In the mid-14th century, the Crown of Castile was in the midst of a civil war. King Pedro the Cruel, son of Alfonso XI and Queen Mary of Portugal, and his half-brother, Count Enrique of Trastamara, son of Alfonso XI and his mistress, Eleanor of Guzman, were disputing the throne.

At the same time, Castile was at war with Aragon, whose King Pedro IV the Ceremonious supported Enrique of Trastamara. As if that were not enough, this conflict was also a front in the Hundred Years’ War between France and England, as Pedro the Cruel was supported by England and Enrique of Trastamara by France. England and France sent armies to Castile to support their respective candidates.

Battle of Najera

Battle of Najera

This conflict was thus both a civil war in Castile, a war for the domination of Spain between Castile and Aragon and a battlefield of the Hundred Years’ War. In this context, at a certain point in the conflict, in 1366-1367, King Pedro the Cruel, who had lost control of most of Castile, asked for more help from Edward, Prince of Wales, heir to England (called “the Black Prince” because of the colour of his armour) and in exchange promised to give him the Lordship of Vizcaya (Biscay), including the town of Castro Urdiales (which today belongs to Cantabria).

At first it seemed that this alliance worked. Enrique’s Castilian-French army was totally defeated by English forces at the great battle of Nájera in La Rioja (13 April 1367). Pedro regained the Castilian throne and then the English prince demanded that he keep his promise and hand over Biscay to him. But then King Pedro, who was known for his falsehood and cunning, told him not to worry, that very soon all the castles and towns of Biscay would recognise him as sovereign, but privately he sent letters to the knights of Biscay so that they would not recognise the Englishman.

The decision was left in the hands of the noble lineages of Biscay. If they had thought that Biscay was oppressed by Castile and did not feel Castilian, they had a golden opportunity to separate from Castile and Spain forever.

But they did just the opposite. As the famous 19th century Biscayan historian Labayru points out, the Basque knights clearly told the English envoys who came to take possession that “Biscay would never accept a foreign prince as Lord”. The famous contemporary chronicler and future Chancellor of Castile, the Alava-born Pedro López de Ayala stated in his famous Chronicle of this period of Spanish history: “the Prince of Wales did not get the land of Vizcaya because the natives of the land knew that it did not please the king if that land belonged to the prince”.

Double of 35 maravedis in the effigy of pedro I, the Cruel

Double of 35 maravedis in the effigy of Pedro I, the Cruel

In other words, the Biscayans opted for loyalty to Castile. The Basque and Biscayan Spanishness was once again made clear, and that a non-Spanish royal sovereignty there would always be a “foreign” sovereignty. Disappointed, the Prince of Wales left Spain with his troops.

Battle of Montiel

Battle of Montiel

This made things easier for his rival Enrique. Civil war again spread throughout the crown of Castile. Pedro even asked for and received help from the Moors of Granada but finally after his army was defeated in the fields of Montiel, in Ciudad Real, Pedro died at the hands of his own half-brother Enrique, in his own tent (March 1369).

Enrique of Trastamara became King Enrique II of Castile. He then turned against his former ally, the King of Aragon, and after defeating him, forced him to abandon his plans for expansion in Castile. Enrique also defeated Navarre and Portugal, who had tried to profit from the Castilian civil war. (It is curious that today some left-wing authors try to present Pedro the Cruel as a “tolerant” king, a friend of Moors and Jews, while Enrique was the representative of inquisitorial and ultra-Catholic Spain).

In any case, the Spanishness of the Basques was once again in evidence, in this case the Biscayans, who, together with the people of Alava and Guipuzcoa, would fill the ranks of King Enrique’s Castilian army a few years later in the war against Navarre. (another denial of the myth of Euskal Herria) Furthermore, the death of the last lord of Biscay, Don Tello, a vassal of the King of Castile, would bring about the definitive union between Biscay and the Crown of Castile in 1369. The kings of Castile (and later of Spain) would become perpetual lords of Biscay.

Thus, if the lineages of Biscay had wanted it, Biscay would have joined England in 1367 and who knows whether Biscay would still be British today, as a sort of “Gibraltar of the North”.

But the historical Spanishness of the Basques was once again manifested.

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On This Day

1431 Hundred Years' War - Saint Joan of Arc is burnt at the stake in Rouen, France, on charges of heresy.
1498 Exploration - Christopher Columbus sets sail from Sanlúcar de Barrameda on his third voyage to the New World.
1539 Exploration - Hernando de Soto's expedition landed in the south of Tampa Bay, near Bradenton, which he named Holy Ghost Bay.
1574 French monarch Charles IX, responsible for the St Bartholomew's Day massacre, dies.
1840 Amadeo of Saboy (king of Spain between 1870 and 1873) is born in Torino (Italy).
1969 Gibraltar's constitution comes into force.
1982 Spain becomes 16th NATO country

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