The Battle of Garigliano

Second Italian War

In the aftermath of the First Italian War, Cordoba overhauled the Spanish army. He reorganised his infantry by replacing the bulk of his swordand-buckler foot soldiers with pikemen and arquebusiers. His pike and shot troops were taught to manoeuvre over rough ground, resist cavalry attacks, and deliver shock attacks.

Charles VIII died in 1498 and was succeeded by Louis XII. Louis was keen on retaining some portion of the Kingdom of Naples and therefore proposed to Ferdinand that they divide the Kingdom of Naples between themselves. Pope Alexander, who condoned the agreement, conveniently deposed the Trastamara ruler of the kingdom. A treaty signed in 1500 gave Charles the northern part of the kingdom and Ferdinand the southern part.

Ferdinand, who became dissatisfied with the arrangement, went to war in 1502 to win control of the Kingdom of Naples for Spain. The French made the first strategic move when Louis d’Armagnac, Duke of Nemours, besieged Cordoba in the Apulian fortress of Barletta. After receiving a large body of reinforcements in early 1503, Cordoba seized the nearby French base at Cerignola.

Cordoba ordered his troops to widen a ditch at the base of the hilltop town. His men drove sharp stakes into the bottom of the ditch to prevent the enemy from crossing the ditch. The excavated dirt was then used to build a parapet behind the ditch.

As the French approached Cerignola, Cordoba deployed his 2,000 arquebusiers four ranks deep in the centre behind the parapet. To protect them, he placed 1,000 pikemen on each side of the arquebusiers. Any French troops near the ditch would be within the 40-metre range of the arquebusiers. Spanish guns on the hillside supported the troops behind the rampart.

Clash at Cerignola

Even with the field works the Spanish were in for a desperate battle. Nemours’s 9,000-strong army was nearly twice the size of Cordoba’s army; however the various arms were not well integrated. The French right division consisted of lance-wielding heavy cavalry, the centre division was composed of mercenary Swiss pikemen, and the left division was made up of French and German crossbowmen.

Nemours attacked before his artillery had a chance to deploy. Cordoba’s Spanish jinetes screened the ditch so superbly that the French had no knowledge of the existence of a ditch until their heavy cavalry reached it.

The French cavalry attack stalled at the ditch. As Nemours looked for a way through the ditch he was slain by the arquebus fire. When the surviving French gendarmes withdrew from the ditch, the Swiss pikemen attacked with all of their fury. Although they tried desperately to fight their way into the Spanish position they could not breach the field works.

As the French army began withdrawing Cordoba launched a counterattack with his pikemen. The Spanish swept the field, inflicting 5,000 casualties on the French at the loss of a few hundred Spanish troops.

Stalemate on the Garigliano

The remnant of Nemours’s army withdrew to the safety of the citadel at Gaeta to await the arrival of a new French army. King Charles XII sent 20,000 French troops overland to Naples and gave overall command of the army to Italian Condottiero Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantua. Meanwhile Cordoba took possession of the city of Naples on 13 May 1503.

Cordoba deployed his 12,000 troops behind the Garigliano River in October to block the anticipated French advance against Spanish held Naples. As expected Mantua marched south only to find Cordoba’s army heavily entrenched on the south bank.

After his pioneers laid a pontoon bridge over the lower Garigliano, Mantua established a tete de pont on the far bank in early November, but Cordoba bottled up the forces in the bridgehead. When Mantua was stricken with a fever command devolved to Marquis Ludovico II of Saluzzo.

A six-week stalemate followed. Troops on both sides suffered acute hardship encamped on the marshy ground during the rainy season. While Cordoba remained at the battlefront with his troops throughout this time, the high-ranking French commanders billeted themselves in comfortable quarters in nearby towns. Believing the Spanish would remain on the defensive the French did not keep a close watch on the Spanish.

Flank attack

Spanish ally Condottiero Bartolomeo d’Alviano reinforced Cordoba’s army with 5,400 troops in mid-December. In preparation for a surprise attack on the French army Cordoba instructed his chief engineer, Pedro Navarro, to construct a pontoon bridge that could be deployed in a matter of hours when needed.

In a driving rain in the pre-dawn darkness of 29 December Navarro’s pioneers laid the bridge on a narrow portion of the swollen river opposite the extreme left flank of the French army.

For the surprise attack Cordoba had organised his army into three divisions. Alviano led the vanguard, Cordoba led the centre division, and Fernando Andrada commanded the rearguard. Alviano’s Italian troops streamed across the bridge at dawn while the French and Swiss foot soldiers were fast asleep in their huts. His light cavalry swept past the disorganised French infantry and turned east to secure the village of Castleforte to prevent the French from using it as a strongpoint. Believing the day was lost the troops on the French left streamed north towards Gaeta.

Cordoba then led his mounted Spanish men-at-arms and pikemen across the pontoon bridge to the north bank. He caught the French centre in the flank and dislodged it from the river line. At that point Saluzzo ordered a general retreat to Gaeta. A heroic French nobleman, Pierre Terrail, Seigneur de Bayard, began rallying the retreating French at a defile between the mountains and the sea near the village of Formia.

Meanwhile Andrade crossed the French bridge on the lower Garigliano and captured most of the French artillery since the French gendarmes had fled north to Formia.

Up to that point there had only been light fighting, but the two sides became locked in furious combat for an hour at the defile. When Andrada’s troops arrived to reinforce the Spanish forces already engaged at Formia, it proved too much for the French. Those French soldiers who had not been taken prisoner proceeded west to Gaeta.

Viceroy of Naples

On 1 January 1504 the French capitulated. Cordoba freed his French prisoners on the condition that they return home by sea. At the end of the month, Charles XII and Ferdinand of Aragon signed the Treaty of Lyon by which Charles ceded the Kingdom of Naples to Spain. In appreciation for the military achievement of defeating the French, King Ferdinand made Cordoba the Viceroy of Naples.

Isabella, who had always championed Cordoba, died in November 1504. Ferdinand who grew jealous of Cordoba’s reputation recalled him to Spain in 1507. He was called out of retirement in 1512 to command the Spanish forces in Italy after a major reverse at the hands of the French at Ravenna during the War of the League of Cambrai. Three years later, at the age of 62, he returned to Spain stricken with malaria. He died at Granada on 1 December 1515.

Cordoba’s genius lay in his ability to correct the shortcomings of his forces by adopting the best tactical concepts of his enemies. He readily embraced the greater use of firearms in the belief that they would transform infantry tactics. In this he was correct, for his initial integration of shot and pike troops laid the foundation for the Spanish tercios. From a geopolitical standpoint his decisive victories in the First and Second Italian Wars enabled Spain to control Sicily and southern Italy for two centuries.

Pierre Terrail, seigneur de Bayard (1474-1524)

Nobleman, military leader Known in legend and tradition as “chevalier sans peur et sans reproche” (fearless and blameless knight), Pierre Terrail, seigneur de Bayard, considered a model of chivalry, was born in Dauphiné, near GRENOBLE. As a young soldier, he came to the attention of CHARLES VIII, and was knighted for his bravery after the battle of Fornovo in Italy (1495). He was cited for contributing to LOUIS XII’s conquest of Milanais (1499-1500) and distinguished himself in the defense of the bridge at Garigliano (1503) against a Spanish force, and in the battle against the Venetians at Agnadel (1509). Such was Bayard’s reputation for valor that several incredible stories were told of him, including one in which he singlehandedly defended a bridge against 200 of the enemy. He was captured twice, but his chivalrous character and reputation secured his release without a ransom payment. During the war between FRANCIS I of France and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Bayard held the fortress town of Mezieres with only 1,000 men for six weeks, against a force of 35,000. He also played a part in the decisive victory of Marignan (1515). Bayard was mortally wounded while covering the retreat at the Sesia River in Italy.

The Battle of Aljubarrota 1385 AD

The choice of the cortes notwithstanding, in the spring of 1385 João I’s throne was far from secure. The legitimists remained strong in the north, and Juan was preparing a new invasion; João knew he must fight, and he desperately needed allies. With this in mind, even before his election he had sent emissaries to England to seek recruits and urge Gaunt once again to revive his claim to the crown of Castile. With difficulty, his agents engaged a small Anglo-Gascon force which reached Portugal while the cortes was still in session. Once proclaimed, João moved quickly to secure a formal alliance with Richard II, and the outcome was the treaty of Windsor signed in May 1386. Under the terms of this treaty each king agreed to provide the other with military and naval assistance on request and to grant reciprocal trading rights to their respective citizens in each other’s territory. Richard also promised to support João against any enemy who tried to overthrow him, and João sent Richard a squadron of galleys. The treaty of Windsor was the foundation stone of the long-lasting Anglo-Portuguese alliance.

Nuno Álvares Pereira meanwhile had been appointed constable of the king’s army, and in 1385 both he and João campaigned in the north where they took a string of legitimist towns, including Braga. Early in July a large Castilian raiding party was defeated at Trancoso in Beira Alta; then a few weeks later Juan crossed the border with the main Castilian army. Juan, whose force numbered perhaps 20,000 men including many legitimist Portuguese and a contingent of French men-at-arms sent by Charles VI, planned to crush the patriots with overwhelming force. He advanced towards Lisbon along the well-worn invasion route down the Mondego valley. João, on Nuno Álvares’s advice, decided not to retreat behind the walls of his capital, but to stand and fight. On 14 August 1385 João’s army of about 7,000, including the small contingent of men-at-arms and archers recruited in England, occupied defensive positions on a ridge called Aljubarrota, overlooking the Leiria-Lisbon road. The van was commanded by the constable, the main body by the king. A division of Portuguese knights and bowmen was on the right flank and the Anglo-Gascons on the left.

This was a battle between João of Portugal and Juan I of Castile, rival claimants to the Portuguese throne. The Castilian army comprised 6,000 men-at-arms (including 800 or 1,500 French mercenaries under Geoffroi de Parthenay), 2,000 jinetes, 10,000 infantry (archers, spearmen and dart-throwers) and 16 light cannon (which fired off only a few inconsequential rounds during the action). João’s forces were somewhat smaller, though numbering at least 7,000 including 2-3,000 men-at-arms; Ayala says there were 2,200 men-at-arms and 10,000 others, Froissart giving 2,500 men-at-arms and 12,000 infantry. The infantry included many archers, mostly Portuguese but including some English longbowmen (commanded by 3 esquires according to Froissart); the English element probably numbered about 700 and certainly not less than 400, Froissart saying that there were about 500, one-third of them companions.

After several hours of jockeying for position the Portuguese were formed up amidst orchards half-way down a slope by the abbey of Aljubarrota; they had felled brushwood waist-high to cover both flanks, behind which were drawn up their archers and crossbowmen (with the English on the left wing), with men-at-arms formed up on foot in the centre in a hollow square behind the single narrow passage through the archers’ barricades. They also dug a trench to their front, with two further shallow ditches containing streams providing additional protection for the flanks.

Juan, inadvisably forced to take action by young Castilian hotbloods, resolved to advance against this strong Portuguese position, despite the fact that his army had been marching for several hours and it was already late afternoon. He advanced in 3 lines, the first of his French mercenaries, the second of the Castilian horse in 3 divisions, and the third of the crossbowmen and other infantry.

Coming upon Joao’s positions, the French dismounted and began their attack without awaiting the arrival of the rest of the Castilian army. Heading for the gap between the abattis on the Portuguese flanks they were enfiladed by archers and javelinmen and despite making an initial impression in the Portuguese line they were soon repulsed by Joao’s men-at-arms, losing hundreds killed and 1,000 captured, these being subsequently killed by the Portuguese, who became concerned at having so many prisoners in their rear. Juan, failing to realise the magnitude of his van’s defeat, then launched a cavalry charge against the Portuguese, whom he was unable to outflank because of the nature of the battleground, which channelled his entire force directly at their dismounted men-at-arms so that the Portuguese infantry could enfilade them just as they had the French. The ditch presented a serious obstacle, allegedly only becoming passable when, in 40 places, it had become filled with the carcasses of shot-down horses, and reputedly not a single Castilian of some 500 who crossed over it came back alive.

When after less than an hour’s confused fighting Juan’s standard-bearer fell the exhausted Castilians began to falter, to break in rout soon after following Juan’s own flight from the battlefield. They had lost 7,500 men including 2,500 men-at-arms according to João’s own account, among them the Masters of Calatrava and Santiago, both Castilian marshals, de Parthenay and many other leading noblemen. Predictably, Portuguese losses appear to have been minimal.

Fighting in the van, many of the Portuguese legitimist leaders were mowed down – an outcome with major long-term political consequences. The rest of the invading host simply disintegrated; Juan himself was forced to flee, his campaign ending in ignominious failure. Aljubarrota proved one of the most consequential victories in Portuguese history. It confirmed the rule of João I and the house of Avis, demonstrated Portugal’s emphatic rejection of the idea of Iberian union and constituted a defining moment in the evolution of national consciousness.

Afterwards, near the place where the battle had been won, and in fulfilment of his vow on the day it was fought, João ordered an abbey be raised. Builders worked on its construction for almost 150 years, and even then it was never completed. Nevertheless, the unfinished monument – which was called Batalha (battle) abbey – is unquestionably a magnificent example of late Gothic architecture and one of the few truly outstanding buildings ever created in Portugal. It was and is a fitting symbol of the new dynasty and the triumphant reassertion of the kingdom’s independence.


