The People of Gibraltar
1256 - The Guzmán Family -  The First Ten Sieges of Gibraltar

From the 13th right through to the early 16th century, the history of the Guzmán family from Sanlúcar de Barrameda is inextricably linked to that of Gibraltar. For the amateur historian trying to make sense of what particular member of the family was responsible for which particular exploit can be something of a challenge. 

One slightly disconcerting problem is that many medieval and modern historians  often refer to the various members of the family by identical and indistinguishable names - which is confusing as the family seem to have had a predilection for using only three alternative Christian names for their first born sons -  Alonso, Juan Alonso and Enrique. 


A view of the Rock from the Spanish hinterland ( 1849 - Genaro Villaamil Duguet Perez - detail )

Another is that over the centuries the family became part of the Spanish aristocracy and accumulated a large number of different titles which included the original Señores de Sanlúcar, as well as those of Niebla and Medina Sidonia. It means that the Guzman's are often confusingly referred to in one chapter as the fourth count of Niebla and in another as the second duke of Medina Sidonia.  

Traditional histories are by no means exempt from examples of mistaken identity and the internet is so full of gross errors concerning the family as to make it practically unusable as a source for research. This article is therefore not a history of the family as such but an attempt to identify each generation and to summarise as precisely as possible, who did what and when in so far as Gibraltar is concerned.

To begin at the beginning. The first traceable ancestor appeared on the scene in mid 9th century, offering his services, together with those of his followers and servants, to Ramiro I of Asturias and Leon. In other words to give him a hand in his war against the Moors. (see LINK) He is described in a sixteenth century history  as:
. . . un caballero de Bretaña, señor de la casa de Toral, descendiente de los Godos antiguos, hermano del Horus Pogio ( possibly Horud Poggio ) que a la sazon era duque de Bretaña.1

( 1788 - Manuel Rodriquez )

The myth endures that during those never ending skirmishes against the moors - the king's new Gothic knight not only distinguished himself by his bravery - but was also always heard to shout the words 'Gotman, Gotman' during the heat of battle. When the king heard of his unusual battle cry he interpreted them as either 'God man' or 'Goth man' and ordered that in future the stranger should be known as 'Gotman', a name which over the years would be corrupted to 'Guzmán'. 

The history of this gentleman and that of his descendents over the next several centuries are of no interest here as Gibraltar forms no part of it. In fact the first Guzmán of any general historical note was Alonso Pérez de Guzmán. Luckily he also happened to be the first member of the family with Gibraltar connections. His main claim to fame, however, came from elsewhere.

In a convoluted war between a king, his son and his brother, each at one time or the other in alliance with various Moorish overlords, King Sancho IV of Castile entrusted the defence of the Spanish town of Tarifa to Alonso Pérez de Guzmán. The Moorish court in Fez had been planning to attack the town for some time, were approached by Sancho's brother Prince John, a nasty piece of work with hardly any redeeming features. The Prince proposed to them a plan which he considered fool-proof. The Moors agreed.


Sancho IV of Castile ( 13th century manuscript - Unknown )

An attempt to take the town by force failed and Prince John's plan was put into action. Word was immediately sent to Perez de Guzmán to remind him that his son Pero Alfonso de Guzmán formed part of Prince John's retinue. He would be killed if he didn't surrender Tarifa. The response by Guzmán ensured that his name would remain in the pantheon of Spanish heroes right up to the present day. 
Y  entonces el  buen  alcaide  y esforzado  capitán y  verdadero  Guzmán, teniendo  en  mas  la  fe y el amor de  Dios y el servicio que  debía á su rey, y lo que era obligado á su honra y á la  sangre donde  procedía, dijo en voz  alta que lo oyeron los moros que estaban abajo:   
"Porque  no  penséis que os tengo  que  entregar  la  villa  con  amenazas  de  la  muerte  de  mi hijo, veis ahí un cuchillo os hecho con que lo degolléis." 
Y  sacando  una  daga  que  traía en la cinta, la  arrojó por  cima  de  las  almenas y fue  á  caer  entre los moros, y dijo:
"Si otros cinco hijos tuviera, antes consintiera que me los matárades que no daros la villa del rey mi señor,  de que le hice  homenaje." Y  diciendo  esto, se  quitó de la  torre, y se fue á meter en el castillo, que está  hasta  cincuenta  pasos de  la  torre,  y  sentóse  á comer con su mujer sin ninguna turbación, no sabiendo  ella  nada de lo que había pasado. 2

"Guzmán el Bueno arrojando el puñal" Historically wrong if the woman in is supposed to be his wife - she knew nothing of the incident until after her son was killed  ( 1883 - Martinez Cubells )

History treated this decision of opting for king rather than family by opting to giving Alonso the rather questionable surname of 'el Bueno' - presumably in the sense of  being a stout-hearted individual, rather than being morally outstanding. The phrase 'hard-hearted son-of-a-bitch' comes to mind. His wife seems to have agreed. She berated him at great length after she heard the news.

