1333 - The Island of Gibraltar- Crónicas de Alfonso XI
Moros y Cristianos ( Cantigos de Santa Maria )
Alfonso XI of Castile and Leon was somebody with a claim to fame in the annals of the history of Gibraltar - yet as far as I can make out, he never actual visited the town and spent most of his time just outside it. In fact when he died in 1350 he must have been thoroughly sick of the sight of the white sands of the isthmus and the impenetrable north face of the Rock.
The forbidding north face - the photo was taken from the isthmus more or less from the place that Alfonso XI of Castile pitched his tents - something that he did more than once during his life-time
Keeping track of the many rulers and noblemen of the kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula that were involved in the reconquista is not for the faint of heart. Luckily there were only a limited number of them who were in any way connected with the history of Rock and of course Alfonso XI was definitely was one of them. The following time-line should allow anybody who happens to be interested to appreciate the many connections that existed over nearly forty years between Alfonso XI and Gibraltar.
1309 - The First Siege - Two years before Alfonso was born his father, Ferdinand IV of Castile (see LINK) captured Gibraltar from the Muslims for the first time. The Castilians however, did not hold on to it for long.
1315 - The Second Siege - The Moors tried to get it back. They did not succeed.
1333 - The Third Siege - the Marinid Caliph Abu al-hasan (see LINK) - aided and abetted by the Nasrid King Mohammed IV of Granada - was more successful and Gibraltar was once more a Moorish fortress. Alfonso XI was partially responsible for the loss.
1333 - The Fourth Siege - Understandably upset that he had been unable to avoid the loss of the town that his father had so memorably taken, he immediately decided to try to retake Gibraltar - he failed and instead was forced to accept a treaty with his Moorish enemies.
1340 - The Battle of the Rio Salado - Using the recently captured Gibraltar as a base, Abu al-hasan mobilised a huge army in Africa which he then transported across the Straits of Gibraltar. Together with reinforcements from the Marinid King of Granada Yusuf I the Muslim army met the combined forces of Alfonso XI and Afondo IV of Portugal at the Rio Salado where they were comprehensively beaten. It was a disastrous defeat. No Muslim army was ever able to invade the Iberian Peninsula again.
The Christian armies being blessed before the Battle of the Rio Salado ( From a 16th century Cantoral )
1344 - The Siege of Algeciras - Alfonso eventually took the town.
1349 - The Fifth Siege - Alfonso returned to try yet again to take Gibraltar to honour his father's memory. He failed yet again. He died of the Black Death while camped with his army in the isthmus to the north of the Rock.
Alfonso XI of Castile and Leon ( Unknown )
All these events have been written about at length in numerous medieval histories or "Crónicas" , some of them dating back to just a very few years after they had taken place. For this essay I have limited myself to a review of the Crónica del Rey D. Alfonso el Onceno, a medieval manuscript held in the Real Bibliotheca del Escorial transcribed by Francisco Cerdá y Rico and published in 1787, and another, the Crónica del muy esclarecido Príncipe y Rey Don Alfonso XI published in 1595 and possibly transcribed by Pedro Rodriquez. The original version for both of these manuscripts was written by Juan Nuñez de Villazan - who must have known what he was writing about as he was the principal Alguacil of Henry II - Alfonso's father.
1333 - Chapter CVIII - The Third Siege
The result of the third siege was the loss of Gibraltar to the Moorish forces of Abu Malik. It is dealt with somewhat more fully - if chronologically out of sequence - in Chapter CCCXLI. . . . The King was in Vallodolid when his mistress Leonor de Guzman gave birth to Sancho and it was there that he received the news that Abomelique (Abu Malik) had besieged his castle in Gibraltar and had already gained control of the town, the surrounding mountain side and the atarazana. . . .
1333 - Chapter CXX - The Fourth Siege
Another day went by and the King asked his nobles to advise him on what to do next. They told him that he ought to besiege both the Castle and the town of Gibraltar and that meanwhile he should camp with his army in the "arenal". They also suggested that as there were no Christians either on the island or the mountainside it would be a good idea if some of them landed on the island as it would otherwise be hard to besiege the place properly.
The King agreed to these suggestions and ordered two of his knights - Ruy Lopez and Fernan Yañes de Meyra - together with their men - to take the island. They were ferried over to it by boat but they were too badly organised and too few in number to cope with the Moorish defenders. Both Lopez and Meyra were killed and a large number of their troops were drowned during their retreat.
The "arenal" refers to the white sands of the isthmus - it would become the traditional camping ground for just about every army that ever besieged Gibraltar.