A major battle involving the use of black powder weapons was at Aljubarrota on 14 August 1385, fought between the Portuguese and the army of the Spanish kingdom of Castile. The Portuguese had inferior numbers and took defensive positions behind a trench and brushwork palisades in order to keep the Castilian cavalry from making a charge. As an added measure they dug a chequered pattern of holes in the field in front in order to trip up their opponents’ horses. Creeks and steep terrain protected their flanks. The Castilians, seeing a direct assault would be risky, deployed 16 cannon and opened up on the Portuguese position. The defenders wavered, frightened by the sight and sound of the artillery more than the effect it had on their ranks, but they did not retreat because the Castilians had already sent some light cavalry around to their rear. Having nowhere to run, the Portuguese held their ground. The Castilians finally lost patience and charged, but a determined Portuguese defence won the day. Once again black powder had struck fear in the hearts of the enemy, but failed to be the deciding factor in battle. A fixed position of relatively exposed, massed men had been able to withstand an artillery barrage.


Castilian-French men-at-arms are forced to attack on a narrow front, where they are hammered by a blizzard of arrows from the flanks. Archaeological excavations of the battle site have revealed a network of defensive pits and ditches to protect the contingent of Anglo-Gascon archers fighting for the Portuguese; in addition, Froissart records that the archers cut down trees to make cavalry-proof fences.

The Rif War


Francisco Franco with fellow soldiers in Ras Medua, 1921.


“Moroccan Bomber: American Fighters in the Rif War, 1925” (by Colonel Paul Ayres Rockwell, ed. Dale L. Walker; Aviation Quarterly, Volume 5, Number 2, 2nd Quarter 1979)


Territory under the control of the Republic of the Rif (bordered in red) within Spanish Morocco.

Colonial administrators in Morocco were confronted with a major armed uprising that targeted both Spanish and French rule. Between 1921 and 1926, the Rif War posed the greatest challenge yet to European colonialism in the Arab world.

France was given the green light by the European powers to add Morocco to its North African possessions in 1912. The Moroccan sultan, Moulay Abd al-Hafiz (r. 1907–1912), signed the Treaty of Fez in March 1912, preserving his family’s rule in Morocco but conceding most of his country’s sovereignty to France under a colonial arrangement known as a protectorate. In principle this meant that France would protect the government of Morocco from outside threats, though in practice France ruled absolutely, if indirectly, through the sultan and his ministers.

The first thing the French failed to protect was Morocco’s territorial integrity. Spain had imperial interests in Morocco dating back to the sixteenth century, its coastal fortresses having long since evolved into colonial enclaves (Ceuta and Melilla remain under Spanish rule to the present day, fossils of an extinct empire). France had to negotiate a treaty with Spain setting out their respective “rights” in Morocco, a process concluded in November 1912 with the signing of the Treaty of Madrid. Under the terms of the treaty, Spain claimed a protectorate over the northern and southern extremities of Morocco. The northern zone comprised some 20,000 square kilometers (8,000 square miles) of the Atlantic and Mediterranean coastline and hinterlands, and the southern zone covered 23,000 square kilometers (9,200 square miles) of desert that came to be known as Spanish Sahara or Western Sahara. In addition, the port city of Tangier in the Strait of Gibraltar was placed under international control. After 1912 the Moroccan sultan ruled a very truncated state.

Though Morocco had enjoyed centuries of independent statehood before becoming a protectorate, its rulers had never succeeded in extending their authority over the whole of their national territory. The sultan’s control had always been strongest in the cities and weakest in the countryside. This situation was only exacerbated when Morocco came under imperial rule. Soldiers mutinied, many returning to their tribes to foment rural rebellion. The Moroccan countryside was in turmoil when the first French governor arrived to take up his post in May 1912.


Louis Hubert Gonzalve Lyautey (November 17, 1854 – July 27, 1934) was a French general, Marshall of France, the first Resident-General in Morocco.

During his thirteen-year tenure in Morocco, Marshal Hubert Lyautey (1854–1934) would prove to be one of the great innovators of imperial administration. He arrived in Fez the day before a massive attack on the city by mutinous soldiers and their tribal supporters. He saw firsthand the limits of what French diplomats had achieved in securing European consent for French rule in Morocco.

Though trained as a military man, Lyautey did not wish to repeat the mistakes made in Algeria, where hundreds of thousands of Algerians and Frenchmen had perished in the decades it took to “pacify” the country by force. Instead of imposing European forms of administration, Lyautey hoped to win the Moroccans over by preserving local institutions and working through native leaders, starting with the sultan.

The French sought to control the cities of Morocco through the institutions surrounding the sultan’s government, known as the Makhzan (literally, the land of the treasury). Lyautey made a great show of respect for the symbols of the sultan’s sovereignty, playing the Moroccan anthem at state occasions and flying the Moroccan flag over public buildings. But such respect for the office of the sultan did not always extend to the office-holder. One of Lyautey’s first acts was to force the abdication of the reigning sultan, Moulay Abd al-Hafiz, whom he found unreliable, and his replacement with a more compliant ruler, Moulay Youssef (r. 1912–1927).

Lyautey built his control over the countryside on three indigenous pillars: the “big qa’ids,” or tribal leaders; the tariqas, or mystical Islamic brotherhoods whose network of lodges spanned the country; and the indigenous Berber people. The big qa’ids commanded the loyalty of their fellow tribesmen and were capable of raising hundreds of armed men. Having witnessed a tribal attack on Fez immediately after his arrival, Lyautey recognized the importance of securing their support for French rule. The tariqas represented a network of faith that transcended tribal ties whose lodges had served to shelter dissidents and mobilize religious opposition to repel non-Muslim invaders. Lyautey knew that the Algerian tariqas had played an important role in Abdel Kader’s resistance to the French in the 1830s and 1840s and was determined to co-opt their support for his government. The Berbers are a non-Arab minority community with a distinct language and culture. The French sought to play the Berbers of North Africa against their Arab neighbors in a classic divide-and-rule strategy. A law of September 1914 decreed that Morocco’s Berber tribes henceforth would be governed in accordance with their own laws and customs under French supervision as a sort of protectorate within a protectorate.

This Lyautey system was no less imperial for preserving indigenous institutions. French administrators ruled in all departments of “modern” government: finance, public works, health, education, and justice, among others. Religious affairs, pious endowments, Islamic courts, and the like came under Moroccan authority. Yet Lyautey’s system provided local leaders incentives to collaborate with, rather than subvert, the French colonial administration. The more Moroccan notables implicated in French rule, the fewer Lyautey had to “pacify” on the battlefield. Lyautey was feted as a great innovator, whose concern for preserving indigenous customs and traditions was seen by his contemporaries as a compassionate colonialism.

Even under the Lyautey system, however, a great deal of Morocco remained to be conquered. To reduce the drain on the French army, Lyautey recruited and trained Moroccan soldiers willing to deliver their own country to French rule. Though he aspired to total conquest, Lyautey focused on the economic heartland of Morocco, which he dubbed le Maroc utile, or “Useful Morocco,” comprising those regions with greatest agricultural, mining, and water resources.

The conquest of Useful Morocco proceeded slowly against sustained resistance from the countryside. Between the establishment of the protectorate in 1912 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914, French control stretched from Fez to Marrakesh, including the coastal cities of Rabat, Casablanca, and the new port of Kéni-tra, which was renamed Port Lyautey. There matters were left to stand for the duration of the war years, when 34,000 Moroccan soldiers were called to fight France’s war with Germany, suffering high casualties for their imperial overlord. Lyautey himself was recalled between 1916 and 1917 to serve as the French minister of war. Even so, the system held, with the big qa’ids proving France’s greatest supporters in Morocco. The rural notables met in Marrakesh in August 1914 and acknowledged their dependence on France. “We are the friends of France,” one of the leading notables declared, “and to the very end we shall share her fortunes be it good or bad.”

In the aftermath of the war and the Paris Peace Conference, Lyautey resumed the conquest of Morocco—and faced stronger opposition than ever. In 1923, over 21,000 French troops were fighting an estimated 7,000 Moroccan insurgents. Yet his biggest challenge would come from outside the territory of the French protectorate, from the Berber people of the Rif Mountains of the northern Spanish zone. His nemesis would be a small-town judge named Muhammad ibn Abd al-Karim al-Khattabi, better known as Abd el-Krim. From his native Rif Mountains, overlooking the Mediterranean coastline, Abd el-Krim mounted a five-year rebellion between 1921–1926 that claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Spanish soldiers in what has been called the worst defeat of a colonial army in Africa in the twentieth century.

Conflict between the people of the Rif (known as Rifis) and the Spanish broke out in the summer of 1921. Inspired by debates about Islamic social and religious reform, Abd el-Krim rejected French and Spanish rule alike and aspired to an independent state in the Rif quite separate from the Kingdom of Morocco. “I wanted to make the Rif an independent country like France and Spain, and to found a free state with full sovereignty,” he explained. “Independence which assured us complete freedom of self-determination and the running of our affairs, and to conclude such treaties and alliances as we saw fit.”

A charismatic leader, Abd el-Krim recruited thousands of Rifis into a disciplined and motivated army. The Rifis had the double advantage of fighting to protect their homes and families from foreign invaders and doing so on their own treacherous mountain terrain. Between July and August 1921, Abd el-Krim’s forces decimated the Spanish army in Morocco, killing some 10,000 soldiers and taking hundreds prisoner. Spain sent reinforcements and, in the course of 1922, managed to reoccupy territory that had fallen to Abd el-Krim’s forces. However, the Rifis continued to score victories against Spanish troops and managed to capture more than 20,000 rifles, 400 mountain guns, and 125 cannon, which were quickly distributed among their fighting men.

The Rifi leader ransomed his prisoners to get the Spanish to subsidize his war effort. In January 1923, Abd el-Krim secured over four million pesetas from the Spanish government for the release of soldiers taken prisoner by the Rifis since the start of the war. This enormous sum funded Abd el-Krim’s ambitious plans to build on his revolt to establish an independent state.

In February 1923, Abd el-Krim laid the foundations of an independent state in the Rif. He accepted the Rifi tribes’ pledges of allegiance and assumed political leadership as amir (commander or ruler) of the mountain region. The Spanish responded by mobilizing another campaign force to reconquer the Rif. Between 1923 and 1924 the Rifis dealt the Spaniards a number of defeats, crowned by the conquest of the mountain town of Chaouen in the autumn of 1924. The Spanish lost another 10,000 soldiers in the battle. Such victories gave Abd el-Krim and his Rifi legions more confidence than prudence. If the Spanish could be defeated so easily, why not the French?

The Rif War provoked grave concern in France. On a tour of his northern front in June 1924, Lyautey was alarmed to see how the defeat of Spanish forces left French positions vulnerable to attack by the Rifis. The Rif was a poor, mountainous land that was heavily reliant on food imports from the fertile valleys of the French zone. Lyautey needed to reinforce the region between Fez and the Spanish Zone to prevent the Rifis from invading to secure their food needs.

Lyautey returned to Paris in August to brief the premier, Edouard Herriot, and his government on the threat posed by Abd el-Krim’s insurrectionary state. Yet the French were overstretched, in occupation of the Rhineland and setting up their administration in Syria and Lebanon, and could not spare the men and material Lyautey believed the absolute minimum to preserve his position in Morocco. Whereas he requested the immediate dispatch of four infantry battalions, the government could muster only two. A life-long conservative, Lyautey sensed that he did not have the support of Herriot’s Radical government. Seventy years old, and in poor health, he returned to Morocco with neither the physical nor the political strength to contain the Rifis.

In April 1925, Abd el-Krim’s forces turned south and invaded the French zone. They sought the support of the local tribes that claimed the agricultural lands to the south of the Rif. Abd el-Krim’s commanders met with the tribal leaders to explain the situation as they saw it. “Holy war had been proclaimed by Abd el-Krim, the true Sultan of Morocco, to throw out the infidels, and particularly the French, in the name of the greater glory of regenerated Islam.” The occupation of all of Morocco by Abd el-Krim’s forces, they explained, “was no more than a question of days.” Abd el-Krim increasingly saw his movement as a religious war against non-Muslims who were occupying Muslim land, and he staked a claim to the sultanate of Morocco as a whole, and not just the smaller Rif Republic.

As Lyautey had feared, the Rifis swept rapidly through his poorly defended northern agricultural lands. The French were forced to evacuate all European citizens and to withdraw their troops from the countryside to the city of Fez, with heavy casualties. In just two months, the French had lost forty-three army posts and suffered 1,500 dead and 4,700 wounded or missing in action against the Rifis.

In June, with his forces encamped just 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) from Fez, Abd el-Krim wrote to the Islamic scholars of the city’s famous Qarawiyyin mosque-university to win them over to his cause. “We tell you and your colleagues . . . who are men of good faith and have no relations with hypocrites or infidels, of the state of servitude into which the disunited nation of Morocco is sunk,” he wrote. He accused the reigning sultan, Moulay Youssef, of having betrayed his nation to the French and of surrounding himself with corrupt officials. Abd el-Krim asked the religious leaders of Fez for their support as a matter of religious duty.

