Spanish conquest of Iberian Navarre

Conquest of Navarre
Part of the War of the Holy League

In red, the lands of Navarre occupied by Ferdinand. In pink, the remaining Kingdom of Navarre which survived until Henry IV of France.
LocationKingdom of Navarre
Result Castilian-Aragonese victory
Navarre south of the Pyrenees annexed to Castile
 Crown of Castile
Crown of Aragon
Kingdom of Navarre
Commanders and leaders
King Ferdinand II
Duke of Alba
King John III

Spanish conquest of the Iberian part of Navarre was commenced by Ferdinand II of Aragon and completed by Charles V in a series of military campaigns extending from 1512 to 1524, while the war lasted until 1528 in the Navarre to the north of the Pyrenees. Ferdinand the Catholic was in 1512 both king of Aragon and regent of Castile. When Pope Julius II declared a Holy League against France in late 1511, Navarre tried to remain neutral. Ferdinand used this as an excuse to attack Navarre, conquering it while its potential protector France was beset by England, Venice, and Ferdinand's Italian armies.

Several attempts were made to reconquer Iberian Navarre starting right after the Castilian invasion (1512), notably a halfhearted reconquest attempt in 1516 and a fully-fledged French-Navarrese reconquest campaign in 1521. All were defeated by the Spanish, and clashes came to halt to the north of the Pyrenees in 1528, when the Spanish troops withdrew from Lower Navarre. The Treaty of Cambrai between Spain and France in 1529 sealed the division of Navarre along the Pyrenees, while the independent Kingdom of Navarre survived in Lower Navarre ruled by the lineage of the Albrets united to their principality of Béarn, showing close links with France. The kingdom was absorbed into France in 1620 (nominally in 1790).


Navarre was mired in instability over the throne since the mid 15th century. At the same time Navarre split in two main parties and warring factions: the Beaumonts and the Agramonts, with ramifications both within and out of Navarre and subject to external meddlingsee also background in previous period.

When Catherine I of Navarre married John III of Albret, many in Navarre contested this arrangement. Starting in 1474 as a consort King of Castile, Ferdinand II of Aragon instituted a devious combination of alliances and military push aimed at securing the reins of neighbouring kingdoms, de facto turning Navarre into a protectorate of Castile in 1476. However, the following decade, the Aragonese king and Queen Isabella I of Castile focused their military initiative on definitely subduing Granada after a 10-year war (1492), with Castile annexing the emirate and putting an end to the Reconquista. After the fall of Granada, pressure on Navarre intensified.

After Isabella I of Castile's death in 1504, Ferdinand II of Aragon unexpectedly married the French princess Germaine of Foix, daughter of claimant to the throne of Navarre John of Foix, Viscount of Narbonne, so any children from Ferdinand's marriage could entitle him to a claim over the crown of Navarre. Ferdinand also wanted to spite his son-in-law and successor Philip, new ephemeral king of Castile. As of 1507, with Ferdinand again administering the politics of Castile as a regent, the defiant count of Lerín Louis Beaumont, Ferdinand's key ally in Navarre, revolted along with other Beaumont party lords, but the royal authorityCatherine, John IIIwarned Ferdinand that this time no demands from the count would be accepted, no pardon would be granted to the count of Lerín. After an year long stand-off, in 1508 the crown launched an offensive to quell the count's rebellion, Lerín was occupied, and a severe defeat inflicted on Louis.[1]:20–21 It was 1507 during the fight for Viana when the condottiero Cesare Borgia, then at the service of John, was killed by Beaumont knights.

Queen Catherine of Navarre (1468-1517)

The Navarrese authorities struggled to achieve a diplomatic balance in two fronts, but adverse new winds were blowing from France too. Ferdinand and King Louis XII were getting along after the former's marriage to Germaine of Foix, with the French king putting pressure on the Albrets to give up on their principalities outside NavarreBéarn, Bigorre, County of Foix, etc.but was met with their strong refusal. In 1507 the Parliament of Navarre appointed a diplomatic task force to France led by John of Jasopresident of the Royal Council of Navarre and father of Francis Xavierand the bishop of Lescar, but that and other diplomatic attempts were halfhearted.[1]:21 Louis XII coveted the Albrets' territories and resorted to the Parliament of Toulouse, where his ambitions took the form of a confiscation decree. When the Parliament of Navarre (The Three States) and the States-General of Béarn were confronted with the possibility of a French takeover in 1510, a military mobilization was decreed and a bill passed to create a Béarn-Navarre confederation securing a permanent joint defense provision against any external assault. Ferdinand II waited and saw, took good note of those fears, and searched again allies for his own designs in the Navarrese Beaumont party.[1]:21, 87

However, in summer 1510 the international scene took a sharp turn in the Italian Wars. Pope Julius II was one of the most ambitious Popes of the era. He had declared a Holy League against Venice in 1508, and successfully defeated it. The formerly allied Papal States and France went to war with one another, and Julius II declared a new Holy League against France on 4 August 1511 after siding with King Ferdinand in the French-Spanish struggle for power in Italy. Navarre refused to join and kept neutral in a shaky balance, but Ferdinand II declared war on France in March 1512. Just a month later, Gaston of Foix died, so the full claim over the Pyrenean territories of the Albrets would fall in the hands of Ferdinand's wife Germaine of Foix.

