Muhammad V of Granada was a tribute-paying vassal of Pedro, and the two rulers often found themselves allied against the Aragonese, the Marinids, and their own restless magnates. Pedro I was eventually defeated by his brother and rival Enrique II Trastamara. The early Trastamara period (1369-1406), encompassing the reigns of Enrique II, Juan I, and Enrique III) is the subject of chapter two. This was a period of relative turbulence for the Castilian kings, who fought to unify Castile and annex Portugal while rival popes directed crusades against both kingdoms. It was therefore a period of relative peace for Granada. Muhammad V seized this opportunity to halt tribute payments and, in 1369, to take and destroy the port of Algeciras. A foolish attempt by the Order of Alcantara to instigate war following the death of Muhammad V did not succeed, though it raised tensions along the frontier.

Enrique III died in 1406 leaving a partially planned crusade against Granada and a young son, Juan II, under the regency of Enrique's brother Fernando. Chapter three covers Fernando's regency (1406-16), during which he attempted to follow through on Enrique's crusade. Chapter 3 also discusses rival Portuguese and Castilian claims to North Africa, considered part of the ancient Visigothic kingdom and therefore a legitimate target for both reconquest and crusade. After Fernando's death, Juan II ruled directly from 1416 to 1454. This period, the subject of chapter four, was one of intense civil strife and factionalism in both Castile and Granada, resulting in frequent raids across the frontier but little organized warfare. Juan II did not follow up on his one notable victory in battle at La Higueruela in 1431. Meanwhile Portuguese attempts to crusade in Morocco met with failure. In chapter five, Enrique IV (1454-74) introduced a new strategy of weakening Nasrid rule by systematically devastating the countryside. This strategy was very unpopular among the Castilian nobility since it did not result in the kinds of battles and sieges which would enable them to win honor, and they therefore accused Enrique IV of harboring Muslim sympathies. Nevertheless Enrique negotiated with the papacy for his campaigns to be considered crusades, and he resisted papal efforts to divert manpower and revenue from Iberia to the east.

Chapters six and seven cover the reign of Isabel and Fernando, the turning point in the long struggle for the peninsula. While the pair consolidated their power in Castile, the emirate of Granada remained divided between three claimants: Muhammad XI, also known as Abu 'Abd Allah or Boabdil, who vacillated between acceptance of and resistance to Castilian lordship; his uncle Muhammad XII, also known as al-Zagal; and Yahya al-Najjar, a more distant relative based in Almeria. The campaign for the western part of the emirate, ending with siege of Malaga in 1487, is the subject of chapter six. Chapter seven describes the campaign for the eastern part of the emirate, including the sieges of Baza and Granada itself. The terms of capitulation and the delicate process of handing over Granada to the Castilians is described in fascinating detail.

At this point O'Callaghan switches to a thematic approach to sum up his findings. Chapter eight outlines the system of frontier warfare with attention to the various sources of manpower for the Castilian and Nasrid forces; the relative importance of raids, battles, and sieges in the conflict; the treatment of casualties and captives; sources of funding; and the terms of truces along the frontier. Chapter nine analyzes various ideological considerations driving the conflict, most importantly the ideology of reconquest, based on Castilian claims to rulership over the entire Visigothic kingdom, and the ideologies of crusade and jihad, based on Christian and Islamic claims of religious superiority respectively.

In chapter nine, O'Callaghan most clearly states his argument that the conflict between Castile and Granada was driven primarily by religious zeal (226). Distinctive to the late medieval period is the manifestation of this zeal as a desire for the conversion of the Muslim population rather than their conquest or expulsion (234-7). O'Callaghan connects this new emphasis on conversion and religious homogeneity with the rise of nationalism in order to explain the failure of Castile to assimilate the conquered population of Granada as protected mudejars, as promised in the terms of their capitulation (227). While this reader would have liked a more detailed explanation of the move towards forced conversion after the fall of Granada, it is understandably beyond the scope of this particular work. What O'Callaghan does not explain is why the impulse towards reconquest, crusade, conversion, and nationalism came to a head when it did. Isabel specifically is portrayed as the driving force behind the final victory over Granada, suppressing the rebellious nobility, demanding papal support, convincing Fernando to prioritize the Granada campaign, and even pawning her own jewelry to raise funds. What factors enabled or inspired her to succeed where so many of her immediate predecessors had fallen short? O'Callaghan makes clear that her reign was a turning point, but does not explain why.

The book itself is generally well-written and well-produced, but a few changes would improve the apparatus accompanying the text. O'Callaghan has provided his readers with a note on currency, a very helpful set of genealogical tables, three maps showing the movement of the frontier over time, and an index. The genealogical tables are prominently located at the beginning of the book, but the maps are scattered throughout the text (on pages 4, 52, and 171) without an initial list to indicate their locations. The index is fairly minimal, focused on place and personal names. For a book destined to be used as a reference and a scholarly introduction to the subject, it would be helpful to include more thematic and conceptual terms. For example, an index entry on surrender or capitulation in addition to truce would make it easier to compare and contrast the terms required for peace along the frontier and for individual cities.

That being said, this is an excellent book and a useful resource. As part of its trilogy, it examines the complex relationship between ideologies of crusade and reconquest over the full timespan of Christian-Muslim conflict within the Iberian peninsula. As a stand-alone volume, it contributes a distinctively Iberian perspective to scholarship on the late medieval crusades, much of which has focused on the eastern Mediterranean and the campaigns against the Ottoman Turks. Scholars of the crusades will appreciate the clear connections O'Callaghan finds between the eastern and western campaigns in both Christian and Muslim sources. Students of the crusades will appreciate the clear writing style and the inclusion of English translations for non-English words. This book would make a good addition to the shelves of anyone interested in the crusades, Iberian history, or Christian-Muslim relations in the Mediterranean.

Copyright (c) 2015 Hannah Barker

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