It was a persuasive argument, put forward in sound, theological terms supported by many quotes from the Qur’an on the necessity of jihad. But the Arab religious scholars of Fez did not throw their support behind the Berber Rifis. When it reached the outskirts of Fez, Abd el-Krim’s army came up against the solidly French-controlled “Useful Morocco” created by the Lyautey system. Faced with a choice between the aspiring national liberation movement from the Rif and the solidly established instruments of French imperial rule, the Muslim scholars of Fez clearly believed the Lyautey system was the stronger of the two.

Abd el-Krim’s movement came to a halt at the walls of Fez in June 1925. If the three pillars of French rule in the countryside were the mystical Muslim brotherhoods, the leading tribal notables, and the Berbers, then Lyautey had secured two out of the three. “The greatest reason for my failure,” Abd el-Krim later reflected, “was religious fanaticism.” The claim is incongruous in light of Abd el-Krim’s own use of Islam to rally support for a holy war against the imperial powers. But the Rifi leader was actually referring to the mystical Muslim brotherhoods. “The shaykhs of the tariqas were my bitterest enemies and the enemies of my country as it progressed,” he believed. He had no more success with the big qa’ids. “At first I tried to win over the masses to my point of view by argument and demonstration,” Abd el-Krim wrote, “but I met with great opposition from the main families with powerful influence.” With one exception, he claimed, “the rest were all my enemies.”18 In their opposition to Abd el-Krim, the big qa’ids and the shaykhs of the brotherhoods had all upheld French rule in Morocco as Lyautey intended. As for the Berbers—Abd al-Krim and his Rifi fighters were themselves Berbers. They took Lyautey’s policy of Berber separatism further than Lyautey himself ever intended. It is of no doubt that the Rifis’ Berber identity played a role in discouraging Moroccan Arabs from joining their campaign against the French.

Though his system of colonial government held, Lyautey himself fell to the Rifi challenge. To his critics in Paris, the overflow of the Rif War into the French protectorate proved the failure of Lyautey’s efforts to achieve the total submission of Morocco. As major reinforcements from France flooded Morocco in July 1925, Lyautey—exhausted by months of campaigning against the Rifis compounded by ill health—asked for another commander to assist him. The French government dispatched Marshal Philippe Pétain, the hero of the World War I battle of Verdun, to assist. In August, Pétain took control of French military operations in Morocco. The following month, Lyautey tendered his resignation. He left Morocco for good in October 1925.

Abd el-Krim did not long survive Lyautey. The French and Spanish combined forces to crush the Rifi insurgency. The Rifi army had already withdrawn back to its mountain homeland in northern Morocco, where it came under a two-front siege by massive French and Spanish armies in September 1925. By October, the European armies had completely surrounded the Rif Mountains and imposed a complete blockade to starve the Rifis into submission. Abd el-Krim’s efforts to negotiate a resolution were rebuffed, and in May 1926, the Rif Mountains were overrun by a joint European force of some 123,000 soldiers. Rifi resistance crumbled, and Abd el-Krim surrendered to the French on May 26. He was later exiled to the Indian Ocean island of Réunion, where he remained until 1947.

With the collapse of the Rif War, France and Spain resumed their colonial administration of Morocco unencumbered by further domestic opposition. Though the Rif War did not engender sustained resistance to the French or Spanish in Morocco, Abd el-Krim and his movement sparked the imagination of nationalists across the Arab world. They saw the Rifis as an Arab people (not as Berbers) who had led a heroic resistance to European rule and had inflicted numerous defeats on modern armies in defense of their land and faith. Their five-year insurgency (1921–1926) against Spain and France inspired some Syrian nationalists to mount their own revolt against the French in 1925.


In the tenth century, Islamic Spain—al-Andalus—developed into the greatest economic and cultural power in the West. In the early 900s under the amir ‘Abd al-Rahman III, a long period of upheaval, civil war, and foreign attacks came to end. ‘Abd al-Rahman subdued the ever-rebellious Arab elite of al-Andalus—the descendants of the warriors who conquered Visigothic Hispania in the early eighth century—forced the small Christian principalities that dotted the mountainous north of Spain to submit to his authority, and undertook the conquest of northwest Africa. With that campaign Córdoba gained access to gold that originated on the far side of the Sahara, in the Niger Delta and the Akan Forest farther beyond. Intrepid Muslim merchants began to take cloth and salt across the vast desert and trade them pound for pound for high-quality gold, as well as ivory, pelts, and slaves. Much of this gold found its way into the royal treasury, funding a navy with which the amir controlled the Western Mediterranean, and a new army that soon had no serious adversary on the Iberian Peninsula. Up to this time, the Arab tribal elite of al-Andalus had dominated the army of a relatively united Umayyad Spain, and ‘Abd al-Rahman’s predecessors could not rule without their consent. But now, with a new army made up largely of Berber mercenaries recruited from Tunisia and Morocco and paid for with African gold, ‘Abd al-Rahman cowed both the tribal elite and his Christian tributaries, some of whom were his own kin. The submission of these tributaries to Córdoba was so complete that the Muslim court became a center of Christian diplomacy and intrigue, and its harem a destination for their daughters.

The African gold also inaugurated a time of unprecedented prosperity in al-Andalus, and a cultural and scientific renaissance. Córdoba became the center of both trade and culture. The city’s population swelled to nearly half a million, making it, alongside Constantinople and Cairo, the largest metropolis west of Baghdad. The streets were paved, and unlike the filth, squalor, and danger of the stunted and primitive cities of Northern Europe, the capital had a working sewage system, a police force, and street lighting. On those streets peoples from across the Mediterranean and beyond rubbed shoulders: most of the city’s inhabitants were Muslims, but there were also many Christian Mozarabs and Jews, who were all but indistinguishable in language, dress, and habits from one another and from their Muslim neighbors. The strange accents and languages of foreign visitors could also be heard: merchants and scholars from the expanse of the Islamic world, and not a few Latin foreigners, as well as slaves imported from the “land of the Blacks” and pagan Eastern Europe or captured in raids on Christian lands, and even the occasional Byzantine Greek. These peoples were joined by an increasing number of new arrivals from North Africa, Berber warriors and their families who were looked down on by the native Andalusis for being dark-skinned, and—as they saw it—rude and uncultured. The city was a tumult of workers and craftsmen, traders and merchants, stern royal officials, veiled courtesans, haughty slaves, beggars, soldiers, scholars, and holy men. The aromas of Africa and India wafted from the covered market northeast of the royal fortress, where cloth merchants hawked silks and linens and where gold- and silversmiths’ hammers added to the din caused by the braying of donkeys, the bellowing of camels, and the chatter of townsfolk, visitors, officials, and charlatans of all kinds.

Next door to the market sprawled the majestic Great Mosque, which ‘Abd al-Rahman renovated, doubling its size to accommodate the city’s burgeoning population. Outside of the magnificent structure, scribes-for-hire wrote petitions, contracts, and letters for all and sundry. Within the stone walls, a broad patio, shaded by orange trees and cooled by sprinkling water fountains, served as a public park and gathering space. Near the doors to the prayer hall, the qadi, or magistrate, held court and passed sentence on cases both mundane and sensational. Inside, among the marble columns taken from Roman ruins in the Western Mediterranean and beneath the red-and-white-banded arches that crowned them, people read, meditated, or dozed. Here, on Fridays at noon, the amir himself joined his Muslim subjects, prostrate on the carpeted floor. They faced the ivory-inlaid mihrab, the amir separated from the masses only by the wooden honeycomb of a mashrabiyya screen.

Buoyed by his successes, in 929 ‘Abd al-Rahman took a monumental step and declared himself to be the caliph (khalifa) and Córdoba to be the center of power in the Islamic world. This was not only a blow to the prestige of the ‘Abbasid caliph in Baghdad, who had been universally recognized as legitimate by Sunni Muslims, but a challenge to ‘Abd al-Rahman’s enemies, the Shi’a Fatimids of Tunisia, who had declared their own independent caliphate twenty years before. More than anything it marked a shift in the practice of leadership in Islamic Spain. To that point, the amirs had been “men of the people” in the style of the tribal Arab warlords of old: earthy, practical, and simple. In a stroke ‘Abd al-Rahman transformed himself into a near-divine autocrat, in the mold of Persian and Byzantine emperors. His act had profound consequences. Most immediately it meant that he would withdraw from public life. Protected and served by an ever more efficient and elaborate civil service, his direct intervention in the daily affairs of his realm was no longer practical or necessary. And in 939 a rare defeat at the hands of the forces of Christian León persuaded ‘Abd al-Rahman to end his military career—the life of the caliph could not be risked.

Three years earlier ‘Abd al-Rahman had begun construction on Madinat al-Zahara a few miles west of Córdoba, imagining it as a self-contained palace-city. For forty years, ten thousand workers and slaves were said to have labored on the immense complex, which included residences, a huge mosque, barracks, storerooms, and baths. To its luxurious and extensive gardens were brought exotic plants and trees gathered from as far away as India. The poet Ibn Zaydun would recall “the meandering waterway … its silvery waters … like a necklace unclasped and thrown aside,” and the “fragrant breaths from the pome of the water lilies.” Once finished, Madinat al-Zahara was staffed by thousands of slaves, officials, and soldiers. It became the official seat of government in 947; there would be no reason for the caliph to venture beyond its walls. The center of the palace was the great reception hall, its ceiling decorated with gilt and multicolored panels of translucent marble, interspersed with gold and silver panels and sheltering an ornate fountain sent from Constantinople by Emperor Constantine VII. On sunny days, the light streaming into the great hall was said to be sublime, and when the caliph wanted to awe visitors, his slaves would knock a mercury basin, and its ripples would send shimmers of reflected sunlight through the chamber. It was here that envoys from Africa, the Holy Roman Empire, and Constantinople would come to offer their respects, and the rulers of Christian Spain would come to bear homage.

A contemporary Muslim observer recorded one such visit. In 962 Ordoño IV, King of León, journeyed to Córdoba for an audience with al-Hakam II, the caliph’s son and successor. After stopping to pray at the tomb of ‘Abd al-Rahman III, the Christian king proceeded under escort to Madinat al-Zahara. The caliphal bodyguard had been deployed in parade regalia and the notables of the court had assembled. As Ordoño made his way through the resplendently decorated palace toward the inner sanctum, he was gradually deprived of his own entourage, until he was surrounded only by his closest advisers. Before reaching the reception hall he was forced to dismount his horse. Entering the dazzling room, the king must have been awestruck by the gilded and marbled walls, which were intended to give a sense of Heaven on Earth. At the center, surrounded by well-coiffed and perfumed officials, slaves, and eunuchs, and flanked by soldiers—blond-haired and bearded “Slavs” and Africans whose black skin had been oiled to a glistening sheen—sat the caliph, garbed in exquisite, brightly dyed silk robes. As he drew near al-Hakam’s throne Ordoño bowed, rose, took a few steps, and bowed again, repeating this performance until he reached the caliph, who held out a hand. After Ordoño retreated respectfully, his grandees each rose to kiss al-Hakam’s hand, and then the king exclaimed, “I am a slave of the Commander of the Faithful, my lord and my master; and I am come to implore his favor and to witness his majesty, and to place myself and my people under his protection.” The desired effect—to overwhelm the visiting Christian king, to render him speechless—had clearly been achieved.

Though the caliph’s move to the palace increased his isolation and resulted in new powers for the palace bureaucrats, notably the wazir, the top administrator, and the hajib, or chamberlain, who controlled access to the sovereign, ‘Abd al-Rahman remained involved in the affairs of his kingdom. He was astute enough to realize that the loyalty of his various officials, generals, and wives was tenuous at best—any of them might plot to depose or assassinate him and place a kinsman on the throne. And so he relied for his own protection on bodyguards recruited or captured from the Christian lands in the north, men called “the Silent Ones” for their inability to speak Arabic, who, having no natural allies in al-Andalus, would be unlikely to betray him.

In the same spirit, one of the keys to maintaining the political equilibrium in the caliphate was his cultivation of dhimmis, the Jews and Christians who were the “protected” subject peoples of the Islamic regime. Both communities were granted broad liberties, and both were integrated into Muslim society. A century earlier, after a brief flurry of resistance, the local Christian Church had effectively become a branch of the Andalusi civil service. Thus, for example, the Christian aristocrat and courtier Reccemund, who went by the name Rabi’ ibn Zaid in Muslim circles, was rewarded for his faithful service to the regime when he was appointed bishop of Elvira by the caliph. Jews found themselves with similar opportunities. The Jewish physician and rabbi Hasdai ibn Shaprut became the caliph’s close friend and adviser, and even led the caliph’s most delicate diplomatic missions. As a consequence of his influence in Córdoba (not to mention his extraordinary devotion and learning), Hasdai was recognized as Nasi, “prince,” and became an advocate for Jews across the caliphate and beyond.

Non-Muslims, slaves, and Berbers were useful to ‘Abd al-Rahman because they were in their own ways outsiders, and would be unable to harness popular support in a coup. As a consequence, each group served the caliph as counterweights to potentially subversive Muslim and Arab factions within the kingdom. In essence, the administration oversaw a dynamic meritocracy in which neither class nor ethnic background nor religion posed insurmountable obstacles to success. This is not to say that Córdoba’s political culture was based on a principle of tolerance, but rather that the Umayyad rulers were interested only in power. But the regime’s pragmatic self-interest fostered a situation in which Christians, Muslims, and Jews found themselves working together to build a caliphate in the West, each group secure and confident, and each speaking Arabic and moving within an Islamic social, cultural, and intellectual milieu. Muslims felt no threat from the dhimmis among them, and Christians and Jews were accommodated and integrated to such a degree that only the most stalwartly reactionary would harbor any resentment against the still superior status of Muslims.

