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Resource sheet 3 – Interpretations
That not all Christians pursued the ideal of reconquest to the same degree at all times, that most
had mixed motives, that the mixture differed in different individuals, that political power was
envisaged as a complex of military, economic, religious, demographic and other factors, and that
reconquest was sought by other means as well as by warfare are all factors inherent in any political
process and should arouse no more surprise when found among the militants of the Reconquest
than among those committed to any other mass movement. What is exceptional about this
movement is its longevity – the fact that a single political objective could survive for over seven
centuries, constantly attracting the loyalty of new generations of adherents until it was finally
achieved. (p.3-4)
Only Spain was able to conquer, administer, Christianise and Europeanise the populous areas of
the New World precisely because during the previous seven centuries her society had been
constructed for the purpose of conquering, administering, Christianising and Europeanising the
inhabitants of Al-Andalus. Thus if the reconquest is important in Old World history because it is the
primary example of the reversal of an Islamic conquest and because it fostered the transfer of
Greek and Asian culture to western Europe, in the general sweep of world history it is vital because
it prepared the rapid conquest and Europeanisation of Latin America and thereby spared it most of
the religious and imperialist wars which would henceforth afflict almost all the rest of mankind.
Extracts from Lomax, D.W (1978) The Reconquest of Spain
Version 1
Spain 1469-1556
© OCR 2016
The successive generations who manned the frontier were not prompted to action by an
overpowering sense of manifest religious destiny. True, the cult of St James at Compostela gave
focus to religion and crusading aspirations, but the religious life of the peninsula was unlike that of
any other area in Europe. Arians for a long time under the Visigoths, the later Catholics of Spain
were in perpetual and intense contact with the Muslim and Jewish religions. Moreover the
Spaniards were aware that they were not waging war against barbarians and the Iberian frontier
was at times an area of fruitful cultural contacts. Indeed the coexistence of Christians, Muslims and
Jews and the evidence of a ‘creative struggle’ indicate that, despite the drive of the reconquest or
the later medieval persecution of Jews, the degree of acculturation was considerable. Christianity
expanded at the expense of Islam, but it was the civilisation of Islam, in many ways richer and
more cultivated, which influenced Spain and western Europe in turn. The interplay of all these
influences between Christian, Muslim and Jewish cultures was of course an extremely complex
The later medieval period in Spanish history has traditionally posed something of a conundrum to
scholars. This is partly due to the break in continuity of the reconquest and the impulse of the
advancing frontier. Between the 13th century and the fall of Granada in 1492, the Iberian peninsula
was plagued by a seemingly dismal succession of civil wars, meaningless bouts of anarchy and
nerveless rulers. As a result, historians have tended to turn away with relief from the later medieval
‘decline’ and acclaim the advent of the Catholic kings (Ferdinand and Isabella), the creation of the
modern state, the restoration of the forces of law and order at the expense of overmighty ‘feudal’
nobles, and the stern morality of a ‘new’ monarchy able to prepare the institutions for an Empire
that would dominate the 16th century world. (p.4-5)
Adapted from Mackay, A (1977) Spain in the Middle Ages: From Frontier to Empire
Version 1
Spain 1469-1556
© OCR 2016