But perhaps the best theory for the surname is that it was given to him by an egocentric king who would have definitely considered his actions as good.
El Rey Don Fernando cuarto de este nombre en la casa de Castilla y de León, que llaman el Emplazado y el que ganó a Alcaudete é a Gibraltar a los moros, dice en su privilegio que hace merced a Don Alonso Pérez de Guzmán el Bueno (y es de notar que dice el Bueno, que es gran título) por muy grandes servicios que a su padre el Rey Don Sancho había fecho . . . 3
Whatever the case, the Moors gave up their siege of Tarifa and went back to Africa. Sancho died soon after and was succeeded by Ferdinand IV who in 1297 made Alonso the first Lord of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, honouring a verbal promise made by his father and Alonso Perez de Guzman 'el Bueno' became Ferdinand's nobleman of choice whenever something difficult needed to be done in the field of battle.
E porque nos supiemos por cierto, que por estos servicios que él fizo el  rey  nuestro  padre,  le  habia  él  prometido  de  dar  la  villa  de  sant  Lucar  de Barrameda, con el castillo. É con todas las rentas por heredat, é había enviado por él pora ge la dar, é por le facer otros bienes, é otras mercedes muchas. (13 Octubre 1297 - Privilegio de Fernando IV ) 4


Ferdinand IV of Castile ( Unknown )

A few years later the king found his campaign against Algeciras grinding to a halt because of the ease with which the town's Moorish defenders were supplying themselves by sea from Gibraltar. Ferdinand's response was to order several of his supporters and nobleman to besiege the Rock. Inevitably one of these was Alonso Pérez de Guzmán 'el Bueno'. But despite his best efforts and considerable loss of life of other people's lives, the Christian forces were unable to dislodge the defenders. 

The 1st Siege of Gibraltar only came to an end when Ferdinand IV agreed to offer the Moorish inhabitants safe passage to Barbary in exchange for their surrender of the town. In 1309 Gibraltar would at last find itself in Christian hands for the very first time since 711. 

Alonso Perez de Guzmán 'el Bueno' was killed in what is often described as a skirmish near Gaucín shortly after the taking of the town of Gibraltar. It was probably more like a fully fledged battle.
Hacia la misma época, el rey cristiano levantó el sitio de Algeciras para hacer un tratado de paz, después de haberle infringido a los habitantes un dolor horrible. Algún tiempo antes, había sitado y tomado Djebel-el-Feth [Gibraltar]. Después  de  esta  conquista,  uno  de  los  generales,  nombrado  Alfonch-Hozma [Alfonso Pérez de Guzmán] se puso a recorrer el país con un cuerpo de tropas . . . . Othman comenzó por atacar el campo de los cristianos en Estepona y mató allí a mil caballeros  con  su  jefe,  Adfonc-Birès  [Alfonso  Pérez  de  Guzmán]. 5
But the feel good factor must have persisted as Ferdinand IV appointed Alonso's son, Juan Alonso Perez de Guzman y Coronel, as overlord of Gibraltar. A 2nd Siege of Gibraltar possibly took place in 1315. This was an ill-conceived attempt by Moorish forces to retake Gibraltar. It failed. Despite his position as overload of Gibraltar I can find little mention of any involvement by Juan Alonso Perez de Guzman. He probably wasn't even there at the time

The 3rd Siege of Gibraltar, however, did succeed. It took place in 1333 when after some prodding from Mohammed IV of Granada, Abu-l-Hassan and his son Abu Malik Abd al-Walid - Albohacen and Abomalique respectively to the Spaniards - eventually retook Gibraltar from the Christians. (see LINK) Unfortunately Juan Alonso Perez de Guzman y Coronel arrived too late to do anything to save Gibraltar from being retaken by the Moors. Some of the older histories lay the blame for his delay on other noblemen who failed to join him in time.

