Battle of Aljubarrota

From Academic Kids

Template:Infobox Battles The Battle of Aljubarrota took place on August 14 1385, between Portuguese forces commanded by King Joo I and his general Nuno Alvares Pereira, and the Castilian army of King Juan I. The place was Aljubarrota, between the towns of Leiria and Alcobaa in central Portugal. The result was a decisive defeat of the Castilians and the end of the 1383–1385 Crisis, establishing Joo as King of Portugal. 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 Juan I in 1390, but these posed no real threat to the Portuguese monarchy. To celebrate his victory and acknowledge divine help, Joo I ordered the construction of the Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitria na Batalha and the founding of the town of Batalha (pronounced batalya, the Portuguese word for "battle"). The king, his wife Philippa of Lancaster, and several of his sons are buried in this monastery, which is an important part of Portuguese heritage.



The end of the 14th century in Europe was a time of revolution and crisis, with the Hundred Years' War devastating France, the plague decimating the continent, and famine afflicting the poor. Portugal was no exception. In 1383, King Ferdinand 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 Juan 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 Joo, Master of Aviz (bastard son of Pedro I de 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 under his command.

Portuguese dispositions

After his accession to the throne, Joo proceeded to conquer the Portuguese cities that supported Princess Beatrice and her husband's claims, namely Caminha, Braga and Guimares among others. On the news of the invasion by Joo, the king's army met with Nuno Alvares Pereira (the Portuguese field marshal) in the town of Tomar. There, they decided to face the Castilians in battle, before they could get close to Lisbon, capital of the kingdom.

Along with its English allies, the Portuguese army set out to intercept the invading army near the town of Leiria. Nuno Alvares Pereira took the task of choosing the ground for the battle. The chosen location was near Aljubarrota, in a small flattened hill surrounded by creeks. 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 (Crecy, for example, or Poitiers), the dispositions were the following: dismounted cavalry and infantry in the centre with archers occupying the flanks, protected by natural obstacles (in this case, creeks). In the rear, reinforcements were at hand, commanded by Joo himself. In this topographically high position, the Portuguese could observe the enemy's arrival and were protected by a steep slope in their front.

Castile arrives

The Castilian vanguard arrived at lunch time from the north. Seeing the strongly defensive position occupied by the Portuguese, Juan made the wise decision to avoid combat on Joo'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. Juan's scouts had noticed that the south side of the hill had a gentler slope and it was through here 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 Alvares 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 Juan'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 Crecy, 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.

It was time now for the main Castilian force to enter 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 Alvares Pereira divided into two sectors. Seeing that the worst was still to come, Joo ordered the retreat of the archers and the advance of his rear troops, through the space opened between the vanguards. Here a very uncivil event took place. With all troops needed at the front, there were no men available to guard the knight prisoners. Joo 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, not literally, flank of the young ones). By sunset the Castilian position was indefensible and the situation quite desperate. Juan 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 ugly and to possess six fingers on each hand, who ambushed and killed by herself many Castilian soldiers. 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.


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. Juan 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 mourning in Castile that would last until 1387. The French cavalry contingent suffered yet another defeat (after Crecy and Poitiers) by English defensive tactics. Agincourt decades later would show that they still had a lesson to learn.

With this victory, Joo was the uncontested king of Portugal. Independence was assured and a new dynasty, the House of Aviz, started. Scattered border skirmishes with Castilian troops would persist until the death of Juan in 1390, but posed no real threat to the Portuguese crown. To celebrate his victory and acknowledge divine help, Joo ordered the construction of the Monastery of Santa Maria of Batalha, and the founding of the town of Batalha (battle in Portuguese). The king, his wife Philippa of Lancaster, and several of his sons are buried in this Monastery, an important part of Portuguese heritage.


  1. The original Portuguese and Spanish names of the kings are used because in English they both translate as "John I," which is confusing.
  2. At this time (fourteenth century), Castile did not belong to Spain. That country appeared only in the end of the fifteenth century, with the marriage of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon (the rulers, together, of present-day Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands)—"The Catholic Monarchs."


  • Joo Gouveia Monteiro, Aljubarrota — a Batalha Real (in Portuguese)
  • A.H. de Oliveira Marques, Historia de Portugal (in Portuguese)

de:Schlacht von Aljubarrota pt:Batalha de Aljubarrota zh:阿勒祖巴洛特战役


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