The Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, according to The Latin Chronicle of the Kings of Castile
The Latin Chronicle of the Kings of Castile, which has been recently published by Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, is one of the most important narrative sources for the history of the kingdoms of Castile and Leon from the thirteenth century. The anonymous author (or authors) began writing this chronicle before 1230, with the work ending around 1236. The content of this work, divided in to seventy-five chapeters, deals with events dating back to the tenth century, but most of this chronicle focuses on the reigns of the Castilian kings Alfonso VIII (1158-1214) and Fernando III (1217-1252). Several campaigns and battles are described, including the battles of Alarcos (1195) and Muret (1213) and the siege of Cordoba in 1236. The text given below deals with the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, which took place on July 16, 1212, and the subsequent sieges and campaign of Alfonso VIII. Las Navas de Tolosa represented a major victory for the Christian forces in Spain, and within fifty years most of the Muslim lands in Spain had fallen to Castilian forces. Click here for two other accounts of this battle.
Chapter 24: The Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, 16 July 1212
Then the Christians arose after midnight, the hour at which Christ, whom they worshipped, rose up victorious over death. After hearing the solemnities of masses, and being renewed by the life-giving sacrament of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, our God, they fortified themselves with the sign of the cross. They quickly took up their weapons of war, and with joy rushed to the battle as if they were invited to a feast. Neither the broken and stony places, nor the hollows of the valleys nor the steep mountains held them back. They advanced on the enemy prepared to die or to conquer.
In the first rank at the side of the glorious king was his noble, faithful, and powerful vassal Diego Lopez, and with him, Sancho Femandez, son of Fernando, king of Leon and his sister [Diego Lopez's] Urraca, his son, Lope Diaz, and his other relatives, friends and vassals. At the side of the king of Aragon, Garcia Romero, a noble, energetic, and faithful man, commanded the first rank; with him were many other noble and powerful Aragonese. Now the other ranks were arranged on the right and the left as the order of battle requires. The kings commanded the last ranks, each separately from the other. For his part the king of Navarre had a line nobly prepared with arms and men, so that whoever passed before his sight [ . . . ] would not return even if they walked.
Those lined up in the first ranks discovered that the Moors were ready for battle. They attacked, fighting against one another, hand-to-hand, with lances, swords, and battle-axes; there was no room for archers. The Christians pressed on; the Moors repelled them; the clashing and tumult of arms was heard. The battle was joined, but neither side was overcome, although at times they pushed back the enemy, and at other times they were driven back by the enemy.
At one point certain wretched Christians who were retreating and fleeing cried out that the Christians were overcome. When the glorious and noble king of Castile, who was prepared rather to die than to be conquered, heard that cry of doom, he ordered the man who carried his standard before him, to spur his horse and hasten quickly up the hill where the force of the battle was; he did so at once. When the Christians came up, the Moors thought that new waves had come upon them and fell back, overcome by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The king of Morocco, who was sitting in the midst of his men surrounded by warriors chosen for battle, got up and mounted a horse or a mare, and turned tail and fled. His men were killed and slaughtered in droves, and the site of the camp and the tents of the Moors became the tombs of the fallen. Those who escaped from the battle wandered scattered about the mountains like sheep without a shepherd; wherever they were found, they were slaughtered.
Chapter 25: The Advance to Ubeda and Baeza
Who can count how many thousands of Moors fell that day and descended into the depths of hell? On the Christian side very few were killed that day. The Christians could sing with the psalmist: "Lord, Lord, my God, who trains my hands for battle and my fingers for war; my mercy and my refuge, my defender and my deliverer," et cetera.
Satiated with the spilling of Moorish blood, and tired by the weight of arms and the heat and great thirst, the Christians, as evening was already falling, returned to the Moorish camp and rested there that night; there they found an abundance of food which they needed. Then breaking camp, they advanced farther on; discovering that the noble castle of Vilches was evacuated and abandoned, they entered and fortified it. They also seized Banos and Tolosa and Ferral. Then they went on and besieged Ubeda, where they found a countless multitude of Moors shut up inside.
Deserting other cities such as Baeza, which they found to be empty, and other neighboring towns, they [the Moors] had all flooded into Ubeda, a stronger place and more suitable for their defense. But that throng shut up inside was heavy and burdensome to themselves and because of great crowding, they almost died.
The Moors saw the power of the Christians, who were already prevailing against them, vigorously attacking them; they also understood that they lacked any counsel and aid because the king of Morocco had fled to Seville and was prepar–ing to cross [the Strait of Gibraltar]. They delivered themselves into the hands of the glorious king and the king of Aragon, under such an agreement that, although their lives were saved, they and all their goods would become booty for their enemies. As reported by some of the Moors themselves who were then captured in the town and were believed to know the number of those within, almost 100,000 Saracens, including children and women, were captured there. All the movable goods and precious objects found there were given to the king of Aragon and to those who had come with him to the battle. He also took many Moors with him as captives. That cursed multitude, which was shut up in the town, was dispersed and distributed through all the lands of the Christians, although so few from different parts of the world took part in that glorious and triumphant battle.
They proposed to move on farther, but God, whose will no one can resist, seemed to prevent it. For the judgments of God are hidden. Perhaps the Christians were somewhat elated and full of pride on account of the victory in that battle, which they ought to have attributed to God alone and not to themselves. Now when they had stayed for a few days in the siege of that town, a multiple variety of illnesses, and especially flux of the stomach [diarrhea], afflicted so many Christians that there were few healthy ones, who, if need be, could defend them against the enemy. Also at that time there was such great mortality among those who had remained apart from the battle that in the autumn a great number of the elderly and the aged in the towns and cities reached the end of life.