By 961, when ‘Abd al-Rahman’s son, al-Hakam II, came to the throne, the caliphate was practically running itself, leaving the heir free to pursue his scholarly and intellectual interests. This suited al-Hakam, who had little interest in affairs of state. A bookish type, he patronized scholars, poets, and scientists. During his reign the royal library possessed, if the sources are to be trusted, close to a half million volumes. (This at a time when the Abbey Library of St. Gall in Switzerland, one of the great centers of learning in the Latin West, boasted just over one hundred.) The caliph and other grandees funded translations of literary and scientific works, and scholarship and research progressed apace. But for all his learning, al-Hakam did not foresee the perils of entrusting bureaucrats and administrators with the day-to-day running of his wealthy and complex kingdom.

Shortly after joining the caliphal Administration, Ibn Abi ʿĀmir forged a lasting alliance with the mother of the heir to the throne, the favorite Subh, which was only broken in 996 by Ibn Abi ʿĀmir’s ambitions, which Subh considered a threat to her son Hisham.


One of these administrators was an ambitious young man who claimed Arab descent, named Muhammad ibn Abi Amir, who had come to Córdoba from the provinces, hoping to work as a scribe. Through good fortune and persistence he managed to find employment not only in the palace but in the caliph’s harem. He became the personal administrator to Subh, a former Christian, who as the mother of al-Hakam’s sole son and heir, Hisham, was herself a powerful figure. Coaxing al-Hakam to produce an heir had been no easy feat; the caliph’s predilection for men was said to be so strong that he kept a male harem. Subh, it was claimed, had managed to succeed in seducing the unwitting caliph by cropping her hair and disguising herself as a boy. Whatever the truth, Ibn Abi Amir rose quickly in her service; and there were rumors of an affair between the two. However he won Subh’s affection and trust, though, the young scribe was evidently after power, not sex.

Marriage was a separate matter. Ibn Abi Amir married Asma, the daughter of Ghalib al-Nasiri, a leading “Arab” aristocrat and general, with whose support he secured valuable experience and then popular acclaim as a military commander. In 976 al-Hakam died and ten-year-old Hisham ascended to the caliph’s throne. After heading off a coup by the palace eunuchs, Ibn Abi Amir, Ghalib, and Subh made a pact to keep young Hisham a virtual prisoner while they ran the caliphate. Over the subsequent decades Ibn Abi Amir gradually consolidated his power, disposing of rivals and having himself appointed both wazir and hajib. At the same time, he imported increasing numbers of North African troops and launched spectacular expeditions against the Christian lands to the north. These, along with his conspicuous acts of public piety—copying his own Qur’an by hand and purging the caliphal library of “subversive” works—earned him broad support among the religious elite and the Muslim public over which they held sway. Then Ibn Abi Amir turned on his allies with Stalinesque thoroughness: Subh, Ghalib, and any others who might threaten him were eliminated. Ibn Abi Amir had become the uncontested ruler of al-Andalus.

Hisham, the caliph in name only, was forced to formally cede political authority to the hajib in 997. By then Muhammad ibn Abi Amir had become known as al-Mansur—“the Victorious by God”—a name that swiftly became synonymous with terror in the Latin world. Called “Almanzor” by his Christian enemies, Ibn Abi Amir sacked the major towns of Christian Spain, including Barcelona, León, and Pamplona. In 997 his armies marched to Santiago de Compostela, the legendary resting place of the Apostle Saint James in the far northwest of the peninsula, and carried the bells from his church back to Córdoba as trophies to be hung in the Great Mosque. For al-Mansur these campaigns served three purposes: to keep the Christian kingdoms weak and on the defensive; to provide an outlet for the energies of his army; and to cement his popular reputation as a mujahid, or a warrior of Islam. At home, he placated the old Arab elite—Hisham’s immense extended family, the Umayyad clan—by ensuring that they had access to powerful and lucrative positions in the administration and by not challenging their social and cultural prestige.

To all appearances the caliphate was at the height of its power under al-Mansur. But beneath the surface tensions were building. Despite his efforts, the Umayyad clan chafed at having been shunted aside by an upstart scribe. Provincial governors and palace slaves plotted uprisings. The ‘ulama’, or clerics, pressured al-Mansur to pursue a repressive domestic policy designed to protect the status of the native Muslim elite and maintain religious rigor. In order to placate them, he burned the books they considered offensive, including a large part of al-Hakam’s immense library. And Andalusis of all classes and backgrounds came to loathe and fear the increasingly powerful Berber element. In the previous decades North African domination of the army had translated into broader political power for Berbers, many of whom had been appointed to administrative posts. The notion that these illiterate, dark-skinned non-Arabs were taking over galvanized the alarmed native populace.

In 1002, returning from his fifty-second biannual invasion of Christian territories, Muhammad ibn Abi Amir took ill. His army stopped in Medinaceli, a wind-swept plateau not far from the northern frontier of the caliphate, and where an arch built by the Roman emperor Domitian nine hundred years earlier still stands today. Here al-Mansur died. His army mournfully carried his body four hundred miles south, back to Córdoba. The hajib was first succeeded by his favorite son, ‘Abd al-Malik, who carefully kept up the facade of the caliphate, but who died unexpectedly in 1008. He was succeeded in turn by his younger brother, ‘Abd al-Rahman, known popularly as Sanjul, or “little Sancho,” for his resemblance to his maternal grandfather, King Sancho II of Pamplona. Sanjul shared none of his father’s or brother’s discretion or restraint. Not content to hold power in practice, Sanjul wanted also to hold it in name, and a year after his appointment, he forced the aging and childless Hisham II to designate him the official heir to the title of caliph. This was simultaneously an act of betrayal to the Umayyad clan, an affront to the ‘ulama’, who upheld the religious legitimacy of the caliphate, and an outrage to the Muslim populace of al-Andalus. Then, further stoking the growing opposition, he ordered state dignitaries to abandon their traditional multicolored headdresses—the symbol of their aristocratic status—in favor of the Berber-style turban. To the people of Córdoba it seemed as though the Berbers were taking over.

Recognizing that he had gone too far, Sanjul attempted to regain popular support among the Arab-identifying Andalusis, but this served only to alienate him from his North African military. In 1009 he was seized by his own troops and put to death, and the people of Córdoba rose up against the Berber clans, who had settled on the outskirts of the city. The period that followed would come to be called the fitna, or “disorder.” A generation-long civil war, it would witness the destruction of Madinat al-Zahara, the sacking of Córdoba, and the collapse of the caliphate. It would herald the beginning of the end of Muslim dominance of the peninsula. Islamic Spain tilted into anarchy: the cities became unsafe, bandits and mercenaries roamed the countryside, and local governors declared themselves independent rulers. A few decades before, the German poetess and nun Hrosvitha of Gandersheim had described it as “the brilliant ornament of the world [that] shone in the west”; now Córdoba was reduced to a shell of its former self. The scholars, merchants, and soldiers of fortune who had lived there scattered as refugees in the aftermath of the uprising. Among these were a Jew, Shmuel Ha-Levi, and a Berber, Zawi ibn Ziri. Although they would never meet, their destinies were deeply intertwined. Between them, they would found the Kingdom of Granada and make it prosper, and Shmuel’s son, Yusuf ibn Naghrilla, would one day aspire to seize its throne.


Zawi ibn Ziri would not have referred to himself as a “Berber,” a label invented by condescending Arab geographers for the diverse indigenous peoples of the Maghrib (Arabic for “the West”; what is now northwestern Africa, from Libya to Morocco). The term derived from the Arabic barbara, “to babble nonsensically.”* Arab-identifying Spanish Muslims viewed Berbers as illiterate, brutish, and uncouth; the prejudice originated during the age of Islamic conquest, and has been perpetuated unthinkingly by writers and historians to this day. In fact, the tribal hill and desert dwellers of the region—farmers, herders, and warriors—spoke a number of languages, including Tamazight, Taqbaylit, and Tarifit, and had used an alphabet developed by the Phoenician colonists at ancient Carthage. Their generic word for themselves, Imazaghen, meant “the nobles.”

When the Arabs arrived in northwestern Africa in the late seventh century, the Berbers (with the exception of some tribes who may have identified as Christians or Jews) were pagan, and so were not considered eligible to live within the dar al-Islam. They were given the choice of converting to Islam or fighting to the death. Some resisted but most acquiesced, and gradually the various tribes of the Mediterranean’s African coastland became Muslim (at least in name), and subjects and allies of the Arab warlords. They relinquished their alphabet as they were gradually Arabized. It was Berber troops who were largely responsible for the Islamic conquest of Spain in the early 700s. Those who stayed in the peninsula after the campaigns were absorbed into the new Hispano-Arabic society of al-Andalus, and by the time of ‘Abd al-Rahman III their origins had been forgotten. This was not the case, however, with the North Africans who had been recruited during the years of the caliphate. Brought over as clans, complete with their women and children, these warriors maintained their distinct customs, language, and identity. Although they took their Islam very seriously, many did not even speak Arabic. Along with the disdain the Andalusis felt for them, this fact made integration impossible. Moreover, the recently arrived Berbers maintained their ties with family members and tribes back home across the Straits of Gibraltar, and saw themselves not so much as immigrants but as temporary mercenaries in the service of the caliphate, or as the vanguard of a new conquest.

Two of the largest nomadic tribal groups of the Maghrib were the Zanata in the west and the Sanhaja in the east. They were traditional enemies. When, under ‘Abd al-Rahman III, Islamic Spain began to conquer and colonize North Africa, it engaged with the Zanata first, as by turns an antagonist and an ally. As a consequence, most of the mercenaries who swelled the ranks of the caliphal army were from Zanata tribes. The Sanhaja, on the other hand, were dependents of the Fatimids, the Umayyads’ archenemies, who had established their own caliphate in Ifriqiya (Tunisia, or the former Roman province of “Africa”) in the early 900s. In 969, after their conquest of Egypt, the Fatimids founded a new capital at Cairo, leaving the Sanhaja to govern Ifriqiya in their place.

The Sanhaja were ruled by a clan called the Banu Ziri, whose men were famous for their fierce prowess in war. But the Zirids, as they were also called, were riven by internal power struggles, and in 999 a civil war erupted that pitted Zawi ibn Ziri and his brothers against their nephew, Badis ibn Mansur, who had been appointed official governor of Ifriqiya by the Fatimid caliph. Despite their skill on the battlefield, the rebels were defeated, and with his brothers dead, Zawi was left as head of his clan. Seeing no future for his people in Ifriqiya, with great reluctance he turned to his old enemies, the Umayyads, for a way out. Al-Mansur reacted to the overture with cautious interest. Although the Zirids had been his implacable enemies, Zawi was renowned as a warrior from Cairo to Córdoba, and al-Mansur saw how he could prove useful. Though bringing Zawi and his clan to al-Andalus might unsettle the ranks of the caliphal forces, which were drawn from tribes hostile to the Sanhaja, it would also help temper the growing influence of the Zanata, who, in the preceding decade, had come to dominate the army and had taken over key positions in the civil and palace administration.

After prolonged negotiations, Zawi ibn Ziri and the members of his clan, including their families and households, arrived in al-Andalus sometime after 1002. Al-Mansur had died, but Zawi had reached an agreement with his son and successor ‘Abd al-Malik. The future seemed to promise a respite from years of danger and insecurity. But it was not to be; in 1009 the caliphate descended into civil war. After Hisham II’s death, two of ‘Abd al-Rahman III’s descendants made claims to the throne. The first, al-Musta’in, had the support of the Berber armies, whereas his rival, al-Mahdi, was backed by the Arab elite and the people of Córdoba. In 1013 al-Musta’in triumphed, and his victorious Berber forces swept through the capital, taking bloody vengeance against the city. But his victory did not make for peace, and many North Africans fled the peninsula in the aftermath. To restore stability and placate the people of Córdoba, the new caliph stationed the bulk of his remaining Berber forces in the provinces.

The Zirids were assigned to Elvira, a prosperous and fertile region south of Córdoba with a vibrant economy based on abundant orchards and the production of some of the finest silks in al-Andalus. Elvira was also distinguished by its substantial Jewish population. The region had suffered Berber attacks since the time of Sanjul’s death, and Zawi feared that his family might become targets for retribution. The Elvirans, however, saw in the fearsome Zirids their best hope for survival. They petitioned Zawi to be their protector, offering safety for his kin and generous payment for his troops. Zawi accepted, and not a moment too soon. In 1018 al-Musta’in was assassinated in his bath and two new rivals rose to contest the title of caliph. The Zirids had lost their protector and were now vulnerable to enemies who would seek to destroy them. Moreover, wealthy Elvira become an irresistible target for raiders. An attack was all but inevitable.

