After unifying Castile, Leon, Navarre, and Aragon through marriage, Ferdinand I proceeded to conquer the Emirate of Granada and almost unify the Iberian Peninsula, but left Portugal alone.

Is there any satisfying reason why he did this?

Possible reasons that I've thought of include a reluctance to attack another Catholic country, or a language barrier. However, both of these seem unlikely, as each of the other four kingdoms had its own language (what we now call Spanish is the Castilian language), and, prior to reunification, fought amongst each other frequently.

  • Leon?? Weren't Leon and Castile united already long before Ferdinand was even born? Also, what King Ferdinand are you referring to? Ferdinand II of Aragon? – Rodrigo de Azevedo Mar 17 '19 at 8:48

This is certainly a question that comes to mind when one reads about the developments under Ferdinand II, and after his marriage to Isabella in 1469, and especially when you see a series of maps showing the transforming landscape of the Iberian peninsula during the course of the reconquista.

I haven't found anything in English which reaches into the mind of Ferdinand at some key moment to show why he held off, but I think an argument can be made that the following two reasons played a serious part:

1) The Diplomatic - You touched on this in your suggestion this might have to do with attacking another Catholic country. I think this is close. As you point out, Catholic countries are perpetually at war with each other during this period, but in most of the cases the actual swallowing of whole territories required a process of legitimation, just as the war itself usually had to have justification. This legitimation could take place in the formal recognition of a title passing to a conquerer (usually via the pope, and sometimes after conquest actually took place), by sale, or far more often by marriage. You mentioned this already in the case of all the other non-Muslim areas of the Iberian peninsula. The same is true for France during this period. Provence becomes part of France via inheritance in 1481 and Dauphiné by sale of the title to Philip VI in 1349. Portugal's independence had been granted by direct papal decree and thus annexation would have created good excuses for rivals such as France to move in (as they did to take Naples for a time in 1495). France was not the only concern, since Portugal and England were bound by alliance under the Treaty of Windsor from 1386, and Castile probably had not forgotten they confirmed Portuguese independence after being crushed by the Portuguese and English in 1385.

2) The Military - The other, more straightforward reason is that the task of conquering Portugal would be hugely difficult. Spain would eventually attempt the conquest after the temporary dynastic union of the two from 1580 fell apart in 1640, but what followed was over twenty years of skirmishes known as the Portuguese Restoration War, ending in Spanish defeat. This relatively recent article tries to explain why this was so difficult by focusing on the geographical challenge for a military conquest of Portugual by Spain here:

Lorraine White "Strategic Geography and the Spanish Habsburg Monarchy's Failure to Recover Portugal, 1640-1668" The Journal of Military History 71.2 2007 Walled Access At: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4138273


Takeovers of this kind often involve "trigger events." There was no trigger event for the Spanish takeover of Portugal during Ferdinand of Aragon's time, and there was one late in the 16th century, when Portugal was taken over.

In 1580, the direct line to the throne of Portugal died out (the trigger event). There were a number of "cousins" to the royal family, one of which was Philip V of Spain. It was in this "role" that he took over Portugal, not on behalf of Spain, but under a "personal union," whereby he was king of Spain and Portugal.

In Ferdinand of Aragon's time, on the other hand, the Portuguese royal family was intact. Also, Ferdinand, as king of Aragon, was actually more interested in events to his east, that is, regarding the balance of power in Italy, where both France and Spain had interests. Portugal was a poorer, less populous country by comparison, meaning that it was not as high on the list of Ferdinand's priorities. His interest in Grenada was partly because of his wife Isabella, partly because unlike Portugal, it was occupied by Moors (and Jews), rather than fellow Catholics.

Leon and Castile had been united much earlier in 1301, not in Ferdinand's time, although he did have a part in bringing the Spanish-speaking (but not French-speaking) part of Navarre into Spain.


The great reason is that after Granada fell, France was the great danger. Spain needed alliances to defy the big European kingdom. France´s king wanted to conquer Italy. The Kingdom of Naples was sinking without an heir and the situation was desperate. Naples was considered also a strategic and important kingdom to face the Ottoman danger.

The Portuguese and the Austrian Hapsburgs were considered potential allies to face France's growing power and the menace of the Ottoman empire. The matrimonial alliances policy were the idea of the dangerous moment.

To the Kingdom of Naples was sent the new Spanish young talented commander Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordoba. He is the most important leader in Spanish military history, the father of the famous Spanish Tercios. Key in the Conquest of Granada and key in the defense of Italy.

Many people consider the conquest of Granada as the Victory of the Catholic Monarchs. Even the film Conquest of Paradise was showing that, but they forgot about this last character.

  • The surrender of granada was agreed and signed by: Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordoba ( Spanish military leader), Fernando de Zafra ( Spanish royal secretary) and Abul Kasil (Boabdil emisary). – Basque_Spaniards Aug 17 '16 at 15:41

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