Battle of Aljubarrota

Battle of Aljubarrota

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Aljubarrota

partof=the Portuguese Crisis of 1383–1385
date=August 14, 1385
place=Near Aljubarrota, central Portugal
result=Decisive victory for John of Portugal
combatant1=flag|Portugal|1385 with

English allies
combatant2=flag|Castile with
Portuguese and
French allies
commander1=John I of Portugal
Nuno Álvares Pereira
commander2=John I of Castile
strength1=6,500 men
strength2=31,000 men
The Battle of Aljubarrota (pronounced|alʒuβɐˈʁɔtɐ) took place on August 14 1385, between the forces commanded by King John I of Portugal and his general Nuno Álvares Pereira, and the army of King John I of Castile. The place was São Jorge, between the towns of Leiria and Alcobaça in central Portugal. The result was a decisive defeat of the Castilians and the end of the 1383-1385 Crisis, establishing John as King of Portugal.

Portuguese independence was assured and a new dynasty, the House of Aviz, was established. Scattered border confrontations with Castilian troops would persist until the death of John I of Castile in 1390, but these posed no real threat to the new dynasty. To celebrate his victory and acknowledge divine help, John I of Portugal ordered the construction of the monastery of "Santa Maria da Vitória na Batalha" and the founding of the town of Batalha (Portuguese for "battle", pronounced|bɐˈtaʎɐ). The king, his wife Philippa of Lancaster, and several of his sons are buried in this monastery, today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The end of the 14th century in Europe was a time of revolution and crisis, with the Hundred Years' War devastating France, the Black Death decimating the continent, and famine afflicting the poor. Portugal was no exception. In 1383, King Ferdinand I of Portugal died with no son to inherit the crown. The only child of his marriage with Leonor Telles de Menezes was a girl, Princess Beatrice of Portugal, married to John I, king of Castile. The Portuguese nobility was unwilling to support the claim of the princess because that would mean the incorporation of Portugal in Castile (see note 2). Without an undisputed option, Portugal remained without king between 1383 and 1385, in an interregnum known as the 1383–1385 Crisis. On April 6, 1385, the council of the kingdom ("cortes" in Portuguese) summoned in Coimbra and declared king John, Master of Aviz (bastard son of Peter I of Portugal). However, the Castilian king would not relinquish his wife's claim to the throne and invaded Portugal in June, with an important French cavalry detachment and a great part of the Portuguese nobility under his command.

Portuguese dispositions

After his accession to the throne, John I of Portugal proceeded to conquer the cities that supported Princess Beatrice and her husband's claims, namely Caminha, Braga and Guimarães among others. On the news of the invasion by the Castilians, John of Portugal's army met with Nuno Álvares Pereira (the Constable of Portugal) in the town of Tomar. There, they decided to face the enemy in battle, before they could get close to Lisbon, capital of the kingdom.

Along with its English allies, which consisted of a company of English bowmen sent to honor the alliance between the kingdoms in the form of the marriage between John of Portugal and his Lancastrian queen, the Portuguese army set out to intercept the invading army near the town of Leiria. Nuno Álvares Pereira took the task of choosing the ground for the battle. The chosen location was São Jorge near Aljubarrota, in a small flattened hill surrounded by creeks, with a very small settlement at its widest point, still present today. At around 10 o'clock in the morning of August 14, the army took its position at the north side of this hill, facing the road where the enemy would soon appear. As in other defensive battles of the 14th century (Crécy, for example, or Poitiers), the dispositions were the following: dismounted cavalry and infantry in the centre with archers occupying the flanks, and notably a company of young nobles who left their studies at the university city of Coimbra and were remembered to history as The Flank of Lovers, invoking notions of chivalric brotherhood and honor. On either side, the army was protected by natural obstacles (in this case, creeks and steep slopes). In the rear, reinforcements were at hand, commanded by John of Portugal himself. In this topographically high position, the Portuguese could observe the enemy's arrival and were protected by a steep slope in their front. The rear of the Portuguese position, which was in fact its front in the final battle, was at the top of a narrow slope, which came up to a small village, and was further constricted by a complex series of interlocking trenches which were designed to surprise and trap cavalry. This trenching tactic was developed around this time and used extensively by both the English in France and the Portuguese in the rare set-piece battles of the Crisis of the Succession.

Castile arrives

The Castilian vanguard arrived at lunch time from the north. Seeing the strongly defensive position occupied by the Portuguese, John of Castile made the wise decision to avoid combat on John of Portugal's terms. Slowly, due to the numbers of his army (about 30,000 men), the Castilian army started to contour the hill where the Portuguese were located. John of Castile's scouts had noticed that the South side of the hill had a gentler slope and it was there that the Castilian king wanted to attack.