Set on open terrain and minimally fortified, the city was vulnerable. Zawi determined that the only hope in the event of an invasion was to retreat to higher ground. Summoning all his eloquence and tenacity, he persuaded the people of Elvira to evacuate their homes and relocate to a town just to the south called Granada, which, because of its proximity to the Sierra Nevada range, would be relatively easy to fortify. Together, the Elvirans and the Zirids settled in Granada and rebuilt and extended its defenses. In the meantime, forces representing al-Murtada, one of the two claimants to the caliphal throne, assembled to subdue or destroy the Zirids. A huge host composed of Muslim troops and Christian mercenaries began to plunder the countryside and to encircle the city. Seeing no other option but to strike, the greatly outnumbered Sanhaja warriors sallied forth from Granada’s gates on horseback. They overran the invaders’ camp and scattered al-Murtada’s ill-prepared forces. Against all odds, Granada had been saved, which made Zawi ibn Ziri’s next move all the more surprising.

In the wake of the great victory, Zawi mustered his troops and announced his intention to immediately return to Ifriqiya, and his hope that his warriors and their families would follow. Sixteen years in al-Andalus had left him disillusioned, and convinced that there was no future there for the Sanhaja, who were hated despite their loyal service to the caliphate. The Andalusis and the Zanata, he claimed, would always plot to wipe them out. “If we kill one of them, a thousand will replace him [and] as their power grows ours will weaken, for we can never replace our dead.” While the allure of his homeland was powerful, Zawi may have had other motives. News from Ifriqiya had led him to believe he might be able to reestablish himself and his clan in the region. His old enemy and kinsman Badis ibn Mansur had died, and Zawi had received permission from Badis’s son and heir, al-Mu’izz, to return from exile. Whatever the case, Zawi’s appeal to his kinsmen in Granada fell on deaf ears. The younger generation had little memory of North Africa, and flush with victory, they were confident that they had achieved security and prosperity in al-Andalus. They refused to follow Zawi home.

By 1020 Zawi was gone, having sailed with his immediate household to settle in the Zirid capital of Qayrawan. His return, however, was not a happy one. Soon after his arrival, he received word that his nephew, an equally audacious warrior named Habbus ibn Maksan, had seized power in Granada from Zawi’s sons, whom he had left in charge of the city. And in Ifriqiya itself, he was allotted a large palace as his home, but far from being invited to share power, he was blocked from any access to Maghribi politics. Of Zawi’s ultimate fate we cannot be certain. One account claims he was poisoned not long after his arrival in his homeland, another that he succumbed to illness after some years, isolated and forgotten. In any event, this proud and principled old warrior died without realizing that quite by accident he had founded what would become one of the most powerful kingdoms in al-Andalus.

War of the Mantuan Succession

The French were active in Italy. In combination with Savoy, they tried to seize Spain’s ally Genoa in 1625, only to be driven back by the Spaniards. Two years later, the end of the direct male line of the Gonzaga family produced a contested succession for the Duchies of Mantua and Monferrato. Spanish intervention in the dispute led to a joint Savoyard and Spanish invasion of Monferrato in March 1628 in pursuit of a partition. A Spanish army besieged Casale, the capital as well as a major fortress in Monferrato and a crucial point on the western approaches on the Milanese. The French initially tried to stop this consolidation of Spanish power in northern Italy by backing the leading claimant, Charles, Duke of Nevers. He was permitted to raise troops from his French duchies and his governorships of Champagne and Brie on his own sovereign authority as Prince Souverain of Arches. The French army itself was engaged in the struggle against the Huguenots.

Nevers was able to raise 6,600 troops, in part thanks to the effort of his nephew, the Duke of Longueville. This was a pointed reminder of the extent to which what are generally understood as the `states’ of the period did not monopolise military power. At the same time, Richelieu was unimpressed by Nevers’s plan, thinking it lacking in support and preparation. As French power was at stake, the crown provided some support, although, as an opponent of Nevers, the Governor of Dauphiné in fact hindered the expedition. Advancing into Savoy, Nevers’s force was beaten in a skirmish in August 1628 and then dissolved.

Concerned about the situation in northern Italy, and in particular that Nevers might turn to Spain, Louis XIII and Richelieu decided to act after La Rochelle surrendered in October 1628. The Alpine pass at Susa was forced on 6 March 1629, a reminder that campaigning did not cease in the winter. This led Savoy to terms and the Spaniards to abandon the siege of Casale. However, the Spanish government was determined to fight on. It was unintentionally assisted by the maladroit Nevers who had mounted an attack on Lombardy from Mantua. Although he was able to raise only 2,500 men, this led to his being placed under the Imperial ban. Helped by his success against the Danes, Ferdinand II was able to send about 30,000 Imperial troops into northern Italy and in late 1629 they besieged Mantua. After a winter break, the siege was renewed in May 1630 and Mantua surrendered on 18 July. Meanwhile, the French decision to garrison Casale, rather than entrust it to Nevers, had encouraged the Spaniards to send fresh forces into the Monferrato in the autumn of 1629. Even after the war with the Huguenots had ended, the French lacked the forces necessary to defeat their opponents in northern Italy. Richelieu argued in November 1629 that 39,000 troops would be required, but the French were handicapped by the need to prepare a strong army to prevent the danger of an Austrian or Spanish attack on France from Germany.

Under Richelieu, France lacked the resources or organisation to field more than one large and effective campaign army. This is a reminder of the danger of reading from the notional total army sizes sometimes quoted and from the wide-ranging nature of hostilities and confrontation in order to assume that several effective armies could be deployed at the same time. In the case of France, as David Parrott has pointed out, ‘a military system that was geared to the fighting of short campaigns in a single theatre was finally confronted in 1630 with the reality of a very different type of war’, and found wanting. The same was true for other states. This indeed helps to account for the character of much of the campaigning in the Thirty Years’War, in particular what might appear a disjointed series of marches in which rival forces sometimes confronted each other. There was insufficient manpower for a war of fronts in Germany or Italy, and maps in historical atlases that suggest otherwise are misleading. Indeed, the absence of fronts helped confer additional importance on fortresses.

In addition, the political-military nature of the war itself was in part set by the problem dissected by Parrott. The availability of only one really effective field army ensured that it was necessary for powers to fight one opponent at a time, or to accept that successful offensive operations could only be mounted against one opponent. This encouraged a military diplomacy in which peace, truce, or stasis with one rival was sought so that another could be attacked. The 1629 agreement between Sweden and Poland was a good instance of this. Similarly, Spanish involvement in the War of the Mantuan Succession left the Army of Flanders short of funds and therefore with its operational effectiveness compromised, and the army downright mutinous.

The need to focus on one opponent established an important constraint on military capability and effectiveness. In so far as the categories are helpful, it had both a political and a military dimension, as the range of factors summarised under the term resources can be seen in both these lights. For example, there was the issue not only of the availability of money but also of experienced troops.

As a reminder of the interlocking nature of military struggles, and thus of the role of politics, the Habsburgs were militarily successful in northern Italy in 1630, taking Mantua and, under Spinola, pressing Casale hard, while the French relief operation languished. However, Ferdinand II withdrew from the conflict in response to the Swedish invasion of northern Germany and the problems for Imperial preparedness in the Empire created by the dismissal of Wallenstein in response to pressure from the Imperial Diet. This weakened Spanish resolve, as did the death of Spinola, leading to talks with France. As a consequence, the French were able to relieve Casale in October 1630, forcing a negotiation which finally hardened into the two treaties of Cherasco in the spring of 1631 that brought the war in northern Italy to a close.


The Spaniards conducted a successful military campaign in the early 1620s. In 1620 they helped the imperial troops to defeat the Bohemian rebels at the battle of White Mountain. Similarly, spectacular victories were achieved in 1625, enabled financially by a particularly remarkable delivery of bullion from the Americas in the previous year, like the rendition of Breda in the Low Countries, the recapture of Bahia in Brazil from the hands of the Dutch, the repulsion of the British fleet in Cadiz, and the repulsion of a French invasion in the Valtelline. However, things took a turn for the worse during the years 1627-29 with the Spanish intervention in the duchy of Mantua – a decision that bore destructive results. With the death of the childless duke of Mantua, the best prospect of succeeding him went to the French claimant, the duke of Nevers. Fearing the strategic compromise of Spanish interests in northern Italy, Olivares sent the governor of Milan to occupy the Monferrat, a Mantuan region bordering Milan to the west. In reaction, a French army was sent to the occupied region, resulting in a long and inconclusive war that lasted until April 1631. Olivares’ expectations of a short campaign were thus shattered, leaving Spain in greater financial ruin as the crown’s share of the Indies bullion went to finance the Italian front.

The Spaniards received a brief boost in confidence as the French were forced to pull forces from various fronts following internal rebellions. Similarly, the death of France’s allies in northern Italy, the Mantuan and Savoiard rulers in 1637, in tandem with the Spanish seizure of the Valtelline, marked the breakdown of French aspirations in Italy. Consequently, Richelieu proposed a truce with Spain, which was rejected by Olivares, who felt that the French proposal came from a deep weakness that could be exploited to achieve a convincing victory.


At the same time as fighting within the country itself, France became caught up in a conflict against Spain in Italy. War had not yet been declared, there were no actual battles; instead historians have spoken of a `covert war’. Richelieu believed that Italy was the `very heart of the world’ and that it was also the weak point in the Spanish empire.

The Mantuan succession proved him right. The duke of Mantua, from the House of Gonzague, died with no direct descendants but he had a cousin, another Gonzague, the duc de Nevers who lived in France and was considered a subject of the king of France. The emperor, as sovereign of Mantua, refused Nevers the right to inherit the duchy but Nevers took it anyway. As the king of France was, at that time, busy with the siege of La Rochelle, Spain thought it would be possible to chase out the French intruder although two main towns remained loyal to him, Casale Monferrato defended by a French garrison, and Mantua itself. This was a major challenge for Spain. Casale controlled the road from Genoa to Milan and Mantua was on the only road between the Milan area and the Republic of Venice, as well as standing on the road to the Brenner Pass and Austria. The duke of Savoy (who also owned the Piedmont) took up arms with the Spanish after they promised him the Monferrat area. Olivares gave the order to besiege Casale. France and Spain were on the brink of war, drawn in by minor powers.

After the capitulation of La Rochelle, Richelieu advised intervention in northern Italy in December 1628. The French supporters of an alliance with Spain were, of course, hostile to the idea, behind Marie de Medici and the Keeper of the Seals, Marillac. In their opinion, the Casale business was a minor affair and not worth the sacrifice of the efforts at reform within the kingdom and the Catholic reconquest of Europe. According to them, Richelieu was recommending war to make himself irreplaceable in the king’s eyes. Meanwhile, the policy burdened the people with higher taxes and led to general discontent. French troops crossed the Alps. Spain obtained assistance from the emperor who, as a result, had to draw troops away from the other fronts, seriously weakening them. This was the first time since 1527 that a German army had entered the Italian Peninsula. Cardinal de Richelieu, in a note to the king dated 13 January 1629, set out the salient points of a political programme: `France should think only of fortifications within its borders. It should build and open doorways allowing it access to all the neighbouring States so that it can guarantee them against oppression by Spain when the occasions arise.’ The French forces captured the redoubtable fortress of Pignerol in the Piedmont on 22 March 1630. As to the imperial army, it took Mantua in July 1630 and sacked the town.

The situation in northern Italy was linked to the situation of the Holy Roman Empire and the Hapsburgs’ ambitions were of concern to the whole of Europe. France and England favoured agreement between the two princes of the House of Vasa – the Roman Catholic King Sigismond III of Poland, and his Lutheran cousin, King Gustav Adolph of Sweden. The latter now had a free hand. He could intervene in northern Germany and provide backup for the Protestant princes who had been dispossessed by the emperor. A meeting of Electors was held in Regensburg in the summer of 1630. Father Joseph, Richelieu’s right-hand man, encouraged the German princes to refuse the election of Ferdinand II’s son as King of the Romans: that would have ensured he succeeded his father automatically, without an election, and would possibly have been one step towards the hereditary transmission of the imperial crown in the House of Hapsburg. Everything might go a different way, however. Gustav Adolph of Sweden landed in northern Germany in 1630, on the grounds that he was defending Protestantism.

When the imperial army captured Mantua, French negotiators took fright and agreed, on 13 October 1630, to sign a treaty that required the French and imperial troops to pull out of northern Italy. The situation in France was then very tense because, at the end of summer, Louis XIII had fallen seriously ill in Lyon and seemed likely to die soon. He had hardly recovered when he received news of the Treaty of Regensburg. Its ratification would mean the failure of Richelieu’s policy since France would then abandon its allies and leave the way free for the emperor. The cardinal advised Louis XIII not to ratify the treaty, claiming that the French envoys had overstepped their brief.

The rejection of the Treaty of Regensburg led to lively controversy in France; Richelieu was immediately subjected to attacks by supporters of peace and by his political adversaries who feared a war against the Hapsburgs. The Queen Mother, Marie, launched an offensive against Richelieu who believed himself to be disgraced. This was the `great storm’ or the `Day of Dupes’ of 11 November 1630 when, in fact, Louis XIII asked his minister to continue `steering the ship’ and exiled his enemies. In France, Richelieu’s political victory was greeted as a victory for `good Frenchmen’ and a defeat for the pro-Spanish faction. Soon, Queen Marie found herself on the road to exile.

