Monarchy and military practice during the reign of Alfonso XI of Castile (1312–1350)

Nicolas Agrait, Fordham University


My dissertation argues that Alfonso, while not the radical innovator that Salvador de Moxó depicted, was an accomplished commander who cleverly responded to the challenges he faced. He introduced reforms culminating developments begun in the thirteenth century. He modified the caballería popular, specifically making the upkeep of a horse and service mandatory for anyone with a specific amount of wealth. He also increased the central role of the Crown in recruitment both by augmenting royal armies' size and disbursing higher monetary sums to others to recruit increasingly larger contingents. Heavier fiscal demands notwithstanding, the Castilian monarchy achieved a greater degree of control over the recruitment process. Alfonso and his commanders were constantly concerned with logistics. The Castilian frontier defense network continued to function with fortifications drawing on their possessions, but invariably depending on resources provided local towns, lords, or the Crown. Castilian commanders paid ample attention to the acquisition of the supplies necessary for proficient military activities. Once a host was on the field, its needs were met through the aggregate of the goods brought with them, forage, and long-distance supply routes. How Alfonso dealt with the logistical challenges goes a long way towards explaining his military successes. Despite being plagued by fiscal problems, Alfonso adeptly marshalled the necessary financial resources for his campaigns. While traditional revenue sources remained important, Alfonso relied on extraordinary collections like the Cortes-approved servicios [levies] and the alcabala, a kingdom-wide 5% sales tax, to underwrite the increasingly larger outlays required by his campaigns. With his Ordenamientos of 1338 and 1348, he implemented measures that tapped income sources that otherwise would have remained in private hands and out of reach. Finally, warfare was intricately linked to naval activity. Royal navies were instrumental in transporting troops and supplies to land armies, participating in joint military operations, patrolling the Strait of Gibraltar to protect Castile's interests, and engaging enemy vessels to gather intelligence, draw them into battle, or cut them off through blockades. These activities prepared Castile for its development as the naval power it became in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Subject Area

Middle Ages|European history

Recommended Citation

Agrait, Nicolas, "Monarchy and military practice during the reign of Alfonso XI of Castile (1312–1350)" (2003). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3083148.