King Louis then started to show a conciliatory tone with Queen Catherine and King John III, conceding to back down on his territorial demands. Catherine and John III kept negotiations with Ferdinand too, who intertwined proposals, pressure and menaces with actual movement of troops right on the outer borders of Navarre.[1]:23 In February 1512, Ferdinand allied with England in a move leading to a prompt military intervention in the French royal territory of Guyenne, present-day region Aquitaine, but could hardly disguise his intentions to indefinitely occupy an inconvenient kingdom for the king's ambitions.[2]:18 The Navarrese authorities made arrangements for the defense of Navarre, while Ferdinand designed a plan to invade the kingdom, including a propaganda scheme in which the Navarrese crown would be labeled as schismatic with the back-up of Julius II's papal bulls.[1]:23 For the purpose, Castilian diplomats negotiated with Rome for months.[2]:18

Castilian-Aragonese invasion of 1512

Invasion of Navarre

Castle of Olite, a major fortification and royal site (central Navarre)
Jauregizarre, a 16th-century tower house north of Navarre, home to the Ursua, a clan of notaries

In June 1512, tension mounted when the Holy League made a formal petition to send English and Castilian troops through Navarre over to France. At the same time a Navarrese diplomatic panel sent to France was holding a round of talks with Louis XII that lasted for a month, while Ferdinand threatened to cross the border if an agreement was reached. The talks led to the 4th Treaty of Blois on 18 July 1512, providing for a mutual assistance to keep Navarre's neutrality, and bringing also the attention to the impending English threat on France after their disembarkation in Hondarribia, Gipuzkoa (bordering Basque territory suzerain to Castile).[1]:23, 88–91 The next day Ferdinand sent his troops across the border from Álava into Navarre, commanded by his general Don Fadrique de Toledo, Duke of Alba, one that was involved in the conquest of Granada (1492). However, by that time a Gipuzkoan militia had broken into Navarre from the north-western border and captured Goizueta, a village and fortress bordering on Gipuzkoa (10 July 1512).[2]:17

In a few days Castilian troops advanced without resistance onto the outskirts of Pamplona, where Ferdinand's ally count John of Beaumont played host to the invading troops in his fortified palace of Arazuri. The assault troops of the expedition numbered 6,000 veterans, but the whole caravan including the rearguard amounted to 15,000. The population of Pamplona did not exceed 10,000 inhabitants. Catherine and John III left for Tudela in quest for troops among loyal lords, but managed to get only 500.[2]:18 Overwhelmed by the sheer size of the Spanish expedition, the loyalists veered east to Lumbier (Irunberri), and on to Lower Navarre. Catherine, John III and their troops retreated to Orthez, Béarn.

Pamplona's peripheral defense walls were flimsy, and a threat of looting pronounced by the Duke of Alba loomed over the town. In view of the royal family's retreat to Lumbier, local authorities surrendered (25 July 1512). Without delay, messengers were sent out by the Castilians to the main fortresses across Navarre demanding to follow suit. Most of them submitted, except for Amaiur (Baztan), Estella-Lizarra, Tudela and Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.[2]:21–22 The authorities of Pamplona were required to vow loyalty to Ferdinand, but they alleged that they could not inasmuch as they had pledged allegiance to king John III, their natural lord, and he was alive. The Spanish king went on to claim that he was King of Navarre de jure propio (late August 1512).

Tudela in turn was besieged, and resisted the Aragonese push led by Alfonso of Aragon, a bastard son of Ferdinand II and archbishop of Zaragoza, who was commanding 3,000 infantry and 300 cavalry.[2]:29 The determined loyalty of the local authorities to the Navarrese crown could not hide their low morale on account of the Pope's bull and the hopelessness of their resistance, as set down on letters to the king by the defenders. The position surrendered by 9 September 1512 in order to avoid pillaging, further confiscations in town, and futile bloodshed. Alfonso took an oath to respect the Navarrese laws that day, following his father Ferdinand's instructions.[2]:30–31

By late August 1512, virtually all Iberian Navarre was under Spanish sway. The Duke of Alba, commanding a force of 3,000 infantry and 300 cavalry supported by a further 400 artillery, occupied the Pyrenean valleys of Aezkoa, Salazar, and Roncal, and undertook the crossing of the Pyrenean passes northbound, taking the Chapel of Roncevaux by surprise, and setting fire to the village. The Castilian forces spearheaded by Colonel Villalba (or the Beaumont party lord Martin of Ursua, depending on sources) arrived in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on 10 September 1512, only to find that its garrison under the lord of Miossens (an Albret) was abandoning the stronghold.[2]:43 Not contented with the takeover of the position and the town, the Castilian forces set about pillaging, burning and spreading out terror throughout the villages of Lower Navarre, a tactic the Castilian commander tried to justify on his letters. Roman Church appears to have approved of the enslavement of the subdued Navarrese population.[2]:44

The Castilians demanded the submission of the all the lords in Lower Navarre (Ultrapuertos, Deça-Ports), while the Duke of Alba ordered to pull down all the tower houses in the territory. The apple and fruit orchards in the Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (Donibane Garazi in Basque) area were chopped off, leaving the local population struggling for subsistence.[2]:44 At this point, Ferdinand demanded a capitulation of Catherine and John III, but offered to negotiate their hold on the throne on condition that they sent their heir apparent Henry to be raised in the court of Castile. The demand was met with a frontal refusal.

