Looking back at the history of Europe, it is amazing how what we view today as solid political borders and national identities often grew out of random happenstance. If Joan of England had made it to Castile to wed Peter the Cruel, instead of succumbing to the Black Death at the age of fourteen, how would the history of the Iberian Peninsula have changed? So it is with the history of the Basque Country, where political intrigue and treachery shifted the fortunes of the country and the people.
- Pedro the Cruel, sometimes also called the Just, ascended to the throne to become the king of Castile and León at the age of sixteen, reigning from 1350 to 1369. He gained a blood-thirsty reputation, notorious for “monstrous cruelty” that led to his cognomen “the Cruel.” The son of Alfonso XI of Castile and Maria of Portugal, he had a number of half-siblings through Alfonso’s relationship with Eleanor de Guzmán. The rivalry between Pedro and his half-brother Enrique of Trastámara played out over many years and shaped the future of the peninsula.
- The two half-siblings engaged in numerous battles as Enrique and his other brothers tried to dethrone Pedro. Enrique often appealed to anti-Jewish sentiment to rally support to his side. These fights ultimately led to the Castilian Civil War, which saw Pedro defeated and fleeing to Bordeaux.
- There, he enlisted the help of Edward of Woodstock, the Prince of Wales, also known as the Black Prince. On April 13, 1367, in the the Battle of Nájera, Edward’s troops defeated those of Enrique, and Pedro was reestablished on the Castilian throne. To gain Edward’s help, Pedro had promised not only large sums of money and command of his vanguard against any campaign against the Moors, but also the province of Bizkaia. Pedro also left his three daughters as hostages to guarantee fulfillment of these terms.
- Upon the defeat of Enrique, the Black Prince demanded payment, including the province of Bizkaia. Pedro responded that “Soon all of the castles and villas of Bizkaia would recognize him as sovereign.” Ultimately, however, the decision resided in the hands of the Junta General of Bizkaia. Several ambassadors were sent to Bizkaia to convince the Junta to surrender to the English, but they resolutely refused to do so. The Prince of Wales, without payment and without the Lordship of Bizkaia, eventually returned home.
Primary source: El príncipe de Gales, señor de Bizkaia, in Deia. Thanks to Joseba Desubijana for recommending this article to me.