In response of this movement, the Portuguese army inverted its dispositions and headed to the South slope of the hill. Since they were fewer than the enemy and had less ground to cover, they attained their final position very early in the afternoon. To calm the soldiers' nervousness and to improve his army's defensive position, general Nuno Álvares Pereira ordered the construction of a system of ditches, pitches and caltrops. This tactical procedure, very typical of the English, was perhaps a suggestion of the English allied troops, also present in the field.

Around six o'clock in the afternoon the Castilian army was ready for battle. According to John of Castile's own words, in his report of the battle, his soldiers were by then very tired from the march that started early in the morning under a blazing August sun. There was no time to halt now, and the battle would soon begin.


The initiative of starting the battle was on the Castilian side. The French allied cavalry charged, as they were accustomed to do: in full strength, in order to disrupt order in enemy lines. Even before they could get in contact with the Portuguese infantry, however, they were already disorganized. Just like at Crécy, the defending archers along with the ditches and pits did most of the work. The losses on the cavalry were heavy and the effect of its attack completely null. Support from the Castilian rear was late to come and the knights that did not perish in the combat were made prisoners and sent to the Portuguese rear.

At this point the main Castilian force entered the battle. Their line was enormous, due to the great number of soldiers. In order to get to the Portuguese line, the Castilians had to disorganize themselves, to squeeze in the space between the two creeks that protected the flanks. It was not an auspicious start. At this time, the Portuguese reorganized. The vanguard of Nuno Álvares Pereira divided into two sectors. Since the worst was still to come, John of Portugal ordered the retreat of the archers and the advance of his rear troops, through the space opened between the vanguards. With all troops needed at the front, there were no men available to guard the knight prisoners. John of Portugal ordered them to be killed on the spot and proceeded to deal with the approaching Castilians.

Squashed between the Portuguese flanks and advanced rear, the Castilians did their best to win the day. At this stage of the battle, both sides sustained heavy losses, especially on the Castilian and Portuguese left wing, known in Portuguese tradition as the "Ala dos Namorados", meaning something like Flank of Sweethearts, as it was composed by two hundred young and yet unmarried men; the Portuguese right flank, also two hundred strong, is known as "Ala de Madressilva" or Honeysuckle Flank). By sunset the Castilian position was indefensible and the situation quite desperate. John of Castile ordered retreat and the remaining Castilian soldiers started to flee. Portuguese pursued them and, with the battle won, killed many more.

According to Portuguese tradition surrounding the battle, there was a woman called Brites de Almeida, the "Padeira of Aljubarrota" (the baker-woman of Aljubarrota), said to be very tall, strong, and to possess six fingers on each hand, who ambushed and killed by herself eight Castilian soldiers as they stormed her bakery in the town of Aljubarrota itself. This story in particular is clouded in legend and hearsay. But the popular intervention in the massacre of Castilian troops after the battle is, nevertheless, historical and typical of battles between nations in this period, as in the Hundred Years' War.


In the morning of the following day, the true dimension of the battle was revealed: in the field, the bodies of Castilians were enough to dam the creeks surrounding the small hill. John of Castile himself had to run at full speed to save his life. Behind him he was leaving not only common soldiers but also many noblemen, causing official mourning in Castile that would last until the Christmas of 1387. The French cavalry contingent suffered yet another defeat (after Crecy and Poitiers) by English defensive tactics. The Battle of Agincourt decades later would show that they still had a lesson to learn.

As stated above this victory assured that John of Aviz was the uncontested King of Portugal and the House of Aviz ascended to the crown of Portugal. Scattered border skirmishes with Castilian troops would persist until the death of John of Castile in 1390, but posed no real threat to the Portuguese crown.


# At this time (14th century), Castile is not synonymous with "Spain". A global Iberian political entity, had first appeared as a Visigothic Kingdom in the very end of the era of the Roman Empire was dismantled after the Muslim invasion of 711. After that, the word "Spain" was wrongly used to designate the Iberian peninsula from a geographical and cultural and even political point of view. The proper term which more enlightened scholars use is Iberia, the geographical vast peninsula, encompassing Portugal, an autonomous kingdom since 1128, and several other kingdoms. These other kingdoms eventually agglutinated under one central power, Castile, and named Spain, after "Hispania" which was hitherto used in the plural (Hispaniae or the Spains) to refer to all of the nations on the Iberia peninsula. The country 'appeared' in the second half of the 15th century, with the marriage of the Catholic MonarchsIsabel of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon – the rulers, together, of the Crown of Castile, (the union of the kingdoms of Castile, León, Galicia, Asturias, the Canary Islands and the later conquered kingdom of Granada) and the Crown of Aragon (Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia, the Balearic Islands, Sicily and other territories in the Italian Peninsula).


* João Gouveia Monteiro, "Aljubarrota — a Batalha Real"
* A.H. de Oliveira Marques, "História de Portugal"

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