Meanwhile, a French army was stationed in Bayonne (Labourd, in Guyenne) watching out for possible English or Castilian moves on the ground. Ferdinand still stack to his plan to invade Guyenne, home to both Albrets' possessions and French royal lands, or at least Bayonne, a strategic port for Navarre. However, time was running out for the Castilians in Lower Navarre, short of food, supplies and under adverse weather conditions. Discontented veteran troops in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port numbering 1,000 mutinied, but managed to negotiate with the Duke of Alba their removal to the less hostile rearguard of Burgui and Salazar, so breaking up the uprising.[2]:47–48

The images of the cannons and king were removed from the coat of arms of Gipuzkoa (1979) as a gesture of friendship with Navarre
Coat of arms of King Ferdinand II of Aragon as of 1513, with Navarre added

By mid-October, John III had raised an army of 15,000 Navarrese, Gascons and landsknechts ready to counterattack. Three columns advanced into Gipuzkoa and the heartland of Navarre. The first laid siege to Hondarribia and Donostia, and occupied a number of small towns of the area to divert the attention of a Castilian relieve on the besieged troops in Pamplona. By then, tired of Ferdinand II's unreliable intentions, the English had decided to leave the theatre of war back to England after sacking a number of villages and towns (Errenteria).[2]:48 A second expedition commanded by the Duke of Longueville was made up of 8,000 Gascons, 1,000 Navarrese, 1,500 landsknechts, and corresponding artillery. It set off from Peyrehorade, engaged the Castilians in Ainhize, and defeated them on 19 October 1512.[2]:49

A third column crossed the Pyrenees from Roncal (Erronkari) and reached Burgui. Fearing of having his communication line with Pamplona cut off, the Duke of Alba withdrew to the capital, but not before leaving a well equipped detachment in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. The Navarrese column advanced south across the Pyrenees from Salazar towards Pamplona. On hearing the news of the Navarrese army's approach, Estella-Lizarra and the fortress of Monjardin next to it revolted against the occupiers.[2]:38 On 24 October 1512, the Duke of Alba made it to Pamplona, followed by Navarrese loyalist forces, who laid siege to the capital.

In Estella-Lizarra, the rebels led by John Ramirez de Baquedano and Jaime Velaz de Medrano were soon opposed by the forces of Pedro de Beaumont, supported by the Castilians Duke of Nájera and the Marquis of Comares. The Navarrese leaders made a last stand on the Monjardin fortress, but eventually a capitulation was signed.[2]:39 The investment of Pamplona lasted for a month, but the coming of winter and new reinforcements from Castile thwarted any prospects of a successful conclusion to the operation. The loyalists retreated and the Castilian troops made their way back across the Pyrenees to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and Lower Navarre, keeping control of the position, but engaging in regular skirmishes with the disgruntled Beaumont party lord of Luxe (Lukuze).

On 7 December 1512, a detachment of the Navarrese army's decimated landsknechts on retreat was guarding twelve artillery pieces at the Belate pass, when they encountered a patrol led by the governor of Gipuzkoa Juan de Silva. The Gipuzkoan militia took on the landsknechts, who retreated in disarray, were chased and largely slaughtered. The skirmish was later pumped up to a wholesale battle, with the cannons seized being added in 1513 to the official coat of arms of Gipuzkoa.[2]:54

Spanish reoccupation and aftermath

As of December 1512, the clashes got confined to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and its hinterland, occupied still by the Castilians. The above Diego Fernandez de Córdoba was appointed first viceroy of Navarre, and on 13–23 March 1513 the Parliament of Navarre, greatly reduced to the Beaumount party representatives who had sided with the Castilian conquest, was called and accepted Ferdinand as their "natural lord and king." Ferdinand in turn agreed to keep Navarrese institutions and identity. At the same time, the first Castilian viceroy, Diego Fernández de Córdoba, took an oath to respect Navarrese law (fueros).[1]:36

Initially the kingdom was attached to Ferdinandand therefore to the Crown of Aragonas an earned good, falling back on the Papal bulls. Aragon was a Pyrenean realm of a similar confederate institutional make-up, as opposed to the authoritarian Castile, but the pressure of the latter tipped the scale in favour of bequeathing Navarre to Castilian Queen Isabella's daughter Joanna of Castile and annexing the Basque kingdom to Castile in 1515.[1]:35–41 The annexation was confirmed after taking an oath to respect Navarre's laws and institutions (the pactum subjectionis), since that was Ferdinand II's will. The Cortes of Burgos (11 June 1515) was not attended by any Navarrese representatives, even the Navarrese count of Lerin Louis of Beaumont, Ferdinand II's accomplice up to that point, protested at this annexation to Castile, and was incarcerated.

Notwithstanding the formal oath requirement, both kingdoms had different institutional and legal systems, and fairly different social and ethnic make-up. Once the Castilian and Aragonese military confirmed their occupation of all the strongholds, the ground was paved for the progressive institutional takeover marked by the centralizing drive of the Spanish-Castilian Crown, source of frequent frictions and tensions. 1513 and 1514 were marked by the Castilian military control of Navarre, with the diplomat and writer Niccolò Machiavelli anticipating a prompt and easy understanding of Ferdinand II with France "on the only condition of keeping Navarre, giving up instead on the Duchy of Milan for its vicinity to the Helvetians."[1]:32

Construction of the case for the conquest

Pope Julius II, died in the wake of his Pastor Ille Caelestis bull, written at the Chancery of Aragon in Rome
Antonio de Nebrija, an able scholar at the service of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile

Ferdinand showed a deep concern in presenting his military intervention against a backdrop of legal grounds. He was quick to commission a report to the skilled law specialists Antonio de Nebrija and Juan López de Palacios Rubios in order to make the case for his actions with a wide array of claims over the Basque kingdom.[1]:26 During the following decades and centuries the reports were to become a compelling reference when it comes to the debates on the (im)morality of the Spanish conquest of Navarre. At any rate, both scholars were acting as servants of their masters King Ferdinand II and the Duke of Alba when they accepted these propaganda assignments, as pointed out by the historian Alfredo Floristan.[1]:49 López de Palacios would design later the doctrine legitimizing the conquest of the West Indies.

