Knights Templar: Valencia falls, the last great adventure of James I and the Templars

James I had consolidated his position on the throne of the Kingdom of Aragon after the conquest of Mallorca and the other islands of the Balearic archipelago. He had left behind a great period of instability, the tension between the Aragonese and Catalan nobility had ceased to be a matter of extreme concern and, in general, he enjoyed a good image among his subjects. Also in the whole Peninsula. Even so, the conquest of Valencian lands was not the great event that, perhaps, we could expect after all the above. The knights who accompanied James I in this adventure experienced dissatisfaction, even disaffection for this conquest, in a good part of the campaign. The mood did not improve even though the King of Aragon distributed the territories before he had even conquered them, as proof of his good faith and also of the confidence he had in this enterprise.

In spite of everything, he achieved his goal: James I conquered and contributed to form the Kingdom of Valencia that we know today. It was not a peaceful conquest, but there are no great battles to report either. The strategy followed by the monarch was clear: besiege the different fortresses, castles and towns, drive their inhabitants to extreme situations and wait for their surrender. In fact, the Valencian lands, little by little, were surrendering to the passage of James I, who was accompanied, at key moments, by the Knights Templar.

Casco antiguo de Valencia

Valencia old town. | Shutterstock

The way to Valencia

From a theoretical point of view, this conquest began with the return of James I from Mallorca. In the second half of the year 1231, Blasco de Alagón spoke at length with the sovereign, during a meeting held in Alcañiz, about the importance and wealth of the lands of Valencia. He even proposed the first steps of this conquest, citing enclaves that would become fundamental, such as Burriana. Blasco de Alagón, one of the most important Aragonese nobles of the time, exiled for years in the territory he later wanted to conquer, convinced the Conqueror. It would take him some time, however, to carry out his objectives.

It was Blasco de Alagón himself who initiated them for him. Taking advantage of the knowledge he had of the north of the territory, and also the internal conflicts of the Muslim kingdom, he took control of Morella. Morella was only a small municipality, but it was the first to fall, in the autumn of 1232. It was also the event that put James I into action. After discovering what had happened, fearing that it was the nobleman who initiated the expansion to the south, the monarch moved to the vicinity of Morella and demanded that Blasco de Alagón surrender the territory. Blasco agreed, Morella became part of the Kingdom of Aragon and the representatives of Aragon would no longer leave Valencian lands.

Vistas del pueblo de Morella

Views of the town of Morella. | Shutterstock

But the main enclave in these first steps in the conquest of the territory was Burriana. Because of its relationship with all the castles to the north, which it supplied with all kinds of provisions, and because it was close enough to the capital to be considered a gateway to it. To conquer Burriana, the Christian army, commanded by James I, prepared thoroughly. It besieged the place in May 1233, invading the surrounding countryside with thousands of knights. Several masters of the Temple, convinced of the legitimacy of this campaign, were there, supporting the king they had helped to form.

The siege lasted two months, and it was a difficult two months in which many knights considered abandoning. Food was scarce on both sides, and the feeling of having been in battle for too long began to weigh heavily. But Burriana finally fell, in July 1233. The Muslims abandoned the place, and James I authorized the occupation of the houses and orchards by the new Christian population. Valencia was near.

A new crusade

But the conquest of the capital still took a few years to become a reality. It was in 1237 when James I began to stir up his subjects, his nobles and his knights, carrying out what we could understand as a propaganda campaign to claim his strength and support in Valencian lands. He himself settled in the outskirts of the capital at the end of the year, awaiting the arrival of the reinforcements that would fight at his side. The deadline for joining his army was April 1238.

Not many came to his call, although the conquest of Valencia took the form of a new crusade. In 1237, Pope Gregory IX had granted the sovereign a bull of crusade for this enterprise, which would mean international support for it. There was no lack of Templars, who still believed and fought for their faith, who still trusted in the performance of James I.

While waiting for the arrival of the reclaimed knights, James I was visited by a messenger from King Zayyan, the last Muslim king of Valencia. In exchange for his withdrawal, he would deliver castles, palaces and ten thousand besantes (ancient Byzantine currency) in rent. James I rejected him unceremoniously, while he observed how towns in the surrounding area surrendered without the need to present a battle. Such is the case of Paterna, which seemed to confirm the suspicion of the monarch: they would not need armed struggle, the threat posed by having that army at their gates would be enough.

Catedral de Valencia

Valencia Cathedral. | Shutterstock

The siege of Valencia began at the end of April 1238, and the troops, which at first were not numerous, increased practically day by day. There were no major clashes between the two sides in those months of harassment of the city, always watched from the headquarters installed in Ruzafa. As we say, the threat and the pressure were enough. The end of the summer brought the surrender of the Muslim kingdom. A nephew of the king was in charge of negotiating with James I, and it did not take more than two meetings to sign the end of the conflict. On September 29, 1238, Valencia signed the capitulation. Ten days later, the gates of the city opened for James I, thus confirming his great victory.

Abu-L-Hamlek, the nephew of King Zayyan, made a pact with the Aragonese monarch that, once his uncle accepted the conditions, a flag of the Kingdom of Aragon would be raised in the disappeared tower of Ali Bufat, which we can locate in the current Plaza del Temple. The chronicles that James I wrote in his Llibre dels Feyts assure that when this finally happened, the monarch got off his horse and, crying, kissed the lands that already belonged to him. To him and to the Christian kingdom.

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