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Old December 4th, 2012, 05:02 AM   #1

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Battle of the Higuerela, Spain, 1431


The Battle of the Higuerela, on 1st July 1431, was the last real time the Nazari (Nazrid) Kingdom of Granada - the remnant rump of once all-conquering Muslim Spain - dared to fight the Christians in a full scale battle on the open field. There were battles between moderate-sized forces in the War of Granada (1482-1492) - notably the Christian disaster in the Axarquia and Boabdil's defeat before Lucena (among others) - but war after this time mostly revolved around the muslims' defence of (home) strongholds, towns and villages against the invading Christians. The name of the battle, also known as the Battle of Sierra Elvira, derives from a little fig tree that was all that was left standing - or maybe all that was there in the first place! One of the interesting features of this little piece of history is the presence in El Escorial of a number of contemporary frescos by Fabrizio Castello, Orazio Cambiaso and Lazzaro Tavarone, depicting the battle and the opposing armies, a source of great detail for the dress and weaponry of the opposing sides in 1431. An account:

After the fall of Antequera, in 1410, the struggle against the Spanish Muslims remained practically paralised during the reigns of Juan II and Henry IV. These 2 weak monarchs, enmeshed in civil and dynastic wars, scarcely bothered the Nazaris of Granada, whose weakness was noteable because of the progressive isolation from the world of the Muslim Magreb, of it's obvious geographic smallness and it's internal dissents, even more grave than those of the Castillians.
there was, however, one moment during the reign of Juan II in which it seemed that the days of a Granada Nazari were numbered. In 1431, the king had just reconciled with the Princes of Aragon, was 25 years old and, for a moment, felt full of warlike ardour and was disposed to extend his realm at the cost of the Muslim kingdom. Three Castillian armies invaded - one in the Vega of Granada, another in the Serrania de Ronda and the third in the area of Montefrio. Juan II, the royal army, numerous nobles' troops, the Knights of Santiago and 3000 lances led by Don Alvaro de Luna, penetrated in Granadan territory from Cordoba and established a camp near Sierra Elvira, around 10km from Granada itself. Because of this it's known as the Battle of Sierra Elvira, although it is more well known as La Higuerela, because a little fig tree was all that remained alive on the battlefield after this ferocious encounter.

On 1st July, as related by the Granadino Lafuente Alcantara, "Don Juan, who had been pacing impaciently at the door of his tent, dressed in all his arms, rode with a great many 'grandes' and captains and gave to the main body of the army, resting at arms, the signal to advance. Juan Alvarez Delgadillo carried the standard of Castille. There weren't just Knights of Granada, skilled in the jousts of Viva-Rambla and all sorts of equestrian drills, fighting there. Whole 'tribes' armed with arrows and lances had descended from the mountains of the Alpujarra and, driven on by their holy men, filled the battlefield with guerilla tactics.

The Knights of Granada distinguished themselves by their combat tactics, the shinyness of their arms and the elegance of their battledresses. The other volunteers were identified by their darkened faces, their humble jackets and their fierce, rustic manners. This mixed host was rolled up by the first charge of the Castillian line; but then started the dangers and tests of valour when face to face with the phalanx of Granada. Horses and riders crashed together, bloody, hand to hand, no-one could take a step without treading on the corpse of an adversary. Neither Muslim nor Christian ceded until the Constable (Alvaro de Luna) drove on his knights, invoking with tremendous shouts 'Santiago, Santiago'. The Granadans started to weaken and, whilst trying to retire in good order, couldn't resist the momentum of that iron cavalry and broke, fleeing in disorder."

In that battle and in the consequent pursuit, which lasted until nightfall, fell the flower and cream of the Granadan cavalry and nobility to the point where arab sources reported that "never had Granada suffered greater losses than in this battle". The 'Batchelor' Cibdareal, who fought at Sierra Elvira, reported that 'the dead and wounded were well over 30,000', a figure which seems excessive, but which shows the magnitude of the battle and the fatalities suffered by the Granadans.

Juan II didn't take any advantage of his victory; badly advised by some of his nobles - jealous of the glory which Don Alvaro de Luna had won that day - he decided to raise the camp and withdraw toward Cordoba, on the pretext that provisions were short. The king contented himself with putting a new king on the throne of Granada, receiving his homage and tributes.
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Old December 6th, 2012, 08:14 AM   #2

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Wow powerful stuff, thanks for posting.
Not really my area so i cant really comment further,
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Old December 8th, 2012, 10:13 PM   #3

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Before I got into this Spanish stuff about 8 years ago I was oblivious to the vast amounts of untold history the country holds before 1492. I can visit castles in England which look very nice and powerful, but really bugger-all happened in them over the centuries. Whereas if you visit one of the 6,000 recognisable castles in Spain you know that each has been fought over, probably several times, and you are treading through alleyways and past houses that hold secrets of battles or sieges you have just read about.

Very little of the history (except the basic timeline) is translated into English by writers/historians, one reason why it's 'little known'. However La Higuerela is little known even in Spain, and I suspect that is because it was a strange one-off, a sort of aberration in time between the fall of Antequera and the War of Granada 70 years later, so it doesn't really fall into any campaign or war.
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Old December 9th, 2012, 04:52 AM   #4

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First, define a full scale battle as opposed to an improper one. Second, pitched battles rarely decide anything on their own. Focusing entirely on them is a common, terrible mistake.