In late August 1512, once the conquest of the heartland of Navarre was achieved, Ferdinand issued a statement defending his right to attack France by means of Navarre according to the iure belli or "fair war" passed by the Roman Church in 1511.[1]:27 With Pamplona on his hands and the royal family in Béarn, Ferdinand used this gain on the ground to further justify his claim over the kingdom of Navarre, insisting on his entitlement as king of Navarre de iure propio.

Another claim insisted on a so-called "right of way" across Navarre in order to achieve military goals in Guyenne, supported by Ferdinand's divine and natural right. In addition, Ferdinand would be "observing international treaties", so allowing him to invade Navarre in order to help his ally England.[1]:28 An additional, peculiar argumentation consisted of claiming that the Navarrese lineage starting with Iñigo Arista (824-851) was an usurpation of the righteous claimant, Castile, the alleged heir to the Visigothic kingdom (via Kingdom of Asturias), holder of Roman Emperor Honorius' mandate for Hispania.[1]:28 Lastly, Ferdinand stated a number of claims to the Navarrese throne related to his marriage to Germaine of Foix, and his father John II of Aragon.

Ferdinand was informed by spies of the progresses in the negotiations between Navarrese diplomats and Louis XII at Blois. On the eve of the beginning of the invasion, 17 July 1512, Ferdinand had a forged draft copy of the Treaty of Blois (signed on 18 July) circulating aimed at smear.[3]:19 The Papal ruling Pastor Ille Caelestis issued on 21 July, just 3 days after the start of the invasion, authorized to wage war on Church enemies and stake a claim over their lands and subjects providing they lie outside Italy, which would apply to Louis XII's France and the "heretic" crown of Navarre. This provision was added at the instigation of Ferdinand himself in December 1511.[3]:23

Back on 5 June 1512, Ferdinand had addressed a letter to the Pope Julius II urging him to issue a bull excommunicating "everyone in the kingdom of Navarre and the principality of Béarn" and allocating him Navarre, or failing that, the right to take over it, and appealing for that to the Pope's own interests in Spain ("you just need a scroll and ink," he added).[3]:23 On 7 June 1512 the Spanish king addressed another letter to his ambassador in Rome urging him to secure the bulls as soon as possible, for "our army is up and the artillery ready" to invade Navarre.[3]:23

However, the Navarrese crown was not cited explicitly in the Pastor Ille Caelestis bull. Echoing Ferdinand's claim in late August 2012, the Exigit Contumatium Papal bull was issued half an year later (18 February 1513). This time Catherine and John III were labelled as schismatic and therefore unworthy holders of the royal title, imposing on them an excommunication and confiscation of all their properties.[3]:24 The attending members of the Parliament of Navarre session held in Pamplona on 13–24 March 1513 accepted Ferdinand II as king.

"While the ambition to conquer kingdoms is absolutely not without fault, as the kings should rather protect their borders instead of invading foreign ones, however, it sometimes happens that they are compelled by necessity to undertake an evidently necessary war, which would otherwise be unfair (...), but since it would be worse that the wicked prevail over the righteous, very appropriately that necessity makes most rightful an otherwise unfair case"
Antonio de Nebrija. 1545 (posth.). De bello Navariense.[4]:48

Despite all the papal support to his actions, Ferdinandand his successors was haunted by tyranny and usurpation allegations, and these concerns were to leave an imprint in the status Navarre would take after the invasion. The Spanish king made all the necessary arrangements to present the invasion as a mere dynastic change, trying to conceal the fact of the military takeover. Despite the fact that Navarre was considered an "earned good" for the free disposition of Ferdinand, the pactum subjections was appliedtaking an oath to respect the Navarrese law and identity. Navarre was no Granada, which was considered not only a legitimate conquest by Roman Catholic standards but a "reconquest" of the Visigoth Kingdom.[1]:48 On the other side, Navarre was widely held as an old Christian kingdom, with secular institutions and an entrenched identification of its population with the native social order.[1]:34 Prior tempore, potior iure, or "earlier in time, stronger in law", the kingdom was stronger than the crown itself.

1516 reconquest attempt

The Castle of Xavier, home to John of Jaso, was partially demolished on orders of Cardinal Cisneros
Uxue (central Navarre), featuring a fortification spared thanks to an attached religious site

By 1516 Ferdinand was dead and his sixteen-year-old grandson by Isabella, Charles of Austria, had ascended to the throne of both Castile and Aragon. However, in 1516 he still lived in the Burgundian Netherlands. John III of Navarre saw an opportunity through to reconquer the Iberian Navarre. The king raised an army in Sauveterre-de-Bearn made up of two columns, one commanded by himself and the other by Pedro, Marshal of Navarre.[2]:49 The small army aimed at reaching Sanguesa and Lumbier, and there incite an uprising against the Castilians.

