Unification of Castile and León Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The unification of Castile and León marked an early victory in the Christian Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula and a first step toward the creation of the kingdom of Spain.

Summary of Event

Spain’s early history is one of successive waves of invasion by German tribes. The Visigoths Visigoths , the last of these invaders, obtained control of the Iberian Peninsula early in the fifth century and moved their capital from France to Toledo. The Visigoths were followers of the Arian heresy Heresy;Arian Arianism;Visigoths and maintained their own legal code. The Hispano-Romans were Catholic and continued to accept Roman law. Intermarriage between the two groups was forbidden. Conqueror and conquered remained separate. [kw]Unification of Castile and León (1230) [kw]León, Unification of Castile and (1230) Castile and León, unification of Spain;1230: Unification of Castile and León[2350] Government and politics;1230: Unification of Castile and León[2350] Religion;1230: Unification of Castile and León[2350] Alfonso IX Ferdinand I (1016-1065) Ferdinand III (1201-1252)

Instability was characteristic of the Visigothic monarchy. The Visigothic nobles retained the elective kingship, which caused political intrigue and frequent deposition or assassination of the king. The disintegration of the Visigothic state was complete by the reign of Roderick Roderick (king of the Visigoths) (710-711), the last of the Visigothic kings.

Perhaps as a result of an invitation by the enemies of Roderick, Ṭārik ibn-Ziyād Ṭārik ibn-Ziyād , the Berber governor of Tangiers, crossed the Strait of Gibraltar in 711 and defeated Roderick. A second North African army led by Ṭārik’s superior, Mūsa ibn Nuṣayr, conquered the area from Mérida to Salamanca. Only the Basque and the northwestern mountains were unoccupied. Spain;Muslims and

Some Visigothic nobles and their retainers retreated before the Moors into the mountains of Asturias. They elected the Visigothic prince Pelayo Pelayo (c. 718-737) as king of Asturias and began the Christian Reconquest. Future kings of Spain claimed descent from Pelayo.

Alfonso I Alfonso I (king of Asturias) of Asturias added Galacia by conquest to his kingdom and moved the capital to Olviedo at the end of the eighth century. The discovery of the tomb of Saint James the Greater at Compostela in Galacia around 830 made the Asturian king guardian of a shrine of European significance and made Compostela a symbol of national unity. Pilgrims from Christian Spain and from Europe brought foreign ideas, customs, money, and soldiers to assist in the Reconquest. Devotion to Saint James led to legends of his appearance to Christian armies on the eve of battle signifying victory.

Succeeding kings of Asturias added additional territory, including, in the early part of the tenth century, the tablelands of León, south of the mountains. The capital was moved to the city of León, and the kingdom became known as León. Its territory included Galacia, Asturias, part of the Basque lands, Navarre, and Castile. Yet the local residents of Castile, Navarre, and the Basque lands refused to recognize the authority of the king of León. Disputes over the throne by members of the royal family weakened León and enabled the dissident areas to successfully resist the king.

Castile, located between León and Navarre, was created by the eastward expansion of León. The government of the area was given to the counts of Castile, who paid little attention to the kings. Distance, difficulty of communications, and civil strife in León contributed to making Castile independent by the middle of the tenth century. Count Fernán González united the Castilian counties, enlarged his territory, and established his family as hereditary monarchs. In 1028, Sancho García the Great of Navarre captured Castile and annexed it. On his death the territories of Navarre were divided among his sons. To his son Ferdinand Ferdinand I , Sancho granted Castile as an independent kingdom.

Ferdinand I of Castile was obsessed with the idea of the Reconquest Reconquista and was successful in battle. In 1037, he defeated King Vermundo III Vermundo III (king of León) of León and united the two kingdoms. Taking advantage of the breakup of the caliphate of Córdoba and of the increase in population and wealth of his enlarged kingdom, Ferdinand expanded southward and westward to bring approximately a quarter of the peninsula under his control. On his death in 1065, Ferdinand divided his lands among his three sons. Within the year Alfonso VI Alfonso VI (king of León and Castile) , who had been given Castile, conquered the territories of his brothers and reunited the three crowns. The fall of Toledo to Alfonso gave him a strategic city that provided protection for the lands to the north, adversely affected the morale of the Moors, and speeded up the Reconquest.

