If there ever was a single political entity that encompassed all of what we now think of as the Basque Country — Euskal Herria with its seven provinces — it was the Kingdom of Nafarroa, originally known as the Kingdom of Pamplona. On the border of what later became France and Spain, it enjoyed great influence and power for its size due to its location, controlling the mountain passes between the future powers. Weaved throughout its history are a series of kings, the Sanchos, that were instrumental in both the kingdom’s rise and eventual break-up. Their stamp on Basque history cannot be overstated, founding the capitals of the Basque provinces of Gipuzkoa and Araba.
- Sancho I, born around 860, was the King of Pamplona from 905 to 925. His father, García Jiménez, first established the Jiménez dynasty, though Sancho I was the one who really consolidated power and created a meaningful dynasty, with Muslim sources referring to the dynasty as the Banu Sanjo, or descendants of Sancho. During his reign, Sancho I fought often with the Muslim rulers on his borders, winning some key victories.
- His grandson, Sancho II, ruled from 970 to 994, the Kingdom of Pamplona being ruled in the intervening years by Sancho I’s brother and son. Sancho II is the first to be called King of Navarre, so described in the donation of a monastery in 987. By virtue of his mother, Andregoto Galíndez, he also became the Count of Aragon. During his reign, the Codex Vigilanus was completed, a compilation of many documents that included the first western representation of Arabic numerals. His reign was also besotted with various military defeats against the Muslim lords to the south and, in an effort to stabilize his kingdom, he married off his daughter Urraca to one of them.
- Sancho III, also known as Sancho the Great, was born around 992 or so. He was the grandson of Sancho II and ruled from 1004 to 1035. As the Muslim hold on the south began to fragment, Sancho III tried to unify the Christian lands. He expanded his rule, acquiring Castile and León as the consequence of various marriages, fighting, and military victories. At its peak, his rule reached from Galicia to Barcelona. Amongst other things, he also started a Navarran series of currency and was one of the first great patrons of the Way of Saint James. Upon his death, he split his kingdom amongst his sons.
- Sancho IV, Sancho III’s great grandson, was King of Pamplona from 1054 until 1076, beginning his reign when he was only fourteen years old. Soon after his accession, many of the lords of his kingdom defected to León, ruled by his uncle, Ferdinand I. In 1062, they signed a treaty that established their border, with what is now Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa and Araba under Sancho’s control. Not long after, in 1067, the War of the Three Sanchos pitted Sancho IV against his cousins in Castile and Aragón. Sancho IV was killed in 1076 by his brother Ramón Garcés and sister Ermesinda of Navarre.
- Sancho V, then also King of Aragón, took over upon Sancho IV’s death. He was Sancho IV’s cousin and Sancho III’s grandson. He ruled Pamplona until his own death in 1094. After a number of military victories, he was defeated by El Cid at the battle of the Battle of Morella and was killed in 1094 while inspecting the walls of a Muslim stronghold.
- More than 50 years later, after the intervening reigns of Peter I, Alfonso I, and García Ramírez, Sancho VI the Wise ruled, officially changing his title from King of Pamplona to King of Navarra. Born in 1132, he ruled from 1150 until his death in 1194. During his reign, in an effort to solidify authority in the face of Castilian might, he founded the towns of San Sebastián/Donostia and Vitoria-Gasteiz.
- Sancho VI’s son, Sancho VII the Strong, followed his father as King of Navarra until his own death in 1234. He was the first to establish the now-familiar chains as his blazon. He was also the last member of the Jiménez dynasty. He was a close ally of his brother-in-law Richard I of England. While campaigning in Africa, his kingdom was invaded by Castile and Aragon, a consequence of which was the loss of Araba, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa to Castile. He died childless in 1234, likely the result of a varicose ulcer in his leg.
Primary sources: Wikipedia; please see the various links in the text above.