The first column led by John III failed to bring to heel the Castilian garrison occupying St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, while the second was not any luckier. Pedro advanced towards Roncevaux on 12 March 1516, but Cardinal Cisneros had been informed of the Navarrese intentions and had colonel Villalba waiting him at Roncevaux. Pedro in turn decided to avoid Roncevaux by Salazar and Roncal, but weather and the little sympathy found on the local population of the area (except for Roncal) eroded the 600-strong column.[2]:60 The column was engaged in battle and defeated by colonel Villalba near Isaba, valley of Roncal, and the combatants made prisonersPedro was assassinated years later while in custody at Simancas (it was presented as a suicide).

Among the captured were several lords, including Valentin of Jaso, cousin of Francis Xavier. The prisoners were conducted to Atienza (Castile) and held on heavy chains with restricted communication, the town was put to extreme security measures, no Navarrese was allowed in town, with any resident hosting a Navarrese or not reporting their presence being subject to a 1,000-maravedi fine and 2-year imprisonment. The surviving 7 Navarrese Agramont lords were eventually released on acceptance of submission, but they all joined the 1521 French-Navarrese expedition commanded by General Asparros.[2]:62

The reconquest attempt failed, and on 14 August 1516 the Treaty of Noyon was signed between King of France Francis I, styled as "the Most Christian", and King Charles V, called "the Catholic", in which Charles agrees in the context of a wider agreement to reconsider his rights over the Kingdom of Navarre and listen to Queen Catherine's envoys. However, Franco-Spanish tensions mounted again, Catherine died in early 1517 and the provisions on Navarre set out in the treaty were never enforced.[1]:66 Still talks continued between Navarrese diplomats and Charles V to reach an agreement over a marriage between Charles' sister Eleonor and new king of Navarre Henry II. In this context, the Parliament of Navarre in Pamplona, attended by Beaumont party members only, demanded the reattachment to (Higher) Navarre of the "Coastal Navarre",[3]:26 the Basque districts better known as Biscay until the early 19th century.

The Spanish cardinal Cisneros was acting as regent for the newly proclaimed emperor Charles. As such, that year he decreed all Navarrese castles be pulled down to avoid any resistance.[1]:66 Not only that, prominent figures of Navarre who had stood up for the Navarrese monarchs were imprisoned in Atienza or forced to exile. The repression was aimed, in cardinal Cisneros' words, at further "subjugating and constraining [Navarre], so that no one in that kingdom dares or ventures to rebel."[1]:66

On the spur of the events and mimicking the 1502 royal decision in Castilethe details of the decision are not well knownthe Spanish imperial authority decreed the forced conversion or the expulsion of the Navarrese Muslims inhabiting in and around Tudela, probably on 1 May 1516. However, by 1516 many of them had emigrated following exactions imposed for decades. Muslim population kept abandoning Navarre until 1520, with many of them settling in Aragon, where they found temporary shelter up to their 1526 expulsion.[5]:47

"I am not Spanish, nor a subject of Spain. I do not renounce my fatherland, and I can not pay homage but to my natural sovereigns."
Pedro de Navarra, Marshal of Navarre, declining in prison Charles V's offer to join the Imperial forces (circa 1520)[3]:27

The institutional framework of Navarre was preserved following the 1512 invasion. Once Ferdinand II of Aragon died in January, the Parliament of Navarre gathered in Pamplona, urging Charles V (aged 16) to attend a coronation ceremony in the town following tradition, but the envoys of the Parliament were met with the Emperor's utter indifference if not contempt. He refused to attend any ceremony and responded with a brief "let's say I am happy and [the proclamation proposal] pleases me." Eventually the Parliament met in 1517 without Charles V, represented instead by the Duke of Najera pronouncing an array of promises of little certitude, while the acting Parliament kept piling up grievances and demands for damages due to the Emperor, totalling 67the 2nd Viceroy of Navarre Fadrique de Acuña was deposed in 1515 probably for acceding to send grievances.[3]:39–40 Contradictions inherent to the documents accounting for the Emperor's non-existent oath pledge in 1516 point to a contemporary manipulation of the records.

1521 French-Navarrese expedition

Navarrese reconquest attempt
Part of the Italian War of 1521–1526
LocationKingdom of Navarre
Result Castilian-Spanish control of Navarre confirmed
Spanish Monarchy Kingdom of Navarre
Commanders and leaders
Antonio Manrique de Lara, 2nd Duke of Nájera General Asparros
Francis Xavier and his family were involved and badly affected in the defense of Navarre

From 15201521, Castile was distracted by the Revolt of the Comuneros. The Crown of Aragon was also suffering economic difficulties as well as the Revolt of the Brotherhoods. As a result, Spain was seen as a ripe target of opportunity by the French King Francis I. Meanwhile, the young King Henry II of Navarre, based in his domains of Béarn, saw a way through to reconquer Navarre.[2]:81 Taking advantage of the synergies with France, Henry began raising a 12,000-strong army, mainly Gascons and Navarrese exiles, to recapture the Navarre occupied by the Spanish. The large French-Navarrese army commanded by General Asparros (or Esparre) crossed the Pyrenees, consisting exactly of 12,000 infantry, 800 mounted knights, and 29 pieces of artillery.

