1494 : how a family feud in medieval Spain divided the world in half /
Stephen R. Bown.
Vancouver : Douglas & McIntyre, c2011.
1553655567, 9781553655565
More Details
Vancouver : Douglas & McIntyre, c2011.
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Issued also in electronic format.
A Look Inside
First Chapter
From Chapter 2, "The Lord of Lords"On the grassy plains outside the western Spanish city of Toro, a Castilian army of more than five thousand heavy infantry and mounted lancers aligned themselves into battle formation to face an equally impressive Portuguese army. It was the late afternoon of March 1, 1476; the light was fading and freezing rain soaked the field. Despite their weariness after a day of chasing their Portuguese foes through the steep mountain passes of the Sierra de la Culebras, the Castilian ranks felt this would be the final reckoning between the rival claimants to the Castilian throne, who had plunged the peninsula into war. Isabella and Ferdinand had been crowned king and queen only a year earlier; the Castilian forces were commanded by Ferdinand himself, alongside his battle-experienced nobles and his Aragonese half-brother. In the fading winter light they could make out the splendidly arrayed Afonso V, king of Portugal, the celebrated conqueror of the Moors in Morocco-as a result of which he had earned the title O Africano-and his son João, an athletic twenty-year-old surrounded by his force of armoured knights. João, heir to the Portuguese crown, perhaps stood to gain or lose most from the battle's outcome: he had joined his father Afonso with an army of reinforcements from Portugal only weeks earlier. Thousands of warhorses, covered in metal-plate armour and draped in splendidly embroidered blankets, stamped their nervous feet, their breath escaping in clouds. The knights who rode them tightened their armour, grabbed a final bite of food or drink of water, prayed for victory (or perhaps only for survival) and checked their weapons a final time. Many of these warriors had been engaged in a weary game of cat and mouse, chasing one another across the Castilian countryside for many months through the blasting heat of summer and the piercing cold of winter. They were now eager for a final confrontation. Castile's political future hung in the balance, and there was no turning back. War drums pounded, the rhythmic sound growing louder. Finally Ferdinand gave the signal, blaring trumpets announced the Castilian advance and the knights charged, while the infantry ran across the plain screaming "St. James and St. Lazarus!" Gunners fired their primitive cannons, sending iron balls bouncing across the slippery grass. Great clouds of gunpowder smoke swirled in the mist while arquebusiers fired their crude, rifle-like weapons at their charging opponents. Archers tilted their bows up and loosed a deadly, dark stream of shafts into the sky. The Portuguese counterattack targeted Ferdinand's right wing, sending thousands of projectiles into the midst of the charging warriors. The force of the attach shattered shields, wounded knights and sent them bleeding and screeching into the mud. Castilian knights spurred their mounts and charged to the rescue of the bloody fragments of the right wing, using their lances to spear the advancing Portuguese as heavy warhorses slammed into the ranks of the infantry. Soon a chaotic melee surged back and forth across the plain, weapons raised high and slicing low, cleaving into exposed arms and necks and bashing off helmets and shields. Battle cries roared "Afonso!" and "Ferdinand!" as masses of metal-clad men surged back and forth in the growing darkness. Ferdinand was heard to scream, "Charge forward, my Castilian knights! I am your king!" and they advanced with renewed vigour. After three hours of battle, hundreds of warriors had slipped or dove into the black waters of the Duero River and were swept away. Thousands more lay moaning and bleeding, many to their death, while dying horses screamed in agony and fear on the blood-slickened field. Thousands of hostages had been taken, and the remnant of an army had fled the field for the protection of a nearby fortress. The living scavenged the dead for "gold, silver, clothes and many other things." The battle, claimed as a victory by both sides, was pivotal in determining the fate of the Castilian succession-and a great many other things in the coming years.

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