The 4th Siege saw Ferdinand IV's successor Alonso XI of Castile trying without success to retake the town. It was during this siege that Alonso XI earned himself the dubious honour of being the first besieger - perhaps the only ever - to find himself besieged by his own actions. After having decided to build a canal across the isthmus just north of his camp, he found himself trapped between Moorish forces defending the Rock to the south and troops from Granada moving overland towards Gibraltar from the north.


The northern part of the rock showing a canal across the isthmus. The one ordered to be dug by Alonso XI would have been much further to the north ( 1850 - L Denis )

Juan Alonso Pérez de Guzmán is mentioned as being in the thick of the various preliminary skirmished leading up to the siege and although there is no mention of him during the siege itself one might guess that he was probably there. When it was all over he returned to Seville with his king.

The 5th Siege, yet another attempt to wrest Gibraltar back from the Moors, was also unsuccessful. It was made memorable by the fact that the leader of the Christian forces, Alfonso XI of Castile died in 1350 of the Bubonic plague - or Black Death - while encamped in the Neutral Ground.

Fast forward now through two generations of the Guzmán Family. First there was Alonso Pérez de Guzmán y Ponce de León, son of Juan Alonso and 3rd  Lord of Sanlúcar de Barrameda and a supporter of Alfonso XI 's son - don Pedro of Castile. He was known somewhat confusingly as either 'el Cruel' or 'el Justiciero'. Historians seem not yet to have made up their minds as to which better recognised his qualities as a ruler. As far as I can make out Gibraltar never formed part of either his or Don Alonso's plans. 


The beheading of Pedro of Castile ( 14th century French manuscript - Unknown )

Alonso Pérez de Guzmán y Ponce de León died heroically in the Siege of Orihuela and was succeeded by his brother, Juan Alonso de Guzmán y Osorio, The 4th Lord of Sanlucar de Barrameda. Juan Alonso allied himself to Pedro of Castile's half-brother and rival Enrique de Trastámara who eventually became Enrique II de Castile. Juan Alonso's excellent relationship with the king was such that he married the king's niece Doña Juana de Castilla and then his daughter Doña Beatriz.  and was made Count of Niebla. The end result was that he was made Count of Niebla, the first time that a hereditary title had ever been given to somebody who was not part of the royal family. 


Coronation of Enrique II of Castile ( Unknown )

Once again pressing matter elsewhere pushed Gibraltar into the background, but in 1371, Juana made up for that by giving birth to the 5th Lord of Sanlucar de Barrameda and second Count of Niebla. He was baptised as Enrique Perez de Guzmán in honour of the King.

The 6th Siege of Gibraltar took place in 1411 and was essentially a question of infighting among the various Moorish factions - the end result being that Fez lost control of the Rock and Gibraltar became part of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada. 

The 7th Siege on the other hand, may have been short but was also very memorable. Enrique Pérez de Guzmán y Castilla led an expedition which was supposed to emulate the exploits of his grandfather, Alonso Perez de Guzman 'el Bueno' and recover Gibraltar from the Moors. 

Don Enrique Pérez de Guzmán's attempts to take Gibraltar during the 7th Siege came to nothing. He managed to get himself drowned well before the siege proper had even started.  He and his men tried to land along an inappropriate section of the western line wall and were trapped by the tide. His boat capsized when several of his men desperately tried to board it. The Moors fished out the body of D. Enrique, placed it in a coffin and then hoisted it up to the top of one of a defensive tower near the old Mole. It would stay there in full view of any passing ship for many years. 


Sketch showing the southern line wall are of Gibraltar close to La Torre de Tuerto. The caption reads 'aqui fue la batalla de don enriquo quando se hogo"   ( 1567 - Anton Den Wyngaerde )  (See LINK)

Th poem in the Silva de Varios Rmances date 1550, includes the following tribute:

Dadme nuevas cavalleros
nuevas me querades dar
Daquese conde de Niebla
don Henrique de Guzmán
Que haze guerra a los moros
y ha cercado a Gibraltar. . . 

Que a éste sólo temían 
e no osavan saltear.
Es el buen conde de Niebla
que se ha anegado en la mar
Por acorrer a los suyos
nunca se quiso salvar . . .

Don Enriques' son, Juan Alonso de Guzmán  y Suárez de Figueroa Orozco, lieutenant and commander of his land forces immediately withdrew from the battle while trying unsuccessfully to negotiate the return of his father's body. It was something which he was only able to accomplish some 30 years later - and then not through negotiation but by force.