The Castilian Viceroy of Navarre, Antonio Manrique de Lara, 2nd Duke of Nájera, was caught off-guard. The Duke had the responsibility for guarding the Navarrese lands conquered in 1512, but he had moved the bulk of his troops away from Navarre to suppress peasant uprisings and raids in his home territory of Castile, within the context of the Revolt of the Comuneros. Much of his artillery and other troops as well had gone to Castile to fight the organized comunero armies. Rumors had abounded of a "French" invasion, with former comunero noble Pedro Girón warning of the impending invasion in April 1521.[6]

Angry at the Castilian takeover of the ecclesiastic, administrative and judiciary institutions in Navarre, the Navarrese quickly rose up across Navarre in support of Henry II and the House of Albret as King on hearing the news of Henry II's expedition. Volunteer parties were created in many places to expel the Castilians.[2]:81–82 As the force approached Pamplona, the citizens revolted and besieged the Castilian military governor, Iñigo de Loyola, in his newly built castle. The garrison surrendered after a few days of resistance in late May 1521 in the Battle of Pampeluna (Pamplona). In less than three weeks, all of Navarre was reconquered.[6]:352

Still, not all was settled. The absence of young King Henry II was disquieting to the population. Additionally, the troops led by General Asparros indulged in looting on arrival to Viana, leaving many angry and disappointed with an expedition that was meant to liberate them. French-Navarrese then moved out of friendly territory over to Castile, crossing the Ebro and besieging the bordering town of Logroño, where the count of Lerin was stationed with a 4,000-strong force. Here the army commanded by Esparros encountered its first serious resistance.[6]:353

Unfortunately for the King of Navarre and the French, the Revolt of the Comuneros had been crushed at the Battle of Villalar in April. Now, not only was the Castilian government able to send its soldiers back to respond, but a large number of Castilian nobles who had supported the comuneros or vacillated between sides were now presented an opportunity to prove their loyalty to Castile. Many formerly rebel-held towns sent soldiers to Navarre as well. Backed by a suddenly reunified Castile, a huge army of 30,000 men approached Navarre to retake it.[1]:68 On June 11, Asparros abandoned his siege of Logroño and retreated back to Tiebas, Navarre. Asparros desperately requested reinforcements from Béarn, but Henry II refused the request, presumably not wanting to risk them in a battle that was likely already lost in any case.[6]:353

Near Pamplona, the French (Gascons) and the Navarrese were completely defeated at the Battle of Esquiroz (Noáin) on 30 June 1521. The French-Navarrese force did not have sufficient artillery to defend themselves, and were outnumbered by more than two-to-one. French and Navarrese losses numbered more than 6,000 dead, and General Asparros was captured,[6]:353 and released in return for a ransom of 10,500 ducats, and the surrender of Pamplona. The Castilian human losses numbered only 50 to 300 deaths. The victory of Charles V's troops was followed by an occupation in which the defeated were subject to abuse, pillaging, marginalization and exile.[2]:85 The new scenario bred despair among many Navarrese, with many lords conveniently opting to switch sides to the victorious Castilians.[2]:85 The Castilians did not relent, and continued to send reinforcements to the area as Charles V and France went to war across Europe.

Hondarribia and last stand at Amaiur

Henry II, successor to Queen Catherine as King of Navarre, pursued the reunification of Navarre
Fortress of Amaiur before 1512, sign at the foot of the hill
Memorial to the defenders of the independence of Navarre at the site of the Amaiur stronghold (1522-1922)
Stronghold of Hondarribia as depicted a century afterwards
Gave d'Aspe and Oloron across the river (Béarn)

With the echoes of the defeat in Noain still fresh in memory, kings Henry II of Navarre and Francis I of France allied again to strike back, this time on the northern fringes of Navarreprobably expecting the Spanish to be worn out by their relentless war activity and broke financially. In late September 1521, the French-Navarrese divided in two columns and advanced towards the Bidasoa. The first column, made up of Agramont-party Navarrese, Normans and Gascons, was based in Labourd (French royal territory), while the second, formed by German, Gascon and Norman infantry, set off from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Portthen in hands of troops loyal to Henry II totalling a vast force of 27,000 combatants under the command of Guillaume Gouffier, seigneur de Bonnivet.[2]:95 Most of the troops were not French proper, but raised in the Norman and Pyrénées-based possessions of the Foix-Albret. After taking over Roncal, the second column headed west along the Pyrénées range, and captured Roncevaux.

The Franco-Navarrese force approached the fortress of Amaiur (Baztan, Navarre), laying siege to the fortress the Castilians had just reinforced. Eventually on 3 October 1521 the Castilians capitulated in exchange for their lives and an open way back to Castile. So was done, and the fortress was captured. The troops of Guillaume Gouffier headed then to Labourd and on to Behobia, capturing the fortress of Urantzu and moving on to invest the coastal stronghold of Hondarribia (Fuenterrabía, Fontarabie) at the tip of Gipuzkoa in the Basque Country. The stronghold was captured on 12 October 1521 (other sources point to 6 October).[2]:96[6]:354 The French-Navarrese held sway over a swath extending from Belate to the mouth of the Bidasoa river, but the calm did not last long.

As of May 1522, with Charles V in Pamplona, the Spanish forces started to gather the funds and troops necessary to attack. In July 1522, with Navarrese Amaiur about to fall, the Emperor disembarked in Santander and brought 4,000 landsknechts along. Many Basques from Biscay proper, Gipuzkoa, Álava, and even Navarre added to the Charles V's forces in this effort, Aragonese joined too. Ahead of the Castilian expedition to the Bidasoa, a combination of Gipuzkoan militias with a 1,000-strong landsknecht backup engaged the Franco-Navarrese (Basques from Labourd and landsknechts) at the fortress of Urantzu in the celebrated Battle of San Marcial. The pro-Imperial forces came up victorious and took the position (30 June 1522).