Ships ferrying Christian soldiers (13th century - Cántigas de Santa Maria )
1333- Chapter CXXI - The Fourth Siege
The King was saddened by what had happened to those who had gone to the island, as well as those who had remained on the mountain itself. Unfortunately there was little he could do as his army was short of supplies and it was proving hard to replenish these either by land or by sea. He therefore held another meeting with his noblemen and asked them to suggest how they could go about saving those on the mountain who he thought might have been captured by the Moors.
The noblemen advised him that they had only enough food for their troops and their horses for less than a day. The King took their advice, lifted the siege and decamped. After having travelled along the coast for about a league he was approached by Sancho Sanchez de Roxas and others who told him that they were upset that they had abandoned more than one thousand five hundred men on the Rock leaving them to the mercy of the Moors.
While this was being discussed it then became apparent that several ships were now approaching the coast and that these were bringing fresh food and supplies. It was enough to make the King decide to turn back. When he arrived on the isthmus he struck his standard in the same spot as it had been prior to moving away.The following day Don Jayme de Xéria, Garcilaso de la Vega, Gonzalo Ruiz and Sancho Sanchez de Roxas and several others left for the island, together with their horses and were met by Moors who defended it.
Nevertheless the Christians eventually managed to land and struck a royal standard at the foot of the Rock as a rallying place for those men who had been trapped further up thus allowing them to join their compatriots. Meanwhile the King managed to provide his troops with whatever food and provisions they required.
1333 - Chapter CXXII - The fourth Siege
With the island now mostly in Christian hands the Moors only held the Castle and a small section of the town. Alfonso then held another meeting and was warned that the King of Granada was marching towards Gibraltar. Alfonso's noblemen had become worried that the Moorish army would plunder their lands on their way towards them. Despite their concerns a consensus was eventually reached that they should continue the siege.
The Granadine cavalry in action ( 13th century - Cántigas de Santa Maria )
The King sent for more provisions and ordered Don Juan Alonso de Alburquerque and several others to join the forces on the island that had already been there for two days and two nights.
He also ordered six siege engines to be taken over, three of these to be set up on top of the Rock, with two of them attacking the Tower of Homage and a third to be used to bombard the atarazana and its Moorish galleys. Unfortunately the ships were protected by thick wooden beams which limited the damage caused by stones fired from these cvatapults.
The King then ordered his Admiral - Alfonso Jofre de Tenorio - to attack the place by sea in order to set fire to the Moorish galleys. The defenders, however, protected the area of the Bay in front of the atarazana with a palisade made with thick stakes making it impossible for Jofre to come anywhere near enough to set the galleys alight.
Admiral Alfonso Jofre de Tenorio
Siege engines - called "engeños" in the Crónicas - were wooden towers mounted on wheels with a catapult on top. They used stones as ammunition. They were relatively ineffective. Whatever destruction they caused on the Tower of Homage can only be used as further evidence that this was not the Moorish tower we know of today - which was probably completely rebuilt - almost certainly on the orders of Abu-al-hasan (see LINK) during the mid 14th century. One insight also offered by this account is that in the early 14th century at any rate, there was no such thing as a line wall protecting the the atarazana - much less a waterport gate. (See LINK)
1333 - Chapter CXXIII - The Fourth Siege
The Tower of Homage was now almost demolished by the bombardment and the King offered two "doblas" to anybody capable of collecting a loose brick from the tower. The idea was to weaken it even further. Later an attempt was made to scale it but the Moors created windows through the tower walls and poured large volumes of liquid over anybody attempting to scale the Tower. Nevertheless, the more the Moors tried to repair the tower, the faster the Christians fired their siege engines. Unfortunately that day Miguel Diaz was killed by a stone shot from one of these.
Eventually, however, the weather allowed ships laden with provisions from Tarifa and Barbarte to land their supplies. The besiegers would no longer have any supply problems for the rest of the siege . . . . . .
It was also unfortunate that the lack of a suitable wind made it once more impossible for ships to bring in supplies to feed the attackers. It meant that they were without food for 16 days. It also meant that the cost of buying any food that might be available became extremely expensive. So much so that very few of the troops were able to afford to buy any.
This was probably a suitably early reference to the nasty consequence of so called "friendly fire". The golden "dobla" incidentally, had by the early 14th century metamorphosed into the silver maravedí. Unusually Alfonso XI did not call any of his coins maravedís. His were silver doblas. Nevertheless unless the soldiers managed to get themselves killed it would definitely have been well worth their while to get their hands on one of those bricks.
This chapter also gives the prices of various items of food. The suggestion is that the lack of provisions was affecting not just those on the Rock but also the rest of the army encamped on the isthmus. However, it is hardly likely that those attacking the tower would have been able to buy food at any price. There was nobody to buy it from.
