Wars had to be won at all costs

BBC History Magazine - - Medieval Kingship -

James would have been de­lighted to have been given the ti­tle ‘James the Con­queror’, since this is pre­cisely the im­age he wished to con­vey in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. His cul­tural, ad­min­is­tra­tive and in­sti­tu­tional achieve­ments re­ceived lit­tle men­tion. In­stead, he fo­cused al­most ex­clu­sively on his mil­i­tary con­quests, “so that all men may recog­nise and know, when we have passed from this mor­tal life, the deeds that we have done with the help of the pow­er­ful Lord”.

James saw him­self as part of a line of suc­cess­ful mil­i­tary lead­ers – he recorded how his fa­ther died in bat­tle “since it has al­ways been the cus­tom of our line… that ei­ther we must win or die” – and was de­ter­mined to out­strip his fore­bears’ achieve­ments by ex­pand­ing Aragon’s land. Re­joic­ing at his con­quest of Ma­jorca, he as­serted: “God has done such grace to us that he has given us a king­dom inside the sea, a thing that no king of Spain has ever achieved be­fore.” He later re­solved to con­quer Va­len­cia, be­liev­ing that this would bring him the “great­est gain and great­est hon­our” be­cause “this was some­thing that no­body of my line had ever done”.

The steely de­ter­mi­na­tion with which James pur­sued his mil­i­tary goals comes across vividly in his ac­count of the two-month siege at Bor­ri­ana, north of Va­len­cia, in 1233. Here, de­spite his nobles coun­selling a retreat be­cause of dwin­dling food and fi­nances, James re­fused: “You should wish me to leave here for the as­sets I might gain! Be­lieve you me that I will not do it. Rather I ask you and I or­der you, for the lord­ship I hold over you, that you will help me to take it.”

James’s gritty de­ter­mi­na­tion to win at all costs char­ac­terised his mil­i­tary cam­paigns. Against re­peated ad­vice that, as king, “we should not risk our per­son”, James re­peat­edly dived head­first into bat­tle and re­fused to del­e­gate mil­i­tary lead­er­ship.

His de­ter­mi­na­tion to be in the thick of it even saw him re­move an ar­row from the no­ble­man Ber­nat Guillem’s leg with his own hands. By ex­pos­ing him­self in this way, the king him­self was later struck by an ar­row to the head and re­called how: “Blood was run­ning down our face… and our eyes swelled up so much that we could not see… for four or five days.”

James also showed him­self to be an in­ven­tive tac­ti­cian. In one siege, his knights used a dis­carded wooden beam to cross the moat and shimmy up a tower us­ing leather belts; and, as he later re­lated, Bor­ri­ana was fi­nally taken by a sur­prise at­tack us­ing un­der­ground tun­nels.

James I’s forces con­quer Ma­jorca, as shown in a de­tail from an al­tar­piece. The Aragonese king de­fined the suc­cess of his reign through his feats on the bat­tle­field

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.