While Charles V made military arrangements, the Habsburg Emperor issued also a pardon decree targeting banished and exiled Agramont party members loyal to Henry II, not without a sizeable number of exceptions. Charles V seems to have followed Ferdinand II's tactics, (partial) pardon was intertwined with straight repression, like a new order to pull down remaining Agramont and other Navarrese fortresses, besides putting Agramont leaders loyal to King Henry II to trial on lèse-majesté offences.

On 4 July 1522, a 7,000-strong Castilian expedition left from Pamplona, and by 15 July Amaiur was invested. The fortress was defended by 200 Navarrese knights loyal to Henry II commanded by Jaime Velaz de Medrano, the 1512 rebel of Estella-Lizarra. However, no relieve force reached out to the heroic defenders of the position, and it ultimately fell to the Count of Miranda on 19 July 1522.[1]:97 A commemorative monolith stands now were the fortress stood. After the capitulation of Amaiur, drastic orders were issued by the Venetian-born Castilian bishop of Pamplona John de Rena to level the fortress and pull down a number houses owned by Agramont sympathisers, as well as setting fire to the abbey of Urdazubi.[2]:97 The Castilians went on to spread terror across neighbouring Lower Navarre.

The 39 surviving Navarrese lords of Amaiur were conducted to Pamplona and held captive in the Saint Nicolas fortress. Besides the above Jaime Velez de Medrano, there was also Miguel de Jaso, lord of Xavier and Francis Xavier's oldest brother. They were imprisoned in Pamplona, and Jaime and his son were poisoned. Miguel managed to escape dressed up in woman garments, and rushed to join his brother John de Jaso and the Franco-Navarrese forces strong in Hondarribia, numbering 3,000 defenders1,000 Navarrese and 2,000 French. Besides the above Guillaume Gouffier, the military force counted Claude of Lorraine as one of its commanders.

At the peak of Francis' and Henry II's campaign, the Navarrese king made a decision of high symbolic value: call the Parliament of Navarre in Saint-Palais (Donapaleu), take the oath to respect the Navarrese laws (fueros), and reorganize Navarrese administration according to actual territorial control. Charles V felt his authority on Navarre was being defied, and designed a plan to subdue kings Henry II and Francis, and suppress all Navarrese resistance. His ambitious plan aimed at invading Lower Navarre, Toulouse, Bayonne, and Hondarribia after Amaiur was captured.[2]:104

The Viceroy of Aragon advanced towards Oloron in Béarn and laid siege to the town, while the army of the Prince of Orange Philibert of Chalon failed to take Bayonne. Frustrated at his failure, on his withdrawal south Philibert devastated Ustaritz, and sacked Biarritz and Saint-Jean-de-Luz (Donibane Lohizune). Other towns and villages inland straddling the Navarrre-Béarn border underwent also severe damage to people and property. Eventually, the Imperial forces focused all their strength on capturing Hondarribia. On 15 December 1523, Charles V issued a new pardon, this time including most the Navarrese Agramont leaders, except for 152 prominent figures, some of them still fighting in Hondarribia.[1]:69

The Battle of Fuenterrabía (Hondarribia) would last until April 1524. On 29 February 1524, the Navarrese forces commanded by Pedro de Navarra (son of the assassinated Navarrese marshall) capitulated to commander-in-chief of Gipuzkoa Iñigo Fernandez de Velasco, his own uncle. They were promised a restitution of their properties, but only after vowing loyalty to Charles V. Ultimately, some of the defenders of the position were even allocated to different positions in Charles V monarchybut far away from Navarreand properties were partially or totally given backnot without problems. On surrender, Navarrese resistance to the Spanish-Castilian occupation was dealt its final blow.

Localized military clashes got confined to the southern fringes of Lower Navarre (Nafarroa Beherea in Basque, see map). In 1525, a Spanish inroad shook St-Jean-Pied-de-Port again, it was kept by the Spanish for almost two years, but in 1527 the lord of Luxe (Lukuze) and Esteban de Albret, lord of Miossens, got the position back. Except for a Spanish outpost in Luzaide/Valcarlos the region was abandoned in 1528 due to Charles V's loss of interest and the difficulties to defend it. France's loss of the wider war, with King Francis' and Henry II's capture at the Battle of Pavia in February 1525 sealed the division of Navarre. While Henry II managed to break free from prison, the Treaty of Madrid on 1 January 1526 and the Treaty of Cambray (1529) confirmed Spanish control over the Iberian part of NavarreFrancis I commits to denying assistance to Henry II.

Aftermath and consequences

Young Charles V inherited the hot issue of Navarre
Main entrance and bridge to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port

The successive pardons decreed by Charles V were gestures of high cohesive value to fit Navarre in the Habsburg Spain. A series of pardons to clergy who had sided with the legitimate monarchs were also decreed, with a first pardon just after the 1512 invasion. However, distrust to the loyalty of the Navarrese was kept in place all along during the 16th century while Reformist, independent Navarre to the north of the Pyrénées existed before its absorption into France in 1620. Holdings confiscated to subjects loyal to Henry II started to be returned, but the procedures were fraught with problems, accompanied by implacable judiciary persecution and exemplary sentences to Agramont party leaders.

While no burning of books is attested, as it happened on the follow-up to the conquest of Granada in Oran (on Cardinal Cisneros' orders), conspicuously large numbers of books, records and archives are missing related to jurisprudence, accountancy, appointments, Parliament and Royal Council sessions, as well as property titles of the period previous to the 1512 invasion (mid late 15th to early 16th century), with records resuming in 1512.[3]:34–35 Files related to the previous period appear to have been donated to the Spanish monarchs or seized in any form by the newly appointed authorities. A vast majority of the population was Basque-speaking and mostly illiterate, relying on a bilingual notary who could write in Romance (a Navarrese variant merging with Castilian) or Latin, but a requirement was imposed to re-register property titles before Castilian officials. Failing registration, ownership of the estate or holding was invalidated and goods were subject to confiscation by the occupiers.[3]:34–35

Navarre remained on a state of military occupation at least up to the 1530.[1]:71 All relevant positions held by native officials in the kingdom's government were taken over by Castilian appointees, namely bishops, viceroys, and administrative personnel of the Royal Tribunals, the Royal Council, Accounts Chamber (Comptos), and the curia, not to mention the garrison in Pamplona,[7]:184 like those stationed in other towns dotting Navarre. In the same way, Navarrese ecclesiastics were ostracised from abbot positions,[3]:24 but sometimes natives showing a submissive demeanour were kept or appointed as officials.

Since the critical period of Spanish conquest, each time a bishop vacancy occurred, either the cathedral chapter of Pamplona or later the Diputacion requested a Navarrese bishop, to no avail. For example, in 1539 a lavish report insisted on choosing a native ecclesiastic for the position on a number of accounts, one of them being that they could speak Basque and would be obeyed by his subjects, "for his native origin and because the Basque people, the main part of the kingdom, love like no other nation their own nature and language." The report was turned down without explanation, and a Castilian bishop appointed.[8] Historian of Church Goñi Gaztanbide (Historia de los Obispos de Pamplona, 1985) is adamant in his criticism, denouncing the "Castilian assimilation of Navarrese Church at all levels," to the point of considering it subjected to a colonial regime.[9]:72

The Navarrese continued turning their eyes to their (Reformist) alter ego to the north, Henry II's independent Navarre with Béarn. Navarre (like Gipuzkoa) became a hotspot of penetration for Reformist ideas as soon as 1521, when Inquisition seized and set fire to a number of books. A ban was imposed on reading them, or even writing or preaching against the Reformist doctrine, in order to avoid bringing attention to its claims.[9]:71

In 1525, on the heat of Henry II's two failed reconquest campaigns (see above), the first witchcraft allegations spring up instigated by the graduate Balanza, member of the Royal Council and commissioner of inquiries on witchcraft across Navarre, owner also of a palace in Unzué. In letters to the Castilian bishop of Pamplona John de Rena (an able military administrator, but in fact not even ordained for religious functions), Balanza asserts that there exists "so much evil" in a number of southern Pyrenean valleysstarting from Salazar and Roncal, to Burguete (Auritz), Baztan, Bortziriak, Malerreka (to Pamplona)located on the rearguard of the St-Jean-Pied-de-Port front in Lower Navarre, and an active theatre of war just a few years or months before, "it should not be only me who is aware of it," he adds. After his inquiry and resulting trials (January–August 1525), 30-40 people, mostly women, were condemned and burnt alive by the occupant authorities, while other sources point to 200. Another 43 were stripped of their properties.

On 15 August 1532, sister of King Henry II Ana of Albret died. She expressed in her will the wish to be buried with her parents Catherine I and John III in Pamplona, also bequeathing her dominion as Princess of Viana to her brother King Henry II, but her wish was not honoured. Doubts over the occupation of Navarre kept haunting Charles V until death, who tried to find a compromise suiting his ambitions and the monarchs of Navarre. To that end, he tried to marry his son and successor Philip II of Spain to heir apparent of Navarre Jeanne d'Albret (1539), highlighting her high educational background and intelligence. These attempts ultimately failed, but Charles V left to Philip II instructions on his will to give Navarre back, "following his conscience" (1548, 1556).[3]:27 That never happened.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 Monreal, G./Jimeno, R.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 Bustillo Kastrexana, J.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Urzainqui, T./Esarte, P./Et al.
  4. Monreal, G./Jimeno, R. The assignment made by Aelii Antonii Nebrisensis ex gramatico et rhetore historici regii de bello navariensis, liber prior incipitur was included in his Decadas Latin-language chronicle, a tribute to Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon.
  5. Usunariz, J.M.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Pérez, J.
  7. Jimeno Aranguren, R./Lopez-Mugartza Iriarte, J.C. (Eds.)
  8. In his influential Gramatica castellana (1492), Nebrija advocates for the need of the defeated to learn the language of the victors. He goes on to point that "it holds true that not only do the enemies of our faith need to know the Castilian language, but the Biscaynes, the Navarrese, the French, the Italians, and any others who hold a business and a conversation in Spain, as well as a necessity for our language, may be able to know it better, had not they acquired it by use since childhood, by means of this work of mine. See Monreal, G; Jimeno, R. p 49.
  9. 1 2 Jimeno Jurío, J.M


Coordinates: 42°49′06″N 1°38′39″W / 42.8183°N 1.6442°W / 42.8183; -1.6442

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