Ucles 1108 - so what really happened?

johnincornwall

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,867
Cornwall
I have just visited Ucles, quite near Madrid - site of the 1108 battle, castle and later monastery, HQ of the knights of the order of Santiago.

There were six often contradicting accounts of the battle, some christian some muslim. What is generally known is that the Almoravid army under the Caliph's brother Tamim defeated a Castillian force under Alvar Fanez and Garcia Ordonez, sent to relieve Ucles - a depency of Al Qadir of Valencia (Castillian puppet) with Castillian garrison. Alfonso VI was by now too old to campaign and died shortly after.

His 14-yr old son, Sancho (with the Queen Zaida of Cordoba) died in the battle, surrounded by romantic accounts of the '7 counts' dying on the field in order to try and save him, but in vain. One of the accounts by the famous Jimenez de Rada was written over 100 years later, in the true crusading spirit of the early 1200s, emphasising the glorious death of the counts. One muslim account talks of 25,000 christian dead, somewhat exaggerated.

One of the most reliable accounts must be the letter of Tamim to his brother immediately after the battle, where no mention is made of the death of the Infante Sancho - which would have been big news to send home. Obviously it was not known as part of the battle

Analysing the 6 accounts as a recent historian has done, the course of events seems likely as follows:

The Almoravid force besieging the walls rode out to fight the Castillian relief force outside Ucles, toward Trabaldos. Tamim did a feigned retreat toward the camp - an old Almoravid (and later Almohad) trick which you would have thought Alvar Fanez would be wise to after 20 years fighting them - but then he did lose at Almodovar del Rio too. The feigned retreat led to the 2 wings of light cavalry in the Almoravid force circling the flanks which, together with the centre re-advancing, led to utter rout.

Alvar Fanez led the main surviving force back to Madrid. In the usual Almoravid tactic all the heads were cut off the dead enemy and formed into a pile, counted, and the imams preached from the top of the pile, just like Zalaqua/Sagrajas. The most likely account says 3000 heads.

As to the fate of the Infante Sancho, Garcia Ordonez and whatever escort remained, they were separated and made for the castle of Belinchon. It seems that here the muslim population had, under the circumstances, risen up and slaughtered the few Castillian or muslim Valencian troops and murdered the royal party on entry to what they thought was safety.

Not as glamorous as the romantic tales of the 7 counts, but just as effective!
 

johnincornwall

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,867
Cornwall
Sources - now I have my book with me rather than just memory!:

This author, Miguel Salas Parrilla, has written 'Ucles en la Historia'. He has used, for the 'Battle of the 7 Counts' section the work of Huici Miranda - 'the Great Battles of the Reconquest During the African Invasions'.

Miranda analysed the 6 versions mentioned above, from which he drew his own version, a 7th. Parrilla analyses the whole and it is a brief summary of his and Miranda's conclusions I quote above.

The 6 versions:

Archbishop Don Rodrigo Jimenez de Rada - written in 1243, 135 years after the battle. 'Deformed' by the emphasis on the epic legend of the death of Garcia Ordonez, Conde de Cabra, which may or may not have happened. If it did, it only allowed the Infante and party to escape to Belinchon, where they were slaughtered.

General Chronicle of Alfonso X - mostly similar to above but states that the Prince's party managed to escape but were caught, surrounded and then killed by their Almoravid pursuers. It stands out that they weren't taken prisoner, as was habitual at that time due to the potential for good ransom.

The Chronicle Rawd al-qirtas of Ibn Abizar - this version is full of obvious errors and clear tendency to exaggerate the valour and sense of the Almoravid general Tamim. Exagerrates the dead - 23,000 and magnifies the strategic significance of the battle. Also states that Alfonso VI died in 20 days of grief, whereas he lived over a year. He also differs from all 5 other versions in saying the castle at Ucles was assaulted and taken during the battle, which it likely wasn't. (taken after by trickery)

The version of Ibn al-Qattan - written a century and a half after, but very similar to other versions. Clearly mentions the death of Sancho after the battle at Belinchon, also the taking of Ucles after the battle by, once again, feigned withdrawal. Mentions the Castillian army at Ucles as 10,000 'jinetes' (riders), though this is more likely the total army - riders, 'peons' and auxiliary.

The official letter of Tamim to his brother Ali, current Caliph and son of the late Yusif ibn Tashfin - Discovered in 1948 by Prof Abd al-Aziz al-Ahwani (U of Cairo) in the El Escorial archives - relates the arrival at Ucles and sacking of the vuillage, how the fortress couldn't be taken beforehand, the composition of the christian army, how the battle started and how the enemy were put to flight. That the quantity of severed christian heads was 3,000 and that the Alzazaba still hadn't been taken when he decided to go back to Granada. Says absolutely nothing about Sancho, most likely as he didn't die in the field of battle and Tamim didn't know about it at that time. The letter was written by his secretary Ibn Saraf.

Version of Ibn Idari - Levi-Provecal uses fragments of Idari's 'Bayan al-mugrib' to tie in some facts. Tells of the crossing of the straits from Ceuta to Algeciras, the camp at Jaen. Mentions 7000 in the christian army, death of Sancho (no detail), says that Sancho 'had the woman of al-Ma'mum b Abbad, who had been christianised' (surely Alfonso's wife, Sancho was 14). Another version mentions that Sancho was sent 'at the suggestion of the Queen' (Alfonso being infirm). Otherwise nothing new or controversial.

The common summary from these versions is briefly given in post 1. Alfonso's Queen Zaida, formerly of Sevilla/Cordoba, died in childbirth, not at Ucles.
 
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