In Italy, while the French and Spanish forces were about to do battle at Casale, a papal envoy called Mazarin miraculously obtained a ceasefire on 26 October 1630. The negotiations at Cherasco then led to treaties that appeared to be favourable to France with Savoy giving it Pignerol in 1632. Thanks to this, Louis XIII obtained a `gateway’ halfway between Briançon and Turin, a gateway which, in those days, was seen as the entrance to Italy and a means of rapid intervention. In the end, the Spanish government felt it had been duped by this treaty, with the complicity of the negotiator, Mazarin.

War Against the Turks

Sembrose por la corte como negocio venido de la mano de Dios, y á todos nos parescia un sueño, por sir cosa que no se ha jamas visto oido esta batalla y victoria naval.

There is no man at the court who does not discern in it the hand of the Lord, and it seems to us all like a dream, in that never before has such a battle and victory at sea been seen or heard of.

Letter from State Secretary Juan Luis de Alzamora to Don John of Austria, 11 November 1571

The antagonism in Christendom towards the Ottomans was fundamental, the evidence for it pervasive. Yet beyond the calls to mobilize resources and efforts to defend a common faith lay debates in and around the councils of Christian princes about the best strategies and military techniques to deploy, and fundamental disagreements about whether what was needed was the defence of what remained in Christian hands (and in which regions to concentrate) or the recovery of what had been lost. Those divergences were occluded in the rhetoric of the double goal to bring peace to Christendom in order to confront the Muslim foe. The moral authority of the papacy and (to a lesser extent) the emperor were both implicated in the quest for that mostly illusory twin objective. Partly as a result of papal insistence, the diplomatic correspondence and international negotiations echoed to the importance of achieving a peace in Christendom in order to unite against the ‘common enemy’. Sent by Pope Julius III to negotiate an accord between the French king, Henry II, and Emperor Charles in 1554, Cardinal Pole wrote a discourse that was a classic statement about how true peace between Christian princes was a gift from God. That gift was the more to be sought after, said Pole, because ‘truly nothing but your dissensions and wars’ was to blame for the Ottoman capture of Belgrade or the fall of Rhodes. The papal dream of a united Christendom as the necessary precondition for a war against the Turk remained on the agenda throughout the sixteenth century since it was one to which Protestant and Catholic Christian princes jointly subscribed, even though little else united them.

That papal dream was still active at the end of the sixteenth century as the ‘Long War’ against the Ottomans in Hungary showed no signs of reaching a successful conclusion for the emperor’s forces. That conflict underlined Pope Clement VIII’s efforts to reconcile the French king, Henry IV, with Philip II, culminating at the Peace of Vervins (1598). The Cardinal-Nephew Pietro Aldobrandini wrote in October 1596: ‘These peace talks are of infinite importance to His Holiness because he sees in them a service to God and Christendom, and the true means of exterminating heresies and subjugating the Turk.’ That was the last moment in Europe’s major diplomatic encounters when the rhetoric of peace in Christendom in order to unite against the Ottomans played a significant role. Protestant powers in northern Europe ceased to take it seriously. The international diplomatic role of the papacy retreated. In the initial stages of the Westphalian negotiations in 1645–6, the papal nuncio Fabio Chigi corralled the delegates from the Catholic powers in Münster to arrive at a common peace in order to resist the Ottoman offensive in the Aegean, begun with the siege of Crete in 1645. His Venetian counterpart, the experienced diplomat Alvise Contarini, tried to do the same among Protestant delegates at Osnabrück, even exaggerating the dangers for the sake of the audience. Like Contarini, however, Chigi was dismayed by the results, confiding to the nuncio in Venice that evoking the Turkish threat worked ‘the opposite of what he had expected’. Delegates, he said, ‘hear the Turk spoken of as though it was merely a name, a creation of the mind, an unarmed phantasmagoria’. By the time the negotiations neared completion, the papacy had to make a choice between not sacrificing Catholic gains in Germany during the Counter-Reformation, and supporting peace in order to pursue the Turkish threat. It chose the former.

There was one occasion when the papal dream came close to being realized. In May 1571, negotiations for a Holy League were concluded in Rome on the initiative of Pope Pius V. The agreement was signed by a majority of the Catholic maritime states in the Mediterranean (the Papal States, Spain, Venice, Genoa, Tuscany, Savoy, Parma, Urbino and Malta). Their maritime assets combined to make up the League forces placed under the overall command of Don John of Austria. Twenty-six years old, the illegitimate son of Emperor Charles V, and brought up almost as a brother to Philip II, he completed the repression of the Morisco rebellion in southern Spain before joining the fleet at Genoa in August. His flotilla then made for Messina, where other League ships assembled in September. On the 17th, Don John stepped ashore and made his way through a ceremonial parade of Spanish troops, arranged the length of the harbour, to attend Mass in the cathedral. In the bay were 208 galleys, six galleasses and a further sixty-six frigates. From one of the ships, Pope Pius V blessed the armada and presented it with the League’s crusading banner. The expeditionary force was crewed by 44,000 sailors and oarsmen. Its ships were armed with 1,800 guns and carried 28,000 soldiers. It was the largest naval force mounted by Christendom, and the largest ever deployed against Islam.

The Ottoman fleet had already left port in June 1571. It was composed of over 250 ships, crewed by 50,000 sailors and oarsmen, and carried 31,000 soldiers. Its first objective was an assault on the strategically important and rich Venetian colony on the island of Crete. Always vulnerable because of underlying Greek dislike of Venetian rule, it was additionally weakened by the Ottoman capture of Cyprus the year before. Although the island’s principal fortress held out, the island was ransacked before the Ottomans besieged Kotor on the coast of Montenegro, the fortress capital of the Venetian colony of Albania. The Ottomans were alert to the rumours of Orthodox Christian unrest in their Dalmatian sanjaks of Delvine, Avlonya, Ohrid and Elbasan. Open revolt had just broken out in the southern Peloponnese (the Morea), and Ottoman intelligence knew that its leaders had sent emissaries to Philip II and the Venetian Senate. The Ottoman amphibious force moved to suppress the rebellion in August before mounting an assault on Corfu, the Greek island at the entrance to the Adriatic.

Seeking the Ottoman navy, Don John’s fleet engaged with it in the Gulf of Lepanto, which was where the Ottoman fleet had their arsenal, on 7 October. The Turkish commander, Müezzinzade Ali Pasha, a senior figure in Ottoman councils and favourite of Sultan Selim II, promised liberty to his Christian galley-slaves if he won the day. John of Austria simply told the crew of his flagship: ‘There is no paradise for cowards.’ The battle was bloody and decisive. By four o’clock in the afternoon it was over; 7,000 or more League sailors and soldiers had perished, along with at least seventeen ships. Ottoman losses were overwhelming: 20,000 dead, wounded or captured, fifty ships sunk and a further 137 captured along with the mainly Christian slave crews. Ali Pasha himself was captured and decapitated, his head displayed on a pike above the mast of Don John’s flagship. Janissaries continued fighting, even after the battle had been lost. When ammunition ran out they threw oranges and lemons at the enemy.

The significance of the Holy League and of the battle of Lepanto did not lie in the destruction of the Ottoman navy or a decisive shift of strategic power. The ships were quickly replaced. When Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, the brilliant Bosnian janissary-trained administrator, was asked the following year about the losses at Lepanto, he replied: ‘The Ottoman state is so powerful that, if an order was issued to cast anchors from silver, to make rigging from silk and to cut sails from satin, it could be carried out for the entire fleet.’ Replacing the trained crews turned out, in fact, to be the harder task. The League failed to follow up their naval victory, never contemplating the recapture of the island of Chios (which the Ottomans had captured from the Genoese in 1566) or Cyprus (taken by the Ottomans after the long siege of Famagusta in 1571).

The League was disbanded in 1573. The Venetians made independent overtures to the Porte to safeguard their commercial Levantine interests, leaving Spain (now embroiled in a major war in the Netherlands) to summon alone what resources it could to defend its position on the North African coast. In touch with the Dutch rebels, the Ottomans mounted a successful attack on Tunis in 1574 with a naval force larger than either of those which fought at Lepanto. That gave them a secure base from which to invade Morocco in 1576 and unseat its dissident sultan, Abu Abdallah Muhammad II Saadi, and replace him with his compliant uncle and rival, Abu Marwan Abd al-Malik I Saadi. The Ottomans thus reminded Christendom that they could still bring war close to Europe’s heartlands. Abu Abdallah fled to Portugal and sought to engage King Sebastian in his restoration. Although he failed to interest Philip II in the project, Sebastian launched an expedition to Morocco which had all the hallmarks of a Crusade. His expeditionary force of 17,000 troops joined the 6,000 Moorish soldiers of Abu Abdallah, but they were overwhelmed at the battle of Alcácer-Quibir (‘Battle of the Three Kings’) on 4 August 1578. Sebastian was last spotted, Don Quixote-like, leading the Portuguese nobility into Ottoman lines of fire.

Alcácer-Quibir was a humiliation to be forgotten. Lepanto, by contrast, was turned into a fairy-story, complete with a handsome prince (Don John), wicked ogres (the Turks), a prize to be rescued (Christendom) and a fortuitously successful outcome. The naval battle’s significance was that it was commemorated in a surfeit of celebration. Don John became a crusading icon. Rome treated the commander of its galleys, Marc’Antonio Colonna, to a hero’s welcome. Sculpted bronze medals were distributed from the papal mint in memory of the victory, while Giorgio Vasari was commissioned by the papacy to undertake a fresco cycle for the Sala Regia (where it accompanied a painting to celebrate the massacre of St Bartholomew). In Venice, the captain-general of the Venetian galleys, Sebastiano Venier, was apotheosized in a painting by Tintoretto in which he was depicted standing on the deck of his flagship while the battle raged, assisted by a heavenly host. His renown secured him the election as the Republic’s Doge at the age of eighty.

The legend of Lepanto reassured those in Christendom who had come to believe that their internal divisions were so great that the Turk could never be defeated. Yet the reality was more sobering. Even after the League had been signed, there were anxieties that Venice was negotiating a separate agreement with the Porte to safeguard its maritime empire. Persistent disagreements over the command of the forces as well as their eventual objective had delayed the departure of the fleet. Key players in Christendom had stood aside from the League. Europe’s Protestants ostentatiously ignored it. King Charles IX of France preferred to hang on to the Capitulations of 1569, privileges offered to the French on the eve of the Ottoman Cyprus campaign in order to foster disunity among Europe’s princes. Emperor Maximilian, too, rejected the League in favour of an Ottoman-imperial accord which had been negotiated in 1568. Portugal pleaded its commitments in Morocco and the Red Sea.

By the end of the sixteenth century, the balance of forces in the Mediterranean reached an unstable equilibrium. In Hungary and the Balkans, a similar unsteady balance rested on the border defences in the Danubian marches and the relationships between the Ottomans and their Balkan and European protectorates. The Ottomans inherited fortresses hitherto in Hungarian Christian hands – those along the Danube and across to Lake Balaton in Transdanubia as well as those in the Novigrad Mountains and all the major castles along the river Tisza and its tributaries: some 130 installations which they garrisoned by 18,000 soldiers and 7,000 cavalry. The Austrian Habsburgs, confronted with their own weakness and the vulnerability of that part of Hungary remaining in their hands, chose appeasement as the only option, accepting in 1568 a truce which included annual payments of tribute to Constantinople. Gradually thereafter, the Habsburgs assembled their own defensive crescent along the 600-mile frontier from the Adriatic to northern Hungary, guarding it with over 20,000 soldiers. In 1590, they negotiated, albeit on disadvantageous terms, an eight-year extension of the truce. But conflict along this armed border escalated into a war that began in 1591 (as the Habsburgs saw it) and 1593 (as the Ottomans thought) and dragged through into the next decade, being concluded only by the Treaty of Zsitvatorok in 1606. Contemporary observers in Christian Europe were convinced that the Ottomans took advantage of the lull in the conflict with Persia in order to challenge the new Habsburg strategic fortifications.

Pope Clement VIII, following in the footsteps of Pius V, tried to turn the Hungarian conflict into an opportunity to unite Christendom under papal initiative. This time, however, Protestants were not even solicited to join in, so deep-rooted had become Europe’s religious fracture. Instead the ‘Long War’ became the moment when the revived forces of a globalizing Catholic Christianity were brought into play. Venice, Savoy, Ferrara, Mantua, Parma and Urbino, Genoa and Lucca were all approached to support what the emperor declared to be a Crusade. Princes and their spouses found themselves the object of solicitous letters from the Holy See. To the east, the pope sought a commitment from the king of Poland and, beyond Europe, he dreamed of a grand alliance with the Cossacks, the grand duke of Muscovy and Shah Abbas I of Persia. An embassy from the latter was received in Rome with suitable ceremony in 1601. International subsidies were raised, and money transhipped through financiers and intermediaries largely outside Habsburg direct control. Yet the results in material terms were disappointing. The papacy despatched three forces under Francesco Aldobrandini and additional subsidies, but Spain proved a reluctant backer, at least until after 1598. The fleets of Naples and Sicily, on which Pope Clement had relied to launch diversionary sorties in the Mediterranean, limited themselves to cautious sallies, save for one ambitious raid on Patras in 1595. Henry IV of France was as generous in his support for the principle of intervention as he was hard-headed and reluctant to deliver anything material. The Habsburgs managed to finance their war-effort only thanks to a generous reading of an agreement at the 1570 Diet of Speyer to the effect that imperial territories were obliged to provide quarter and subsistence for an army engaged in the common defence of the empire.