The 8th Siege of Gibraltar was very much the brainchild of Juan Alonso de Guzman y Suárez de Figueroa Orozco, 6th Lord of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, 3rd Count de Niebla and finally the 1st Duke of Medina Sidonia, a new title awarded to him by John II of Castile in 1445. 


The walls of the town of Medina Sidonia ( 1541 - Pedro Barrantes Maldonado )

The incentives for success were threefold; to emulate his famous ancestor, D. Alonso Perez de Guzman 'el Bueno', to avenge the death by drowning of his father, don Enrique and to recover his body and give it a proper resting place. He accomplished all three.

The actual decision to try to take Gibraltar was based on inside information supplied by a recent Moorish inhabitant of the Rock known by the rather absurd name of Ali el Curro. In 1462, Ali decided to become a Christian. He crossed the Bay to Tarifa where he was baptised with the Christian name of Diego. It was there that he told the military Governor Alonso de Arcos, that Gibraltar was undefended and there for the taking.

Alonso de Arcos summoned help from the two most powerful nearby overloads - Juan Ponce de Leon, count of Arcos - who was not related to Alonso - and Juan Alonso de Guzman, the newly honoured 1st Count of Medina Sidonia. Rodrigo, Ponce de Leon's son was later also involved. 

According to the many a modern historian the byzantine wrangles during the aftermath of the battle as regards who was entitled to accept the formal surrender of the town was a perfect demonstration as to why the Reconquista had took over seven centuries to complete. The 8th Siege is dealt with in more detail elsewhere (see LINK) but at least one unforeseen outcome was a standing feud between the Guzmán and the Ponce de Leon families which lasted for years. 


The wording by the Castle reads - La torra aqui stano los osses Del Condo do nobles en Jubelaltar  ( 1567 - Anton Den Wyngaerde ) 


This sketch shows part of the chapel in the Calahorra tower, as well as the coffin  in which the remains of the Don Enrique were laid to rest. The text reads as follows - La sepulcra donde estan Los ossos Dol Condo de neblos coberto do Brocado. Presumably this gold covering was ordered by Don Juan de Guzman. There is some evidence that the remains actually belonged to Don Juan himself 5  ( 1567 - Anton Den Wyngaerde )

Juan Alonso's successful campaign in Gibraltar did not bring him the rewards that he probably thought he deserved. His king Enrique IV ordered him to leave the town and gave himself the title of King of Gibraltar. It is a title that the Kings of Spain have continued to include in official documents right up to the present day. 

Not long after the end of the siege Enrique IV miscalculated badly. He dismissed Pedro de Porras, who had previously installed as governor of Gibraltar, and gave it to his court favourite Beltran de la Cueva - a man whose personal relationship with the king was suspect to say the least. Beltran then compounded the mistake by appointing his brother-in-law Esteban de Villacreses as his lieutenant. It was one move too many for Juan Alonso de Guzmán. None of these people had done anything to deserve Gibraltar. Guzman moved against Gibraltar, besieged it and took it on the 26th of July 1467, an event known historically as the 9th Siege of Gibraltar. 

A year later Juan Alonso was dead. He was succeeded by his son, Enrique Perez de Guzmán y Fonseca who perhaps felt rather less attached to the Rock than many of his ancestors.  So much so that in 1473 Enrique opened negotiations with a certain Pedro de Herrera, the leader of the Jewish Conversos of Cordoba and Seville in what was tantamount to an offer to sell Gibraltar to him. Conversos were Jews who had theoretically reneged on their faith by allowing themselves to be baptised in order to avoid persecution. There were quite a number of them  in Spain at the time. 7

After some hard bargaining Pedro and Enrique reached an agreement which was put into practice the following year. The existing inhabitants were evicted and the Conversos settled in Gibraltar. It was also agreed that for the first two years, Pedro would be solely responsible for the administration and defence of the town. It was a useful arrangement for Don Enrique as it allowed him to pocket royal funds intended to spent on the defence of Gibraltar. (see LINK) 

By the 1476 Enrique decided to renege on the agreement. Pedro de Herrera and the 4000 Jews living in the town were thrown out. What exactly happened to them is not known. ( see LINK ) 

Two year later, on the 30th September 1478, Queen Isabella of Castile honoured D. Enrique de Guzmán y Fonseca, son of the first duke of Medina Sidonia with the additional title of Marquis of Gibraltar. 
 . . . considerando los muy  altos, e muy continuos, e señalados servicios que vos Don Enrique de Guzmán, Duque de Medina  Sidonia,  Conde de Niebla,  nos habéis fecho, e facéis de cada día . . . e porque de vos e de los dichos vuestros servicios quede memoria, e por decorar vuestra  persona . . . 8
THis may have been a quid pro quo. Guzman gave up his power base in Seville and handed over control of the city to the crown in exchange for a title and a far more useful turning of a royal blind eye to his appropriation of funds during the two years in which the Conversos were in Gibraltar.  One way or the other he would not have been overly concerned. Don Enrique was by now the richest man in Andalucía and one of the richest in Spain. 