A gold-leaved Alfonso XI ( From Compendio de Cónicas de Reyes )
1333 - Chapter CXXVI - The Fourth Siege
Prince Abomelique sent a message to the King of Granada warning him that the castle and town of Gibraltar were being besieged by King Alfonso. He also told him that he wanted to launch an attack against the King and force him to leave.
Prince Abomelique - Abd al-Malik - was at the time the self-styled King of Algeciras. He had actually been appointed governor of the place by the Marinid Sultan of Morocco Abu al-hasan both men being responsible for retaking Gibraltar from the Christians, and the ultimate reason why Alfonso was there trying to recover it in the first place. The King of Granada was the Nasrid ruler Muhammed IV who had been an ally of Abu-al-hasan during this period.
When he heard this, the King of Granada, put everything else to one side and together with his cavalry set off for Gibraltar and eventually made camp near the River Guadiaro. Abomelique came from Algeciras to meet him and they moved closer towards Gibraltar and struck their standards about a league from the Rock. It was now impossible for anybody from Alfonso's army to leave the isthmus.
The King convened yet another meeting with his noblemen in order to decide whether to attack the Moorish forces or to stay put. Deciding on the status quo, Alonso ordered a ditch to be dug to the north of his camp and across the isthmus from one side to the other as a defensive measure. The next day one thousand of the best Moorish cavalry available approached it. Alfonso ordered his men to refrain from fighting. The Moors kept away but moved their tents even closer to the Christian Camp. Attempts were made to fight each but the situation lent itself to a stand-off.
After a few inconclusive skirmishes a Moorish leader came to parley with the Christian forces. In effect they were offering to have one of their champions fight one of theirs. They were particularly interested in taking on Alfonso Fernandez Coronel. The Moorish messenger was eventually allowed to speak directly with the King. He told him that the King of Granada sent him his best wishes and that Alfonso was in fact the person that his King admired the most and would very much like to speak to him. The King's reply was that he would first take the town and that after having done so he would agree to meet Muhammed IV.
1333 - Chapter CXXIX - The Fourth Siege
The Moorish messenger returned with the news that Alfonso Fernandez Coronel was well prepared to fight when ordered to do so. The King of Granada, however, sent one of his ministers to talk with Alfonso suggesting that they should come to an arrangement that might be of mutual benefit to both sides. Treaties were subsequently signed, the monarchs ate together, and the King of Granada gave Alfonso a large quantity of expensive jewellery and objects made of gold.
The next day, Abomeleque returned to Algeciras and the King of Granada retreated to a place near the river Guadiaro. Meanwhile Alfonso retrieved his war engines, put them on a ship and sent them to Tarifa. A day or so later he moved his forces to Alcalá de los Gazules, then to Jerez and from there to Seville.
1340 - The Battle of the Rio Salado
This is a lengthy chapter dealing with details of the actual battle and follows even lengthier ones that describe how each side prepared for it. Gibraltar as such, really does not come into it - although it is worth mentioning that if Abu al-hasan had not held Gibraltar at the time he would not have been able to transport his troops into Spain and the battle would never have taken place. A small but interesting detail is that the river was actually called the Salado at the time when the battle was fought.
The conquerors meet the conquered - from left to right, Yusuf I of Granada, the Nasrid leader Abu al-hasan, Alfonso XI of Castile and Leon and Afonso IV of Portugal (Gran Crónica de España
1349 - Chapter CCCXLI - The Fifth Siege
After several successes in battles elsewhere, Alfonso besieged yet again the town and Castle of Gibraltar - the latter - the author insists - being a very notable and powerful fortress much admired by both Moors and Christians. It was here that Tarif Abenzarca first landed in order not to disturb Algeciras which was at that time the property of Count Julian the wicked. (See LINK) Tarif gave his name to the place which the Moors call Gebel Taref - the mountain of Taref.
It was, however, the will of God that the year after he began the siege the first and the most virulent pestilence took place - the same one that had swept through France, England, Italy and even Castile, Leon and Estremadura. The King was advised by his companions including his mistress, Leonor de Guzman, to leave the place immediately as so many people were now dying of the plague.
The King refused to do this on the grounds that the Moors were close to surrendering. In any case it would be cowardly not to continue to try and recover such a noble prize as was the fortress of Gibraltar which the Moors had taken from the Christians because of the actions of Vasco Perez de Meyra, a nobleman that he had once held in high esteem.
Confusing Tarif Abenzarca - aka Tarif Abu Zara or perhaps even more commonly as Tarif ibn Malik - with Tarik ibn Zayad was a common mistake made by historians right up to the 19th century. It was possibly instigated by people such as the author of this particular Crónica, although he was by no means the only one to do so.