The text is too vague, poetic and not all that informative.
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Old December 11th, 2012, 02:14 AM   #5

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Darth Roach View Post
First, define a full scale battle as opposed to an improper one. Second, pitched battles rarely decide anything on their own. Focusing entirely on them is a common, terrible mistake.

The text is too vague, poetic and not all that informative.
I'll tell the author you disapprove.
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Old December 12th, 2012, 11:24 PM   #6

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Darth Roach View Post
First, define a full scale battle as opposed to an improper one. Second, pitched battles rarely decide anything on their own. Focusing entirely on them is a common, terrible mistake.

The text is too vague, poetic and not all that informative.
The trouble is my friend that is a 15th century account. Do you think your average medieval knight-on-the-street wrote like Anthony Beevor? Have you read Ibn Hayyan's contemporary account of the King of Aragon's crusade against the Zaragozano outpost of Barbastro in 1064? No, thought not. Fanciful and inaccurate at times, but used as a source for centuries.

Due to the lack of newspapers and TV, the only way to get news about was by stories. Stories were written/told by people often with 2nd or 3rd hand information. They were embellished. made poetic, to make them better for listeners (and courtiers) and make them interesting, enhancing the reputation of the teller. Victories were exaggerated, defeats under-stated, glossed over or omitted, and atrocities by the other side sometimes over-stated. All that assuming that whoever they got information from was telling the truth in the first place. Plus you get poetic semi-fantasies such as Song of Cid and Song of Roland.

Unfortunately most of the history, science, medicine and learning of what is broadly termed Al Andalus was lost in the mass of vandalisms of the bloodthirsty muslim fanatic Almanzor and (500 years on) the bloodthiirsty christian fanatic Cardenal Cisneros. From the sources that survive, modern historians have to sift through and compare them, take out the errors, romance and poetry and try and establish a likely text for the likes of yourself. That's why I read lots of Spanish historians, who have examined lots and lots of souces and texts, and saved me the bother!

In this case La Higuerela is so little-known that I thought someone who didn't know about it may enjoy a little passage, but if you dont like original writings dont bother.

As for the size of the battle it is a simple fact that it was the last large-scale battle in open field. By the next outbreak of open hostilities, War of Granada 1482-1492, the muslims had learnt they could no longer face the massive armies of Fernando and Isabel in the open field, and contented themselves to large raids (razzias)and defensive fortress positions.
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Old February 20th, 2014, 05:37 AM   #7

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Just read a modern assessment of La Higuerla (Jose Javier Esparza). Prior to the battle the Nazari kingdom had escaped it's tributary status to Castilla for some years, mainly due to the constant civil wars in Castilla and inter-state conflicts within the christian north.

Granada was strong enough - it's economy was good, it's population high (due to immigration from conquered Taifas and N Africa) and it's natural and man-made defences superb. But it was also immersed in almost constant strife due to rivalry between the 3 power blocs -
1)Abencerrajes (Banu Sarray, originally from No Africa who supported Muhammed IX, 2)Venegas (Banu Egas) - sworn enemies of the above
3) Zegries - originally from Fez and inhabiting the Ronda area

Each constantly vied to put their own man on the Nazari throne. At this time Muhammed VIII El Rey Chiquito was put on the throne by 2 and 3 above. Eventually he was deposed by Muhammed IX El Zurdo, the Abencerraje candidate.

The christian armies of King Juan II and Alvaro de Luna were formed to combat Aragon and another internal civil strife, and once this was resolved they headed south with a view to forcing Granada back to tributary status. By fortune they El Zurdo assassinated his predecessor El Rey Chiquito whilst all this was in motion. The son of the latter arrived at the Castillian camp and promised them to find easy entry into the kingdom in return for his throne back.

This explains why the Christian army could arrive unannounced before Granada - the northern frontiers were controlled by the Zuries and Venegas, supporters of El Rey Chiquito and now his son Yusuf ibn al-Mawy "Benalmao". These allowed entry without resistance.

The royal army, mostly berber mercenaries, was defeated much as described in the thread above and there was another change on the throne of Granada! The chronicle speaks of 12,000 dead but, as we know, this figure will be debateable.

But as I said originally this was the last big pitched battle fought by Granada and was definitive. They were forever doomed to be tributary and forever doomed to civil conflicts between the power blocs, even and most decisively during the War of Granada itself (1482-1492), the kingdom's last final desperate struggle.

A long, slow, painful death of the last muslim state in Spain.
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Old February 20th, 2014, 06:45 AM   #8

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Nice reprt, i wasn't aware of that battle. Thanks
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Old February 28th, 2014, 09:19 PM   #9

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What a great account and narrative of the battle! Certainly powerful imagery to visualize the Granadans and the Castillians facing off. I wonder if by that point most the the population of Granada had become Arabized? As in, Iberian Muslims?
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Old March 1st, 2014, 12:36 AM   #10

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By that time yes, Granadians had been fully arabized. That is one of the "problems" that missionaries and authorities faced after 1492, since they didn't understand Spanish, neither dressed or behave in the Christian way. Fanaticism and incomprehension against the Morisco minority triggered the devastating revolt of 1568, and later the expulsion of all of them. By that time, they had learned Spanish and adopted Christian manners, which caused problems of integration in their adoptive homes in the Maghreb.
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