In the end, the outcome of the ‘Long War’ turned not on the lack of unity in Christendom but on the behaviour of the Ottoman client-states. The military hostilities in central Hungary destabilized the loyalties which the Turks had developed among the competing dynasties in Moldavia, Wallachia and Transylvania. These regions were as seriously affected by the climatic irregularities of the 1590s as the rest of the European landmass. In addition, the greater demands for raw materials, foodstuffs and subsidies to support the Ottoman forces in Hungary sharpened resentments towards their overlords. An important contingent of the armies fighting for the Ottomans in Hungary came from the Crimean Tatars (they furnished over 50,000 troops in 1595 and succeeding years). Each year, the sultan despatched ‘boot money’ to the Crimea in order to enlist their support. Once it was received, the Tatar host set forth along one of several routes, one of which took them across Transylvania, and another through Moldavia and Wallachia, and then up the right bank of the Danube. The Tatar reputation for laying waste the lands through which they passed, stealing animals and capturing peasants to sell as slaves was amply deserved.

With Ottoman attempts to limit depredations bearing little fruit, local opportunists offered to protect local people from Tatar predators and seized the moment to lead revolts against their Ottoman overlords. Leaders, looking for support from the Habsburgs, the Ottomans and Poland came and went in rapid succession. Aaron Emanoil (‘Aaron the Tyrant’) in Moldavia was twice prince before he was captured in Transylvania and imprisoned by Sigismund Báthory. Michael Viteazul (‘Michael the Brave’) became prince in Wallachia with Ottoman support in 1593 but, even as the Long War began in Hungary in earnest, Pope Clement VIII tempted him into an alliance with neighbouring upstart princes. He was variously prince of Wallachia, Transylvania and Moldavia (and, for a brief period, of all three at once) until he was assassinated on the orders of the Habsburg imperial commander, Giorgio Basta, in 1601. Sigismund Báthory held on in Transylvania, partly because of his dynastic connections with Poland, but also thanks to a 40,000-strong army, led by a Hungarian Calvinist nobleman, István Bocskai. But, with Ottoman military pressure too great for him, Sigismund eventually resigned in October 1598 in favour of one of his Polish cousins, leaving the region in turmoil.

Giorgio Basta attempted to reimpose Catholicism by force in Transylvania after 1599, following the initiative set by Archduke Ferdinand in Styria. His effort was thwarted, however, by an uprising, organized by Bocskai with covert Ottoman support. Bocskai’s army went on to defeat the Habsburg forces in two crucial battles (Álmosd and Bihardiószeg). In 1605, Bocskai was elected prince of Hungary and Transylvania at the Diet of Szerencs. The Long Turkish War drew to a negotiated conclusion in 1606 with the Ottomans having little but modest fortress gains on the Hungarian plain to show for their efforts, but with much more to be hoped for from the Transylvanian insurrection against the Habsburgs. Sultan Ahmed I despatched a crown to Bocskai, offering him the kingship of Transylvania in return for nominal vassalage to the Turkish Porte. Bocskai prudently refused the offer in favour of a deal with the Habsburg Archduke Matthias, who was compelled to recognize the authority of a Calvinist prince in Ottoman Hungary and Transylvania.

French diplomats and royal publicists were the first to find the arguments which would become widely accepted to justify alliances with the Infidel. When the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius came to publish his Law of War and Peace (1625), he asked ‘whether it was permitted to make treatises and alliances with those who are not of the true religion’. The issue was as relevant to princes making alliances across the European confessional divide as to powers making common cause with those outside Europe. Grotius’s answer was straightforward: ‘that caused no difficulty because, by the law of nature, the right to make alliances was common to all mankind generally, such that a difference of religion created no exception’. Even so, Grotius was obliged to refute the biblical arguments against the proposition, and to counsel caution. Prudence dictated, he advised, that one should not enter into such an alliance if ‘it put Pagans and Infidels in a position of overwhelming power’. Europe’s rulers should see themselves as belonging to a Christian family with a shared duty to ‘serve Jesus Christ’ and help one another when ‘an enemy of [their] religion smites the states of Christianity’. It was the customs of international diplomacy among the European ‘society of princes’, with their permanent embassies and diplomatic immunities, and shared (albeit often contested) conventions of precedence which the Ottoman state refused to acknowledge and participate in. In this respect Europe had created a sense of its political identity by 1650 which necessarily consigned the Ottomans (their political system now increasingly regarded as ‘despotic’) to the margins.


The rhetoric of anti-Turkish mobilization eventually wore thin through overuse as well as through an increasing mismatch between the idealistic commitments that it evoked and the political and strategic realities on the ground. The word ‘Crusade’ entered the English and French vocabularies in the later sixteenth century, just as the reality was vanishing over the horizon. But there would still be those in whom the call to war against the Infidel found an echo. Thomas Howard, duke of Norfolk, wanted to respond in 1529. Philippe-Emmanuel de Lorraine, duke of Mercoeur, was inspired to put the military experience he gained in the French Catholic League to good use in the Long Turkish War. Leaving France in 1599, he led the imperial forces which recaptured Székesfehérvár, home of the mausoleum of the kings of Hungary, from the Ottomans.

The dream of a Crusade in defence of Christendom infected the imaginations of more modest individuals too, both Protestant and Catholic. The Elizabethan adventurer Edward Woodshawe was arrested in 1575 for attempting to levy men in his English locality for a ‘journey against the Turk’. John Smith, whose expedition to Chesapeake Bay and survey of the lower Potomac led to the publication of the map of Virginia in 1612, earned his title of ‘captain’ by fighting the Ottomans in Hungary and Transylvania. In 1616, the Capuchin François Le Clerc du Tremblay was given a mission to Rome by Louis XIII’s new secretary of state, Cardinal Richelieu. He presented a project for a European Christian militia, open to both Catholics and Protestants, whose mission would be to protect Christendom against its Muslim aggressors. The scheme was the brainchild of Charles de Gonzague, duke of Nevers. The idea was to divert the destructive energies of religious discord into the common cause of a renewed Respublica christiana, albeit organized no longer under the banner of the Church but of those of its crowned heads. Meanwhile, the duke of Nevers sought the backing of the emperor and even equipped five galleons to transport the Crusaders to Greece in 1621. This was, perhaps, Christendom’s last truly crusading act. No sooner conceived, it was consigned to oblivion by the onset of war in Europe. The Thirty Years War demonstrated the destructive power of Europe. In doing so, it put paid to Christendom.

For nobles, the call of Crusade offered an opportunity to perfect their military training and to acquire chivalric glory. But the overwhelming majority of those who found themselves engaged in military or naval operations against the Ottomans were mercenaries for whom it was simply a campaign, the deprivations and brutality of which eroded any sense of idealistic engagement they might have had. Even the Knights of Malta (and their equivalent, the Italian Order of San Stefano) found their fervour fell on increasingly deaf ears towards the close of the sixteenth century. Christian corsairs disturbed ordinary commercial relationships, said Venetian senators, who succeeded in persuading the authorities to confiscate the property of the Knights of Malta. Their views were echoed by French consular representatives in the Levant in the early seventeenth century, Henry IV forbidding French subjects from undertaking privateering in the eastern Mediterranean. The papal Curia, anxious to protect the lives of Christians in Ottoman custody, not to mention its investment in the port of Ancona, multiplied its representations to the Grand Master of Malta against Christian corsairs.

Spain in the Early Thirty Years’ War

The Surrender of Breda, 1625. Ambrogio Spínola in black armour- Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez

As the Twelve Years’ Truce approached its end, it became obvious that the Spanish empire needed a new strategy. By 1618, Europe was drifting into the generalized crisis that became the Thirty Years’ War. The Dutch truce had proved so harmful to Spain that few observers thought the king would renew it without major concessions. While Antwerp suffered under a de facto commercial blockade, the Dutch had made serious inroads against the Portuguese empire in Asia and had greatly expanded their activities in the Caribbean. The Portuguese asked how Spanish rule could be justified if the king did not protect them against their commercial rivals. The Council of Indies complained of Dutch inroads in America, while the Council of Finance pointed out that the cost of maintaining the Army of Flanders would be little greater if its soldiers actually fought. All three bodies therefore opposed continuation of the truce.

The Duke of Lerma fell from power in the midst of this debate, albeit for reasons that had little to do with foreign policy. He was replaced by Don Baltasar de Zúñiga, an experienced diplomat who agreed that the existing agreement was untenable and thought that the international situation now favored Spain. England had been a de facto ally since 1605, while the assassination of Henry IV in 1610 had left France under a weak regency that seemed incapable of developing a consistent foreign policy. Neither would intervene to help the Dutch as they had done in the past. The Dutch, too, had become more belligerent. In August, 1618, Maurice of Nassau and the more extreme Calvinists triumphed over a moderate faction led by Johan van Oldenbarnevelt. Although more isolated than ever, the new regime was unlikely to concede anything to Spain.

While Spain and the Dutch debated the merits of the truce, tensions in the Holy Roman Empire reached dangerous levels. Confessional differences had been growing since the 1580s, in part because of the emergence of Calvinism as a major force in German politics. After the Imperial Diet of 1608, both Protestant and Catholic princes created formal unions that sought alliances with non-German powers. The Protestant Union in particular had signed treaties with England in 1612 and with the United Provinces in 1613. By 1618, the old and childless emperor Matthias neared death. His nephew, the devoutly catholic Ferdinand of Styria, was expected to succeed him and had already been designated king-elect of Bohemia by the Bohemian Diet, most of whose members were Protestant. Then, on May 28, a long-simmering dispute over the reversion of ecclesiastical properties prompted the Bohemian Protestants to revolt. Their representatives in the Diet threw two of Ferdinand’s regents from a third-story window (the Defenestration of Prague) and set up a provisional government. In the course of the summer, three other Habsburg territories, Lusatia, Silesia, and Upper Austria joined the Bohemians and began the search for a new king. The Protestant Union pledged its support, and in May, 1619, its armies besieged Vienna.

To Zúñiga and his allies at the Spanish court, these actions threatened the survival of the Habsburg dynasty. Of the seven imperial electors, three were already Protestant. If the Bohemians elected a Protestant as they promised to do, the Catholics would be in a minority and sooner or later the Holy Roman Empire would fall into Protestant hands. Over the protests of Lerma’s remaining supporters, Zúñiga convinced the king to abort an attack on Algiers and divert the money to Austria together with 7000 Spaniards from the army of Flanders. By this time Ferdinand had raised an army of his own. The Protestant siege of Vienna collapsed in June, but Moravia and Lower Austria joined the revolt, and on August 22, the expanded confederation offered the crown of Bohemia to Frederick, Count Palatine of the Rhine. Frederick was a firm Calvinist and already an elector in his own right. He was also the son-in-law of James I of England and Scotland. If he survived, he would have two votes out of seven in the Electoral College. The emperor Matthias had died in March and Ferdinand now moved quickly to secure the imperial office before Frederick could be confirmed as King of Bohemia. The electors, unaware of events in Bohemia, duly pronounced him Emperor Ferdinand II on August 28.

In the fall of 1619, Spanish policy moved decisively toward open war. The prospect of a Holy Roman Empire dominated by Calvinists and allied with the Dutch was intolerable. Oñate, the Spanish ambassador to Vienna, helped Ferdinand reactivate the empire’s Catholic League by offering the Upper Palatinate to Maximilian of Bavaria if Frederick were defeated. James of England, influenced in part by Spanish diplomacy, refused to support his son-in-law, and Spanish agents at the Turkish court convinced the sultan to drop his support for Bethlen Gabor, the Calvinist ruler of Transylvania who had conquered Habsburg Hungary in November. By the following spring, Frederick’s support in the Protestant Union had dwindled as the Lutheran princes withdrew their support. They were beginning to fear Calvinists more than Catholics. Genoa, Tuscany, and the pope added to the 3.4 million reichsthalers already provided by the Spanish, and the stage was set for a Calvinist disaster.

In July, 1620, an imperial army invaded Upper Austria, while the Saxons marched into Lusatia. Finally on November 8, Frederick and the Bohemians went down to final defeat at the battle of the White Mountain. The immediate crisis ended, but Spain had not been idle. A detachment of 20,000 men from the army of Flanders occupied the Lower Palatinate, depriving Frederick of his homeland and securing Spanish control over the Rhine. A new Spanish Road that connected Italy with the Netherlands through the Rhineland was now secure. Meanwhile, Spanish and Imperial troops resolved the ongoing struggle for the Valtelline, the upper valley of the Adda that connects Lake Como to the valley of the Inn. The Valtelline had long been ruled by the Protestants of the Grisons. Its Catholic inhabitants rebelled in 1572, 1607, and 1618. In 1620, the Spanish and Austrians sealed off both ends of the valley, allowing the Catholics to rise up and kill the Protestants. The Spanish route from Milan to Austria was now secure as well.

When the Twelve Years’ Truce expired on April 21, 1621, a new Spanish strategy was firmly in place. Philip III had died in March of the same year, leaving the government in the hands of Philip IV, aged 16, and Zúñiga. Archduke Albert died at Brussels in July. Zúñiga, who was old enough to have fought in the Armada of 1588, died in 1622, but his nephew, the Count (later Count-Duke) of Olivares succeeded him as valido and expanded upon his policies for the next 21 years. Gaspar de Guzmán, Count of Olivares, possessed inexhaustible energy. He also understood, perhaps better than most, that Spain’s imperial and foreign policy was in the long run unsustainable for economic reasons, but in light of recent experience the one thing Olivares could not do was avoid war.