Queen Constance, the second wife of Alfonso VI, was French. Among the Frenchmen she brought to Spain was Bernard, a monk of the Order of Cluny. The king made Bernard archbishop of Toledo, and Pope Urban III made him primate (regional or nationwide bishop) of Spain. Religious toleration had existed until this time. Christians and Moorish rulers had cooperated when it served their purposes, and both Christian and Moorish rulers became vassals of rulers of the other faith. Archbishop Bernard introduced bigotry and the spirit of the Crusades into the Reconquest. He set out to reform the church in Spain and insisted on strict adherence to orthodox Catholicism. Christianity;Spain Spain;Christianity

In 1109, Alfonso VI of Castile was succeeded by his daughter Queen Urraca Urraca , whose second husband was King Alfonso I Alfonso I (king of Aragon and Navarre) of Aragon. The couple’s marital problems caused conflict between Castile and Aragon. Alfonso seized all of Castile, Toledo, and most of León, leaving Queen Urraca Galacia and little else. Prince Alfonso, the queen’s son by her first marriage to Raymond of Burgundy, was crowned king of Galacia in 1111. He recovered Castile and León from his stepfather and became Alfonso VII Alfonso VII (king of León and Castile) of Castile and León. On the death of his stepfather, Alfonso VII became pretender to the throne of Aragon. He did not attempt to conquer the kingdom, which remained separate from the crown of Castile and León.

When Alfonso VII died in 1157, he divided his lands between his two sons, Sancho III, who received Castile, and Ferdinand II Ferdinand II , who received León. Sancho ruled only one year and was succeeded by his three-year-old son, Alfonso VIII Alfonso VIII (king of Castile) . Alfonso assumed power at age fourteen and became one of the most successful conquerors of Moorish territory. He advertised the campaigns as Crusades, and the pope recognized them as such. Many foreigners joined the Spanish armies fighting the Moors. Alfonso also negotiated with Aragon the first of a series of treaties that determined the boundary between the two kingdoms.

In León, Ferdinand II and his son Alfonso IX Alfonso IX (king of León) greatly extended the Leónese borders southward, and Alfonso turned his attention to the conquest of Castile. Marriage as a political tool;León and Castile The family conflict was settled in 1197 by the marriage of Alfonso IX of León to the daughter of Alfonso VIII of Castile. Their son was Ferdinand III Ferdinand III , also known as Saint Ferdinand.

When Alfonso VIII of Castile died in 1214, he was succeeded by his son Enrique I, who died while still a minor. The crown passed to his sister, Doña Berenguela, who had been separated from her husband by the pope on grounds of consanguinity. Doña Berenguela ceded the crown to her son Ferdinand III. Alfonso IX of León opposed the cession even though he was Ferdinand’s father and unsuccessfully invaded Castile to remove Ferdinand from the throne. Alfonso IX of León was so hostile to his son Ferdinand and to Castile that when he died in 1230, he bequeathed the throne of León to his two daughters by his first wife, the half sisters of Ferdinand III of Castile. Ferdinand was able to negotiate a settlement with his half sisters whereby he assumed the throne of León in return for rich dowries.


The two kingdoms that were first separated in the tenth century and temporarily joined three times in the eleventh and twelfth centuries became permanently joined in 1230. Future kings did not divide their territories as earlier kings had done. The kingdom of León and Castile included Galacia, Asturias, León, Castile, and the territories south added by conquest. The family quarrels resulting from the division of their lands by the earlier kings ended, and through unification and the desire for Reconquest, Spain was well on its way to becoming a nation of Spaniards.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Altamira y Crevea, Rafael. A History of Spain from the Beginning to the Present Day. Translated by Muna Lee. New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1949. A classic exploration of the history of Spain from the perspectives of law, history, journalism, and art criticism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Christys, Ann. Christians in Al-Andalus, 711-1000. Richmond, England: Curzon, 2002. Considers Christianity coexisting with Islam in Moorish Spain. Chapters on chronicles of the time, the city of Toledo, and more.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Descola, Jean. A History of Spain. Translated by Elaine P. Halperin. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1963. This work illustrates the author’s idea of history as an art that combines a writer’s imagination and a writer’s knowledge.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hillgarth, J. N. Spain and the Mediterranean in the Later Middle Ages: Studies in Political and Intellectual History. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate Variorum, 2003. A survey of the political and intellectual history of Spain from 711—the time of Ṭārik’s crossing—through the sixteenth century. Includes bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marías, Julían. Understanding Spain. Translated by Frances M. Lopez-Morillas. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990. The major emphasis of this work is to develop an understanding of the factors that helped create Spain, factors such as geography, the Reconquest, and Moorish influences.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">O’Callaghan, Joseph F. Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002. The author argues that the Papacy in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries regarded the conflict in Spain between Muslims and Christians to be a Crusade, and the popes afforded the same benefits to Crusaders in Spain as to those in the Holy Land. Includes chapters on particular battles, financing the conflicts, and Crusade warfare in general.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Reilly, Bernard F. The Contest of Christian and Muslim Spain: 1031-1157. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1995. This work is a complete coverage of the rise of León-Castile and Aragon and deals extensively with the military struggle and dynastic history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Reilly, Bernard F. The Kingdom of León-Castilla Under Queen Urraca, 1109-1126. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982. This work covers an important period of economic and cultural advance during the Reconquest, during the final unification of León and Castile, and during Portugal’s de facto achievement of independence.

Categories: History