XII. The Iberian Crusade (third and final phase, 1194-99)
Following the second occupation of Valencia by Heinrich Welf – and particularly after 1194 – the Moorish retreat from their citadels becomes a rout. One after another, Murcia, Almeria and Granada fall into the hands of German and Italian crusaders. Finally, with the successful siege of Malaga (surrendering to Venetian troops in the night of 16th August 1195) the Moorish presence in the Iberian peninsula is completely eradicated, in just eight years after almost five centuries of Muslim dominance.
This incredible success does not hide from view all the frictions among the Christian rulers. Only Aragon and Castile-Leon – given their proximity to the newly acquired lands – manage to exercise a strong authority over Andalusia, while the centrifuge forces cause sometimes a much looser control by transpyrenaic countries.
Two episodes are very relevant in this sense: in 1195-96, the Castilian commander Fernando de la Vega launches an overseas expedition to wipe out the last forces of the Emir of Almeria from its Northern African bases. After the conquest of both Cebta and Tangiers, Fernando de la Vega declares himself independent from the vassalage to William I of Castile-Leon and founds an autonomous County on the African coasts. Similarly, by the end of 1196 Oddone Morosini, the valiant leader of the Venetian army responsible for the capture of Granada and Malaga, declares himself independent from Venice. Differently from Count Oddone, sheltered by the sea against the Muslim rage, Fernando de la Vega’s establishment in Africa will be short-lived: assaulted by the frightening Almohads in May 1197, his two citadels capitulate in October 1197, thus ending the brief Christian rule over Cebta and Tangiers.
The last noteworthy Iberian episode is the incorporation of Navarra. Again, it is Castile-Leon initiating another intra-Christian war. Claiming the crown of Navarra in 1195 for her child William I, Queen Mother Eleanor finally moves against King Sancho in March 1198. Despite the Aragonese intervention in favour of Navarra, the victorious Castilian troops will soon manage to acquire another crown for their young King. Once obtained King Pere’s consent with the cession of Soria to Aragon, the Navarrese crown will become the third one on William’s head, after those of Castile and Leon (December 1199).
The events occurring in the last decade of 12th century have radically simplified the Iberian map, with three kingdom left: Castile-Leon-Navarra under William I, Aragon under Pere II and the elective Kingdom of Portugal under King Henrique Pires (since 1196), who has temporarily gained the Crown once belonging to King Sancho de Borgonha upon his death. The following slideshow depicts the changes occurring in the final 12 years of the Reconquista: