The People of Gibraltar
1407 - Castile and Granada - and the Straits of Gibraltar

Alcaide Moclis

A proper historical analysis of the event discussed in this article would require proper research into the medieval history of the Iberian Peninsula and in particular the underlying reasons for the continuous skirmishes, truces, treaties and squabbles between the Moorish Kingdom of Granada and the various members of the Christian leaders of the Reconquista. I am afraid I have not done any of the sort although I can put the events discussed below in context. 

One of the many battles of the Reconquista ( Medieval - Las Cantigas de Santa Maria )

In the early 15th century, Granada was the last Moorish enclave in Spain. It was governed by Nasrid rulers. On the other hand during the mid fourteenth the Rock was ruled by the Moorish Marinid dynasty - of which perhaps the Sultan of Fez Abu-l-hasan and Abu Inan Faris ( see LINK ) are the two leaders one associates the most with Gibraltar. 

In 1374 the Marinids handed over the Rock to the Nasrids in effect making Gibraltar a colony of Granada - something that was not viewed with any enthusiasm by the inhabitants of the Rock. Not surprisingly in 1410 the Garrison rebelled rather ineffectively against their new rulers which meant that Granada was able to retake the Rock after the rather brief 6th siege of Gibraltar. From then on the Rock was used primarily as a base for raids into Christian territory.

During the beginning of the 15th century, Mohammad VI of Granada took advantage of the fact that Enrique III el Doliente was suffering from a serious illness and went about the business of plundering the surrounding countryside almost at will. But all good things come to an end. Enrique II died and was replaced by his very young son Juan II and his mother, Catherine of Lancaster, and uncle, King Ferdinand I of Aragon became co-regents during his minority.

Juan II of Castile - many years later

Catherine has been described as being about 6ft tall with a pink with white complexion and very fair hair. She had a manly gait, became fat in later years and suffered enormously from gout. It was Catherine who set the ball rolling against Granada by ordering her son's High Admiral of Castile - Alonso Enriquez - to organise a large fleet to patrol the Straits of Gibraltar in order to stop any Moorish reinforcements arriving from Barbary. 

Catherine of Lancaster ( unknown )

On the 22nd of August 1407 with Alonso's bastard son Juan Enriquez in command - the hastily assembled Castilian sighted a large Moorish fleet just off Gibraltar. Spanish historians are relatively silent as regards the outcome of this preliminary encounter, which makes one suppose that the Christian fleet withdrew without having achieved its main objective.

Meanwhile Moclis, the Moorish Governor of Gibraltar, boarded the newly arrived Barbary galleys. The Christian fleet, he told them, was becalmed and would be unable to take them on. He therefore urged them to cross the Bay and attack Algeciras which he knew was partially occupied by Christian forces at that time.  Luckily for the rather disorganised Christian fleet, the Marinids refused to take part in the fight and the end result of this battle in the Bay was a messy draw.  

On the 27th while the Castilians ships were taking up water from Getares - a beach close to Algeciras - the Moorish fleet was sighted close to the southern defensive sea wall of Gibraltar moving slowly in line until as they rounded the Castil de Ginoueses - or what we nowadays refer to as the Torre de los Genoveses found in the Windmill Hill area of Gibraltar.  The actual words used by the author of the Crónicas de Juan II are as follows:
e  anduvieron  paso  a  paso  hasta  que  doblaron  Castil de Ginoueses.

Map of the southern part of Gibraltar showing the position of the Torre Jinobeses - presumably one and the same as the Castil de Ginoueses ( 1608 - Cristobal Rojas - detail )

Both wind and weather were unfavourable and by the time the Castilians had got themselves organised :
vino del çielo una niebla tan escura que hera gran marauilla, por el tiempo que entonces hera, que hera estio . . 
The Moorish fleet had by now rounded Europa Point and was heading north towards Malaga keeping as close as possible to the coastline. According to evidence supplied later by a prisoner, the main aim of the Marinid ships had been to take a contingent of eight hundred horsemen to Gibraltar. They also brought with them plenty of bread and other necessities as well as a large amount of money - diez cargas de doblas - which was to be used to pay the cavalry.  

The Christian fleet caught up with the Moorish galleys just as they were passing the tower atalaya or tower of Sierra Carbonera.  They were more than a match for the Moorish ships. Moclis, who was still leading the fleet, decided that discretion - or retreat - was the better part of valour. He ordered everybody to disembark and set fire to the remaining galley. Having done this he returned with his men to Gibraltar. The almost unknown Alcaide Moclis had shown himself to be an excellent military man. The truth is that he would easily have destroyed the Christian Fleet during his first encounter with them had he not been let down by the Nasrids. 

The historical consequences of these less than well known series of naval skirmishes are hard to make out. The Christians did fail to stop the Moorish fleet from its main objective - which was to bring additional forces from Africa and to give Granada a helping hand against the Christian forces that surrounded it.  On the other hand the destruction of the Moorish fleet put paid to any repeat performance across the Straits at any time in the near future.

But perhaps more interesting from my point of view is the role of Gibraltar. The Castilians never even considered attacking it. As would be proved over the years it was indeed a magnificently fortified town and an easy to defend naval base for whoever happened to own it. 

The Tower of Homage area in the late 19th century after many alterations by Spanish and British engineers but still showing the impressive zigzags of the original Moorish walls