All EOS blogs All Spain blogs  Start your own blog Start your own blog 

Spanish history in art and literature

A blog for ex-pats and others to share their love of art and books with others.

The story of Black Douglas
12 December 2020 @ 05:00

After the death of his mother in 1321, Alfonso XI had to wait four years until he was old enough to be crowned. The people who were running his kingdom as regents were unscrupulous and greedy, but he could do nothing about it. As soon as he was crowned, he declared war on the Caliphate of Granada. The death of his uncles and the hawks in the Cortez ensured that he continued the war against the Moors. In 1325 he sent out invitations for other kingdoms to join the campaign and share the booty, but in the meantime he initiated hostilities by marching his troops to the nearest and least guarded part of the frontier just 50 miles from Seville.

His objectives were Wubira (Olvera), Ayamonte,  Pruna, Torre-Alháquime and Teba. The first four were outposts, but Teba guarded the road down to Málaga, a vital trade route within the caliphate. He chose reliable and trusted friends to help him, one of whom was the son of Alonso Pérez de Guzmán, Juan Alonso, the new Duke of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. In1327 he arrived at Ayamonte and surrounded the small fortress, then pressed on to Torre-Alháquime and Wubira, which he laid siege to.  The garrison at Ayamonte slipped away in the night to Ronda, and Riu Gonzalez de Manzanedo, the Sevillian nobleman in charge of the siege there gave chase. He did not go far before he met the far superior forces around Ronda, and was lucky to escape with his life.

 The fortress of Olvera. Photo; Wikipedia.

The sieges of Wubira and Torre-Alháquime were successful, and the Christians entered the towns and took control. The Moors were given the choice of staying, or moving into the caliphate, which still controlled nearby Ronda and Ardales.  Pruna held out, and was not overcome until much later. Content with his first campaign, the king left a garrison headed by Rui Gonzales and ceded the newly occupied lands to Juan Pérez de Guzmán. He then left Olvera and returned to Seville, where he began another round of fundraising for the next assault on Teba.

It took two years to organise the next attack on the caliphate. The coffers of his kingdom were nearly empty after the 1327 campaign, and he offered a share of the plunder to the King of Portugal if he supplied troops for the attack on Teba. The offer was agreed, and he provided 500 knights, but for a limited period. All Christendom was watching the war against the Moors in Iberia, and religious fervour had been whipped up by the church. During his stay in Seville, King Alfonso had sent out offers to mercenary warriors throughout all the kingdoms, and knights from all Europe responded. They gathered in Córdoba during the winter of 1329 and King Alfonso led the Portuguese troops and other contingents who had arrived in Seville by boat. Among these mostly foreign soldiers were a group of Scottish mercenaries. They came with a letter of recommendation from their king, Edward III of England.

The Scottish troops were nothing like the other troops that had been arriving all winter. For a start, when not in armour, they wore brightly coloured skirts, and even though there were many English-speaking mercenaries marching with Alfonso’s column, few could understand their speech. Other English mercenaries who had fought against them in England’s wars spoke highly of their fighting abilities, and 19 year-old Alfonso was enthralled by them.

He offered them the same terms as the other mercenaries, but they refused all payment. Their leader, Sir James Douglas, who had earned the name  Black Douglas during the battle of Bannockburn, explained their mission to the king. The year before, the King of the Scots, Robert Bruce, lay dying and asked his friend Sir James to embalm his heart when he died and take it to the Holy Land on a crusade. (According to one chronicler) Bruce had always wanted to make the trip, as many had done before. Sir James wore the embalmed heart of his dead king around his neck in a small casket, and when he heard of the coming battle against the Moors, he decided that this was near enough to a crusade and joined the other mercenaries. Sir James declared that he and his men were prepared to offer their arms in the service of the king free as humble pilgrims seeking absolution for their sins. Alfonso assigned them experienced guides to train them in the fighting techniques of the Moors and gave them command of all the foreign mercenaries that he had hired. 

The Scottish poet, John Barbour recorded the names of the Scottish knights accompanying Sir James as: Sir William de Keith, Sir William de St. Clair of Rosslyn, the brothers Sir Robert Logan of Restalrig and Sir Walter Logan. Other chroniclers have mentioned that at some point, this group was accompanied by John de St. Clair, younger brother of Sir William, Sir Simon Lockhart of Lee, Sir Kenneth Moir, William Borthwick, Sir Alan Cathcart and Sir Robert de Glen.

In June 1330 they crossed the frontier and made camp near to Almargen, five miles west of Teba. King Alfonso had to wait for his siege towers and catapults before he encircled the castle, and he immediately realised that he had a problem with water for his animals and troops. The castle was on the top of a substantial hill, and the nearest water was around the other side of the hill in a valley.  Each day, the animals had to be led around the hill to the River Turón to be watered.

 The Castle of the Stars at Teba Photo; Inland Andalucia.

The same General Uthman ibn Abi al-Ula who led the cavalry at the battle of Pinus Puente was commanding the emir’s forces around Málaga, and the Berber nobleman led six-thousand cavalry and several thousand foot-soldiers north to defend the castle at Teba. Uthman's force crossed over into the valley of the River Turón, where they pitched camp between Ardales castle and the supporting fortress of Turón, ten miles south of Teba.

