At first subject to the Caliphate of Cordoba, during the early 9th century the christian kings of Leon conquered the region of Castile as a march (frontier province). In order to secure it, they erected many castles - a feature which gave the region it's name. Castile's capital, BURGOS, was founded ca. 882.
COUNT FERDINAND GONZALEZ was entrusted with the defense of the border province. The Kingdom of Leon suffering from frequent partitions (among the king's sons) and a disastrous Arab raid in 997, in which they sacked Santiago and forced it's kings to become a vassall of the Caliphate. In these years, the Counts of Castile, technically subject to Leon, virtually ruled independent.

In 1029 King SANCHO THE GREAT of Navarra took control of the county of Castile. On the occasion of his death in 1035, his domain was split up among his sons. Castile was elevated to a KINGDOM, FERNANDO I. THE GREAT it's first king. Taking advantage of the disintegration of the Caliphate, he quickly expanded his domain, conquering the Lower Duero valley from the Muslims, including COIMBRA, and the larger part of Leon, including it's capital. Castile established itself as the leading christian kingdom on the peninsula, although much of it's conquests could not be held on to.
The 3rd king, ALFONSO THE VALIANT, gained LA RIOJA from Navarre in 1076. More importantly, he conquered TOLEDO in 1085. It was to become the seat of the ARCHDIOCESIS OF TOLEDO, the ecclesiastic counterpart of the kingdom. Meanwhile, Muslim Spain had strengthened with the ascent of the Almoravid Dynasty. In the middle of the 12th century, Muslim Spain disintegrated again. In 1158, the MILITARY ORDER OF CALATRAVA was established, an organization whose members had sworn to forsake their individual careers (celibacy, poverty), to adhere to absolute obedience and to focus all their energy on the goal of liberating Spain from the infidels. The order proved to become a major tool in the accelerating reconquista. After initial successes, Muslim rule stabilized again under Almohads. The BATTLE OF LAS NAVAS DE TOLOSA in 1212 turned the tide against the Almohads. Again, Muslim Spain disintegrated, Muslim cities now falling in quick succession : CORDOBA 1236, SEVILLA 1248, CADIZ 1262, JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA 1264, MURCIA 1266.
Around 1200, Castile gained Vizcaya and Guipuzcoa from Navarre, thus including a part of the Basque country into the kingdom. Despite a long history under Castilian rule, these regions would remain Basque in character.
In 1230, the Kingdoms of Leon and Castile were united in DYNASTIC UNION, for permanent - a union in which Castile proved to be the dominating partner, although Leon, represented by political (the Cortes) as well as ecclesiastical institutions (the archdiocesis of Santiago de Compostela) preserved a distinct regional identity and a degree of political autonomy.

Like the other christian kingdoms of the Spanish peninsula, Castile for a long time stuck to the ancient tradition of the realm being split up among the king's sons after his death. When parliaments - the Cortes - emerged in the early 13th century, they demanded the King to swear not to permit the Kingdom to be split up any more. However, this promise did not include territorial gains. The Dynastic Union with Leon had first been established by FERDINAND THE GREAT in 1037, but been dissolved in 1157 when the two countries were split among two sons. Only in 1230 a lasting union was established.
The indivisibility of the country resulted in a competition among descendants of the king for succession. Intrigues, the formation of factions and, at times, civil war were the consequence. The 14th and 15th century were times of trouble for Castile. The fact that the Emirate of Granada could outlast the other Spanish Muslim states for over 200 years is partially to be explained with Castile being occupied with the struggle for power for much of the time.
In 1474, after another such period of intrigues, QUEEN ISABELLA ascended to the throne, marrying FERDINAND OF ARAGON in 1479. The marriage created the Kingdom of Spain. Both monarchs proved to be exceptionally energetic and determined. Not only was the union of Castile and Aragon stable, they accomplished the reconquista, had the Spanish church thoroughly reformed and elevatyed Spain into the rank of Europe's leading military power. And under their rule Spain secured it's share of the riches of the New World.

Counts and Kings of Castile, by Ismael
Battles of Castile and Leon 844-1521
Titles of European Rulers : Castile / Spain
DOCUMENTS Cross of Calatrava, from FOTW
Coins of the Kingdom of Castile and Leon, from The Maskukat Collection

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on October 19th 2006

Click here to go Home
Click here to go to Information about KMLA, WHKMLA, the author and webmaster
Click here to go to Statistics

Impressum · Datenschutz