Queen Isabella  of Castile  ( 16th century - Unknown )

The title of Marquis of Gibraltar was short-lived. Juan Alonso Pérez de Guzmán y de Ribera, son of the 1st Maquis lost it in 1501 when Queen Isabella of Castile informed him that Gibraltar was far too strategic a town to be held by a private individual. The desperate - not to say furious tone of D. Juan Alonso's correspondence with the queen makes for interesting reading  - but it was a lost cause. On the 10th of July 1502 a royal warrant was issued granting Gibraltar a new Coat of Arms that would replace those of Medina Sidonia.

When Isabella died two years later, Juan Alonso Pérez de Guzmán y de Ribera thought that this might be a chance to turn the clock back. He marched against Gibraltar hoping that the city would open its gates to his men. It didn't and the half-hearted 10th Siege of the Rock ended tamely after a few months with Gibraltar remaining under the rule of the crown. Since then generations have followed generations right up to the present day but this was the last time that the affairs of the Guzman family would ever impinge on the history of Gibraltar. 


Alonso Pérez de Guzmán de Zúñiga-Sotomayor (1550 - 1615) the 7th Duke of Medina Sidonia  and Commander in chief of the Spanish Armada. In a letter to his king, he stressed his lack of military experience on land and at sea, the inadequate information about enemy and the Spanish war plans, his poor health, his tendency to sea-sickness, and his inability to contribute financially to the expedition. It is said that the king never got the letter  
( Unknown )


The Guzman Family

1256 - 1309 - Alonso Pérez de Guzmán 'el Bueno' 
1st Lord of Sanlúcar de Barrameda in 1297
1309 - 1st Siege of Gibraltar saw him take the town from the Moors in the name of    Ferdinand  IV of  Castile 

1285 - 1351 - Juan Alonso Pérez de Guzmán y Coronel
2nd Lord of Sanlúcar de Barrameda

1339 - 1365 - Alonso Pérez de Guzmán y Ponce de León
3rd  Lord of Sanlúcar de Barrameda

1342 - 1396 - Juan Alonso de Guzmán y Osorio (Brother of Alonso )
4th Lord of Sanlúcar de Barrameda
1368 - Awarded the title of 1st Count of Niebla by Enrique II of Castile 
(The name was taken from a town in Seville)

1371 - 1436 - Enrique Pérez de Guzmán y Castilla
5th Lord of Sanlúcar de Barrameda
2nd Count of Niebla
1436 - Drowned during the 7th Siege of Gibraltar

1405 - 1468 - Juan Alonso de Guzmán  y Suárez de Figueroa Orozco
6th  Lord of Sanlúcar de Barrameda
3rd Count de Niebla
1445 - Awarded the title of 1st Duke of Medina Sidonia by John II of Castile 
1462 - Took Gibraltar from Moors during the 8th Siege 

? -  1492 - Enrique Perez de Guzmán y Fonseca
7th  Lord of Sanlúcar de Barrameda
4th Count of Niebla
2nd Duke of Medina Sidonia
1478 - Awarded the title of 1st Marquis of Gibraltar by Queen Isabella of Castile
He was thought to have been the richest man in Spain.

1464 - 1507 - Juan Alfonso Pérez de Guzmán y de Ribera
8th  Lord of Sanlúcar de Barrameda
5th Count of Niebla
3rd Duke of Medina Sidonia
1502 - Lost the Marquisate of Gibraltar when the town was transferred to the crown. 

? - 1512 - Enrique Pérez de Guzmán y Fernández de Velasco
6th Count of Niebla
9th  Lord of Sanlúcar de Barrameda
4th Duke of Medina Sidonia

1550 - 1615 - Alonso Pérez de Guzmán de Zúñiga-Sotomayor
7th Duke of Medina Sidonia
Commander in chief of the Spanish Armada.