Uthman took advantage of the need to water the animals and attacked the watering parties, knowing that without water Alfonso’s army would have to retreat. This happened several times and Alfonso knew that it was a lure to a trap. Uthman had hidden his main force in a valley, where they waited to surprise Alfonso’s troops. The King prepared his own trap and sent a large force of troops to accompany the watering party. He also ordered a reserve force to be ready to mount a counter attack.

Before the siege engines arrived, and on the eve of engaging Uthman’s troops, the Portuguese announced that their allotted time of service was up and they were going home. King Alfonso was furious, but could do nothing. At dawn the next day, a battle developed at the river. When the king was notified that his men had been ambushed, he ordered the second force, led by Don Pedro Fernández de Castro, with the Scottish knights in the vanguard, to assist the first. Uthman’s plan was to engage the watering party and then attack the unsuspecting Christian’s main camp with his cavalry. But when his jinetes crested the hill, they found row upon row of armed soldiers led by Douglas and ready to fight. The Moors retreated, and the Christians advanced.

Down by the river, things had not gone well for Uthman, and when the Scots arrived they found the Moors in full retreat. They charged, and fell into a classic Moorish cavalry trap. The knights separated themselves from their foot-soldiers, who were busy looting, and chased the cavalry, who wheeled around and surrounded them. One-by-one, they were unhorsed and cut down. Douglas was trying to reach Sinclair when he was surrounded. When the battle was over, almost all the Scots were dead. King Alfonso ordered Rodrigo Álvarez de las Asturias to attack with a further 2,000 men, and the Granadan retreat turned into a rout.  Despite further skirmishes, Uthman made no further attempt to raise the siege, and shortly afterwards the garrison of Teba surrendered. The old Berber general died some weeks later.

The poet Barbour relates that the body of Douglas and the casket containing the heart of his king were recovered after the battle. The bodies of the knights were boiled until the flesh fell from them and their bones were brought back to Scotland. Douglas’ bones were buried at Dunfermline Abbey.

 The plaque commemorating the Battle of Teba

The Battle of Teba was not decisive, and the lands around the castle were in dispute for the next 150 years. This round of victories for the Christians prompted the Marinid emir, Abu Hasan, to send forces in support of Muhammad IV to take Gibraltar in 1333, but the Marinid emir’s attempt to take back Tarifa in 1340 led to a disastrous defeat at Rio Salado, which would end the intervention by Marinid caliphs in the affairs of Iberia, leaving the Caliphate of Granada alone and isolated in a country ruled by Christians.  


Like 1


pjck said:
19 December 2020 @ 11:18

Just yesterday read about Robert Bruce on Quora, about how he wanted to go on Crusade and a story of his heart... I have known a lot about him for ages, heard about Douglas - but didn't know about these events.
And today this! Thank you - it broaden my knowledge of the subject.

pjck said:
19 December 2020 @ 11:18

Just yesterday read about Robert Bruce on Quora, about how he wanted to go on Crusade and a story of his heart... I have known a lot about him for ages, heard about Douglas - but didn't know about these events.
And today this! Thank you - it broaden my knowledge of the subject.

Campbell Ferguson said:
26 December 2020 @ 14:45

I regret that there is an error, in that Edward III was not the Scot's King.
From Wikipedia timeline
1314 Robert the Bruce defeats the English at Bannockburn.
1320 Nobles assert Scottish independence in the Declaration of Arbroath.
1328 Treaty of Northampton. England recognises Scottish independence.
1329 Death of Robert the Bruce. His 5-year-old son, David II succeeds him.
1371 Robert II becomes first Stewart king.

Campbell Ferguson said:
26 December 2020 @ 14:49

Bruce's heart was found and returned to Scotland.
Bruce held great affection for Melrose Abbey and had left instructions that his heart was to be interred there, while his body was to be buried at Dunfermline Abbey, the traditional last resting place of Scottish kings

animate said:
28 December 2020 @ 17:11

Thank you, Campbell.
I apologise for not checking the story through. There have been some pretty wild versions of the battle in the costa papers over the years and I wanted to have the record straight. For a while I lived close enough to Teba to spend several afternoons walking over the battle area and imagine how it must have been. Thank you again, I will add it to my many corrections.

Abiogenesis said:
01 April 2021 @ 15:42

Sir William de St Clair of Rosslyn was also the last Templar Grand Master of Scotland.

The process for preparing to return the bones of the Scottish fallen is called Excarnation. One of the last recorded excarnations was in 1422 for Henry V. Henry died in Vincennes and was boiled there before being returned to Westminster Abbey England in a very elaborate and public funeral procession across England. His bones and flesh were sealed into a lead coffin and filled with spices. A wax effigy laid atop the casket for the populace to look upon as his closed coffin passed.

As embalming became more predictable with longer lasting effect, excarnation fell out of favor and ended completely by the 16th century. See Heart of Kings: Embalming of Noblemen in Medieval Europe.

Leave a comment

You don't have to be registered to leave a comment but it's quicker and easier if you are (and you also can get notified by email when others comment on the post). Please Sign In or Register now.

Name *
Spam protection: 
Your comment * (HTML not allowed)
(Items marked * are required)


This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse you are agreeing to our use of cookies. More information here. x