The Reconquest of Hispania
Oddly, this little-discussed series of battles had far more important consequences for Europe than the primary Crusades ever did. While the First Crusade occurred in 1095, the first war against the Muslims in Europe began in the early 700s in the Visigoth Kingdom of Hispania, which now is Spain and Portugal.
The Visigoths were the western tribe of the Goths who sacked Rome in the 400s before being granted land in southern France. After increasing conflicts with the Merovingian Franks, they moved into Iberia-proper and thoroughly sullied the old inhabitants and declared themselves kings under the Balti Dynasty. After everything was good and united and everyone went Christian (first Arian, then proper), the Balti line died out and the Visigothic kingdom became an elective monarchy. Then the Moors (Muslims) came! By 721, the last Visigoth king was deposed and the Moors ruled all of Spain, except for a small little rebellious kingdom in the Pyrenees Mountains.
The Kingdom of Asturias
A Visigoth named Pelayo stood firm against the Moors and, in 718, managed to retain the independence of a small region in the hills which was named Asturias, over which he became its first king. It became a rallying point for the Carolingian rulers led by Charles Martel, Pepin the Short, and Charlemagne. It is generally considered the first kingdom of the Reconquista and the first Crusader state. It grew slowly, reaching first along the north-west coast of Galicia before moving south into León. In 925, the kingdom officially moved its capital to León and became…
The Kingdom of León
León was much larger and held the most power in the region, but other states also were established nearby as vassals of the Carolingian Empire against the Moors of the Umayyad Caliphate of Córdoba.
|Spain during the Reconquista|
The Kingdom of Pamplona (later Navarre)
Pamplona was right in the path of these marauding armies, trampled and beaten by both Carolingians and Muslims. Eventually, the regional Basque leader of Pamplona declared that he had had enough and Íñigo Arista became the first king of Pamplona in 824. Pamplona became a pawn in rival politics and remained so for most of its existence. Despite having inherited at various times larger neighboring territories, Pamplona never rose to the prominence of the other Spanish states. Indeed, its placement made it an excellent target to attack but a terrible position to attack from. And so Navarre, as it became known, continued a troubled existence until Ferdinand II of Aragon conquered the southern portion of it in 1512, and the northern portion was inherited by the French royal family and eventually dissolved in 1620.
The Marcher States of Catalunya & the Kingdom of Aragon
Many small counties were created by the Carolingians in southern France and north-eastern Iberia to retake lands conquered by the Moors. They encompassed an area that even today speaks a Romance language known as Catalan. Thus, the region was called Catalunya. There were many counties, beginning in 785 with the County of Girona. Urgell, Osona, and Cerdanya came next in 798. In 801, the County of Barcelona, which would become the capital of Catalunya, was founded. Other counties, such as Aragon, Berga, Besalú, Conflent, Empúries, Manresa, Pallars, Ribagorça, and Rosselló were also created. Eventually, these states broke away from their French masters and went off on their own. Most were slowly inherited by the counts of Barcelona, who had the strongest power-base in the region. However, some counts also began to pay allegiance to the kings of Pamplona, who ruled just to the north-west of Catalunya. In a short time, most of the comital families had married each other, and a short-lived matrix of dynasties ruled each others' kingdoms in sometimes confusing arrays. Eventually, Aragon was inherited by the Navarese royal family, who broke it off as a separate kingdom in 1035. The Aragonese kings eventually married into the Barcelona royal family in 1150, unifying Catalunya with Aragon and creating the Crown of Aragon, a constituent part of the Kingdom of Spain after 1555.
|Counties of the Hispanic March|
The County & Kingdom of Castile
Castile begun its long career as a county of Asturias and León, differentiating it from its Marcher cousins who were controlled initially by France, and then later by Navarre. Castile had the primary benefit of being the center-most of all the Reconquista counties, and therefore it was the most vulnerable to attack but also the most likely to gain land as the Crusaders ventured south into Moorish lands. And this is exactly what happened. In 931, the county established autonomy from León and established its own dynasty under the House of Lara. Eventually, that family married into the Leónese royal family, the House of Jimenez, which came to rule both Castile and León. Castile became a kingdom after the king of León died and split the kingdom between his sons in 1065. In 1072, the kingdoms of Castile and León were permanently united under a dynastic union.
The Kingdom of Castile & León
The largest of the Reconquista kingdoms, Castile & León continued its progress southward, eventually conquering the last of the Moorish strongholds, the Kingdom of Grenada, in 1492. During that time, the Queen of Castile & León, Isabella II, married the king of Aragon (who was also count of Catalunya), Ferdinand II. After Isabella's death in 1504, Ferdinand went on to conquer southern Navarre, thereby establishing the present-day borders of Spain. Their daughter, Juana, and grandson, Charles I, became the first queen and king of a united Spanish monarchy in 1516.