Therefore, seeing that there was no way that they could advance farther, the kings took counsel and diligent deliberation. It seemed to almost everyone that they should return to their land. So they broke down part of the wall of the town and burned the houses, and chopped down the trees and vines that they could cut down; they also left Baeza in desolation. They fortified the castles mentioned above with men, arms, and other necessities, and returned home with victory, honor, and much booty.
Then the glorious king restored to the king of Navarre, who had come to his aid, although with a few men, certain of those castles that the noble king had seized in the kingdom of Navarre. After conquering and overthrowing a very proud enemy, the glorious and noble king was received in Toledo with exultation and joy by all the people, who cried out saying: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
At the time of this noble triumph, when the Catholic kings and their vassals risked their lives and kingdoms for the exaltation of the Christian name, the king of Leon waged war against the king of Castile, as he had done at the time of the other battle [of Alarcos]. The glorious king, wishing to end his life with honor and glory in the war against the Moors, did not call to mind what the king of Leon had done, but wanted to settle amicably with him so that they could help one another against the Moors.
Chapter 26: The Capture of Alcantara and the Siege of Baeza
In the meantime, while peace was being discussed, around the beginning of Lent following the battle, the glorious king, whose entire purpose it was, took with him a few knights, his household guards, and certain of the townsmen from Trasierra, and went to the castle of Duenas, which is now called Calatrava la Nueva; he took it and kept it. Then he took Eznavexore, a place now called Santiago; it is a castle of the friars of the Knighthood of Santiago near Montiel.
Then with the few men who were with him he besieged the noble castle of Alcaraz, which was something to be wondered at. However, after Lord Diego and certain other magnates came up the siege was strengthened. The [castle] was attacked forcefully and powerfully with marvelous machines. At length, by the grace of God, it surrendered to the glorious king, saving the lives of the Moors who were there at that time. On the feast of the Ascension, after purging the filthiness of the Moors who abandoned the town, the glorious king was received in the town with a solemn procession by the archbishop of Toledo; on the same day the archbishop celebrated mass there.
Next the noble king captured another castle strongly fortified by nature, called Riopar, between Segura and Alcaraz. Then with honor and glory he returned to the area of Guadalajara around the feast of Pentecost.
From there he set out on his journey to the land of Castile. His sole and great desire was to end his last days against the Saracens for the exaltation of the name of Jesus Christ; but he saw that the king of Leon presented a great impediment to such a holy and laudable purpose. Giving many stipends to the nobles and great gifts to the magnates, he summoned an incalculable host of people so that the king of Leon, stricken at least with fear, would make peace with the glorious king and, if he did not wish to help him against the Moors, at least would not interfere with him. Peace was thus established between the kings, through the mediation of Diego, and Pedro Femandez was expelled from both kingdoms. For his part the king of Leon was bound to invade the land of the Moots; and so he did.
Fearing the inconstancy of the king of Leon, however, the glorious king as–signed his vassal Lord Diego to him; he followed him with at least six hundred knights. They then attacked Alcantara and took it, fortified it, and kept it. They then encamped before Merida. While the king of Leon remained there for some days with his army, he then returned to his kingdom, despite Lord Diego's opposition and arguments to the contrary.
In view of the inconstancy and weakness of the king of Leon, the glorious king's noble vassal, who had heard that his lord, the glorious king, had also besieged Baeza (which had already been rebuilt and its walls repaired), did not wish to return to his land without his lord. Instead he traveled through deserted moun–tains and rough forest places, passing by the castles of the Moors, who opposed and resisted him; but he reached his lord, the glorious king, at the town mentioned above, where the siege was already established.
At the time when the king of Leon, or rather Lord Diego, captured Alcantara, the glorious and noble king had recently risen from his sickbed, where he had almost been at death's door. Although he could not ride at all by himself without the help of someone on whom he could support himself, he went to Toledo. With the very firm intention of ending his life in time of war in the land of the Moors, he besieged the town of Baeza with a few nobles and a few men from the people of the cities and other towns. This was done at the beginning of the month of December, and the siege lasted until after the feast of the Purification [2 February 1214]. But lacking food and other necessities for the army, the noble king was forced to withdraw from the siege and to return to his land.
Indeed, so great was the shortage of food during that expedition that the meat of asses and horses was sold very dearly in the market. In fact, in that year there was such a famine in the kingdom of Castile, especially in Trasierra and Extremadura, as had never been seen or heard in those lands since ancient times. Indeed, people died en masse, so that there was hardly anyone to bury them.
A truce was then established between the king of Morocco and the noble king of Castile. Indeed, there remained in the kingdom of Castile few horses and few other beasts of burden; a great number of people died, consumed by hunger. The Moors, on the contrary, had a great abundance of horses, wheat, barley, oil, and various other kinds of foods. Thus the land was quiet, and the king rested and at the next Lent returned to Castile where he remained until the beginning of the following September.
Excerpt from The Latin Chronicle of the Kings of Castile, translated with an Introduction and Notes by Joseph F. O'Callaghan, Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies vol. 236 (Tempe, AZ, 2002), pp. 49-56. Copyright Arizona Board of Regents for Arizona State University. We thank Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies for their permission to republish this text.