The strategy he inherited from his predecessors centered on alliance with Austria, control of northern Italy, and war with the Dutch. It would embroil Spain in almost every aspect of the Thirty Years’ War and, eventually, in a disastrous confrontation with France. Few now believed that the Dutch provinces could be recovered, but Spanish policy makers still wanted to limit their depredations overseas and their ability to support the Protestant cause in Europe. Between 1621 and 1626 Olivares therefore tried to strike at the heart of the Dutch economy. The Republic had prospered by serving as an entrepot between inland Europe and the Atlantic world. Cloths and manufactured goods from Germany reached the markets of Amsterdam by way of the great rivers. Grain, timber, and naval stores from the Baltic were traded there as well, and transshipped to Spain and the Mediterranean. In what seemed an intolerable irony, Spain’s European empire had in the process become largely dependent upon goods imported from its Dutch enemies. Olivares rebuilt the Spanish fleet, which had been sadly neglected under Philip III, and established a squadron of 70 ships at Dunkirk to disrupt the Channel trade. He then worked with imperial forces to secure a Spanish base in the Baltic and set the army of Flanders to secure the inland water routes between Holland and Germany—all without sacrificing the Spanish armies in Italy.

The new strategy achieved early success. In 1625, the best year for Spanish arms in decades, Ambrogio Spínola, the brilliant Genoese commander of the Army of Flanders, took the strategically important Dutch fortress at Breda. Genoa was rescued from a joint attack by France and Savoy, and a Spanish fleet recaptured the Brazilian city of Bahía from a Dutch expedition that had seized it in May of 1624. In England, Charles I succeeded his father, James, and launched a farcical attack on Cádiz in retaliation for his failure to arrange a marriage with Philip IV’s sister, Maria, but fortunately for Spain, England’s military capabilities had degenerated since the days of Elizabeth I. It looked for a time as though Spain was about to revive its ancient glories, but by 1628 the Count-Duke’s strategy was in tatters. The failure arose in part from the fortunes of war, but its primary cause was that the Spanish empire no longer possessed the resources to achieve its strategic ends.


The failure to reform its economy left the empire ill-equipped for the struggles to come. From 1623 to 1627 imperial strategy had achieved a fair measure of success despite the endless problems of finance. By 1628, however, the crown was 2 million ducats short of the funds needed for the years’ campaigns. Then, in September, the Dutch admiral Piet Heyn caught the treasure fleet from New Spain at anchor in Matanzas Bay, Cuba, and seized its treasure. The captured bullion enabled the Dutch to launch a new offensive against the Army of Flanders. In another military reversal, Spain’s hope of a base in the Baltic died when the imperial general Wallenstein failed to take Stralsund. More significant in the long run was the development of a new Mantuan war that drained Spanish resources. Yet another dynastic crisis gave Mantua and Montferrat to the duke of Nevers, a member of the French branch of the Gonzaga family. To protect Milan, Olivares ordered a siege of the almost impregnable fortress of Casale, hoping that the French would be too preoccupied with their own siege of rebellious Huguenots at La Rochelle to intervene. La Rochelle, however, surrendered at the end of 1628, and in 1629, Louis XIII invaded Italy and forced the Spanish to abandon the siege. The Mantuan War ground on for another two years, but by then Spain’s attention had turned to a new threat in the north. Swedish intervention on behalf of the German Protestants emboldened the Dutch to seize a number of towns along the water line, the most important of which was Maastricht, which fell on August 23, 1632. Spain had to detach troops from its defense of the Palatinate against the Swedes, but the death of King Gustavus Adolfus at Lützen in November blunted the Swedish offensive. A series of imperial successes beginning with the capture of Breisach in 1633 and culminating in the victory over the Swedes at Nördlingen on September 6, 1634, convinced the Lutheran princes to sign the Peace of Prague (May 30, 1635) and to join with the emperor in hunting down those Calvinists who still refused to abandon the Swedish alliance.

At this point France declared war on Spain. The French government had emerged from the problems of Louis XIII’s regency, and since 1624, had fallen increasingly under the influence of Louis’s chief minister, Cardinal Richelieu. Richelieu and the king were determined to oppose what they saw as a Habsburg consortium that surrounded them on two sides. After the defeat of the Huguenots at La Rochelle, they felt free to adopt a more aggressive policy. Its first objectives were to secure their eastern borders by neutralizing Savoy (hence the Mantuan War) and Lorraine, and by enforcing a French protectorate over Alsace. Spanish distraction during the Swedish intervention had helped them to achieve these goals. Richelieu had also supported the Swedes with large infusions of cash. Now the Peace of Prague confronted France with the prospect of a united empire allied with Spain and unmolested by northern invaders. Louis and Richelieu had no desire to become involved in the military quagmire of central Europe, but thought that if Spain could be defeated, the Austrian Habsburgs would cease to be a threat. The French army, however, lacked the training and experience built up by Spain over more than a century of warfare. The army of Flanders easily defeated a Franco-Dutch invasion of the Spanish Netherlands, and in 1637 invaded France, advancing to within 80 miles of Paris. Had a planned invasion of Languedoc taken place at the same time, France might have been forced to make peace. But time was running out for Spain.

The next campaign season brought a French counterattack on Fuenterrabía, the great fortress that guarded the western flank of the Pyrennees. The siege failed, but far away in Germany, the French army managed to retake Breisach after a long siege. France already controlled Alsace, Lorraine, and Savoy. With the loss of Breisach, Spain’s land route to the Netherlands—long threatened—was now closed. Only by establishing naval superiority in the Channel and North Sea could Spain maintain communications with Brussels and supply the Army of Flanders. In 1639, Olivares decided to mount a new offensive by sea. His government had rebuilt the fleet, and now had 24 ships at Cádiz and 63 at Corunna. Others from Naples and Cantabria brought the total force up to the level of the 1588 Armada, although the new fleet carried more guns. He ordered its commander to clear the Biscayan Coast of French marauders before destroying the Dutch fleet in the Channel. Spanish diplomacy had neutralized the England of Charles I, and for once, the weather cooperated. The Dutch, unfortunately did not. After making contact with a Dutch squadron in September, the Spanish took refuge in the Downs, a broad anchorage off the English coast near Deal. There, on December 21, the Dutch destroyed most of the Spanish fleet.

The Spanish Military Renaissance 1717-27

French map of the siege shows British naval bombardments on each side of the peninsula, aimed at Spanish land positions.

The French had battled for more than a decade to place a Bourbon dynasty on the throne of Spain, but harsh Realpolitik asserted itself as soon as they had made Philip V undisputed master of that kingdom. As early as 1712 Louis XIV had declared his intention to demolish Gerona, and so deprive Spain of a frontier fortress against France: the scheme was not carried out, owing to the silent opposition of the Duke of Berwick. The Spanish, for their part, were encouraged by Queen Elizabeth Farnese and the mighty minister, Cardinal Alberoni, to behave as if Charles V still ruled southern Europe from Toledo. They laid claim to Sicily, which was now in the possession of Piedmont, and to the succession to Tuscany, Parma and Piacenza, on the southern and eastern flanks of the Milanese territory which Austria had gained at the peace.

For a time it seemed as if Spain actually had the means of putting these aggressive schemes into effect. The army became leaner and more efficient, and the rebuilt dockyards turned out a large number of excellent warships. This general renewal of the military spirit was provoked, in part, by sheer frustration at the way the French boasted about their leadership in the arts of war. The engineer officer Juan Martin Cermefio insisted that the first announcement of Vauban’s ‘first system’ for fortification was its orillons and curved flanks (in a pirated edition at Amsterdam in 1689) had been anticipated by two years by Sebastian Fernandez de Medrano, the director of the Royal Military Academy of the Spanish Netherlands (El Ingeniero Practico, Brussels, 1687). According to Cermefio, Vauban had improved upon an original suggestion of Marchi:

Don Sebastian de Medrano did no less, and his trace (apart from being a little laborious to carry out) owned all the advantages you could desire. But this general had the misfortune to be a Spaniard, and to work in an unfortunate century, when the military art in our monarchy did not attain the same height as in other times. (Quoted in La Mina, 1898, I, 14)

A sense of inferiority, or rather, as the Marques de la Mina said, an all-pervading laziness, prevented all but a few Spanish authors from following Medrano’s footsteps. The sole Spanish military writer of the period to gain a European reputation was Don Alvaro de Navia Ossorio, Marques de Santa Cruz, the author of Reflexiones Militares (twenty books in nine vols, Turin, 1724). Even this work was old-fashioned in tone, enumerating every possible eventuality in war, and delighting in ruses, spies, signals and secret messages.

A useful, if modest contribution was made to Spanish engineering by the Jesuit Joseph Cassini, who was mathematics master at the Imperial College of Madrid, and taught a number of the abler officers who were to serve in the Italian campaigns of the 1730S and 1740s. His literary monument was the Escuela Militar de Fortificaci6n Ofensiva y Defensiva, which was published at Madrid in 1705. One of Cassini’s pupils was the Marques de la Mina, who felt strongly that Spanish military men must redeem their reputation as much with the intellect as with the sword, and drew up a practical dictionary to help young officers to find their way about the terminology of fortification. Eighteenth-century Spain being the place that it was, de la Mina’s dictionary never appeared in print.

The Flemish born engineer Marquis de Verboom

It was some consolation that Spanish military engineering was at last given a solid institutional basis. The founder of the engineer corps was the Fleming Jorge Prospero Verboom (1665-1744), ‘the outstanding member of his profession, the Euclid of his age, the best-read among our officers, and a man who was respected by foreigners’ (ibid., I, 377). Verboom was made Engineer-General on 13 January 1710, but was wounded and captured in the bloody defeat of the Bourbon forces at Almenara on 27 July. While still a prisoner at Barcelona he conceived a plan to organise the engineer officers into a unified corps, which would attract high prestige, high pay and well-qualified recruits. He sent the programme to Philip V, who received it with enthusiasm and founded a proper hierarchy of engineering ranks on II April 1712. Verboom was released in the same year, and at once set about transforming the new corps into a passable imitation of the French model.

Such were the difficulties of transporting and maintaining forces in the remoter Mediterranean theatres that in the new war of 1717-20 it was almost unknown for two well-found armies to confront each other at the same time. The first-comer therefore had a great advantage, and was free to devote all his attention to taking the enemy fortresses.

In the late summer of 1717 an expeditionary force of 8,000 Spanish descended on the Austrian island of Sardinia and cracked open the strong points of Cagliari, Alghero and Aragonese before the Vienna government could send any help.

The Spaniards came out of Barcelona in 1718, this time in a strength of 3°,000, and landed in Sicily to reclaim it from the Piedmontese, who had entered into possession five years before. The expedition was accompanied by Verboom, who contrived to produce sixty engineers and fifty miners for the occasion. Undeterred by the cutting of his sea communications by the British, through the naval battle of Passaro on II August, the diminutive Spanish commander de Lede bottled up the Piedmontese and 2,234 Austrians in the citadel of Messina, an impressive-looking work which the Spaniards had built in 1685. The Piedmontese governor capitulated on 29 September, after a bloody siege which cost the Spanish the lives of nineteen of their engineers. Verboom was furious with de Lede, and a few months later the commander told him to leave the army and go back to Sardinia. Seventeen thousand Austrians spent sixty-four days to get the place back again in the following year.

Western Europe was quick to show its indignation at Alberoni’s adventures. The French joined with the British, Dutch and A4strians in a highly unnatural league called the Quadruple Alliance, and the Duke of Berwick was sent with 4,000 men to the western Pyrenees to invade the Biscayan provinces of Spain. The coastal gateway of Fuenterrabia fell on 17 June 1719, and Berwick went on to attack the peninsula-fortress of San Sebastian. He planted some heavy guns on the far bank of the Urumea, so as to open up the river fronts of the place, and then drove his trenches along the beach on the near bank. The fortress capitulated on 19 August. Wellington adopted exactly the same procedure when he besieged San Sebastian ninety-four years later. Perhaps he had read his history.

These manifold disasters brought about the fall of Alberoni, and in February 1720 King Philip V made peace. By a reshuffling of the terms of the Peace of Utrecht the Spanish evacuated Sicily in favour of the Austrians, and the dispossessed Piedmontese received Sardinia in return. Philip had not given up his ambitions in Italy, but he appreciated how dangerous it was to try to put them into effect without foreign friends.

Gibraltar seemed to be the one objective which could be attained without the help of allies, and early in 1727 the Conde de las Torres and an army of 20,000 men began the siege of the offending garrison of one thousand British. Verboom was in charge of the technical side of the operation, and suggested that Gibraltar should be attacked from the sea. The commander-in-chief disagreed, and Verboom argued so violently that for the second time in his career he was dismissed from a campaign and sent home. The affair was symptomatic of the growing discord between field commanders and their technicians, of which the century furnished so many examples.

After long and useless artillery duels the Spanish concluded a truce on 23 June, ‘and thus ended a siege of five months, in which we had about two thousand men killed or wounded, and in which all we gained was the knowledge that the place was impregnable by land’ (Keith, 1843, 75).