Also according to British historian George Hills, (see LINK) the name 'Gibraltar' first made its appearance in a Spanish document dated 1310. Hills gives no reference but he may have been referring to Ferdinand IVs letter of patent which was published the year after his successful - if short lived - capture of the Rock and in which the word Gibraltar appears several times. This mention in the Crónicas is also a good candidate for at least one of its first appearances - which of course begs the question as to what the Spaniards called it previously. Calpe perhaps?
Leonor de Guzman ( Detail )
The Third Siege of Gibraltar
During Meyra's governorship a serious lack of bread had encouraged the Moors to besiege the town. When Alfonso got to know about this he had tried to come to its defence but was unable to do so. Gibraltar was then lost to the Moors and Meyra was blamed. He was hoarding supplies of bread and selling them illegally at exorbitant prices to the Moors. . . .
The third Siege is not only out of sequence here but the author also more or less repeats what he had already written in Chapter CVIII. The fact is that Alfonso took far too long to react to the danger, and when he did Abu Malik had already come to an arrangement with the Alcalde of Gibraltar Vasco Perez de Meyra.
This later has often been frequently demonised by Spanish historians - almost certainly with good reason. He stands accused of having hoarded much needed bread inside the Castle for his own personal use and of stealing money sent to him by the King for military use. Worse he simple seems to have handed over Gibraltar to Abu Malik - possibly for money - but certainly without too much of a fight.
The Fifth Siege
When the Moors heard of Alfonso's death they decided against engaging the Christian Forces. They believed that a noble and world-renown prince had died that day. He had been a man who had honoured not just Christians but Muslims as well. When the body of King Alfonso was borne away from the Rock, the Moors came out on to the isthmus - they made no attempt to fight and simply stood silently watching the Christians depart with the body of Alfonso XI of Castile and Leon.For those to whom such a romanticised version of events might stick in their craw a quick read through yet another medieval manuscript might help. According to the mid fifteenth century Crónicas de Juan II de Castilla by Pedro Carrillo de Albornoz:
E asimesmo fue publica fama en Granada que los Moros habían muerto con hierbas al Rey Don Alfonso, que murió sobre Gibraltar
The "island" of Gibraltar
Undated map showing two unidentified islands off the South coast (Unknown - Detail )
The word "ysla" in the 16th century manuscript and "isla" in the newer version are used by both transcribers at least fifteen times when describing either Gibraltar itself or part of it. The Spanish historian Manuel López Fernández in his 2008 article, Una "Isla" en Gibraltar makes an in depth analysis of the text of the Crónica and arrives at the surprising conclusion that perhaps prior to the creation of the line wall defences along the western limits of the Rock by Abd al-hasan, a complete section of the western coast of Gibraltar was separated from the main bulk of the Rock by a canal of some sort thereby forming an island.
. . . bien podemos suponer que la isla en cuestión fuese una alargada franja arenosa que se extendía desde las proximidades de la Puerta de la Barcina (see LINK) - en el caso de que ésta ya estuviese abierta por aquellos tiempos - hacia el sur separada del piedemonte gibraltareño por un canal que dificultaba el acceso directo desde el mar a las tierras más altas, razón más que suficiente para explicar el interés de los castellanos por hacerse con el control de la misma.This idea of a canal which in effect made the western section an island is reinforced by Fernández when he suggests that it might be the "caño de Machin" mentioned by Luis Bravo de Acuña (see LINK) in 1627.
. . . . también existía otra zona topográficamente deprimida en las proximidades de la muralla que flanqueaba La Barcina por su costado meridional. El detalle lo conocemos por Bravo de Acuña cuando dice que entre las plataformas de San Andrés y Santa Ana había construido “un gran pedazo de muralla que estaba arrimada (arruinada) con entrada patente a la Ciudad, junto al caño de Machin que dizen”. Este caño, llamado también de “Machina” . . . . .
Possible island off the west coast of Gibraltar according to Manuel López Fernández
As far as I can make out there is no archaeological evidence for the existence of any "caño" large enough to warrant calling the section to the west of it being called an island. In fact Bravo's mention of a "caño" - which he calls variously as "caño de Machin" and "caño de Machina" seem unique as I have not come across either of these names in any other literature. Nor is there any geological or geographical evidence of any natural island to the west of the main town.
My own feeling is that that author of the chronicle was probably rather careless in his use of the word "isla". On some of his chapters the word could be interpreted as referring to the red sandy beaches - or "playas" that lay just below the steep upper mountainous section. In others the author might be using it as an alternative to the word "peninsula" - in other words he is referring to the entire Rock of Gibraltar.
If this latter is indeed the case then it is perhaps ironic that the present day irritation felt by many Gibraltarians when the Rock is mistakenly called an island might already have been causing problems - albeit of a different nature - as early as in the 14th century.