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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Sidenote The kingdom of Asturias


[Sidenote: Fitful character of the Christian reconquest.]

One of the popular misconceptions of the Moslem period in the history of Spain is that the Christians began a holy war almost from the time of the Moslem invasion, and continued to gain in fervor and in power, step by step, until at length they took Granada in 1492. In fact religious enthusiasm and national conquest alike were fitful and spasmodic, and very little progress was made in the period of the emirs and caliphs.

[Sidenote: The kingdom of Asturias.]

[Sidenote: Covadonga.]

It has usually been held, although the matter is in dispute, that the Visigoths resisted the invaders continuously at only one point in Spain,--in Asturias. In the mountains of Asturias there gathered various nobles of the centre and south of Spain, a number of bishops, and the remains of the defeated Christian armies, and, aided perhaps by the natives of that land, they prepared to make a stand against the Moslems. On the news of the death of Roderic they elected a certain Pelayo as his successor, and it is this king who is customarily regarded as the founder of the Spanish monarchy. Pelayo fixed his capital at Cangas de On?s, and is believed to have maintained amicable relations with the Moslems for a while, perhaps paying them tribute, and possibly even making a visit to Cordova. Hostilities broke out again,

however, and in the year 718 Pelayo and his partisans won a victory in the valley of Covadonga. Coming as it did after several years of defeats this achievement attained to a renown which was far greater than the merits of the actual battle, and in later years legendary accounts made the combat itself assume extraordinary proportions. It has usually been taken as marking the beginning of the Christian reconquests, and it is said that Pelayo became king in consequence of the battle, when in fact he was elected several years before. The battle of Covadonga did secure eastern Asturias to the Christians, which was its immediate result. Aside from that tiny kingdom there is no proof that there were any independent Christian states in Spain, although it is probable that there were several in the other mountainous parts of the north.

[Sidenote: The advance of the Asturian frontier.]

Since the invaders respected the religion and customs of the conquered, the war of the Christian kingdom of Asturias against them did not at first have a religious or even a racial character. It was a war of the nobles and clergy for the reconquest of their landed estates and of the king for the restoration of his royal authority over the peninsula. The little Asturian kingdom was like the old Visigothic state in miniature; for example, there were the struggles between the nobility and the crown for precisely the same objects as formerly. For a century the history of Asturias reduced itself primarily to these quarrels. Nevertheless, the Moslem frontier tended to withdraw from the far northwest, not that the Moslems were forced out by the Christians, but possibly because their own civil wars drew them together in the centre and south, or because their numbers were not great enough to make them seek the less desirable lands in the northwest. The frontier became fixed south of the Douro along a line running through Coimbra, Coria, Talavera, Toledo, Guadalajara, and Pamplona, although the last-named place was not long retained. It cannot be said that the Christians took a conscious offensive until the eleventh century. In this period, despite the internal dissension of the Moslem state, the Christian frontier did not pass the Guadarrama Mountains even at the most favorable moments, leaving Aragon and central and southern Spain in the enemy's hands. The line of the Douro was far from being held consistently,--as witness the conquests of Abd-er-Rahman III and Almansor.


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