The County & Kingdom of Portugal
|Henry, Count of Portugal|
The Principality of Andorra
This is really more a sidenote than anything, but one other Reconquista state still exists in Iberia today, and that is Andorra. Tradition states that Charlemagne granted Andorra its first charter, and that it was later codified in 1278. After many centuries of infighting between which count legally ruled Andorra, it was agreed that the Bishop of Urgell and the French Count of Foix would co-rule the state. Foix eventually was inherited by the king of Navarre, who eventually became the king of France, a kingdom which was eventually overthrown; and so today, Andorra is ruled by the Bishop of Urgell in Catalunya and the President of France, an agreement that keeps Andorra blissfully out of most people's minds.
The Conquest of the Holy Land
Yes, another long post. Reclaiming the Holy Land from the Muslim invaders was always a goal of the Crusaders, even during Carolingian times. But it took a certain degree of daring to venture from England, Italy, France and Spain to Turkey and Syria in an attempt to take back something for Christianity that was never really lost. The Muslims were generally negotiable people and allowed Christians to visit the holy places in the Middle East. But the Christians became upset when taxes were levied against them and when Muslims controlled their most holy pilgrimage sites. Thus began the long series of Crusades that ended in utter defeat for the Christians of western Europe.
|The Crusader States of the Levant|
The County of Edessa
The majority of the Crusader states were founded during and following the First Crusade. Edessa, founded in 1098, was the very first of those states. Baldwin of Boulogne was the first count and legitimately ascended to the throne, being the adopted heir of the previous Greek Orthodox count of the territory. The counts intermarried with Armenian nobility and endeared themseves to the Christians living in the region. But the counts did not have good relations with their crusader state neighbors. When the Seljuk Turks began to take over the territory, the other states didn't come to its aid. It was conquered by the Turks in 1150; the first crusader state was also the first to fall.
The Principality of Antioch
Placed at a much better location that Edessa, on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, Antioch was also founded in 1098 out of pieces of Seljuk and Byzantine territory. It was under constant threat from the Turks, who valued the location as a sea port and strategic crossroads. Despite numerous promises that Antioch would be returned as a vassal of the Byzantine Empire, it eventually became a vassal of Jerusalem. In 1138, the Byzantine Emperor himself led an army and conquered Antioch, returning it to his authority. It remained a western-controlled Byzantine province until 1268, when the Baibars, allies of the Mongols, sacked and conquered the territory.
The Kingdom of Jerusalem
|Melisende, Queen of Jerusalem|
The Kingdom of Acre
The successor state of Jerusalem, Acre remained a rallying point for crusaders seeking to reclaim Jerusalem. The Fourth Crusade failed to even reach Acre, however, and hopes fell. The Sixth Crusade succeeded in retaking Jerusalem, but they couldn't hold it for long. Eventually, Mamluks from Egypt invaded the remains of the kingdom and took Tripoli in 1289 and Acre in 1291. The last vestiges of the kingdom were conquered in 1302 and the kingdom ceased to exist. During all this time, the kingdom remained in a fairly logical dynastic progression, eventually descending through the hands of the Imperial Hohenstaufen family before passing into the royal family of Antioch.
The Kingdom of Cyprus
Conquered in the Third Crusade by Richard the Lionheart, Cyprus provided an excellent safe-haven for invasions on the mainland. It was first given to the dispossessed consort of Jerusalem, Guy, under the House of Lusignan. It remained in their hands for most of its history. As the Holy Land returned to Muslim control, Cyprus became a waypoint on the Silk Road for merchants traveling from Genoa in western Italy. In 1428 it was forced to become a vassal of the Mamluks of Egypt, and the last queen, Cornaro, finally sold it to Venice in 1489.
|The Capture of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, 1204|
The Latin Empire
When the Crusaders sacked Constantinople in 1204, they claimed the title of Roman Emperor for themselves, dividing the empire between many of the important leaders of the crusade. Ultimately, it was a fairly short-lived empire that spread its seeds of titles and then quickly declined as Byzantine forces retook their conquered land. Baldwin I of Hainault became the first emperor, and the title stayed in the family for the 60 years of the empire's existence. Constantinople fell to the Byzantines in 1261 and the empire quickly crumbled, although small satellite states remained for many centuries.
On this note, I will finish. There are many more Crusader states in European history. Here is a mostly exhaustive list of them:
Other Eastern States:
• Naxos (or the Archipelago)
• Rhodes (and, later, Malta)
Baltic Crusader States:
Only a few of these states actually materialized into modern states: Spain, Portugal, Andorra, and Estonia are the primary ones. But each was created for a specific reason and became a rallying point for Christians to retake lands they considered rightfully (even if inaccurately) theirs.